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Published: June 11th 2006
Visibility low and foggy is this really South Africa? Did I leave England?
Robert clearly does not work on African Time as he was outside at 7am on the dot. Sixteen to be picked up in total and I was number 5. A large American clambered onboard with two of his companions. Imagine a white, bearded Nutty Professor and you could be forgiven for thinking there is no method possible of pouring him into a standard wetsuit. Buoyancy would not be a problem. It is just unfortunate for our large gentleman that Great White Sharks are surface feeders. Rethinking the issues, how would he get into the cage? I couldn’t read Robert’s mind, but as I caught his eyes he suppressed laughter as he probably could read my mine. Such an open book am I.
Waiting at the waterfront for a Brazilian honeymoon couple, Robert had locked us in the transfer van much to the dismay of a couple of nicotine dependent Italians. My Italian is non-existent but with his arm squeezed through the window and on tip toes straining to reach the outside handle, I believe his tirade was along the lines of ’Can’t believe he locked the fucking door, I need a fucking cigarette. Fucking handle almost got
Nope, didn't clear up, there will be no tanning on the front deck.
the fucking handle, ahhh!!!’ When the door popped open, they both scrambled out and sucked their first cigarette in one drag.
Cape Town is the premier destination for Shark Cage Diving. There has been a lot of controversy over the practice of baiting sharks with fish heads, better known as chum. Surfers believe that sharks learn to associate humans with food, leading to the rise in shark attack numbers. I had a momentary moral dilemma about this. Shark Alley off Gansbaai (translated directly from Afrikaans means Goose Bay), has a large concentration of Great Whites and a relatively low concentration of surfers. Great Whites are abundant here because of its temperate waters and large food resource. Not chum, but cape fur seals. If you were to surf here, then you are asking to be shark fodder. Shark fact 1:
Sharks kill less than 10 people worldwide per year and cause less than 100 injuries per year. We humans are not actually all that tasty.
Gansbaai is about a two hour drive from Cape Town and the early start was too much for one Italian who promptly fell asleep on my shoulder. I caught Robert’s eyes again
The impressive and wetsuit free cabin, my last photo of the day before hurling out my vital organs.
and this time he didn’t suppress his laughter.
The clouds pulled in with their friends wind and rain. By the time we arrived at Gansbaai, the rain had died down and the sky returned to a light blue. It didn’t take long for us to waive away our lives and board our catamaran, Megalodon II. So what happened to I? It was stolen. Tourists on the pier looked at us grimfaced as we rolled down the boat ramp. None were smiling and a few took our pictures either to post on an anti-shark cage diving website or identification should we not return.
The sea was rolling as we anchored amongst other boats. ‘Right, house rules ladies and gentlemen.’ Robert rubbed his smoothly shaved head and pointed to a sign. ‘No wetsuits in the cabin. If you feel sea sick, do not lie down, do not go in the cabin, do not go to the upper deck, DO NOT go into the toilet, stay on the lower deck and do not go out to the front. No wetsuits in the cabin. There are life jackets under your seats, but since sharks are surface feeders, they are not going to help you. If we sink, jump in the cage. No wetsuits in the cabin. If we do sink, don’t worry the other boats around here will come for us. No wetsuits in the cabin. Any questions?’ ‘What did you say about the wetsuits again?’
The smell of chum wafted in the air and with the swells, everyone looked a little green. Viewing sharks in the cage is best done without a snorkel or scuba gear. Holding your breath and ducking under with a mask is the best method. The idea is to look at the shark and not be under searching for the shark. The six man shark friendly steel cage has inner bars to hold on to however if you do not value your fingers then by all means grab onto the outer cage. Robert had just finished explaining the procedure when a 2.5m long great white surfaced next to our bait line and thumped the flank of the Megalodon II. Shark Fact 2:
Sharks can smell one part of blood per 1 billion parts of water, i.e. a drop of blood in an Olympic size pool. Anyone got a band aid?
