This morning was back to the early starts with a 6a.m. wake up followed by another quick breakfast before arriving back at the dive shop for 7a.m. Today we wouldn’t be diving, instead we would be going snorkelling with manatees. Also known as sea cows these mammals migrate to Crystal River, Florida in winter where the waters stay a balmy (or at least to a manatee) 22 degrees Celsius all year round. Therefore, we had timed it perfectly with February being one of the busiest times of the year with around 600 manatees just in the Three Sisters spring. We watched the info video for all the do’s and don’ts when it comes to swimming among these gentle giants before heading out onto the boat. Thankfully today was much less windy than the previous day with temperatures getting up to 20 degrees, so we enjoyed a nice ride 40 minutes from the dive shop to just at the edge of the Three Sisters spring where we jumped in the water.
Because it is the high season for swimming with them, there was quite a lot of people already in the water, including some children…..We headed into the main section with all the people and floated around for about 10 minutes. A few swam past us and one directly under me which was really cool, but otherwise they stayed within the confines of the nature reserve where we couldn’t enter. This was a bit disappointing but we headed to another spot to hopefully have some more luck there. Just around the corner still in Kings Bay Wildlife Refuge we were in luck. There must have been about 20 manatees all sleeping in the very shallow water, some of them were so big their backs were poking out of the water. We floated next of them, trying not to disturb their slumber and allowing them enough room to surface to breathe every 6 minutes. There was a lot less people in this section so we basically had a manatee to ourselves which was great. You could really study these strange creatures up close and as we were leaving a few more came to join the sleeping party so swam next to us, including one with a baby! Back on the boat we were treated to another luxury hot chocolate while cruising back to the shop. It was such an amazing experience, although if I was going to do it again I might opt for the 11a.m boat which seemed much less crowded than the morning ones did.
We changed on the boat back to the shop and so on arrival after purchasing the manatee photos our in-water guide Derek had taken, we got straight on the road. This drive from Crystal River, Florida to Natchez, Mississippi, was going to be the longest of the trip so far at 10 hours. We made a stop in Tallahassee for some pretty good Mexican food at El Jalisco. I opted for the steak burrito which came with a side salad, guacamole and sour cream with a side of rice and beans. I also had a HUGE frozen margarita which was amazing. Definitely a worthwhile stop point if you are passing by and nice to stay away from the all American chain restaurants. We made it to Mobile, Alabama before our next stop at Dressbarn and Ross’s for a quick shopping fix and a stretch of the legs. It is amazing the deals you can get in the US for nice designer dresses. The last stretch from here to Natchez was definitely the hardest part of the drive, especially now that darkness had fallen. We arrived at the Red Carpet Inn around 10.30p.m. 11 hours after leaving Crystal River and fell straight asleep. The long drives really do take it out of you!