Dangle a visit to the Fountain of Youth in front of any woman my age and they’ll dance visions of laser treatments, Botox or wrinkle fillers in their heads. As luck would have it, the true Fountain of Youth, discovered by Ponce de Leon, exists in nearby St. Augustine, Florida. Why I’ve never visited defies explanation as my crow’s feet, furrowed brows and sagging chin beg for help.
I arrived one Saturday morning and found the parking lot bustling with cars, buses and tourists exiting a sightseeing trolley. The 15-acre site rests adjacent the Mantaza’s Inlet–just a stone’s throw from downtown and the city’s crowning glory, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument or simply ‘the fort’.
I meandered into the Spring House, a throwback to circa-1957 roadside attractions of early tourism, featuring life-size dioramas. These, I might add, haven’t benefited from a dusting in over 20 years. But, in an innocent way, the Old Florida icons are charming. I felt I was stepping back to a childhood museum visit, so heck; I was already I feeling younger.
I was also enthralled by a little 5-year-old boy who endlessly barraged his parents with questions. “What are those guys doing? What kind of pants are they wearing,” he asked. His Mom attempted to explain, reading from the sign telling of the 1565 Spanish landing. “But why,” he countered, that nightmarish question delivered over and over from a curious mind.
I stayed back and eavesdropped, and then we all proceeded toward the building’s piece d’resistance–a hole in the floor–revealing a stone shaft with a laconic spring bubbling at about as much intensity as a pneumonia patient. Visitors are invited to partake the wondrous water from paper cups placed on a counter. Forget sipping, I gulped two glasses in hopes of some youthful benefit.
While Ponce de Leon thought he had discovered the source of longevity or everlasting life; I was seeking to erase a few signs of aging. If this is the Fountain of Youth, who knows what might be emulsified in the ionic liquid.
However, feeling far from a frog turning into a princess, I wandered on to investigate the rest of the archeological site. While the attraction doesn’t rank as a world-class museum, the grounds prove interesting enough and educational. A makeshift Timucuan village had been constructed in one corner, a two-story 3-D globe presentation explains the Spanish explorations and a statue of Ponce de Leon proudly stands near the river’s edge.
Two costumed re-enactors demonstrate the firing of an old canon every hour. Kids love this, but it was here I found a treasure–Carlos, a strappingly handsome Spaniard whose looks stole my heart.