Remember Shark?

Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
Trip End Aug 01, 2007

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Flag of South Africa  ,
Saturday, December 16, 2006

He Said:

The rental car thing is going well so far. Driving on the left side is a bit of a head-trip, for the most part it isn't too tough until something happens that requires a split-second decision. Quick passes, traffic circles, and threading through traffic gets the blood pumping, but overall I think I'm getting the hang of it!
From Cape Town we drove to Franschoek, a historic and charming little town not far from Stellenbosch that is surrounded by vineyards. We did a few tastings at some local wineries and spent the night at a cute B & B, again though it feels more like we are in California than Africa. From Franschhoek we made our way south to the coastal village of Hermanus where we've spent the last few days. This small, touristy town is supposed to be one of the best places in the world to whale watch...from April to November. I guess the whales all clock-out of Hermanus harbor on November 30 since we've yet to see any. Our only whale sighting was in a nearby town where we saw a large southern right whale mother and calf floating about a fifty yards off shore. On the other hand, we've seen plenty of fluffy rock hyraxes (large rodents that look like cat-sized, grey hamsters) sleeping on the rocky shore. Visiting a nearby penguin colony was also pretty entertaining. Hermanus is packed with South African families vacationing during the Christmas school holiday. We are staying in an apartment with a kitchen so I've been enjoying doing some home cooking.
Our big adventure here was this morning when we went to the nearby port of Gansbaai and did a cage dive to see great white sharks. Because there is a large seal colony (great white food!) on Dyer Island about two miles offshore, there are lots of sharks in the area, enough so the waterway between the island and mainland is known as "Shark Alley". Cage diving is not at all dangerous and is actually a very popular tourist attraction around here. Basically, we headed out with a few dozen people in a 42' catamaran boat. After we anchored in open water they lowered a rectangular steel cage with floats on top into the sea, then they tied it to the side of the boat. Once they were all set up, they began to pour chum (a stinky mix of water, fish blood, and entrails) into the water and also threw in a rope with a large fish head attached. Within about ten minutes a 15'-18' shark started hanging out near us and occasionally went after the fish head, which the skipper repeatedly tossed into the water, pulled it towards the cage, then out of the way at the last second. So what to do next but put on a wetsuit and mask and hop into the cage! I was with the first group in the cage, and in ten minutes or so saw the shark within a few feet a number of times. Actually it really wasn't that scary, it was almost like I was watching it on TV!
Over the course of a few hours we ended up seeing two or three different sharks. Each made dozens of passes by the boat and attempts at eating the fish head. A few times it was able to chomp down on the bait before the captain yanked it away, creating a serious tug-o-war. One of those times Katie was in the water and the shark thrashed around right next to the cage, chomping on the fish head and splashing the divers for almost a full minute! I'm sure Katie will have a lot more to tell you about that incident, and particularly her reaction right after the shark swam away!
Tomorrow morning we are off to drive further east along the "Garden Route" which is a picturesque string of towns bordering the rugged coastline.

She Said:
It has been nice to stay in one place for a while and not have to repack everyday as we have been doing for the last 2 months or so. Hermanus is a cute town, and I only wish we could have made it here last month to see the literally hundreds of huge whales that hang out in the bay. When there are no whales in the bay, whale watching is a lot like water watching or watching paint dry... really thrilling!
I have always been fascinated by sharks (on TV), and particularly the biggest of the big.... great white sharks. I love watching "Shark Week" on the Discovery Channel because you get to see the shark footage close up (safely on your couch). When we first started meeting people during the course of our trip that had come from South Africa, I always asked them if they did a cage dive. Most said yes, followed quickly by "and it isn't that scary." Naturally, I didn't believe them and was dead-set against the idea about two months ago. As the weeks progressed, and we met more and more people who had done it, cage diving started to seem like a normal thing to do. As it turns out, it really isn't that scary. At no time do you feel like the shark can get you, even when it is only one inch from the cage. Besides, you are so preoccupied with the EXTREMELY cold water, sea swells, and fishy chum floating around that you don't really have time to be scared of the shark.
After being in the cage for about 15 minutes, I was getting pretty cold (through the wetsuit) and was about ready to get out. Just then, the shark came by the cage, attacked the tuna head dangling from the line and thrashed it around for about a minute right next to me. It was so close that its tail and pectoral fins poked into the cage and literally almost touched me. At this point, I accidentally swallowed a ton of seawater (I guess I was a bit stressed) and decided to get the heck out of the cage (my exact words were: I AM OUT OF HERE!), as I had had my fill of getting intimate with the great whites. I was glad when it was over, but I would do it again!
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