I’m not one for the Sunshine State but my much older sister, who lives on a small island off the Gulf Coast, was celebrating a significant birthday, a number that matters little to her but I can barely say aloud. The first night I arrived there was a small party which Pat (my much older sister) was unable to attend because she had caught a 24-hour flu that very day. It was still a fun gathering of spirited women of many ages including a spritely one in her 90s, whom was celebrating a different occasion. She had just passed her driver's test and told me: “I can now drive until 2018!” Ahh Florida!
Once Pat felt better, we decided to go off-island. In the process of our road-tripping we discovered a couple of points of interest I doubt are in many guide books. We are always in search of new horizons, both physical and mental. And, on the last day of my brief visit, we hit the jackpot finding two places: one that renewed the body and the other that tickled the mind.
Not far from Sarasota in a town called Northport, we came upon THE MIRACLE WATER! This little-known pool contains nine million gallons of healing water filled with 51 minerals—more than Vichy or Aix les Bain in France, or even Baden Baden in Germany. The waters have the highest mineral content of any in the United States, all heated to a bathtub-like tempeature of 87 degrees. Back in the 16th century, the Native Americans had told Ponce De Leon about a place that could make people young again. While in search of this fountain of youth, he came within footsteps of this site. Today the National Register of Historic Places lists the locale, and a small fountain and marker at the entry documents this is indeed the place de Leon had been pursuing.
So why haven’t you heard of it? Maybe because it is a nondescript place with tall, dignified palms and tacky plastic chairs. In other words, it hasn’t been gentrified yet. Consider its (marketing) slogan, for example: “You’ll feel better.” Where's the hype? What about looking younger? There are no deeply-tanned bikini-wearers with their Louis Vuitton beach bags and La Mer sunscreen here. Rather the crowd we saw were mostly Eastern Europeans and Russians wearing sometimes wacky hats--one woman had a flower-covered sombrero-- and conversing in their native dialects while clinging to flotation noodles. A man I encountered neck-deep in the waters told me he was orginally from Slovakia and had relocated to Toronto but had been coming to these springs for more than 35 years. A fairly fit and healthy fellow, he applauded the properties of the water for balancing out the toxins of modern life.
Pat and I only stayed a few hours, enjoying the warmth of both sun and water. We had gotten used to the smell of sulphur and almost didn’t mind the straight-backed chairs. We read the local papers--those are Pat's decidedly youthful gams above--between dips and found out the county government had approved a proposal to upgrade the mineral waters to more spa-like facilities. Once we had slipped out of our swimsuits and into street clothes, we agreed our skin did feel silkier-- and my knees barely ached despite the previous day's four-mile-long beach hike. As we got back in our car and headed toward I-75 and our next adventure, I swear the birthday girl (that's her below) looked a mere 60.
Part 2: The Museum of Art and Whimsy