On a recent cold (for Florida) morning, my 9-year-old nephew, sister and I drove 1.5 hours from my home in Tampa north to Crystal River. Our mission: to swim with the manatees. Just that week, an estimated 300 manatees were spotted in Crystal River’s natural springs. The reason for their migration into the springs was simple — they needed to warm up!
Like us, manatees can suffer from hypothermia if they are in cold water too long, and need to be in water at least 68 to 72 degrees to stay healthy. And so, when winter temperatures arrive in the south, manatees seek out warmer waters, and Florida’s springs provide just that, maintaining about 72 degrees year-round.
After checking in with the team at Plantation Adventure Center and Manatee Tours, my nephew and I donned our 3-millimeter wetsuits (my sister opted for the ride along instead of snorkeling) so we would keep warm in the 72-degree water, too; the air temp when we snorkeled that morning was about 45 degrees. Before boarding the pontoon boat, we watched an education video introducing snorkelers to manatees, as well as going over passive observation and what to do — and not to do — once we were in the water. My nephew, ever the rule follower, watched with rapt attention.
A quick boat ride from the dock and we were ready to swim with the manatees! As the captain carefully dropped anchor, a baby manatee approached the boat deck, seemingly welcoming us to her winter home. One by one our group of seven snorkelers, plus our guide, lowered ourselves down the ladder. Together, we swam to where the manatees were congregating, keeping aware of the rope floating atop the calm water that designated a no trespassing zone — only manatees were allowed to go beyond the rope; we humans were to stay back.
In no time, manatees surrounded my nephew and me. One and then another and then another swam by, as curious of us as we were of them. They came right up to our masks and snorkels, and brushed against our stomachs and hands (we were not allowed to touch them, but they could touch us) as they glided past.
Side-by-side my nephew and I quietly swam with these gentle giants, and became a part of their magical underwater world, if only for a little while.
While large areas of Colorado are experiencing exponential growth with far too many trees being clear-cut (it’s one of the fastest-growing states in the country), it’s still the home for great businesses striving to make the world a little greener. Those businesses include Sherpani, creators of women’s day bags, backpacks and travel bags, including a line of sophisticated, beautifully crafted items made from recycled plastic.
It’s been almost three years since Category 5 Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico, wreaking havoc on the island and leaving most residents without electricity and clean water. Tourism, which accounts for 6.5 percent of Puerto Rico’s gross domestic product, took a beating, with hotels closed for year-long repairs, airlines cutting service and cruise lines shifting itineraries to other Caribbean destinations. Timing for the hurricane couldn’t have been worse, coming on the heels of the government’s announcement in May 2017 that it was unable to pay more than $70 billion in public debt and thus forced to file for bankruptcy. Large protests and a change of government would follow. Then, in January 2020, a 6.4-magnitude earthquake rocked the south side of the island, forcing San Juan restaurants to close while power was restored. And as we write this story, coronavirus runs rampant across the globe with severe economic implications for all destinations, including Puerto Rico.
My youngest daughter and I arrived from Barcelona on the high-speed AVE train (in less than three hours) and entered Westin Palace Madrid in time for the Sunday Opera Brunch — which takes place under the stained-glass cupola of La Rotonda, where daily breakfast and cocktails are served. I’d heard about this event on several occasions when I toured the hotel in 2015, and when my granddaughter and I stayed there in 2017.