While driving through the Everglades we saw numerous roadside warning signs about crossings of alligators, bears, cougars, panthers, and school children. One segment of the road even has a Roadside Animal Detection System that identifies wildlife approaching the highway and warns drivers with flashing lights of their presence. What we didn’t see, however, were signs for those iconic Florida mammals: manatees…or mermaids, come to think of it.
We had to travel a bit northward along the Gulf of Mexico coast to find both. Since the theme of this trip was classic Florida, it was only appropriate that we stopped for lunch at the Rainbow Diner which promotes itself as an “Americana 50’s” restaurant. True to its claim, the menu had all the dishes you would expect from that era and a friendly waitress who called everyone “hon”. We both laughed when Bill’s roasted half-chicken totally filled his platter leaving no space for the accompanying mashed potatoes and canned (of course) green beans.Compared to a similar choice of a restaurant meal in France, this was Christmas dinner for four people all on one plate.
We got up to our hotel north of Tampa and again chuckled in unison at the Bob Evans bed waiting in our room. For international readers not familiar with this American fast food establishment, a quick look at the logo on their website will show you the similarity to our headboard.
With suitcases left behind at the hotel, we traveled up the road to Homosassa State Park in hopes of spotting the manatees that had so far eluded us and we were not disappointed. What I forgot, however, was that we would be observing these huge sea cows from shore or from an overhead platform and that they are mostly submerged leaving a nondescript hump above the water. The park has an underwater viewing area but we only saw schools of fish from there.
It was not until the next day, at another state park with a similar underwater theater, did we get to use that vantage point to full advantage. In fact, Weeki Wachee Springs state park was the inspiration for this trip back into Florida’s history of a couple of decades before Walt Disney World opened its gates. We were treated to a 30-minute underwater spectacle of a half dozen mermaids floating effortlessly in the 72 degree F spring water, occasionally gently pushing away a persistent turtle that got as much attention from the audience as the swimmers.
With check marks beside attractions from the southernmost point in Florida to the border with Georgia, it was time to return to Cheryl and Pete’s to see if Heather remembered who we were.