January, 2014. St. Augustine, Florida. The Fountain (?) of Youth

Posted on January 17, 2014

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The state of Florida celebrated a pretty special birthday in 2013, the 500th Anniversary of its European discovery by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon.DSCN0206

And, in 2015, they will celebrate the 450th birthday of Pedro Menendez Aviles’ founding of the settlement of St. Augustine, the first successful European colony in North America.  The site of this colony is today is an active archeology park, with scientists continually unearthing new information about the location of the original St. Augustine settlement.

Before Europeans set foot in Florida, the area was home to the Timuca Indians, who previously inhabited the region for at least 3,000 years.

Yes, this place is OLD.

In, 1512, Ponce de Leon received a permit from King Ferdinand of Spain to go hunt for Bimini, a place long-described by Caribbean islanders as a land of wealth and prosperity.  Bimini was also supposed to be the location of special waters with restorative powers.

DSCN0197 In this simpler time, stories and legends were as good as facts, so the following year de Leon hired, at his own expense, 3 ships with crews and departed Puerto Rico on March 3, 1513. They sighted what they thought was an island on March 27, Easter Sunday, and continued north until they anchored offshore on April 2, coming ashore on April 3, 1513.

De Leon was quite impressed with what he found. The Timuca were tall and strong, and some of them were quite aged, having lived 80 years or more. They lived in a village with a fresh-water spring, which de Leon assumed was the source of their good health and long life. The land surrounding the village held lavish greenery, leading de Leon to dub this new-found land, “la Florida”, or land of flowers.

Could this new land be the Bimini of South Sea legend? Could this fresh water spring actually be a fountain of youth?

Well, to condense history a bit, after the Timucas and the Europeans had done some mingling, the once-healthy Indians began dying off at earlier and earlier ages, and it wasn’t long before they were all gone. No “restorative water” could protect them from the diseases the Europeans soon introduced to what had once been a totally insular population.

Some have said that Ponce de Leon DID discover the Fountain of Youth, and that “fountain” is Florida itself, a land of sunshine, natural beauty and abundant supplies of year-around fruits and vegetables. And some might argue because the state is home to so many older folks, perhaps there IS something ‘in the water’ that keeps them all going.

While intellectually we realize there is no such thing as a ‘Fountain of Youth’, emotionally we would all like to believe such a thing might exist – somewhere.

DSCN0202However, if you are not able to travel to St. Augustine to drink at the real thing, fear not. You need only travel to south central Georgia.  The aquifer providing ALL of Florida’s drinking water covers eastern lower Alabama, a large part of Georgia, and a bit of southern South Carolina.

This place should really be called The Aquifer of Youth, though that moniker lacks the ‘ring’ needed to draw in the tourists.

DSCN0199So we tipped a cup – and the next morning?

We felt one day older.

We tried.

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Posted in: Travel - Florida