Sunday 5 December 2010 - Monday 6 December 2010 34 °F
Yesterday began with a stop in Siesta Key, where the ridiculously white sand squeaks beneath your feet. The sand is apparently 99% pure quartz and I've never felt anything quite like it. This was also our first glimpse of the Gulf of Mexico. The green tint of the water against the pure white fluffy sand was rather surreal considering what beaches look like back at home.
We continued up the barrier islands towards Crystal River, which was going to be our stop for the night. When we stopped for lunch on Anna Maria Island we got our first hint of what was to come.
We continued on our way up the gulf coast of Florida through Bradenton, St Petersberg, Clearwater, and other towns whose names I can't quite recall. We took Manatee Road through Manatee County past Manatee this and Manatee that. Then we made it to Crystal River, home of the Manatee. The Manatee theme continued at full force there.
The next morning bright and early at 6:00am we headed off to swim with the adorable creatures with Riverventures. It was about 34F when we first headed out, but I wasn't going to back out. Manatees are my favorite animal (besides Pugs, that is) and I had only ever seen them in captivity. Besides, this was the only planned stop between Miami and Baton Rouge. We were getting in that water.
Josh and I were the only people on the tour that early in the morning, but it worked out rather well. We had a private tour with the famous Captain Glenn (formerly known as Captain Gatorman due to his previous experiences in the Everglades).
The water was a nice 72F and the steam rose off the water into the icy cold air. It was then I realized that the water was actually warmer than the air, so being in the water was actually the preferred option. Within minutes we arrived at Three Sisters, where another sparsely populated tour boat was just setting anchor. It was still a couple of minutes until 7:00am, the earliest we were allowed to enter the water, so we took the time to prepare ourselves and guzzle some last sips of hot coffee before getting in the water.
Seven o'clock arrived and the fun began.
This was my first time snorkeling so it took a few minutes for me to get the hang of breathing through the tube. But once that obstacle was out of the way my attention was fully devoted to these beautiful animals.
They were incredibly friendly and curious. There are all sorts of rules in place to protect them, like not following them, keeping out of their roped off sanctuary, and only touching them with one hand at a time. But these rules didn't limit our interactions with the creatures really. I'd put my hand out and they'd come right up to it.
Sometimes I'd be floating along looking in front of me for a Manatee, only to have one come up from underneath and bump into me. They caught me by surprise quite a few times.
We spent an hour and a half in the water before the chill in the air forced us out. Some people from the other tour group outlasted us, but we were far too cold to stay. After changing out of our wetsuits and chugging a few more cups of hot coffee, we felt mostly thawed out. Our feet remained blocks of ice for quite some time, but the pain was worth it. In fact, the cold weather probably enhanced our experience by bringing more Manatees into the warm spring.
I repeat: it was worth it!
But our time with the Manatees had to come to an end. We returned to our motel for a hot shower and then hit the road. We knew we wanted to make it to at least Apalachicola, which was at least a four hour drive. There really wasn't much to see between the locations so, except for a quick lunch, we drove all the way through. Apalachicola was a cute small town, but there wasn't much in the way of hotels so we continued on.
(Don't worry about the smoke in the following picture. It was apparently a controlled burn, but it looked really terrifying.)
We made it to Panama City, where we'll be resting for the night. Of course, such an awesome day can't end without one crazy thing happening. About halfway through typing this post the fire alarm in our hotel went off and we had to run outside in nothing but pajamas and sneakers. It was another exciting addition to an already exciting day!
Tomorrow we'll continue up the gulf coast and stop in either Mobile, Alabama or Biloxi, Mississippi. That means tonight is probably our last night in Florida. This state has been quite an experience!