What is the best course of action for one with a four-day cold, with practically no voice and a sore throat/runny nose combo to do?
Why, plummet into seventy-two degree spring water on a very cold and windy day of course!
Although my husband keeps calling me “Tara Reid”, the experience was worth so much more and a thousand words (that I cannot voice).
I am way too excited to sit down and actually type a thousand words though but here goes nothing.
Other than Disney, beaches, and sunshine, the first thing you think of when you hear Florida is manatees! Manatees are possibly described in two ways. A) Mermaids in disguise or b) the most loving, gentle giant sea cows in all the land. One of my favorite aspects about the state we live in are the springs. Usually when the sun is shining, the water is the perfect temperature and absolutely crystal clear. This adventure landed us in Crystal Springs, FL, the home of the only legal place you can interact with the manatees in such a way. Since manatees are endangered creatures, there are guidelines you have to follow in order to participate. This is definitely a bucket list escapade and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Since these are wild creatures and Florida’s weather is extremely sporadic, you never really know what to expect. The only thing you can go by is the colder it is, the more manatees you will see. We decided to go in January for this reason and this reason only. To add to that, the earlier the better because there are fewer people interacting with them, thus the reason we had to wake up at three-thirty in the morning to make a two-hour drive for a six-fifteen appointment.
It was drizzling the way there so we already knew the weather would be less than desirable. We had less sunshine and the wind was blowing awfully. Once we arrived, we found out by the captains that the docks were underwater but we were still heading out. Our tour guide, Donovan, didn’t know if we were actually going to see manatees because of how weird the conditions were. He was very hopeful for us anyway though. He said the tides were higher than normal for January and that it was very strange. One plus was that the group on our boat had only four people, including us.
Thank God we were in wet suits because it would have been a brutal experience. The wet suits definitely ease the shock of frigid water as you plunge from the side of the boat. We threw on some snorkeling kits and off we went into the cold springs. I was starting to feel discouraged because I already felt like we wouldn’t see any, but then when they started pointing them out, I missed all of them!
That is until we hit the jackpot and found where they were all migrating to and from near where the spring was fed. You could see manatees sleeping at the bottom of the river and it was delightful in itself. Then they started moving around twenty or so minutes later. They were gracefully floating past us within arm’s reach so we were able to rub them and give them many pets on their large, grey, muddy backs. They were so adorable, especially when they rolled over for you.
In all, there were probably about twenty manatees floating in and out. Most had baby calves tightly knit to their sides and it was the most precious sight you could see from that close.
At one point, one was coming up as I was floating by and came right up to my face. I was inches away from this creature and it was the most amazing experience. This actually happened twice and I almost got smooched by a sea cow.
Hubbs was swimming and a manatee was swimming up, almost raised him in the water, but he had to move quickly. He got out of its way before he ended up being rolled to the surface with it. He even heard some of the babies squeaking communicating with the mama manatees.
As we were swimming back to the boat in conclusion, a few were coming our way. In order to get my husband out of direct passage, I had to move but it’s kind of hard to do so when you’re in a “dead man’s float” position and cannot kick your feet. He pushed me out of the way and I couldn’t help but laughing. I want to make a point that laughing while snorkeling underwater is not necessarily possible and will make you laugh choke until you can’t breathe. One had to dive under further to go underneath me and it was surreal. I was nervous at first because they are just so big that close up. But just that it was there, swimming directly beneath me, just blew my mind.
It wasn’t the only thing blowing though. Manatees like to come to the surface and pop their adorable noses on the surface for air. I heard a blowing, raspberry noise in the distance and saw that there was a lone manatee blowing water and air out its nose. I found this so comical because there was no one around and there was just random bubbles being blown in a playful way.
Also, these kind giants are vegetarians. Since the water levels were so high, people who lived out there had grounds underwater. The water level was up by a few feet and there were no differentiating features from the sea wall and the water. Because of this, there was a manatee just casually chomping on the neighbor’s grass, made possible because of the tides. It was adorable, although I didn’t spend much time watching it eat. I was too focused on petting its rough back.
We froze on the boat way back. The water was tolerable until you got out and had to deal with the wind. Upon arriving at the docks, a heated van greeted us and transported us back to the shop where they offered complimentary hot chocolate to warm us up. We got lucky because they offered us a CD pack for free, typically valued at $24.95, because of the weather.
It didn’t spoil much really and in fact, we still had a blast. I will never forget the time I came face to face with a manatee because he was seeking me out.
I guess besides getting pulled over on the way home (only a warning thank God) and finding out that I lost all the pictures I took on my waterproof camera, it was a pretty wonderful experience. When I found out that the photos I were trying to develop “didn’t come out because the camera malfunctioned”, I was pretty devastated. Precious memories that I will never even see. I’m sure some of them were great, too. After I stopped crying, I finally decided just to chalk it up to bad luck. I really need a GoPro or an action camera that is waterproof and reliable. Adding insult to injury would be the rudest woman at the photo counter at Walgreens and an even ruder customer who decided it would be nice to butt in to something none of his concern. I’ve never told anyone to mind their own business before but this guy was ridiculous; no stranger has ever made me that angry before.