Last week, we took a group of Japanese students and their teachers to see one of Florida’s most pristine rivers and popular natural attraction: the Ichetucknee River and two springs – the headspring and the Blue Hole.
The Japanese were guests of three families from our school, and were visiting the States for their participation in the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals. Our Odyssey leader requested to host a ‘homestay’ team and we were matched with this lovely group from Japan.
The teachers were a husband and wife team, both older than average. ”Like grandfather,” the Japanese man told me.
He’ll be 71 this week.
The students are middle schoolers.
And they were all delightful.
The only real English speaking person was his wife, Mioko. The families who hosted took them to the beach a few times, down to St. Augustine, to the Alligator Farm, shopping, boating, had pool parties, and played Kinect on the X-box. No English required!
Our Japanese guests paid for all our tubes and rafts. We needed the tube center’s van to haul them to the park (usually we have them tied onto our cars and they just retrieve). We had a quick picnic lunch and then it was off to the river. Oh, after a long school year and a HOT week in Maryland, by the time we got to the river’s edge, I dove into that crystal clear 72 degree water, and the cares of a long school year melted away. I do love being in the water.
Since we’d chosen one large raft (I had two girls in my care), and a single tube for me, I brought my snorkel gear and fins down to the river, having a place to keep them if I decided to use them during the tubing float. I made sure I had extra twine, for tying things (like my flip flops) onto the raft. I put my fins on right away which was a smart move. We’d rented the large raft because one of the two girls thinks she “doesn’t want to touch the water” in this lovely clear river. The two agreed to share the raft, while I’d take the tube. Once we’ve been on the river for 20 minutes or so, it’s ‘abandon ship’, and Jeannie’s left to corral three (how did I end up with three?! ) tubes and the large raft, and keep us moving as a group. It’s easy to get ahead of your friends on the river, if one’s a tentative tuber. There is some effort (not much, certainly easy and do-able; but one can’t be completely passive) involved in keeping your tube or raft floating down the center of the river. It’s easy to drift from side to side, and the riverbank is lined with trees and logs and all kinds of interesting nooks and crannies that I do prefer to enjoy from the center of the river. But I don’t freak out if the tube drifts and I have to push off from the bank. I just preferred to keep the flotilla moving down the center of the river, so I did have to do some ‘against the current’ swimming, to go back and help someone, or ‘steer’ the raft along while also holding onto tubes so they didn’t drift away. Thank goodness I was using fins for it made all my in-the-water helping out possible. I tied my tube to the mother ship (raft), and soon, I’d tied the other two tubes, as well. Thus accomplished, our group (by now we’d acquired a third girl!) was now free to enjoy the river or the tubes, and I only had to assist one thing instead of four! Now, it’s all good. I loved being in the water, swimming along with my fins, for a good part of our two hour float. After a while I got out to drape myself over one of the tubes and let the river take me…oh, that’s SO nice. This is what’s so great about the Ichetucknee River tubing experience. One can swim, snorkel or float; or one can rent a small tube with a bottom on it, with a head rest and arms – there are options at the various tube rental places that dot the highway close to Ichetucknee State Park.
The larger group of Japanese kids, other adults and kids from our school were having a blast floating and swimming and log-rolling (really!) for nearly two hours, until we reached the stopping point. Then we drove out of the south entrance and seven miles around the park to the north entrance, where the headspring was located; the Blue Hole, a second spring, was about 1/4 walk into the woods. It’s well worth it to see (and swim in, if you’re a swimmer) both of these springs, when you come to Ichetucknee. Why drive all this way and not visit the actual springs? Each has a different environment, and a different swimming experience, if you have a mask or goggles and can view the underwater world. The springs create clear, freshwater ‘lakes’ or ‘large swimming holes’ with a ‘boil’ or ‘vent’, and a fair amount of fish to look at too, if you’re snorkeling. I watched underwater as the Japanese kids swam with gleeful abandon in the Blue Hole.
After another, last swim of the day in the Ichetucknee headspring, it was time to make the two-hour drive home. The two girls in my car were asleep before I drove out of the park, and never stirred until I reached the neighborhood.
It was a good day.