Some people are just in the right place, at the right time, with the right attitude toward something new. I am one of those people. By chance, I met Adam Sandler and Tom Waits in Ireland, Jason Bay in Boston, Flogging Molly in New Brunswick, the Pope in Italy, and the Queen in England. Just last week, I was scheduled for a tour over LA by helicopter. When we arrived, we were escorted to an airplane, which seemed equally as adventurous so we never complained and stepped on board. After our flight, we learned that the company had made a simple mistake and they offered our original helicopter tour at no extra charge. We were able to fly over the beach cities by plane and downtown LA by helicopter all in the same day. Because I travel so freely and rarely have set plans, it leaves a window of opportunity. It was this free-spirited, open-ended travel that led me to a strange animal encounter in the Florida Keys.
Last summer, Darren and I were visiting Hollywood, Florida which was only a hop, skip, and a jump to Miami Beach and the Florida Keys. With a free day on our hands, we rented a car and drove down the coast. We didn’t have a set destination in mind but Miami Beach and the Keys seemed to hold beauty and adventure, which is what we were after.
Miami Beach was filled with radiant sun, surf, and sand. Coming from eastern Canada, the idea of a warm ocean that didn’t cause severe pain as you entered was somewhat foreign to me. I’d only experienced the tropical waters while on vacation and I longed to feel the warm caress of the salty, turquoise sea. We played in the water with our G10 and waterproof case for over an hour, enjoying each other’s presence and feeling completely free to goof around and make fools of ourselves since we didn’t know anyone else around us. We took funny, creative shots in the water while splashing in the waves and took a stroll along the boardwalk before continuing our journey.
As we drove along the Keys, I noticed a massive marlin statue hanging from a stand at Marriott Key Largo Bay Beach Resort. I thought it was the perfect photo opportunity for a ridiculous shot and I asked Darren to make a u-turn to stand up against the marlin. He’s completely use to my crazy ideas and didn’t hesitate to turn around without question.
I stood before the giant beast and thought out my picture options. Yes, I’m one of those people who makes it look like I’m holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa or spinning a Ferris wheel with my hands. As you can see, I didn’t hold back with the marlin either.
A wharf lined the resort creating a relaxing place to see the bay. We noticed a few people crowding around the wharf and we haphazardly walked in that direction as we continued to take photos. The owner of a tour boat, still in his company shirt, was holding a garden hose over the water while other people were saying, “there it is”, “it’s coming over”. Obviously, my curiosity was sparked and we made a B-line toward the water. There, taking in the fresh water, was a gigantic manatee. I had never seen one before or even knew what it was and the questions flowed out of me as quickly as the manatee drank the fresh water. I asked “here’s your sign” questions like: “What is it?” “Is it friendly?” “Could you touch it?” The tour boat owner, who had just returned from his final tour of the day, offered tour opportunities to swim manatee, making him extremely knowledge about them and their behaviors.
After my never-ending list of questions, he told us that we could step onto his boat, take a closer look, and even pet the manatee if we were interested. I was elated! Are you kidding me? We can actually touch it!
I knew from the guide’s responses that manatee were gentle giants and I didn’t need to fear the proximity; taking him up on his offer was the only way to go. I was given an opportunity that many people paid for and all I had to do was be in the right place at the right time.
He was huge and I was intimidated but his chubby face and slow movements eased my nerves. I took a deep breath and reached out my hand to touch his head. Timid at first, he dipped below the water and out of my reach, but he returned with a ease and fluidity that showed his playful side. After touching his head and feeling the whisker like projections that covered his body like fur, I placed my feet in the water and rubbed his belly. It was an awe-inspiring experience. Although he was a true gentle giant, I felt like I’d accomplished something great. My initial fears were quelled and I was left with a beautiful encounter.
My husband had the same, albeit less nerve racking, experience. We gratefully thanked the tour operator for guiding us through the experience and allowing us to use his knowledge and his boat for the adventure. We drove away with a smile on our face and a story to tell.