Storm delays delivery of my Christmas present until we are in Florida this year. His gift, I am thrilled to learn, is that he will accompany me on a swim with the Manatees. Given that Storm has never worn a wet suit, does not like cold water and has never shown an interest in communing with any wildlife, I am grateful for his willingness to share this with me. I choose a late afternoon trip hoping that the air temp of 76 degrees in the afternoon will be more comfortable for us than daybreak temps in the 40s.
Is this a Wet suit or a Sweatsuit?
An afternoon swim proves to be a wise choice, except for the wet suit conundrum. Before our boat can depart, we learn we must don our wet suits. Manatee like to swim in 72 degree water which they consider warm. Humans (specifically Storm and I) consider anything less than bath water temps to be a little nippy. To make our swim more comfortable, our guide selects a suit for each of us. She claims that in order to keep us warm in the water, the fit must be very snug with no air pockets. She hands us each a neoprene envelope that is supposed to be a size smaller than our bodies.
Our suits selected, she leaves us to discover how many ways we can screw up trying to slither into this garment. Suurrre… they are a size smaller until we try to get in them. Could the sweat of our efforts be shrinking them? I’ll bet she sells hidden videos of the contortions and mis-steps involved in this process.
We spend 15 minutes essentially trying to force twenty ounces of toothpaste (us) back into a one ounce tube (the suit). Covered in a light sheen of perspiration, Storm pirouettes out of the dressing room. His arms flailing, gasping for breath, he has his suit on backwards. I have managed to force one leg into a sleeve rather than a leg opening. In Yoga, I believe they call the position that I have assumed the “double inverted corkscrew” or in Sanskrit, amputalimbasana. My misplaced leg has swollen to twice its normal size and I have lost all feeling in it. I can’t extricate my calf from the sleeve and am nearly in tears.
We eventually correct our mistakes and the guide zips us into our suits barely able to conceal her amusement. Properly suited, we resemble two black boa constrictors after a feast. Drenched from the inside out now, we offer to swim to the springs just so we can get in the water quicker and cool off.
To my sister and niece who race Triathlons and own their own wet suits, I say this. Once you get the suit on you should win! If you don’t hurt yourself or anyone else during this feat, you should win first prize! No further effort should be required. I understand now why volunteers at the end of the swim portion of a race help rip those suits off of each participant!
An enclosed houseboat maneuvers the shallow water to deliver us to our swim. Screeching primates greet us as we round Monkey Island. This accidentally built man-made refuge is now employed as a habitat for mis-behaving monkeys from the wildlife park. The monkeys escaped so many times while in captivity in the park, an agreement was reached to provide them a home on this resort owned island. The resort provides food for the four monkey clan. Nearby wildlife park employees monitor the monkey’s health. Apparently monkeys can’t swim so the water provides a natural barrier to their escape efforts.
Storm, Sunny and the Manatees
Easing ourselves off the boat and into the cool water delivers welcome relief from the heat build-up we have endured since fighting our way into our suits. Our captain finds a shallow place to anchor very near where Manatees are traveling between the warm springs and their feeding grounds. Storm is never able to find a mask and snorkel that allows him to breathe without gills. He swims awhile then enjoys most of the show from above. The late afternoon sunbeams slicing the water serenely illuminate the transiting Manatees as they glide by us.
At the end of the swim, I am thrilled that Storm chose such a thoughtful gift. My friends who encouraged me to do this raved about their spiritual commune with the Manatees. I do not actually bond with these graceful animals. Probably this was my fault. My lapse could be due to the bubbly chuckles and aquatic grins the Manatees fail to mask as they drift by me. What can I say, a wet suit is just NOT a good look for me!