Megalodon II pitched around incredibly and the Americans lost their morning cheeseburger over the side and the Italian went an unnatural shade of green. Robert handed me a wetsuit and I could feel all Italian eyes on me as I stripped down to my bikini. As sick as they were, they are still Italian. Getting into the cage is easy, trying to keep your feet inside with the force of the waves, not so easy. Bek bait. Being in the cage didn’t curb the sea sickness and with the weight belt, it became difficult to breathe. ‘DOWN! DOWN! DOWN!’ came Robert’s familiar cry to take in a big breath and go under. A pointed nose slunk by with a flash of pink gums in the murky waters across my line of vision. Seeing the Great White swim by and flip its tail is amazing. He was about 1.5m long (lets just assume he’s a he.) and disappeared as I broke the surface for air. Shark fact 3:
Great Whites grow on average up to 4-5m long, with females being larger than males. The largest recorded Great White was off the coast of Western Australia, clocking in at 19’6”.
After a few more dunkings, I was satisfied with being up close and personal with the sharks. The remainder of the trip included some stunning digestive pyrotechnics over the side of the boat. The only people not feeling the effects of today’s miserable weather were the crew and the 12 year old boy. After an Australian team dry wretch over the side, the sickly green Italian cursed at his sea sickness tablets and threw up, narrowly missing two cape fur seals passing under the boat. Shark Fact 4:
Great whites can raise their body temperature above that of the surrounding water enabling better muscle function to be a more efficient predator. However fast they may be, they are not agile. Seals like to piss off the sharks by nipping them on the tail, knowing the turning circle of the shark is like that of my Honda Accord - crap.
‘I just threw up in the cage,’ Mike announced as he sat next to me.
‘Who was next to you?’
‘The kid. He’s not impressed,’ he said ruefully. I wouldn’t be either if I copped a faceful and unfortunately in this instance, a mouthful of vomit as the poor child was in the midst of taking a breath before diving. Robert handed me a bottle of water and turned the catamaran around towards shore. That man must be a mind reader because I was about to slit his throat if he didn’t put the Megalodon II in motion. Shark Fact 5:
All sharks have a ‘sixth sense’ and are able to detect electric and magnetic fields. This allows them to detect prey and orientate around the earth’s natural magnetic fields. Therefore the use of any electronic devices will disrupt the natural navigational control of the sharks causing them to swim into rocky formations.
Which is the reason why I have no photos of any of the four different sharks today and not because I was throwing up vital organs over the side of the boat.
‘In the 4 years I have been doing this, I have about 30 decent photos,’ Robert reassured me. ‘With the amount of pitching today, you would have lost your camera over the side of the boat.’ He was right but like a true gentleman he made no mention about how much time I spent throwing up. Where r u? Join us for dinner at 5?
I was enroute from Gansbaai and estimated with the drop off procedure that I would be back at 6ish. Get a taxi to Caprice, Camps Bay.
My estimated time would have been correct if Robert hadn’t forgotten to drop me off. As he drove with me in the van past Sea Point, I casually asked ‘Was I meant to walk? Or did you forget?’ Keeping his composure, he honestly admitted he forgot. Nothing makes a female warm and fuzzy than to be forgotten.
‘I am so sorry. I know you won’t believe me when I say this is the first time I have forgotten anyone,’ I raised my eyebrows at him. ‘You see, they made me back track this morning, you weren’t the back track, but then I did the back track and looked at the list and skipped your name and well…’ he stopped blurting his excuses when he saw that it didn’t make an ounce of difference. ‘Er, you don’t really care that I forgot to drop you off, do you?’
‘Not really. I was running late to meet my friend for dinner anyway,’ I surmised.
‘They aren’t waiting outside Drifters to lynch me are they?’
‘No. There will be no mobbing. If I know him, he will be on his third drink by now somewhere in Camps Bay.’
Rubbing is head with his hands he continued to look sheepish as he walked me to the Inn’s gate. Sticking his hand out to shake mine, ‘Thank you for being so light hearted about the whole forgetting you thing,’ he said.
‘Life’s to be enjoyed, why stress the little things?’
‘Keep smiling Rebekah,’ he replied, rubbing his head and waved goodbye from his van.
