What’s the word, Pigeon Handlers?
Back home in Texas, I’ve spent my fair share of time around cows. I’ve worked em. I’ve raised em. I’ve sold em. If you’ve been with us here at Tierra Negra Fiction for a while, you’ll know that I’ve wrote about em. Hell, at the Fox Chapel Ranch Rodeo, I’ve even rode one.
“Was that a PRCA sanctioned Rodeo Event?” You ask, coming up with some surprising rodeo cowboy knowledge while Janet from Accounting is banging on the copier.
No! But it was back in my youth, where I was considerably more yee-haw than I am these days [I couldn’t afford to get bucked off the back of a roping steer and brake an ankle]. Anywho, today we’re not talking about land cows. Today, we’re talking about sea cows!
That’s right, the gentle manatee. In our effort to explore all that the sunshine state has to offer, I went on a voyage [a boat ride in a shallow river bay] and braved the high seas [we never made it over an idle] in Crystal River [that part is true] and swam with the manatees.
Manatees, during the colder months of the year, come inland to take advantage of warmer waters. In Kings Bay off the Crystal River, there are springs that feed the system and maintain about a 72 degree water temperature during this time. Despite their appearance, manatees possess very little body fat and are in danger of hypothermia in colder waters, so the springs are the bee’s knees as far as the sea cows are concerned.
Here in Crystal River, manatees are life and there are multiple outfitters that will take you out for an excursion. But if you want a real treat, do what I did and book with Fun 2 Dive. At the time of writing, I can say with certainty that this was the funnest day I’ve had so far while exploring the FLA.
Whoever you chose to book with, most outfitters offer multiple tours throughout the day, starting as early as 7AM. If you’re like me and not much of a morning person, go for the sunset tour. The place is less crowded, and since it is the winter [Florida winter] the afternoon will be a little warmer once you get out of the water.
“Get out of the water?”
Well yeah, how else are you going to swim with the manatees. And I know what your thinking because it’s what I was thinking. That still sounds a little cold. No fear! Unless you have your own, your outfitter will set you up with a wet-suit.
Way ahead of you. Despite a wet-suit being about the most unflattering piece of clothing there is, they are made of devil magic [science] and they actually keep you warm. Besides, unless you book a private tour, everyone else in your group will be wearing one so you won’t be alone.
Now if you want the grandest experience that you can, I have a few recommendations:
- Book with Fun 2 Dive.
- Make sure you get Captain Peter and Guide Rickie.
- If possible, make absolute sure that you end up in a small group with a family from Canada who are an absolute riot. This is very key.
After a brief safety video [not your safety, the manatee’s. Manatees are a protected species and are to be treated respectfully. No harassing and no harming. If they come up and investigate you, fine. But you are in no way allowed to go chasing after them and touching them. Anywho, you’ll watch the same video before your first outing so I’ll stop rambling] and a quick change into the wet-suits, we boarded up in the van and took the short trip down to the docks. Without dilly-dallying, Captain Peter set sail and we headed out. I’m a nature buff and I can say that our captain and guide did an excellent job of making the ride both educational and entertaining. We learned about manatees, but also about all of the other wildlife we happened to come across.
Once we arrived at the honey hole, our guide gave us the run down on our gear [pool noodle and goggles]. The next step was the hardest: Taking the plunge. Yes amigos, the water is cold at first. But as conventional wisdom goes, just go in full force. No toe-dipping here. If I haven’t already touched on how absolutely refreshing a full body submergence into cold water is, I’ll reiterate. I have yet to find anything that is more invigorating, mood boosting, and energizing than going for a cold dip.
After getting our sea legs, we paddled into a small little alcove of springs called the Three Sisters. Why’d they call it that? I can’t remember, I was too focused on having fun and being amazed at the clearest water I’ve ever seen. As we swam along the tributary, our guide told us to halt and watch as the first manatees of the day swam by us. Folks, if you’ve never swum with animals in their natural habitat, it is truly awesome. I’m not talking about swimming in the stock tank and having a perch come and take a nibble out of you. No, watching a manatee swim around in it’s natural habitat was so, so cool.
Coming into the heart of the alcove, we met up with another group as we all watched a manatee do what manatees do best: Sleep. But there was much more than that. In the hole we were in, we watched in real time a school of snapper swim around. A large snook patrolled through them, occasionally trying to sneak a bite out of a stray. While preoccupied with the snook, the real danger for the snapper came from above as a darter [bird] dove in and snagged an unsuspecting fish for dinner. It was like Planet Earth in real time, just without David Attenborough.
The neat thing about getting totally absorbed in nature is that time flies. Before we realized it, we had been floating around in the same spot for about half an hour or more watching a handful of manatees. Once we got back out to the main bay, we spent another 30 minutes watching as some of the manatees made their way back to the little alcove, ready to call it a night.
After the excursion and once back at the office, you’ll be able to purchase some photo souvenirs that were taken during the trip, as well as get a hot cup of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate to warm you back up.
All in all, this was an absolutely fantastic afternoon. I highly recommend that if you find yourself exploring Florida, take the time to come up and take advantage of this neat opportunity. The busy season is from November to April, but the area does have a population of residential manatees that stick around year long, so no matter when you find yourself here, plan ahead and take a dive with the sea cows!