October 1, 2008
By kelsey hurst, Portland, OR

Did you know that manatees dig plants out of the ground underwater with their mouth? I learned this fact after I went swimming with manatees. My family and I were on a vacation In Florida visiting my grand parents. Here’s how the whole vacation started. I was in my room reading a book when my dad called me down stairs.
He said that he had an idea for our summer vacation. We would go to Disney World in Florida. I was really happy that we could go somewhere that I had never been. We would also go to Key West, which is where key lime pies got their name. I learned that after looking up facts about Florida a little more.
I packed sweatshirts and long pants since the weather in Portland it was cold and rainy. When I got on the plane it was cold and I was glad that I had brought warm clothes. But when we got of the plane it was so hot that I changed right away into shorts that I had luckily packed.
When we got to my grandparent’s house my grandpa and grandma hugged me so hard I thought I would burst. My grandpa is from Florida and he’s very kind and really lively. My grandma is Italian, but she’s not my real grandma. She’s super sweet and her cooking is the best. She mostly cooks Italian food like lentil soup, which is delicious.
They also have a sunroom that, instead of having couches and tables, has a pool. They leave the door open because it’s so hot outside. There’s a table next to the pool where we usually ate. Since it’s so hot outside we went swimming in their pool a lot.
The first time we decided to swim in their pool my sister went in and said the water was cold. I thought, “How cold can it be?” I jumped in and it was so freezing that I ran straight out of the pool. My sister laughed at me as I dried off. I learned after that that the heater hadn’t been on.
The next day we were driving somewhere that my dad said was a surprise. We stopped at a canoe shop and my dad said we were going swimming with manatees.
So, there we all were, my dad and sister and I, floating serenely in a canoe. It was surprisingly cool and the water was calm and murky. I was very excited because I had never swum with animals besides fish and sea turtles.
We passed a little island that had one big tree and several tire swings. I didn’t think too much about it until we got closer; there were monkeys swinging from swing to swing and sitting on the ground and in the tree. I wondered how monkeys had come to inhabit just that little island and nowhere else.
We had life vests on and they made it hard to move around. All I could think about though was diving into the cool water. My dad was telling us facts about the river and the manatees. Even though I had no intention to listen I heard him say that the manatees were getting hurt because motorboats went over some of the manatees that were slow and swam on the top. I felt really bad for the manatees but I wanted to swim with them more.
Finally we were able to jump off the boat and into the water. I dipped my toe in the water to test it; the water was surprisingly warm. At first I didn’t really want to go in because I was nervous, but I came to my senses. On the count of three I jumped off of the canoe and into the water. I tried to look underwater but I couldn’t. I had a snorkel on and put the goggles over my eyes then I dove under water.
The water was a little murky on the bottom, but I could see through it. I couldn’t see any manatees yet so I popped up to the surface. Right after me, my sister and dad dived into the water. There were a lot of other people in the river, some splashing and having fun, and some swimming with snorkels. My dad showed us where to go and we followed him to a spot where the water was a little deeper. At first I couldn’t see anything but water, but I then I looked closer and I saw a big gray lump.
It surfaced for a second on the water and then slowly dipped under water again. It was a manatee! I swam towards it and I could see it clearer. “Can I go to it?” I asked my dad. He said it was okay, so I swam up to it and touched it’s back.
It was smooth but at the same time it was scratched. Probably from a boat, I thought. Underwater the manatee was, of course, grey. It had long whiskers and it’s snout looked like a dogs. It’s tail looked like two fans that were short and fat. I felt sorry for the manatees that were hurt by boats. I swam to another manatee and I saw that it had a baby manatee by it side.
I wanted to touch the baby manatee but I knew I shouldn’t. I swam next to more manatees than I could count. After a while I lost track of the time. The boat was tied to a rope that was harbored near the land. It was floating on the surface until it started jerking up and down. I was surprised at first but then I saw that a manatee was chewing on the rope. It must have thought that the rope was a plant and it was trying to eat it.
After a long time swimming around and snorkeling it was late afternoon so we took a break to eat in the boat. It was really fun because we paddled out and back in again. After that we swam just for fun a little more. Then we drove to shore and got out. We drove back to my grandparent’s house.
When we got there I told everything to my grandma and she really enjoyed listening. I was very glad that I got to go snorkeling with manatees. It was really fun and I learned a lot. I hope that I can some time go back and do it again!

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