Forts and dolphins in St Augustine, Florida

Trip Start Aug 18, 2008
Trip End Oct 01, 2008

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Flag of United States  , Florida
Tuesday, September 23, 2008

We've finally made it coast to coast on our trip, as we've now arrived in the northeast Florida town of St. Augustine, also known as America's Oldest City because it was settled by the Spanish in the 16th century, twenty years before Jamestown. We spent our first day here exploring the old historic part of town and its most imposing feature, the Castillo de San Marcos, which is a large Spanish fort built on the waterfront. We went on a ranger led tour (it's managed by the National Park Service) and learned all about its history and how it passed from Spanish to British and back to Spanish control, and then to American to Confederate and back to American control. It was even used for a short while as a prison for Native Americans (not its finest hour). But the most interesting fact was that it never was lost in battle, only passing hands through treaties and negotiations over Florida. Apparently, this was because it was made out of coquina stone, which is a soft stone made mostly of shells which absorbed cannon balls, rather than breaking. So apparently when the British tried to shell it, they would spend all day lobbing cannon balls at it, to no avail. Then at night, the Spanish would come out and replace the stones with the embedded cannon balls in them so that by morning, it didn't even look as though it had been attacked. Demoralizing for the British, eh?

But then today we had the highlight of our adventures here. We took a boat trip out onto the water with a local company called Eco Tours, and it was absolutely spectacular. Our guide, Zach, had almost encyclopedic knowledge of the local wildlife, and was pointing out all sorts of interesting creatures. But then we rounded a corner and saw an amazing sight: dozens of dolphins, herding fish in the water so they could feed on them. We even saw some mating behavior, which we learned was very rare to see, and our guide had a microphone that he put in the water so we could here their echolocation noises. Then, as we were coming back to the marina, we saw a group of moms with little baby dolphins swimming along being taught how to feed and swim properly (we learned that almost everything dolphins do is learned behavior rather than instinct). We really couldn't believe how lucky we were to see so many dolphins right up close like that.
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