Ok gang, it's about time I started my trippies. Not doing them in any particualr order, just taking a day and telling you all about it. I haven't even gone through all of our photos yet. The photos with this trippie vary from clear to very murky as the day went by and the tide came in. However, they are all special to me as I can remember each moment as it happened and each one is as precious as the next to me.
We had been looking forward to this day for months now and it was finally hereÖ.we were going to the Crystal River to swim with wild manatee. No change in the weather today. It was cold. To be honest, the weather was being a royal pain this holiday with us having to buy sweaters and wear umpteen layers of clothing. As it happens, we were both having the same thoughts right now but didnít say anything to each other until after the swim. We were imagining that we would be in the water for a matter of a few minutes before we gave up and wanted to be somewhere warm where we couldnít see our breath and could relax our shoulders from the permanent hunch they were in!
Google maps told us it would be a 30 minute journey from the lodge we stayed at last night but our satnav said 15 minutes. Twelve minutes later we were pulling into the car park of Crackers which was the meeting point for the swim. It was a little after 7am and starting to get light as we walked to the rear of the building near the dock. We definitely had the correct place as the boat was there waiting for us. There was no one around that we could see so we did the obvious and headed for the restrooms to see if they had any hot air blowers we could get warm from. From the corner of my eye I spotted a lone figure huddled by the building. It was a lady who had on winter clothing, including a woolly hat pulled over her ears. This was indeed Captain Jan who was to be our guide for day.
Introductions over with, we headed for the boat. BRILLIANT! A heated boat! Kettle on for some hot chocolate and we got down to being shown where the first aid kit, fire extinguishers and blankets etc were. We were told to help ourselves to breakfast which was hot and cold drinks, cereal bars and doughnuts etc. The food and drinks would be available to help ourselves to all day.
Once we got moving, we were shown a short film about the manatee and the doís and doníts of swimming with them while we changed into our wetsuits. Basically, the manatee have to approach you, you cannot chase them. You must not approach a resting manatee. You must only touch them with one hand, never two and, never get between a mother and her calf. Also, it is advised for our viewing pleasure that we donít walk along the bottom of the river where it is shallow enough to do so but to float our way around. This is because of the sand on the river bed. Once disturbed it takes a while to settle again and therefore ruins our view.
In the ten minutes that it took to get to the spot where we anchored, we spotted two separate manatee and as exciting as that was, I was secretly praying that we would come across a few more throughout the day and that they would be interested enough to approach us.
Boy oh boy, was I in for a shock. When we put our sandshoes on and got our snorkels ready, Captain Jan pointed to an area not far from the boat. There were dozens and dozens of manatee. However, they were mostly in a section where we were told was off limits as this was an area they typically went to rest. As we began to look around all sides of the boat, we could see lots of manatee swimming by. For some reason, it didnít feel so cold anymore as our spirits lifted and we were grinning from ear to ear. Not sure if you can make out the many manatee in the water here....
Still a little apprehensive about actually putting our bodies in the water, I got DH to go down the steps of the boat into the water firstÖ.I am considerate like that. He gently lowered himself in and took a sharp intake of breath. Then he smiled. The water actually felt warm and, it was definitely warmer than the air right now.
We floated around to the back of the boat and within 30 seconds, we were surrounded by the most adorable, gentle creatures you could imagine. My first ever experience of sharing the water with a manateeÖ.I was floating on the surface of the water, getting used to being in a snorkel again when suddenly what looked like a planet was turning inches beneath my belly. It was a huge manatee and he was swimming directly beneath me. He was so large that he took up all of my vision. I picked my head up and DH asked if I was ok. OkÖ.I was ecstatic! These animals were amazingly docile.
We had quite a large area to explore, along with three springs. One which was directly where we anchored the boat, one we didnít visit at all and one of which you had to swim upstream to get to. If someone had a camcorder at the ready and had recorded me trying to swim upstream, it would have made an out-takes program no doubt about it. I was trying to look cool. There were two official looking guys standing on the shore (we were told we may come across them at some stage as they kept an eye on the manatee and any swimmers) Well, I was being flipped sideways, upside down, thought I was doing well at one stage when I realised I was swimming the wrong wayÖ.you get the picture! In the end, I gave up on the pretence that I was going back to the boat to collect something. DH did however make it. Apparently, once he got there, there was a young girl and her father swimming there who were quite concerned at his breathlessness. The girl wouldnít leave him until he could at least speak again!!!
Oh my gosh, the manatee were so inquisitive. Both DH and I had a few special encounters. We didnít stay together all day, we just went where the moment took us. I had a baby manatee with me for quite some time. Talk about special, he was adorable. He loved having his belly rubbed and was forever rolling over for me to indulge. He stayed with me for about 15 minutes.
One large manatee kept holding onto DHís leg with his flipper when DH noticed that it had some fishing wire wrapped around itís other flipper. DH reported this to our captain who got on the phone to manatee rescue. A guy was out within 10 minutes to take a look. DH spotted the particular manatee again for him and a photo was taken of any markings etc for easy identification. The officials would come out early next morning to help.
At times, you couldnít even put your feet down as the manatee were not only by your side but beneath you as well. Some had barnacles on them after visiting the sea. Others had green slime on their backs, these were the ones that stayed in the warm springs. Others were free of both.
The ropes from the boat had a constant visit from the manatee who were fascinated by them.
Captain Jan was quietly shouting (you know what I mean) our names. She pointed to the side of the boat and there was a mother busy nursing her calf. We kept our distance but viewed from a distance underwater. The calf was suckling on what I can only describe as the armpit of the mother. Adorable. We left them in peace and floated away from the boat once again. I donít know where the time went but we were in the water for well over 6 hours with only one visit to the boat for a cereal bar before wanting to be back with our new found friends.
At one stage, there was a single manatee next to the boat who I watched for quite some time while DH was off exploring. Every now and again, this manatee would come over and just look me in the eyes until I rubbed his back. His beautiful face and tiny eyes, looking right at me. Special. Eyes watering special!
As the tide started to come in, the water got less and less clear as the sand was disturbed on the river bed. You could still see the manatee but, not until they were right next to you. Far too soon, it was time to head back. Not only did we last more than a few minutes in the water, we never wanted to leave. Back on the boat we started to feel the cold again and quickly dried ourselves and got our layers back on. The day did get warmer as time went byÖ..our captain even took off her woolly hat at one stage. However, once out of the water and with wet hair, it was pretty chilly.
We headed back to Crackers where we said goodbye to Jan and thanked her for taking photos for us. We were starving by now and stayed at Crackers for a meal. Now, this place didnít look too impressive from the outside but the food and service were truly excellent. DH had stuffed jalapenos followed by a 10oz steak with fries, onion rings and salad, enjoyed with lots of hot coffee. I had filled potato skins to start, (turns out this would have been enough for me alone) a hot chicken, cheese and bacon hoagie and refillable coke. The bill came to $46 but we had a voucher from Captain Jan for $10 discount which took the bill to only $36.
Feeling warmer and content, we drive back and reach WDW around 7pm. We head to DTD where we go to the movies, remembering our AP discount this time. We decide to watch Sherlock Holmes. After about 10 minutes, I was fast asleep!!!!!!!!!!!!