Eat, Pray, Love: The Manatee Edition

I've only watched (not read, as I understand modern women are encouraged to do) Eat, Pray, Love and it's highly likely I fell asleep during it since I'm conditioned to snooze during movies. BUT ever since, I determined that an "Eat, Pray, Love" trip was what one does for their soul and conquers a desire that has lived inside them for a long time. 

I'm not entirely sure of the origin story, but I have wanted to swim with manatees for a awhile. Maybe it's their gentleness, the fact that they are HUGE mammals, or their kind faces, but I have wanted to get in their waters for a long, long time.

I finally planned the trip this past fall and roped in my beloved Jess to tag along on my mission.

Here are some shots from our long weekend of magic:

First stop: Oxford Exchange. Jess and I got in late the night before and, let's be honest, I take a lot of drugs when I fly so I wasn't super present during our first embrace. We got to catch up here and it was fairytale-like. I got emotional and couldn't look our waitress in eyes for a few pass throughs. It was just so beautiful, and I was with Jess, and, and and...

PSA: There is an area of Tampa called Ybor City that has these beautiful wild chickens that roam free. They are the direct descendants of chickens that lived in the backyards of the neighborhood's first residents over 100 years ago. Jess and I had the pleasure of meeting a gentlemen who cared for the hens and their roosters  (and also manages @yborchickens on Instagram). He introduced us to the birds by name and admitted he tucks them in at night. Intro soft crying.

Our friends at River Ventures in Homosassa, Florida took these pictures. We traveled to a spring with (maybe?) 100 manatee roaming the area. My favorite moment of the entire excursion is when our crew of 6 got in the freezing water and Jess admitted she was totally freaked out. Manatees can easily weigh 1,000lbs. These things are huge. And despite how much I had romanticized this very moment I, too, became paralyzed for about 30 seconds after our guide whispered, "there's two in front of us." But once we saw their sweet little faces under water, we forgot the chilliness of the river and floated quietly for three hours enjoying their gentle, docile temperament. I spent a lot of time by myself just floating alone with some herds.

There was a magic moment when about four of them slowly came up for air right next to me. I softly stroked their sides and looked at their friendly whiskers. It was euphoric.

Jess later told me our guide said, "she's having her own tour, huh?" my Jess replied, "yeah, just let her have this." Thank you, Jess.

After a hot shower and short snoozle, we drove a few miles to Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River, Florida to see if we could get inside the park or at least scout out our move for the morning. The park had closed for the day so we cruised up the road into the neighborhood that bordered the spring system. It's possible we took a few liberties, ignored a few signs but, estimated the cost of federal fines (yolo?) but we did stumble upon an inlet where a huge herd of manatees were getting ready for bed. It was silent except for the impressive snorts of the manatees coming up for air. 

Last days are stupid. Whatever. We rode a trolley bus with a bunch of senior citizens (I sat next to a Vietnam war hero, I kid you not) back to Crystal River. As it turns out, THE RIVER SYSTEMS ARE CRYSTAL CLEAR. 

Can you stand perfectly still and hold this moment open? It's the perfect mantra for these 62 hours.