Remember how I said at the end of the last post that the next first date was over a year in the making? I lied. Another first date snuck in first. First dates are like that; you always have to be on the lookout. And when you are on an epic quest like this, you have to learn to be flexible.
This was a busy week for me, Hitchhikers. It was a travel week. It was also a week with a due date on a huge project for work. It required a lot of writing, and a lot of energy output. I am ready for a nap.
My sixth first date was a setup. That makes it sound like a trap. It wasn’t. It was just a blind date with the brother-in-law of the first person I met when I moved to Tampa. He was in from out-of-town for a few days, and looking for adventure and a decent grouper sandwich. Actually, I don’t think he was looking for either, but he certainly found both [incidentally, I had nothing to do with the grouper sandwich; he discovered that on his own before we met, but I benefitted].
Because he was from out of town, I wanted to find something unique to the area for our date. I googled around a bit and came across a few places where we could go snorkeling with manatees. I made the suggestion and he pushed back. Not a lot, mind you, he just worried that I might not be comfortable with the activity since I didn’t know him at all and suggested we meet the evening before to get some food. Clearly he did not know me at all. I called it even and we made plans for snorkeling the next morning [I can be very convincing when I want to be]. Besides, I figured if things got bad, I could just hand him a set of cement flippers and go along my merry way.
Things didn’t get bad; we had a great time. It was a long drive to the river, and a long drive home, but there was never a point where conversation felt uncomfortable or forced, so time passed quickly.
There were about 25 people in our group, split between two boats. The tour company provided wetsuits and snorkels and masks to everyone. We watched a short video full of clear shots of people interacting [gently] underwater with manatees. Apparently they startle easily, and due to their endangered status, people are not allowed to chase, ride, splash around, or touch them [unless the manatee initiates the contact]. Manatees have all the power. They decide whether physical interaction will occur, and how much. I am a lot like a manatee in this way (*ahem*… I’m looking at you, creepy first date).
We found a pod of five manatees pretty quickly and proceeded to climb in the water with them. The water was massively murky, and you really couldn’t see more than a foot or two in front of your face. It was far easier to spot them from the deck than it was from in the water, and quite unlike the video presentation.
In order to get the manatees to approach, you pretty much put yourself in a dead man’s float and wait. You can use your hands in a modified breaststroke to maneuver around slightly, but the less you move the better. Kicking of feet is highly discouraged. It is effective for manatee viewing, but far less effective for keeping warm when you lack sufficient insulation.
Even with a wetsuit, after about thirty minutes in the water, I started to shiver. A lot. My teeth were chattering, and all my muscles started to hurt from shaking to keep warm. I curled up in a little ball and floated for a few minutes because I still hadn’t seen a manatee from in the water, and I really wanted to before I succumbed to hypothermia. Incidentally, the coldest water we encountered that day was 72° F… and I didn’t even get in it; I have no idea what temperature the warmer water was.
The manatee pod eventually made its way into a small cove where the water was maybe two feet deep. There were four males and a female… and the males were all trying to get her attention. It was not unlike some deployments I’ve experienced. I made my way to the front of the group and waited quietly for a manatee to approach.
As I lay floating, shivering, and staring at swirling mud, I started to wonder if I was ever going to see a manatee up close and personal. No sooner had the thought crossed my mind, than I noticed my body drifting up on top of the water’s surface. It seemed a metric ton of manatee had decided to try to occupy the same space as me. Try as I might to do otherwise, I could not help but ride the manatee a short distance. His skin felt like fine-grain sandpaper. He eventually moved away without me and I made my way back to the boat. My toes were blue.
We moved into the crystal clear spring waters, but there were no manatees to be found this time of year. Apparently, the month of January is prime manatee viewing season. This year they had over 600 of them (so that’s where they get the video footage). It made our five seem a little less impressive. Or maybe a little more impressive because our five weren’t snowbirds that were just using Florida for the mild winter.
After we turned in our gear and changed out of our wet clothes, we drove several hours to eat the “best grouper sandwich” my date had ever eaten. He discovered it the day before and was determined to eat one every day he was in town. It was the only grouper sandwich I’d ever eaten, ergo, also the best grouper sandwich I’ve ever had.
I think I put 300 miles on my car that date; it was a lot of driving. I don’t mind driving, but it was a workday, so after that many hours in the car and in the water, I still had to go home and be productive. I might need a midweek rule about mileage I’m willing to travel for a date. And I definitely need a rule about setting an alarm earlier than 0500 for a date.
I further think I ought to open an Adventure Dating company because I plan some fun first dates. If I were a guy, women would be lining up left and right to try to snag a date with me. [Incidentally, my date did ask me if I was sure I wasn’t a man at one point during the date. He meant it as a compliment, and I took it as one, though it might be the strangest compliment I’ve received yet. For the record, yes, I am certain.]
My date said I was the most unique first date he’d ever had, and he is certain the record will never be topped. Maybe for him. As for me: Challenge. Accepted.