Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Day one in Florida - Monkeying with Manatees

(Me and Manatee)
As exams were approaching I was getting super stressed. Not because I didn't know the material, but because the exams were going to be written by people who couldn't speak, write, or comprehend "the engrish" (which is a whole other rant in itself).  On a related note, the following are my favorite quotes from Professors from Computer Science:
  • "Selected combined not discussed in class first this way then that way with the sort." - final exam notes for Data Structures and Algorithms
  • "It ok, computer understand." - this was after being told by me what he was writing was incorrect and why...the computer did not understand.
  • "And maybe the person is maybe the condition or some kind of conditions so maybe this all the people the age of the people." - some kind of condition is involved, that's for sure.
  • "You can draw everywhere in the ocean." - databases lecture
  • "If you have something and something, then something!" - AI lecture
  • "This is this and this is this and this is not this is not this is not." - You guessed it, AI lecture.
  • me: "Is it *this* or *this*?" response: "Yes!"
 Before I start sounding particularly racist, I'll mention that if you were in these classes, and you were repeatedly told wrong information, and when questioning Professors their responses are always off topic or agreeable even if something is wrong because they are unable to comprehend the English language, you'd understand.  Students from the same place also have to deal with these problems.  Especially when the Professor goes against University regulations and it takes you, a class and 2 instructors to try to explain to him that what he's doing is not aloud and he still does not seem to get it.  It's not the Professors fault someone hired someone incompetent.

While I was having one of my super stressed moments, Josh comforted me by rubbing my shoulder and asking "Would you like to snorkel with the Manatees?" Of course my expression went from wtf to wtf and I replied "The what?" and this is how our holiday journey begins.

(Manatee floating towards me)
Since I've told this story multiple times and had multiple people fill in my "The what?" before I got to it, I'll fill in those who don't know.  Manatees are an endangered species commonly known as sea cows, which are actually closely related to elephants (they have nails like elephants on their flippers).  They are going extinct but hundreds of them hang out in Crystal River, FL where a hot-spring exists under the river bed.  According to a tour guide and internet, temperatures below 20 degrees Celsius can be deadly to them.  But, many of Manatee deaths are caused by humans (every one I saw had scars from boat rudders on their backs).  To read more about these amazingly sweet friendly lovable but threatened creatures that can grow to be 3000 pounds, please read their wiki page.

December 28th

(Monkey Island)
We were on separate flights and turns out my flight forgot to get a pilot (go Air Canada).  We had the same problem coming back.  After running around airports not having enough time to eat and trains and drinking some fizzy vitamin water to keep the jet lag away, we arrived in Florida.  It was the 28th and we drove to Homosassa, FL until dark to stay at a place called River Side Resorts. It's basically on a river. It was dark when we got there and the place was lit up with Christmas lights and Manatee cut outs. There was a restaurant, Riverside Crab House, Yardarm Lounge & the Monkey Bar that was still open whos menu sold various unique seafood dishes.  Like every other restaurant we went to on this trip, we were greeted with "How yall doin'?"  First we tried the Conch Fritters (heavy on the conch). I was a little skeptical, as I generally don't like sea food. It was battered and I have to say it was pretty good. I have nothing bad to say about it. It was deep fried and the batter wasn't bad either.  It didn't taste fishy at all.  We also tried the farm raised fresh water catfish which tasted like dirt. Literally, it tastes exactly like the smell of potted soil. I'm not sure if it's because it was farm raised and constantly in dirt, or because cat fish have a flattened head for a reason (it allows them to dig through substrate) but that's what they taste like.

(Air Boat)
The food wasn't the only thing that was unique at this resort.  We sat by a window which was at the edge of of the water (the balcony around it is a dock) and some swimmable distance away was Monkey Island.  Monkey Island was originally a big rock under the water that boaters use to loose their boats too.  So, G.A. “Furgy” Furgason instructed a drag line operator (who got a little carried away) to pile dirt on top of it so it was visible to boaters.   The original monkeys were captured to perfect the polo vaccine and caused trouble, eventually ending up on what became "Monkey Island" [1].  People staying at the resort can watch them make spectacles of themselves and so can you with their live web cam.  This was all a few meters away from us while we were eating.  After that we walked around the docks and saw a couple neat you-don't-see-that-every-day boats like a air/fan boat.

December 29th

(Manatee swimming close to a motor)
The next morning we got up bright and early to drive to Crystal River, FL.  I kept my eye out for alligators in the swamps on the way to Sunshine River Tours to go snorkeling.  I didn't spot any.  We had VIP tickets which enabled us an early boat ride (Manatees are supposedly early risers) and a smaller group (2 other couples).  Nobody guided us, we were just dropped off in the water and we were free to do whatever for as long as we wanted (hours).  Ours happened to be next to a hot spring, which was good considering they love warmth (and cuddles turns out).  It also included snacks (I recommend eating before hand, mine included a disappointing Oreo sandwich and a cracker).  I gotta say I really appreciated the boat driver (Rick) of our specific tour.  You could tell he had a true appreciation and concern for them, making sure we didn't wear fins so if they wanted to get away they could.  There were other groups that swam together ganged up and held manatees down.  It was heart breaking.  There was a moment that one picked me up while I was floating and pulled me along like he was a dolphin.  It was amazingly cool considering these are wild animals.  Then a group surrounded us and pushed me off and one of the tour guides started talking and holding the Manatee down as it looked at me as if to say "how could you let this happen?"  I felt so guilty.

