Even in Florida, traveling very rarely manifests itself as a leisurely “vacation”. I aim to evoke the positive and productive from every experience.
I was able to spend a very necessary day with my financial adviser and actually see some of the projects we’re working on together. Hungry from a long days work and tons of information being thrown at me we veered off course only slightly to have lunch of gyros and calamari in the little Greek enclave of Tarpon Springs. Strange… I wasn’t expecting to encounter the sponge capital of the country. We’d engage in insightful and lovely conversation with George and Sophia about, well… sponges! Yellow sponges, silk and wool sponges… their biology and their diminished market. I’m such a weirdo as those are the type of souvenirs I delight in purchasing.
While exploring Florida I had very few plans of my own, however there was something that I’d dreamt of doing for years now and at every chance in conversation I’d communicate my hopes of swimming with manatees to my mother. I was seriously overjoyed to receive a gift certificate for a guided snorkel with manatees as a Christmas gift from my her! In immense anticipation we set out on the Homosassa River around daybreak to find the gentle giants. The endangered species of the manatee are protected, but scars incidental of boat related injuries are commonly visible. It turns out the cold water is a larger threat to manatees; during the colder months they cling to warm water springs and the heat of power plants. Deceptively, manatees are not terribly fat and the fat they do have burns more efficiently than whale oil. They have superior immunity to any other mammal; their ear bones currently being researched in cancer prevention. It had begun to rain, but we anxiously immersed ourselves in the cool river water in search of manatees. I can swim, but trying to balance on this life jacket and calmly observe these creatures was initially very trying. The manatees were laughing at me… I’m sure of it! American Pro Divers (http://www.americanprodive.com/) were our guides and a diver named Mike was incredibly kind in helping me to experience this fully. He wonderfully just kind of pulled me along on the red life jacket I was balancing on. They love red and adored being talked and cooed to. Some were resting, a few were feeding on the sea grass beds, some were hesitant and seemed almost bothered by the flippers’ disturbance of the shallow water, but others were so friendly… one even rolling over adorably onto its belly. Towards the end the water seemed frigid, but my sister Johanna snorkeled over and there was one shared sight that will never leave us. Beyond some kicked up sand there was an enormous mother manatee and her baby beside her. As the water cleared we watched the two with black fish swimming around them and big sparkly bubbles rising. Almost massaging her rough dark grey skin and gently holding on she sort of pulled me along with her for a moment. I was ecstatically shrieking into my snorkel with water getting in around my smile. Soaked, shivering with teeth chattering we’d peel off our wet suits, excitedly share our experiences and enjoy our hot chocolates on the boat ride back.
[Snorkel video to come!]
The next afternoon we’d share with my grandfather and thankfully some sunshine! His buddy Captain Mike would take us fishing out in Crystal River’s Kings Bay in his large and spacious flat bottom commercial fishing boat. We’d bait our hooks with shrimp and catch little Snappers and stunning and shimmering silver Ladyfish. Osprey’s chirps piercing the sky, the dorsal fins of dolphins and torpedo like Tarpons would appear sporadically and pelicans and cormorants swarmed the docks.
That night we’d return to the campground where my Grandpop and his girlfriend retreat to weather their winters. While wonderful to see them after dinner I’d wander with Jo and Brier in search of something to do. We’d crazily play Jenga, have hilarious encounters with some elderly folks, they’d ride their scooters and play basketball. This camper continued to catch my eye and when I saw that the man was in a wheelchair, I went over and introduced myself. In inquiry of their camper, the couple Jos and Elly, who are from Belgium, wonderfully shared with me their stories of shipping this camper around the world. It’s a completely custom Mercedes Sprinter 4-wheel drive equipped with solar panels, accessible shower, hand controls and lift. Interestingly, he’s mainly customized this vehicle on his own and lies underneath to fix it. Jos, being injured in an accident while roofing, is the type of man who’s risen like a phoenix in a crane to repair his roof again despite his spinal cord injury. I instantly admired this couple and was enamored by their stories of traveling to the most intense corners of the globe… the largest salt lake in Bolivia, the Amazon rainforest and the Sahara desert. I’m still awestruck in enjoying their blog, attempting to translate the Dutch. (http://josmobiel.blogspot.com/)