Well, life has certainly been happening and I have loads to catch you up on. The bigger events are yet to come, but I can’t overlook all that’s unfolded in the last few months, so it’s time for some recaps.
I promise, I’ll get you caught up on the BIG DAY, soon enough.
First, I want to back up to another milestone experience – a little anniversary weekend that happened not too long ago…
N and I have made a rule for anniversaries in the past. We skip the gifts and instead pick an experience, just for the two of us, that we can embark on together. If it’s something new and different, an adventure, if you will? All the better!
This year, we tackled an adventure along the clear waters of Crystal River and Kings Bay. Not only is this beautiful waterway perfect for water sports of all sorts, it’s also home to some of the most innocent of water creatures – manatees.
In fact, each year in late winter, before we humans are all start complaining of humidity and spontaneous daily rain storms, manatees come in droves to the spring fed waters of this area due to the constant 72 degree water temperature. That’s quite warm for water in winter down here (yes, it gets cold!), so these gentle giants bring their entire families to bask in the shallows.
What this means, is hundreds of manatees on display for the public.
Of course, give mankind a wonderful, natural little miracle, and we’ll turn it into a tourist attraction. With that said, despite the high numbers of people who are attracted to see the manatees, there are a number of organizations and people doing what they can to further help protect the manatees from intrusive human action.
What was once an open area now includes blocked off sections of the waterways, to prevent overly nosy people who would happily crowd manatees all day, ever day.
The best and most environmentally wise groups who participate in the tourism of the manatees, like the boating and outing groups, also educate visitors on proper manatee viewing behavior. No chasing, no swimming and no touching.
Of course, this wisdom is not given to all, and it’s certainly not followed by everyone either.
Seeing as both of us harbor a special soft spot for manatees – me because I’ve always been amazed by these gentle animals who I affectionately refer to as “fuzzy sea potatoes” (because they are shaped very similarly to the tubers I love), and N because of some graduate work he did researching them while he was getting his masters – it was very important that our engagement with these creatures would be done responsibly.
Kayaks are unobtrusive and great exercise, so I researched some rental locations around the Kings Bay area. I uncovered Aardvark’s Florida Kayaking Co. and chose them due to their extensive kayaking information and options, but more importantly for their adamant stand on NOT swimming with the manatees.
Dressed up in water friendly shorts and tanks, sunnies on hand, and slathered up in sunscreen, we made the 90-minute drive up to Crystal River on our anniversary weekend, grooving to yacht rock the whole way. Aardvark’s is located in the quaint Historic Citrus Ave area, alongside small museums, shops and restaurants.
We parked right near the trolley stop, which would be perfectly convenient if you wanted to explore the area before or after your kayaking!
We bypassed the shops and made our way inside for our 10:00 a.m. reservation.
Expecting to be handed our paddles and shuttled out the door, we were surprised when the greeting was followed by a short instructional video!
Aimed at educating visitors on responsible behavior around manatees and general kayaking info, it was actually wonderful to see someone taking it seriously. Our kayak expert questioned us afterwards to be sure we understood how serious it was, and to find out if anythings was unclear. Assured we would be good, she had us follow her in her truck, a mile down the road to the launching area in Kings Bay.
Confident we knew how to handle the kayaks and were clear on the map she provided us of the bay, we were left to launch and paddle!
There was quite the traffic getting launched and apparently, it’s always best to opt for earlier kayaking reservations to avoid the crowds. We were lucky enough to get the LAST parking spot at the park we launched at, but there were a line of cars waiting behind us.
The waterways, though busy, were much easier to move around in. After we meandered our way away from the main bay area and into the coves, we did a little dream house hunting…
Before heading deeper in the various canals. Manatee watchers were everywhere, pointing out their sightings and advising of how long ago one was spotted.
We passed all sorts of people, experts and novices, tourists and locals alike…
And it wasn’t long before bright clusters of kayakers were seen, clogging up an entrance to an area that was closed off for manatees, inevitably crowding around the animals who floated sometimes inches below the surface.
We steered away from the masses, somewhat sickened by the people swimming and chasing the manatees as they tried to evade the obnoxious crowd, having seen a number of manatees just paddling along the main waterways. There were several points when they opted to simply bob along with us, preventing us from even being able to paddle away!
Of course this gave us a great opportunity to stop and pose for pictures!
Before paddling on deeper into the refuge area, which was further marked and roped off to manage the hoards of visitors.
Manatees weren’t the only wildlife taking advantage of the more secluded and protected space.
Before long, a rumbling in our bellies alerted to the fact we’d been on the water for a while and had worked up a bit of an appetite. Luckily, the man packs excellent snacks, so we found a secluded corner to refuel.
Snacking and lounging in the sun as our boats bobbed and rocked in the gentle current, we lost track of time for a good while…
Before quickly stretching out and heading back.
We simply called our kayak friend when we arrived back at the launch park and she picked up the kayaks as we made our way back down the street to find a more substantial afternoon meal. Almost directly across from our Aardvark’s was a cute spot – The Highlander Cafe. A small place with a seat-yourself policy (inside the cafe or outside on the porch), their menu offered a nice variety of soups, salads and sandwiches, perfect for recharging after a few hours of fighting river currents.
We found a table tucked away to one corner of the porch and promptly ordered tall glasses of flavored, ice-cold tea.
Classic unsweetened for him and a hibiscus berry for me.
Our food appeared shortly after, looking colorful and fresh.
We wasted no time diving right on in.
The sun beat done on our shoulders as we walked back to the car afterwards, and N popped into The General Store quickly, before popping out and mouthing the words, “ice cream!” Say. No. More.
What is it about ice cream on warm day, after you’ve been out working hard, that makes it so…
So, satisfyingly delicious?
I have no idea, but it was the perfect cherry to a wonderful day. Manatees, my honey, kayaking in the sun and a cold ice cream. Yup, that’s pretty much perfection.