(Manatee face side view)
So I should probably mention that I'm afraid swimming (silly I know).  I don't even know why, but I completely panic.  So I got in and shivered in the completely clear water.  I put on my snorkel and panicked.  It felt like someone was trying to smother me (I know, breath through your mouth, it just does not work when you're panicking).  I thought to myself the extent of this adventure is going to be purple me looking down at the shells and the fishes.  Josh was already quite far away and someone yelled at him "put your hands out" at which point he did and I saw a giant dark figure pass him and his eyes get wider and replied "...that's big".

(My first Manatee friend)
I could see other people petting these sweet amazing creatures and my heart sank.  Manatees trumped the drowning feeling so I thought this is it.  While I was trying to get use to the smothering I started dog paddling my way to the hot spring.  Did I mention that before you get to the hot spring there's piping that you have to swim under?  And that my snorkel was broken and had no teeth clamps and a hole in it?  I can picture those looking at the sad little doggy paddle snorkeler now.  The water got deeper and cloudier closer to the hot spring (since it's shooting warm water through sand).  I finally got to the piping and took a deep breath and swam (more like flailed) for it.  Since my snorkel was broken and my mouth was open I also took in a gulp full of sandy water and went into panic mode again.  I felt someone wrap themselves around me and bring me to the surface as they comforted me by rubbing my back.  Sound familiar?  I thought it was Josh.  It was a manatee.  I'm not even joking.  A manatee was cuddling me.  I was suddenly cured of any panicky feeling I had and hugged him back.  He didn't seem to mind and stayed with me a few minutes and visited me every now and then on my snorkeling trip.

(Mossy Manatee Mouth)
Some of the manatees were very clean while others were mossy.  Apparently this is how you tell the difference between a salt and fresh water manatee (the fresh water hang out in one spot on the bottom and get all mossy).  One guy I'll remember because every time he passed me he had this piece of moss hanging off his whiskers.  It was comical and stayed there the whole time.  There were birds hanging out on some buoys on the water and I snuck up on it and pet it's blue foot as it glared at me.  After a few hours I was the only one left in the water and the driver said to everyone on board "I thought she was afraid of the water?".

(Manatee rolling over so I'd rub his belly)
I was hugged, peered at, rubbed against, chewed on, prodded at, pulled around by the foot and arm and saw about 15 Manatees.  What you can see of their eyes are always perfect circles no matter how far they open or close they are.  I was very slow and careful to figure out what each one liked (they're all different).  If their eyes started shrinking (because they didn't really blink) when I went near their face I'd know to stop.  Their backs have inch long hairs spread about an inch appart.  I pet their face tail fins back and bellies (when they seemed to want it).  One of them had half their tail missing, the missing part shaped like a perfect shark bite.  Their arms are really neat as they have 'elephant toenails' on them.  I saw some of them 'walking' on the sand at the bottom and floating around scratching their bellies with them before they rolled over for me to scratch them.  Yes, they'll roll over and show you where they want to be scratched.  If you get it wrong, they'll swim away or shrink their eyes at you lol.  Their faces are also neat.  They have feeler whisker things around their mouth and their teeth are quite the ways back in their mouths.

(Manatee face top view)
I've been told the 'families' (mom, dad, baby) usually like to keep their distance.  Ironically, I nearly got squat between a mom and dad with a baby.  They all seemed very curious and I guess they came up to me because I was just silently floating there.  The baby was nursing, which is kind of interesting.  Babies nurse under their mothers armpit.  Then they swam below me and I saw one turn over on their belly, look at me, and take a (pardon me) huge dump...  I swam away before the bubbles got to me lol.  Feww.  It looked like sand.  When I got out several people asked if I was ok because I was blue/purple and shriveled to a prune.

(NBA Game)
Later on that night I went to a NBA game and saw some really tall basketball players and some really skinny cheer leaders.  Orlando's mascot was "Stuff", a fire breathing dragon (well, he had those noise maker things that shot out of his nose).  Stuff was quite impressive I must admit and was quite entertaining and can do back flips (in that suit, impressive).  After the game we eventually headed home where we were upgraded to a suite.  We went from shampoo and soup to several kinds of shampoo and soap, razors, shaving cream, loofahs, shower gels and vanity kits.  At the same time I think I would have felt better if I was purple shriveled shivering and smothering with the manatees.  I can't describe how much love I have for those creatures right now.  When we got back to the Hotel I asked if we could live under the sea.  Response:

  • "Under the sea?  Under the sea? There'll be no accusations? Just friendly crustaceans? Under the sea!"

To be continued...

This is me, take it or leave it.


  1. This is so awesome! hehehe Although not so awesome there are people teaching who don't know how to frigging communicate. This happens all the time too while phoning support lines for different things. Tired of it. I'm not racist either...but geez you don't hire someone who is going to be teaching or serving a group of people who primarily speak one language who doesn't know how to SPEAK said language. I would be like someone in Japan hiring me when I don't know a shred of Japanese! oy!

  2. Hey, I would like to follow your blog, but a bit new to it all. How do I do this?
    When my husband was at uni he was studying physics, and they had a japanese lecturer who couldnt say "h", did make it a little trickier to learn.. though ok after awhile once you get used to it.
    Love the swimming with manatees, they seem such peaceful creatues, unlike dolphins (who i have swam with, and didnt like).

  3. Thanks Pel, and see step 3 of this link:

    I've had a few people who couldn't pronounce letters. The ones that bother me are the ones that can't comprehend or speak english.

    I was so inlove, you have no idea lol. It's interesting you mention the dolphins. I'm going to Maui in a few weeks, and I was perplexed if I wanted to go on the dolphin or sea turtle tour. I think you just made up my mind!