Shark Penguin Shark Oreo

Outside of Hermanus, a whale-watching coastal town that seems equally as comfortable with its high end resort homes as with its resident baboons in the middle of streets, we embarked on an ocean dive of a different sort—cage diving with the Great Whites. Apparently, here the animals are known simply as white sharks. Maybe the sheer number of them here desensitized the area residents into forgetting the power of this predator. I, however, will show my respect for them and continue to mention their greatness.

Anyway, Great Whites here range from 1.5 to 6 meters. Separating us from them are 2 inch steel bars. But despite the stupidity of those numbers, Mari and I were excited but not scared of the trip. We boarded the boat with about 25 other excited people and set off towards Shark Alley. The ocean though, was rough this day and rocked the boat, constant like a heaving breath. About 1/3 of the excited boat stopped smiling pretty quickly with this motion, myself included. Ten minutes into our 4 hour viewing session and the first of us was over the side of the boat, heaving up her complimentary breakfast. More people followed suit. I stared at the horizon hard in an effort not to join them. About 2 hours out at sea, we spotted our first Great White as it swam up to the tuna heads placed as bait beside the boat. People rushed into their wet suits so they could jump into the cage and get a better look. I sat hunched on a bench with my wet suit pants on unable to will the rest of it up. Mari was a trooper, and in between sessions of throwing up she went into the cage and got close and personal with a Great White. It stayed around for another hour or so before we headed back to shore. I turned green, from the seasickness and from envy at those not affected by seasickness. I never was able to get into the cage and left the day disappointed— not with the shark adventure, but with myself.

Maybe it was an effort to redeem myself, but two days later in Cape Town I was at the Two Ocean’s Aquarium, signing up for a Predator Dive. That’s a dive in their 2 million liter tank which includes five ragged tooth sharks, two sea turtles, stingrays (the largest was bigger than a queen-sized bed), and numerous fish.


Three of us were going into the tank. The Dive Master would tell us when to enter into the tank to avoid descending onto one of the sharks. He entered with what looked like half a broom stick and told us it would deter the sharks if they got too close. I looked at the sharks, saw their 2 ½ meters of length, and thought that must be one special stick. But he jumped in the water and we followed. He told us to watch out for the Mussel Crackers and then he descended. Having no idea what a Mussel Cracker was, I watched out for everything as I went to the bottom of the tank. And for the rest of the dive, every time a fish came towards me, my hands instantly withdrew to my armpits. But the dive itself was amazing. I even found some shark teeth during the dive, which the aquarium let me keep as a souvenir.

Before the trip I emailed a South African friend of mine and told her South Africa was one of our destinations. She replied back that the country is beautiful and a ton of fun—just be careful because it can be dangerous. I quickly replied back to her asking what the hell the dangers were. She, um, never did write me back.

But after having driven through it I think I understand her and the country a little better. Adventure. Unique landscapes. Wildlife. Adrenaline and danger. This is South Africa. Nature at both its rawest and at its shiny display best. Car jackings and muggings are as much a possibility as a shark attack or the bungee line breaking. That is to say that all seemed equally unlikely, but nevertheless a possible reality. But there’s also a better respect and maybe even harmony (even the commercialized versions of it) with nature that allow us to fold ourselves into it, even for a short time. And there’s a rush here that you can’t experience anywhere else. And that’s why we came. We wanted extreme experiences in the most fitting of settings.

In between the cage diving and the predator dive we drove to Betty’s Bay. Here exists one of 3 colonies of an endangered species, the African Penguin. We walked close to these beautiful creatures and watched as they waddled in front of us, returning to the water or back into their homes. A mother kept watch of her baby, whose feathers were still like down. About a thousand remained in the colony and allowed us to hang out with them as they went about their day. One was curious of me and let me within a few inches of him before I moved on and let him be. We left there that day feeling fortunate to have visited them, sad for their future, and in love with the most awkward of animals.


We came for the sharks. We came for the lions and for the elephants. It was the 216 meter bungee jump and the opportunity to ride an ostrich that made our palms sweat. But in between all of the quickened heart palpitations South Africa offers something else. Quietly, it is encountering an endangered species and in doing so becoming more invested in it. Or more loudly and resolutely it is Robben Island, where Mandela was locked away during apartheid. It is the education of both nature and in a social experiment which is every bit as interesting as the USA. Eventually reflecting back on South Africa as one of our favorite countries, I have a feeling we’ll remember the moment our feet left the safety of a bridge and what a shark’s teeth look like from a meter away, but it will have been the moments in between those which will have made the impact on us.