Cape Town Crawl
I showered the chum stench off me and checked to see if Derick was still at Caprice. He was. Caprice is one of many bars along the affluent stretch of Camps Bay. I wandered amongst tables filled with a young crowd of Capetonians and across the dance floor. As I was heading up the stairs he stood up and waved me over. Trapped in the corner and difficult to manoeuvre both furniture and other group members, I forwent ladylike behaviour by climbing on the chair to give Derick a hug, this time without smacking him.
Part of travelling often means meeting people for a defined period of time in a unique situation with unique events. There is an illusion about the people you meet which ninety percent of the time is shattered when you meet later on especially when you see them in their profession. After a year of travel I am back with my former guide and it feels entirely surreal. The remaining crew of his previous group were in a mixed state of happiness and melancholy. Their trip was about to be over.
‘How was your trip?’ An overwhelming chorus of fantastic and inability to pick a favourite moment.
‘How was Derick?’ A roar of laughter came from the Canadian opposite me. In unison everyone began to tell their version of the ‘South African Daylight Savings’ prank he pulled.
‘Oh my word! You guys were with him on April Fool’s Day?’ I laughed just as hard. ‘At least you guys didn’t lose your underwear,’ I countered and they all looked at Derick.
‘When I told them they had to put their watches back one hour, they all woke up and said they could all feel the difference with the extra hour. Even though everyone woke up the same time they usually do.’
‘ONE!! One person said that!’ protested Valentina. Everyone was in mock protest about how badly they were fooled. Still laughing at the memory, Derick continued with his version.
‘We were at the boarder crossing in Swaziland and I told them that they probably hadn’t bothered to put their clocks back and they believed me. When we were driving through the main part, it was like a ghost town. They were asking where all the people were. I told them they were at the Daylight Savings Festival!’ As hard as everyone laughed there was an underlying feeling of embarrassment by the group members of having been fooled. I guess nothing much has changed in a year.
Seven of us packed in a red bread van taxi heading back towards Sea Point and memories of almost plunging out of something similar in Morocco returned. ‘Smart to hold onto that,’ I warned Eugene indicating to the door handle with my head. ‘The last one I was in, popped open.’ His eye widened and firmed his grip on the handle. Seven became three and we carried on to the bar strip of the city centre, Long Street.
‘Can I tell her how long we really stayed out last night?’ He nodded and Valentina held up four fingers. ‘We told the others that came back at two in the morning.’
‘It is cold sister, no business tonight,’ commented the taxi driver as we drove along Sea Point. He pointed to the right ‘for the men who like ladies,’ and then pointing to the left ‘for men who like boys.’ Both sides were relatively empty. I pointed this out to him. ‘It is cold. But some will try to get warm. Let’s have some fun.’ He drove along, looking to his left until he found a young boy waiting for the bus. He pulled along side to the boy who looked about 16. ‘Are you doing business?’ he called. The innocent lad looked confused, probably thinking we were looking for drugs. ‘Are you available for business tonight?’ repeated our taxi driver. I was sinking lower in my seat, ashamedly laughing quietly. ‘Are you doing business?’ The penny finally dropped and the poor boy shook his head, wishing he had never acknowledged us in the first place.
Long Street has a heady vibe about it and the streets are alive with party goers, drinkers, hashish smokers, hawkers and street vendors. A handful of travellers stood along the balcony of Long Street Backpackers whose security is non-existent as my present company had managed to pretend they were backpackers there the previous night. Our trio jumped from the retro Jo’burg bar to the open air Miam Miam to the Irish bar pumping out live music. It is always easy to spot the tourists. They are the ones with their Ralph Lauren striped polo shirts and matching sweater tied across their shoulders. They are also all in the Irish bar. You could be forgiven if you miss Miam Miam. The only sign that there is a bar at the end of the narrow alley is the nonchalant bouncer and queue of people outside. But at the end of every cobblestone alley there is a courtyard with a bar. Lounging on the vinyl couches we observed a rather Addams family like group of people and enjoyed the open air courtyard. Last year on Good Friday I arrived in Jo’burg ready to begin a two year travelling stint around the world. A year later on Good Friday I have only diversified my travel lust to the western end of South Africa. So here I sit staring at the pitch black sky between the longstanding cement buildings of Cape Town wondering if I will ever stop returning.
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