After our first manatee encounter on Friday, the students return to their rooms and get dressed into dry clothes, and pack for another wet adventure. We grab boxed lunch, and head to another river that is totally pristine. There are no manatee in this river because of the locks, but there are a lot of fish. Believe it or not this is one of the favorite places for everyone because all of the confidence and snorkeling skills tend to come together. They put us in a boat, and take us about half a mile up the river and then we put our flippers on while standing on a sandbar. The current is pretty strong, so you just have to float on top with your face in the water until you get back down to the park. It is very peaceful and like swimming in a giant aquarium. I went with the "strong swimmer" group, and those kids had a ball! There are some places where it is 15-20 feet deep, and they kept diving down trying to reach boulders on the bottom. One of the crew is a scuba diver who makes a video tape for us, and many of them tried to give him a high five. None of them want to get out when we reach the dock and ramps, but we finally corral them all, get dressed, grab pizza and head to a Manatee toy shop. Once they have purchased their Manatee trinkets we drive over to the Gulf of Mexico.
Apparently there is only this one little strip of beach (filled with every seagull in Florida) for about 100 miles. My teaching parter is very athletic so she had the kids out there playing boys v. girls football and they had a great time. Other kids chased the birds, or built castles in the sand. Around 6:30 the sun sets and we get back on the bus to head for the hotel. That night the kids are tired, but thrilled with their day, so there was a lot more evening plans for ice cream or shopping in the hotel gift shop. Even with their excitement they are all quietly in their rooms at 9:00 - do we have great students (and chaperones) or WHAT!
On the last morning we again get up early, get on a wet, wetsuit and head for the Manatee. Again, cold and foggy, but we head for another spot. This one is more residential, and has a sanctuary area full of manatee. It also has a channel to swim through up to a higher spring where some manatee hang out. It is a tough swim though because it is a stong current coming down a slight hill - I totally felt like a salmon trying to swim over the rocks and fighting that current. Of course you can't go into the sanctuary, but they were EVERYWHERE. A lot of people (another group) were standing up complaining they could only see the sleeping ones, and while their feet are on the sand they are totally missing the manatee swimming around their feet. This water was a little clearer than the other spot, so much easier to see, and it was shallower. There were two giant manatee sleeping just outside the sanctuary, and a bunch of younger ones - but not totally babies- swimming around. One came up and bumped me and as I tried to take a picture of his lovely face he quickly turned and gave me his back. After I rubbed it he turned over to have his belly rubbed - it was great.
We were out there for about an hour and a half, and then had to head back. We packed up, showered, put our bags on the bus and sadly drove away. It is a tremendous adventure, and I recommend everyone try it. Even little kids can do it - we saw a little boy about 4 with his 6 year old sister out there and they were having a great time. Once we got home it was great to see my kids, and they all got "prizes" from the toy shop - especially Cheesie who reassured me that she hadn't cried the whole time I was gone. Bonus.