Manatees

 

We spent the day on Key Largo. We kayaked from the hotel, visited the Wild Bird Sanctuary again and took an eco tour. The eco tour was also a sunset tour. Key Largo is bordered by five parks, such that almost all of the waters around it are government protected. To the north is the Everglades, east is Biscayne and south is Pennekamp. There are also a couple more to round out the handful. 

We were two of six guests on a patio boat, piloted by Captain Larry. Adverts for this tour boasted mangrove forests, birds galore and as a teaser, manatees. I was doubtful of this last attraction, but I shouldn’t have underestimated the “manatee whisperer”, as Larry likes to bill himself. We began our tour manatee hunting, in the most unlikely of place, at least to my mind.

The keys were once coral reefs, but when the ocean level dropped, they became islands. In their hearts they are still reefs and except for a thin layer of topsoil are solid coral rock. Starting in the fifties, in order to create more ocean front property canals were dug. These canals were blasted and cut into the rock and became a water network for residential communities. Not exactly where I would have first gone looking for manatees.

The thing about sea cows that differentiates them from other marine mammals is that they require fresh water. That’s why they thrive in Sarasota Springs, which has natural fresh water springs. In Key Largo there are no natural sources of fresh water, at least anymore, but there are plenty of manmade ones. Someone washing off their boat is enough to attract them. They have excellent hearing.

Larry has plenty of obliging neighbors, who were more than willing to run some water for a passing tour boat. Technically it is illegal to water the manatee, but besides boat washing there is also tubs to fill, etc. We were able to approach to within twenty feet, without creating any recognition of our presence. 

Anastasia State Park

Anastasia State Park Gulls and Terns

We got up early, had a quick HoJo breakfast, checked out and headed across the Bridge of Lions to Anastasia State Park. Located on one of the barrier islands that protects St. Augustine, when we arrived it was not yet open. Rather than wait, we doubled back to the lighthouse, which also was not open, but at least afforded a quickie photo-op. The park was open, when we returned. It was low tide and the beach was a football field length wide. The above action shot can only begin to enumerate the multitude of water fowl that were present. A bicyclist had flushed them. He was setting up a cross-country race course for later. We also partook of the more inland waterways that the park had to offer. We saw an osprey fishing in the distance, throwing up spray with each dive, but it was comparatively dainty to the pelicans, who when performing their own version of this maneuver sounded like they were belly flopping into the water.

We next hit the road and promptly ran into Daytona 500 traffic. I think that a fair number of the racers were late for their starting times and were striving to make time up on the highway. It was a zoot city. They passed, as did Mar-a-logo and Miami. Siri threatened us with a massive accident related jam on the bridge to the keys, but by the time we arrived there was only a minor gaper block that was caused by party boat revelers on the side of the highway.

We landed on Key Largo, ready to commence our Florida vacation proper. We upgraded from last year’s motel. Its dock featured shark and barracuda, both of the baby variety, but scary enough to some of the other tourists. We did the sunset thing, but it was cloudless and uninspiring. We ate at a convenient fish house, just across the highway. The seafood was great, the sides adequate, but the crux came at dessert, key lime pie naturally. It was fantastic, but with such a statistically inadequate sample size (one), can we really state this? We need more data. Such is our mission that among the hundreds, nay thousands of the key’s lime pie purveyors, we will discover the best key lime pie. Tourists in the millions have adopted this quest, but we shall succeed. God rest my fork!

Bridge of Lions

Bridge of Lions

The Bridge of Lions is a double-leaf bascule bridge that spans the Intracoastal Waterway in St. Augustine, FL. How did we end up here? It started with the polar vortex. Anne and I decided that it was time for a getaway. We rebooted last year’s Florida vacation, with a few new tweaks.

We did a Chattanooga first night redux, but it wasn’t the same since Becca and Rey have moved to Nashville. We’ll try to catch them on the flipside. You could say It Was a Rainy Night in Georgia, except that we were a couple of miles east, still in Tennessee, but I don’t think that weather hoes that close to the state line.

On this day, we drove to St. Augustine. We had visited this “ancient” city on our last trip. I even booked the same motel, a vintage HoJo. After two days in the car, our walking tour covered much of the same ground as last year, with lots of great photo-ops. It was good to get some steps in. We dined at a Polish-Greek restaurant. Usually, these mixed ethnic dineries are the result of a cross marriage. Not in this case. Husband and wife are both Polish, but they met, married and their first-born all occurred in Greece.

On our way back to the motel, we walked through the more touristy part of the old town. We encountered a Kilwins, but it was so slammed with Michigan expats that we figured that it would be quicker to just drive to Ann Arbor. We took a walking break and sat on a bench and listened outside the Kilwins to a woman singing Elvis at a neighboring bar, Can’t Help Falling In Love.