Saturday, February 22, 2014

Escape to Florida! Part 1: let’s start off with some nature

Last February we vacationed in Southeast Asia for a month.  How to top that? Try Florida for a week.  OK, so not as exotic, but what we were looking for was rest and relaxation.  So a free flight and cheap lodging took us to Orlando.
We stayed at Westgate Lakes Resort.  We checked in to our room, which at first seemed OK,
View from the patio
if a little out dated.
Nice Roman bath!
But upon closer inspection, we decided we didn’t want to spend our week listening to air conditioners whine on and on. So we requested a room change.
AC condensers right below our balcony.
In the mean time, we drove our zippy Mazda 2 subcompact rental car

Blue Spring State Park to see manatees as suggested by an ex-Floridian friend.  The park is a designated manatee refuge. Temperatures in the spring run remain a constant 72 degrees, creating a safe haven for the West Indian Manatee. Boating or swimming is prohibited in the winter, and so the manatees rule this place.  The day we were there the rangers had counted 239 manatees that were chillin’ (or more correctly, warmin’) in the spring run. 
All those approximately 6-foot shapes are manatees.
The cutest nose.
Manatees are mammals and about the size of a dolphin, but that is where the similarity ends. They are slow moving…
Here they are swimming and floating in the Blue Spring spring brook. There are about 20 in this picture.
Close up of manatees swimming at Blue Spring state park, Florida
and vegetarian.  Here is one trying to get to some food on the bank of the spring brook. Is this how our ancestors moved from the ocean to land?

Manatee eating on the shore

We also saw birds
and many kinds of fish swimming with the manatees.
Lots of fish surrounding the manatee.
The water in the spring brook is warmish and crystal clear because all 100 million gallons per day of it issues from this huge crack in the earth.  This is true karst flow like I have never seen before.
/The darker area under in the middle of the stream is Blue Spring
Blue Spring and the manatees were definitely one of the coolest things we saw on the whole vacation.  I loved how they seemed so gentle. 

Getting very close to the manatees in this unique area is a must see experience for anyone going anywhere near Orlando.  This was one of the many “firsts” for this girl from a severely land-locked state.

After our awesome experience at the state park, we grabbed some decent lunch at the Red Roof Café in Orange City.

And then, because I had never been to the Atlantic side of Florida (or anywhere in Florida for that matter), we drove over to Daytona Beach
and just went for a walk on the beach. 

It was getting dark so back to the resort we went to change to a much better room.  We missed the Roman columns in the bath though.

View from the balcony at our new, better room.

We had to rest up because the next day I would become a true American.