08 February 2008

Swimming with Manatees

Florida? What can I say? White sandy beaches, mid-70 degrees all day, bright sun, clear blue skies, nice breezes, flamingos, seashells, tropical fruit and old people. Good times. In our brief trip, we managed to pack a lot in: we ate delicious Cuban food (vegetarian, too!) with authentic mojitos:

We visited a turn of the century Greek fishing village that is renowned for being the sponge-diving capital of the world. And you know, we had some Greek food. Because frankly, it's all about the food and the sunshine.

We got to visit the awesome Ringling Museum, including the circus museum, a huge privately collected art museum, their personal palace on the water and the rest of the elaborate estate that served as the winter grounds for the circus. We learned a lot about clowns -- not so scary when you know the history -- we stole some oranges (it's tradition, I did it in some of the finest estates in Italy), we saw special exhibits on both Grandma Moses and Jacob Lawrence (fangirl squee!) at the art museum, and even the guy who sold us our tickets was a salty old flirt who seemed likely to have travelled with the Depression-era train circuses. This book inspired us.

And the highlight of the trip -- probably of the entire year -- was swimming with manatees. We woke up at 4 in the morning to drive to the boat launch, headed out to a hot spring on a river, dropped anchor, threw on wet suits and snorkels -- for R & I, learned to snorkel -- and freaking swam around with manatees. We all got manatee hugs. They're thousand-pound sea creatures of snuggliness. Since they have no natural predators, they literally are just friendly and sweet and like to give hugs -- one held on to my arm with its flippers for a while, and another started to nibble on E's hair. It was unreal. The only drawback was the disposable underwater camera we bought right before the trip malfunctioned, so we have no photos of it. Now that I know how to snorkel and I know how amazingly peaceful it feels to have your face in this underwater world while your body floats on the water, I'm ready for the coral reefs next time. I couldn't fall asleep for days without seeing the underwater world of the manatees swimming before my eyes, like my head was just falling underwater again. So amazingly peaceful and serene.

And we saw some old folks. I have to say, vacations where you can go out and drive around town for several hours and not see a single person under 50? Kind of my favorite. We also stumbled across the gay neighborhood, called Kenwood (of course), of antique shops and nightclubs on our island. There were a few people under 50 there, but not too many. We were regularly referred to by tour guides as "kids," as in, "have any of the kids here (looks at us) seen the Wizard of Oz?" Yeah. Also, we found a soft-serve place that served 60 flavors. It seemed strange until we realized that soft-serve is the preferred cold dessert of the retiree crowd. I'm ready to retire now, please.