Uh .... the trip today with Florida Dolphin Tours was great (provided that you didn't pass out from not getting lunch until 3 PM - I had learned from Egypt and carried food with me but some parents did not have such luck). The manatee swim was hardly some kind of beautiful communing with nature kind of thing - the water was quite mucky (though it seemed not particularly polluted, just planty), and there were only two manatees for our little group of ... er, 20 ... to interact with. The description we'd had earlier of manatees hugging you and sneaking up behind you to check you out just seemed a bit like overenthusiastic drivel, but, who knows, this is apparently "manatees head out to other grazing grounds" time so maybe there just weren't too many around. It was still really neat. Manatees don't feel like squeaky wet inner tubes like dolphins do; they feel like tires that have been left in the river for months on end and grown slime (apparently they move too slowly to escape its grasp, and manatees in the ocean will get barnacles). I'm afraid I got a little enthusiastic at the gift shop afterwards and may have bought ... things.
The airboat ride on the river later was pleasant enough, if loud (we were supplied very substantial ear covers to block out the noise). We didn't see dolphins or gators, but we saw frolicking otters and a manatee and an incredible landscape of flat, flat islands with lonely palm trees peeking out of them, seas of grass, a lazy river, and pelicans/ospreys/ibises/bird4/bird5/bird
Then I fell asleep on the bus. Oops.
Then we got to the Homosassa State Wildlife Park, and it was just great. They had six lazy and lovable manatee rescues there who lipped the ranger begging for yam slices; they were just adorable and SO fun to watch from so close. The setting is a collapsed limestone cave that's become the center of a spring-filled pool, and the water was as clear as could be and utterly gorgeous; you could see the fish like nobody's business. I wanted to swim in it so much.
The rest of the park is a really nice collection of birds of Florida as well as reptiles (ooh gator! ooh coral snake!), a few mammals (black bear/cougar/lynx/fox), and a, er, hippo that came with the park (she'd been a movie animal). The bird collection was amazing - Florida turkeys, four varieties of owl, black vultures (who were actually just wild birds that nested in the park), roseate spoonbills, white ibis, a Crested Caracara, flamingos, and ... two pairs of Whooping Cranes, including two babies. My God, I died of cute. And it was just so exciting to see these birds that had been on the verge of extinction for so long - I must have spent twenty years listening to conservation people talking about how they were almost wiped out. It gave me such hope to see those two little guys hiding under mommy's skirts on their little island. Actually, the whole park made me think about how pretty Florida must have been at one time, though doubtlessly there's beautiful springs out there somewhere still that haven't all been turned into the centerpiece of some golf vacation home - I just think there's so many fewer than there used to be. Who knows, there may be a lot of good to come out of the mortgage market collapsing yet.
In summary: great tour, I no longer feel bad about how much it cost because it was totally the highlight of my week here. The rest of the evening? Not full of fail but just ever so "God, why can't I be home already." And along those lines, I'm going to bed now.