The Ultimate Road Trip: THE SILVER SNAIL : A solo woman's full-time RV adventure
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Manatee Springs, FL

I really wanted to see a manatee and was also looking for a place to stay that was close-ish to Tampa where my mom lives. All of the more southerly campgrounds were booked solid, but I was able to get 6 nights at Manatee Springs State Park. Along the Gulf coast in the northern part of Florida, the manatees congregate in natural springs during the winter, when the spring water is warmer than the Gulf. And the manatees were there in abudance! At least 6 were spotted in the spring each day, sometimes as many as 13. The spring is crystal-clear, a steady 72 degrees, flanked by big cypress trees, and inundated with jumping mullet (that's a fish). Underground, miles and miles of caves meander, making this a popular cave-diving site.

The first day i arrived, I went for a snorkel in the designated swimming area and soon, maybe 10 feet away from me, I saw a big manatee hanging out in the warm shallows of the beach area. I watched him for a little while underwater and once he saw me, I guess he thought I had invaded his personal space, because he slowly turned and gracefully swam away. It was beautiful to watch him swim underwater and I got to see my manatee up close and personal! Of the 6 days I was there, that was the only day that I was able to swim, because rains had come and the water turned murky. The rangers closed the swimming area out of concern for surprise alligator attacks.

Still, the manatees were there every day and every day I went to pay them a visit and watch them as they just sat there. They're pretty lazy and slow, these guys, but i hear they can reach speeds of 20 mph when they want to. On one of the afternoons, a few of them were actually frolicking and playing....perhaps playing the mating game? ...and it was nice to actually see them come to life.

I took a day trip down to Tampa to have dinner with my mom and her husband Jim, which was nice, but I have an allergic reaction to the 8-lane highways of the Tampa area and was happy to return back to the slow pace of Chiefland and Manatee Springs. A few days later, they came up to visit me for the day and boy, they couldn't have picked a worse day to make the drive. It was the most dramatic weather I had experienced on my trip yet - torrential downpours and terrible thunderstorms all day. Still, it was a really great visit and they were troopers. We donned our rain gear and went for a quick walk to see if there were any manatees about, which there were. We didn't stay out long, though, as my mom was afraid of being struck by lightning, which happens all the time in those parts, apparently. So I made dinner and we had a nice time in my little trailer - all 6 of us: 3 adults, 1 big dog, 1 little weiner dog (my mom's), and one cat. And it was actually pretty comfortable.

I was lucky to have some really great neighbors from New Jersey - Tim and Maryann. They had also been to Newfoundland and we made an immediate connection. Maryann was particularly taken with Peyote. They arrived the same day I did, but left a few days before me, and I was sorry to see them go. Jim was also a scuba-diver and we almost went to Ginnie Springs to dive, but the weather turned, so we had to scrap that idea. I had heard of Ginnie Springs from the book The Last Dive, and wanted to check it out, so I went out there on another day and saw that it really was a mecca for cave-divers. Since I'm not one, I was satisfied to just snorkel and dive down to see the entrance to the cave. Not sure I'd enjoy cave-diving - seems awfully cramped and claustrophic.

Just like in Newfoundland with the whales and icebergs, it is a particularly nice to witness nature and see things I've never seen before with strangers who have never seen it as well. It is one of the most genuine ways of connecting with people, and it is particularly nice when traveling solo. The state parks so far are my favorite places to stay. It's a wonderland in every new place I visit. My front and back yard changes regularly, and when I open the door in the morning, breath in the fresh air and let Riley and Peyote out, I think we all experience a sacred moment of peace, joy and tranquility. 'snice.


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