Ok, I know, it’s been awhile since I last posted a blog entry – about three months, actually – and I’m very sorry about that. In the meantime, though, I have been doing some traveling, but mostly enjoying being home in Vermont before my next big voyage. Which starts in approximately 8 hours. I’ll try to catch up on my whereabouts and achievements a bit, at least as much as I can remember!
After I returned from my 15 day Baltic Sea extravaganza way back in September, I flew straight to Indiana to visit my boyfriend, C, and his parents who live in Bloomington. As you know, I love exploring new places, and Indiana was new territory so I was very excited to see what it has to offer. We went to the annual Lotus Festival, a world music and arts celebration that draws artists from all over the world. We saw several great bands including gypsy singers from Dikanda, Nordic fiddle-driven performers from Frigg, the Chinese-inspired Orchid Ensemble, and my favorite, witty singer and songwriter Abigail Washburn. We also witnessed an ethereal performance by an Australian performing arts group aptly called Strange Fruit. Three women dressed in brassy Victorian dresses stood a top tall poles and “danced” together by using their weight to bend the poles back and forth in wide, sweeping arcs. While the poles were swaying, they would twist their bodies and spin in dizzying circles high above our heads. It was dark out and the women were illuminated by bright lights, making them look like they were suspended in the air. It was beautiful and rather eerie at the same time.
C and I also took an afternoon to go horseback riding at a nearby stable. We lucked out with a beautiful day and even though there were two other riders who weren’t as experienced (the poor girl started screaming when her horse broke into a trot), our guide let us canter on the flat straightaways. I miss having horses around, so it was great to get back on one again. The next day was beautiful as well, so C and I loaded up the canoe in the back of his dad’s truck and drove to a small lake (I’m forgetting the name) and paddled around for several hours. The wildlife didn’t compare to Alaska, but we did see some ducks and turtles sunbathing on fallen logs. My visit with C and his family seemed to fly by and before I knew it, it was time to get back on a plane (my 11th in the span of two months!). Indiana is a nice state, if somewhat flatter than Vermont, but I have to say the weather is more my style!
Back in VT, I had three months before I needed to be back on the boat in Costa Rica. I had previously worked at a amazing local health food store – Healthy Living – and they were kind enough to hire me for a short period of time (probably because that time incorporated Thanksgiving and Christmas, two of their busiest holidays). Anyway, I met some great people, ate some good food, and probably spent as much as I had earned. Part of that “pocket money” went to a short three-day trip to Florida to meet C and swim with some ugly-but-adorable manatees. When I was flying home from Indiana, I volunteered to get bumped in Detroit (aka the worst airport ever). As a reward, I got a $400 dollar flight voucher, which paid for my round-trip flight to Florida as well as C’s flight back to Vermont with me.
When I landed at the Fort Meyer’s airport, C was there with a rental car and we sped north toward Crystal River, home of several hundred manatees. Manatees are endangered species and there are only 3,000 4,000 left in the United States, almost all of them in Florida. We rented a Jon boat, wetsuits, and snorkeling gear from a local tour operator and slowly motored out in search of the slow-moving water mammals. The whole manatee protective area in Crystal River is rather strange because there are houses lining the shore and private boats clogging the narrow waterways. If we want to save the manatees I think we can afford to offer them a bit more in terms of protection. In any case, C and I dropped the anchor at the entrance of a protected spring and jumped in the chilly water in search of some manatees. Underwater, the small lagoon was beautiful. The underground spring, full of minerals, made the water turquoise blue and the sun’s rays penetrated the surface, making the water sparkle. In the middle of the lagoon was a baby manatee, suspended in the water as he dozed. After spending some time watching him float to the surface for a breath and then sink back down to the sandy floor, we swam back out to our small boat and went in search of more animals. There were so many concentrated in such a small area that we could see them swim past as we motored by. We found a few more spots to swim with the manatees before I got too cold to jump in anymore. We returned the boat, loaded up the car and continued north to Juniper Springs.
Juniper Springs is another beautiful natural spring, protected in Florida’s Ocala National Forest. We found a place to stay (in The Village, no less, an enormous retirement home community where there are doctor’s offices on every block) and the next day we set out to explore the Ocala National Forest. C had researched out a 4-hour canoe paddle at Juniper Springs, so we parked the car and rented a canoe from a very sweet German park ranger. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was surprised at how narrow and shallow the canoe trail was. It was beautiful: clear water, low hanging vines, dense forest. A perfect place for alligators. Not far in, we saw some baby racoons and their mother and then we heard a huge crashing straight ahead. We both caught a fleeting glimpse of a black bear madly scrambling down a tree and then disappearing into the underbrush. It may not be Alaska, but there are still black bears! We also saw two alligators basking in the sun and a ton of turtles soaking up the warmth. A small green tree frog also caught a ride with us for a few hundred feet. He jumped onto the side of our canoe and stayed there, stuck, until it was his stop.
The Juniper Springs run is 7-miles in length, and typically takes between 4 and 6 hours to finish. We took our time paddling around fallen trees, under low branches, and poking into nooks and crannies. There are no signs, but it’s pretty hard to get lost. At the end we were met by another park ranger who drove us back to the Juniper Springs visitor center. We walked around the campground a bit, C went swimming in the fresh water spring, and then it started to rain, so we returned to our car and headed back to The Village.
For our final full day in Florida, we went for a nice hike (Florida hikes don’t involve much elevation gain) in Colt Creek State Park. To get there we drove our little black shiny Jetta through some pretty rough terrain. We also passed far too many hunting camps than I would have liked to see. I wouldn’t say that we were lost (thanks to my handy iPhone), but we definitely took some back roads. Colt Creek is a nice park with walking trails and a small lake. We also found out that it’s home to wild boars. At least that’s what we think they were. We heard loud snorting and stamping off to the side of the trail in some thick underbrush and we didn’t stop to check it out. I’ve heard that wild boars can be pretty nasty and I didn’t want to stop see if that’s true.
So that was our Florida trip and then we boarded a plane bound for Vermont. C had never been to New England, so I was excited to show him around! I’ll continue my catch up in another post tomorrow. Merry x-mas everyone!