About Me

Tired of the mundane and craving an adventure, on Saturday, May 22nd, 2010, I embarked on the ultimate American road trip through all fifty states. After nearly a year and a half on the road, on a budget of less than 50 bucks a day, this is my story...

Florida: Swimming with Manatees!

Monday, ‎September ‎19th, ‎2011
After some early morning beach-going in Gulf Shores, Alabama, I stopped into a Visitor Center for a state map of Florida and the official travel guide, and was on my way - the last state on my cross-country roadtrip!  I couldn't have ended it much better - Florida has some many  elements: sub-tropical climate and vegetation, The Everglades, world-class amusement parks & attractions, white-sand beaches and turquoise water, rich culture & history, gators, crocs, and manatees - oh my!

I'm In!

It was a long way to my destination; it took all day (7 hours + breaks) to drive the 400 miles through the Florida panhandle down to Ocala, just south of Gainesville, in the northern part of the state.  I only stopped in Ocala for internet access at Starbucks, which was a gem of a find, located on a cute little town square, literally with music in the air (courtesy of the great speakers placed around it).  I checked on some couchsurfing requests and made a call to Fort Cooper State Park in Inverness, where I had called earlier and was informed reservations are required for camping and that I could call anytime before 7:45 tonight to make arrangements.  Well, here it was 7:20 and no answer at their office - I decided to risk it and go anyway.


THAT'S a Horse of a Different Color!
Town Square, Ocala

An hour later I arrived at a locked gate - thanks for nothing Fort Cooper!  With no where else to camp, no hostels, and no yeses to tonight's couchsurfing requests, I drove to the town of Crystal River about 40 minutes west, where I needed to be early the next morning anyway, so I got approval from someone at Walmart to park in their lot overnight and just slept there - no biggy :) 

Tuesday, ‎September ‎20th, ‎2011

STEPS TO HAVING A GREAT DAY: 

1. Grab snorkel gear
2. Drive to Plantation Dive Shop
3. Throw on wet suit
4. Board boat
5. Find manatees
6. Hop in
7. SWIM WITH MANATEES! =D


Crystal River

"Citrus County is currently the only place in the WORLD to have a face-to-face manatee encounter!"  It's their largest tourist draw and plenty of companies will take you out for this amazing, one-of-a-kind experience - and it starts at only about $15 if you have all your own equipment!  Just go on down to Crystal River, preferably in summertime when the hundreds of these gentle giants, weighing as much as ONE TON, enjoy the crystal clear, 72-degree natural springs.  


John Travolta's Not-So-Crappy House

I called Crystal Lodge Dive Center (recommended in my guide book) the day before, but it was the off-season and unfortunately they had not met the minimum requirement (3 people if I'm not mistaken) for a trip out.  They were so thoughtful and generous, however, to provide me with the names and numbers of a few other companies (their competition!).  I called around and found two companies that were pretty much the exact same in terms of price and length of the tour.  Ultimately I went with Plantation Dive Shop, because Paul, the staff member who took my call, was very honest with me in terms of what to expect (might not even see any manatees this time of year), how much the company highly respects the manatees and other wildlife, and how knowledgeable their very experience guide is.


I Spy a Manatee!

Paul was right, our guide was probably the very best, and he's led tours in lots of tropical destinations around the world, from everything to dolphin swims to giant manta rays - you name it, he's done it.  He pointed out the names and behaviors of waterfowl we saw on the way (and John Travolta's house!), and told us how to best behave from the time you get into the water to the time you swim near the manatees, for them to feel comfortable to approach you.  A tip:  ACT like a manatee!  They're not just slow physically; they're not the brightest knives in the barn, either, haha.  If you behave like a manatee, they'll think you're a manatee.  While trying to spot any from the boat, our guide taught us how to differentiate the surface swirls of a manatee from the many swirls you'll see from the gar fish, common to the area.


Remember, Just ACT Like a Manatee, LOL

Luckily we did in fact find not just one manatee, but an entire family unit - mama, juvenile and baby!  As our guide said, "the males are just corn dogs," only good for impregnating the females.  The 3 of us slowly lowered into the water and swam up about a couple yards from the manatees (our guide stayed on the boat and directed us where to go, until we got comfortable), who took notice of us, and as usual, let their curiosity take over and socialize with us.  Mama was only interested in us for a few minutes before returning to her seaweed binge, lol, but she didn't mind having us around; in fact it gave her kids something to do - play with us!  At one point I was rubbing the baby's belly - she LOVED it!  She made pass after pass at me, rolling over on her back as she neared me =)


Three Sisters Spring

The water was too murky for my photos with them to turn out, so I'm going to spend the $40 on the video our guide shot (totally worth it to have memories of this once-in-a-lifetime experience).  We spent about an hour interacting with them, before our guide took us to another area of the marine preserve, called Three Sisters Spring, which serves as a feeding, mating, nursing spot for newborns.  Here, the water was crystal clear, and while there weren't manatees at this location, we saw BIG blue crabs and an abundance of fish.  


What You Lookin' At?!

On the way back, our guide talked more about the fragile lives of these endangered creatures, nearly wiped out completely by man, the number one cause of death (by far) being boat strikes and propeller slashes.   The manatee's nearsightedness, defenseless slow moving body, and feeding in shallow water (where there's an abundance of seaweed) makes it too easy a target for careless boaters that that go too fast through these areas.


PHOTO ALBUMS

Three Sisters Springs
(Video Footage of Manatee Encounter Coming if I Can Figure Out How to Convert UDF!)


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