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2023 - April - Road trip - Day 8

It was planned to be a manatee sort of day and so it was just as well that the weather was lovely as we got up.

Breakfast was now back to the usual Holiday Inn Express fayre and very acceptable.

Our Crystal River Ecological Trip in the State Park was booked for 10.30am and so we made our way along the 6-mile drive to the docking point arriving just after 10am. There were many cars in the car park but we realised they all seemed to be park workers. We wondered how many else would be on the trip with.

It turned out we were the only ones booked with Captain Tom and his guide called Buffy. After the safety briefing and just as the flat-bottomed boat was about to pull out another couple turned up and paid for the ride so we didn’t have a completely personalised trip. As they were getting settled into their seats, three manatees swam into the dock ahead of us. Prior to this we had been reminded this wasn’t a specific manatee trip (the ones where you get off the boat to swim with them which were not for Karen who doesn’t like being in water out of her depth), so this was a real bonus. As the boat then left the dock to join the river itself, we suddenly also had some dolphins swimming alongside of us. It was a great start.

Buffy was a very enthusiastic if also somewhat elderly guide. She was easily well into her 80’s. Without being too rude, she was what I would call a game old bird. Her role was voluntary and the rest of life she was living to the full, going wild camping with friends or swimming in the fresh water ponds.

Anyhow I enjoyed when she pointed out the bald eagles sitting and flying from nests and other wildlife. I was less interested when she spent ages talking about the geology of the area and how before the last ice age that Florida used to be twice as big. Karen lapped it all up.

We went as far as the Gulf of Mexico before turning to head back.

For lunch we went to the Winn Dixie supermarket to buy ourselves a picnic lunch that we took to eat at our next destination which was the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park. We parked up and found some picnic benches to eat at.

Now this wasn’t what I thought we would be doing this afternoon but had been highly recommended by Buffy. I had done no research and so had no idea what to expect. We went into the entrance building which was huge. We were told we should catch a tram down to the Wildlife Park and pay our $13 admission there, rendering the huge entrance building here superfluous.

The tram ride (like a Disney tram) was for a ¾ mile distance alongside a birding trail. It dropped us off and then even more strangely we had to cross another road to get to another albeit a bit smaller entrance building. I was now starting to have real doubts about the place and what we were letting ourselves in for.

I needn’t have as we really enjoyed it. The park is now state owned and apart from one very elderly Hippo called Lu (born 1960 in San Diego Zoo but resident here since 1964 and since been granted official Florida residency by the Governor), all the animals here had been rescued and could not be released back into the wild. In a previous existence the park was famed for having one the first underwater viewing areas to see the manatees and fish, sunk into the source of the spring. It was also where the series ‘Gentle Ben’ was filled. I was more impressed by the fact that Clarence the cross-eyed Lion and Judy the Chimp had been pictured visiting in the 1960’s.

The main attraction now were the rescued manatees which we were able to see close-up as they swam in the large part of the river spring basin that was fenced off to protect them. The problem with seeing manatees though is that don’t actually do anything of interest other than float and each hundreds of lettuces each day.

After then admiring the hippo for a while and wondering if he was lonely, we sat by the Crystal River for a while. As we sat there a wild otter starting playing and swimming under the boardwalk we were sitting on. It was another real treat and a first for us.

A lady sitting on the bench next to me knocked her handbag off the bench and her mobile phone fell out and somehow slipped through a very narrow gap into the river. Now I understand there were signs about Gators but she just shrugged her shoulders and went off leaving it there.

Afterwards I went over and as the water was crystal clear could see it lying in about 3 feet of water. If it had been me, I would have called over one of the pleasure boats that people were swimming off and asked if they could get it for me or found one of the park rangers and asked if they had a net. Karen told me I shouldn’t get involved and beside the lady had left and obviously not that bothered.

After this we walked along various boardwalks and saw lots of other rescued animals including Florida bears, deer, bob cats as well as loads of very large birds like a bald eagle with just one wing. What worried me and so in the end, I had to ask a ranger about the number of vicious looking vultures that were all around us as we walked. He confirmed they were not part of the park but kind of just lived with the rescued birds coming and going as they wanted. They were big as we walked past as I thought they may be eyeing us up as their potential next meal.

With that we headed back to our room to chill for a while.

During the day I realised I had been too grumpy about marathon runners yesterday and had started to feel guilty about it. I hadn’t considered that there are of course people who charity’s ask to run for them and some others for whom raising money is the only way of being able to fund the costs. The trouble with this blog is that the pen is mightier than the sword, and I have no one to temper my thoughts or words. I’m sorry if anyone was offended.

For dinner tonight we thought we would try Cody’s Roadhouse which was not far from us. It seemed very busy when we arrived but the place inside was cavernous and we were seated immediately. It was a typical American roadhouse type of place and full of locals. Karen ordered a cheeseburger whilst I went for a Steak. Mine came with a bottomless salad bowl. We were brought an enormous bowl of it. It wasn’t to my taste but Karen finished the whole lot before her meal had arrived. My steak was edible but not memorable. The prices were reasonable though and you obviously get what you pay for.

After filling up with petrol we went back to the room where we opened one of the boxes of wine we had bought and settled down to watch another episode of Race Across the World. I have still not convinced Karen to complete the application form with me for the next series and in all truthfulness, I am pleased as I am not sure I could take some of the hardship they do have to battle through. And that ended another good and unexpected in places kind of day.

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