Posted: August 2nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: South Africa | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

South Africa

As far as countries go, South Africa has been a bit of everything…in extremes. Of course there is the country’s fascinating history, of black and white, of pride and shame. And as in other countries, evidence of extravagance and poverty within a stone’s throw away from each other. Tribal villages, beaches, cities, townships, mountains, wilderness, and all the activities and life that go with each, all jumbled together in South Africa. Three weeks is not nearly enough to explore South Africa, but we’ve been getting a feel for what we can. The warnings about corruption and crime are valid in certain areas and dispensed not only from guide books and travel websites, but from locals themselves. Luckily, aside from one very minor ATM incident (from which I emerged unscathed, just a little shaken and a lot more savvy), we have had no trouble, and the South Africans that we have met have been friendly, outgoing, and more than willing to help us find our way. The one thing that has been a bit of a challenge is finding (free) wireless internet, which has hindered our blog upkeep. But the country has kept us busy and there has been no shortage of excitement. Here are a few highlights of our travels through South Africa.

• Two days in Kruger National Park doing our own version of a safari and animal tracking through the park in our little rental car. Spotted just three of the “Big Five”, but saw more than enough wildlife and close encounters to make up for the elusive two. Still hoping to spot a leopard and a black rhino one of these days, but for now we are happy to substitute cheetahs and white rhinos in their place, of which we were lucky enough to see several.
• Driving through South Africa on our own (on the left-hand side), seeing the landscape for ourselves, stopping whenever, wherever and for as long as we please, has been a new and refreshing way of travel for us. South Africa seems as if it was designed for backpackers, and the hostels here have most other countries’ beat. Even the most basic places have kitchens, pools, bars, lounge areas, laundry, etc. Knowing this, we bought some cheap camp gear (a tiny tent and two sleeping bags) which gives us the flexibility to stay almost anywhere for a fraction of the cost of a room or dorm, while still getting to use the amenities. We did end up spending one freezing night in what we thought was a B&B, where we set up camp after arriving close to midnight, only to discover the next morning that it was someone’s backyard! Luckily, they made light of the situation and even invited us in and offered us the use of their shower. (And for anyone traveling through Ladysmith, Boer & Brit closed a year ago and is no longer in operation.)
• Apparently surfing is big in South Africa. After one surf lesson (the cheapest in the universe–$5 for two hours!!), I have caught the bug. Was even able to ride one wave all the way into shore. Santa Cruz, here I come…
• Visiting the Nelson Mandela Museum would be an incredible experience in itself, but visiting the museum on his birthday felt even more meaningful. The man is a hero in every sense of the word, respected the world over and adored by his people. His birthday is celebrated by all in South Africa. When we arrived at the museum, there were balloons and people dancing at the entrance, and everywhere we drove that day, we saw signs saying, “Happy Birthday, Madiba!”, with all the radio stations broadcasting birthday wishes from celebrities and locals alike throughout the day.
• I have fulfilled a life long dream. We stopped off at Lion Park near East London, where we had the chance to play with a 5 month old lion cub-an experience that, if you love animals as much as me, is hard to put into words. I could have stayed forever. They practically had to kick us out of the park.
• Bungee jumping off Bloukrans Bridge–the highest bungee jump in the world….again, there are some moments you can not put into words. When you are standing 216 meters on a bridge looking down into a canyon, the word “scary” does not quite do justice to the experience and thoughts running through my head the moments before taking the plunge. It’s a good thing the fun-loving and well-trained staff push you off, otherwise it might not have happened at all. The most surprising aspect for me was how fun the freefall portion was-after the first split second of mind and leg-numbing fear, it really was a freeing feeling. And for a few seconds I felt like I was flying (versus the stomach flipping falling to my death feeling that I had anticipated).
• The Little Karoo area of the country provided us the opportunity to get up close and personal with its natural inhabitants-ostriches. They may be dumb and curious, but to make up for it, they are fast. Jeff and I each took a bumpy turn riding a speedy ostrich around the farm. If anyone is curious as to how to ride an ostrich, you jump on its back, remove the hood, steer left and right by pushing and pulling its neck in the desired direction as it careens around at breakneck speed (no pun intended) and stop by yanking its head backwards. That’s how you do it if you are an ostrich jockey. For me, I was helped on, told to squeeze my legs around the base of the poor bird’s neck, lean back, and hold on to its wings while two jockeys ran alongside to catch me before falling off. It was hilarious. Ostriches must have strong wings because I was holding on and pulling for dear life (and even ended up with an ostrich feather upon dismounting).

*In response to some comments regarding this video, the screaming/crying/laughing heard is not me.  While I may have let a minor scream or two escape, what you hear on the audio is the girl sitting next to Jeff and the camera.
• Shark feeding while scuba diving is next on the adventure agenda, as we make our way towards Cape Town. We will do the very best we can to stay safe and check out the city for ourselves before flying out to Indonesia at the end of the month.

Posted: July 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: South Africa | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »