Africa 2017- Day 14: South Africa- shark dive

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I woke up every hour, because again this hotel has no clock. We set the alarm on my phone, but I am worried we have missed it or something. I also have dreams all night about sharks, including where I was working with a summer camp and we took elementary school kids to a pond and there were sharks there. We were supposed to learn about them by swimming with them- but no cage. I thought this was a terrible idea of course and when one little kid got his finger bitten off by the shark and the whole pond filled with blood, I was like, yep, bad idea!

4am did come too early, but once I get going and I am ready to do something it isn’t so bad. We got in the van which already had two other girls in it- not together. We went to pick more people up and I was surprised another single girl and then two guys. The girls were all from the US but one (I never did find out where she was from, she was quiet). But one of the guys was from Madrid. The other didn’t talk enough either, but I suspect maybe Germany or something (I think I heard him talking on his phone).

One of the girls, named Jamie, was bald and I thought at first she’d shaved her head, but we think she was going through chemo. She had no eyebrows but did have eyelashes, so I don’t think it was alopecia. She had come to volunteer for the month with the company we were diving with- to just help out the shark conservation and have fun. We suspect it was a bit of a bucket list item, but we didn’t pry so we don’t know for sure.

We all fell asleep in the nearly 2-hour ride to Hansburg (I think it’s called) and we stopped along the way to check out whether there were whales. It was a beautiful town. Much like Malibu or something where the houses are prime pricing and the town is quaint.

We drove into town and got to the shark diving office, where we had a few eggs, toast and some coffee which was nice. We got a very nice safety and info briefing video which explained where the life preservers are, the life raft and the etiquette regarding the cage and so on. Afterward, we had a few minutes- which is where I did the live video I posted earlier. That is the last my iPhone would work.

We get on the boat when it’s dry with a little ladder and then they roll the boat down the ramp into the water. It was a sunny day, pretty warm, but I was glad I had my hoodie still. I also wore my new lightweight pants, which was also a good decision.

We head out maybe 15-20 minutes from shore if that. It turns out rather than a desolate fishing town like Bryan and I envisioned, Mossel Bay is more like a beach getaway, much like Astoria or Myrtle Beach.

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We drop the cage and we’re waiting for some sharks. It takes a few minutes and some “bronzies”, technically called copper sharks, come along. We suit up quickly and Bryan and I are basically the first few people ready. Unfortunately so were the Italian couple who made our experience a little less than prime.

First, the pretty large guy got in, then his very petite wife. We are supposed to fit 4 people on each side of the center bar- and already, they can barely allow me in. The attendants keep trying to get them to move over- particularly, the wife, whose arms are spread far wider than her shoulders, allowing me less than one arm’s width myself, and barely allowing Bryan the same.

The first shark comes by and basically, they come to the chum which is waving on a rope in front of us. The guy on the boat throws it and then lets it drag in front of the cage. When the shark gets close, they say, ‘get down!” and then you duck under water (with your mask on). You have to hold your breath and you get a good glimpse as they go by before you have to come up. The water is a tad silty so it isn’t crystal clear, but you can see enough!

The sharks are about 8-10 feet perhaps and they have an overbite and beady eye like our beloved, Ms. K. We always called her our little shark and these really look like her! The time in the cage is determined by how many passes the sharks make- so say 10 passes, and then you switch with the next group. That could be 5 minutes or it could be 30, it just depends.

The water is really rough and we’re just at the surface so it does bounce and toss and turn you a bit- and when not having any room to hold on because someone else is taking it all, it’s really hard. I had my phone in the other hand and was taking some pics, so I figured out hooking my ankles on the back bars of the cage was the easiest way to stay stable. Honestly though, I have no idea if this meant my feet were sticking out into the water for a shark to nibble as they swam by, but with these sharks I was not scared. These were not great whites- nor would we see any at all.

I had bought this really cool, waterproof box for the phone and it got good reviews. It worked with an app, so it allowed you to control the camera with the volume buttons. It worked great though the phone kept turning off (going to sleep) and then a few times (when on the boat) I had to take it out, wake it up with the power button, then close it back up. The phone was dry, with perhaps a few drops of water in there- probably from me messing with it more than it was leaking…but despite the phone having more than 89% battery it died before the cage dives were up. I always felt like the phone would die quickly, but 30 mins or so is ridiculous.

I was disappointed, but what can you do. We could still stay on the top of the boat and the side looking down to see, which on occasion, was the better view. Bryan had the reg cam and he took some surface shots- besides they ALWAYS have a group video you can buy- which we usually do in addition to whatever footage we can do.

I am realizing my hands are tingling now and my lips. I am thinking it’s because of the cold water. It was pretty cold- like 45 degrees if that (we had wet suits), but by the end of the 2 times in the water, I was shivering and ready to get warm. I kept putting sunblock on- we always use a lot…but my hands were just killing me.

We got back to the office and had a lunch and got to watch the video- the guy was a super fast editor. They explained the kinds of sharks and about the great whites and their absence: basically a pod of orcas came to town a few weeks ago and ate 7-8 of the great whites, so the rest moved out of the area. We asked the guy where they went to, thinking we had one more day in South Africa to give it a shot and he said Mossel Bay. This is where they often film shark documentaries and so I was familiar with it. He said it was about 3 hours away…but then I though, hm, it was almost 2 to get here…

I pretty much instantly tried to get on the line with a different dive company in Mossel Bay. One write back really fast and said they had availability!?My phone was about to die so this was critical…they said they needed a card to hold it, but they didn’t charge until we arrived. I made the confirmation booking and was super excited to go back and do this again! This time with our true dream of great whites!

We enjoy the ride home through the town and shockingly, a pod of right whales were in the harbor there, so we got out and got to watch them for a few. One was slapping the water with it’s fin (it seemed like a baby) and was slapping it’s tail. Another was making noises and blowing water out of the blowhole and we even got to see a swan dive type thing. We were all hoping so hard for a breach, but no. Of course, as soon as we started driving and all put our cameras away, one of them did a breach! We all hoped for another- but again, no…the sighting was the best we’d get, and in all we can’t complain.

We all fell asleep again on the way home, which was hard because we really wanted to see things…but we woke up as we got closer to Cape Town.

And then we saw the shanty towns.

They are spread out for miles- and miles and miles. The houses are about 10 X 10 shacks of bits of metal pieced together. They don’t look like they’d stand up to a gust of wind, let alone rain or storms. The other side of the highway is the less shanty town version- concrete brick houses but in poor shape- again extending for miles. But if you’re on that side, you might be doing ok.

The shanty town side however, it was hard to believe existed…especially 20 minutes or less outside this city of wealth and prosperity. It was really hard to see. Especially when you see the kids playing soccer in the flat areas next to the highway. They squeaked out through the tattered, broken fence to play in a garbage strewn ‘field”. This was really shocking for us…

When we get back to the hotel we are super tired but we need to make sure we have a car for the next day to Mossel Bay. At first we ask the congierge about renting, but they suggest a driver- although this will not be cheap. They asked about which company we booked with and when we tell them, they immediately got worried and upset. They said a former guest had booked with them and just sat in the lobby because no one ever picked him up.

They were worried we got scammed and told us to try and cancel the booking and they’d make a proper one for us. Of course then we start to get worried, but as we’re talking more it seems clear that they might be confused too. First, the one girl said she’d never heard of shark diving in Mossel Bay- and I only know Mossel Bay because of the shark stuff I have seen on TV. Then one guy says it’s an hour to Mossel Bay, another says 2-3. In all, I am starting to be a little less worried- but I do know this can be a huge problem of scamming when it comes to stuff like this.

I emailed the company using the tablet (thankfully I had set it up to get my emails there just in case, because with 2-step verification, it relies on sending a text to py phone, which is now totally dead. I told the shark company “oh we can’t come after all”…and worst case if they asked why I would just say the hotel was upset we didn’t use their services/ references.

They booked us an appointment with a company- and the company noted we’d already made an appt for 1pm. So what I gather now, is that the site they said scammed the one guy, might really be a booking agency- and then they call the actual dive companies. So really, that means the booking site I used did NOT scam anyone- and ended up being the same company anyway- but that the guy must have gotten scammed by an individual dive company instead.

We are so exhausted, we have to lay down and nap for a bit. When we get up, we’re hungry for dinner although it’s only about 430. We take a 5 minute walk or so down to the waterfront area where the shops and restaurants are. We checked out a couple places near our hotel, but the one didn’t have any veg options and we just decided the waterfront might be more lively anyway.

The hotel’s street runs into a very large, wide main street. It’s really hard to remember which way to look when you are crossing the street. I guess I haven’t mentioned they drive on the left here! It always makes things a little tricky- and I think while you can get used to it over a few days and highway driving, it’s VERY hard to do it for a short time and in the city. This is why we opted to hire the driver rather than get a car ourselves…although the price was $430- and the dive cost was only going to be $100 or so each. We were only going to have this chance to see great whites once- and we’d have paid 3-400 each to do it under different circumstances, so why not now?

We notice there’s a lot of barbed wire- and again concrete walls with glass on top as well. These are around the bigger hotels and a compound which looks like a historical site- like it used to be a fort. In general though it still seems pretty safe, we’re not worried- and it’s broad daylight- blazing sun- so we’re fine. We notice these mini vans keep stopping and people get off- it’s their version of a bus! It seems to be the poorer people’s bus, but a bus nonetheless. It’s a very tight fit either way, but certainly a good option to have.

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We find the waterfront, but first have to walk through a mall- which is Bryan’s and my least fav place! He usually gets anxiety in the mall, so we walked through as fast as we could- noting if there was anything we might need, but were happy to emerge to see the harbor/ waterfront and some water- as well as some restaurants.

We try to find one that we can afford- which is hard to gauge still, as we’re not used to the money. The first I thought was expensive- and maybe it was- but I could have also easily misjudged. We ended up finding kind of a café however that had a few options- although he showed us the old menu- and the new one had much less in the way of veg options! I ended up getting a flat bread pizza and bryan basically a cheese plate and bruschetta, which we shared. It was really good and the place was nice…

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But I look around and I notice there are only white people eating here- and ALL the servers are black. It makes me uncomfortable, but what can you do. Honestly, maybe there are some situations like this at home where perhaps I might not even notice, because I am not keenly aware of the issue when I am in my element? It might be very white of me to think and say this as well…but who knows. I know that I cannot speak to such discrimination- though certainly I can for being female, #metoo.

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Anyway, we leisurely enjoy our dinner and we decide that we’re ready to go back to the hotel. The walk alone sounds hard enough, despite not being far…and when we arrive back at the hotel we laid down again. At this point we figured we might just sleep through to morning, so we set the alarm on Bryan’s phone this time- although Bryan’s phone doesn’t work right. It will connect to wifi but still won’t change the time? I have to make cape town a fav city and save it, compared to Seattle’s time- and then estimate the alarm based on this.

When you’re tired and do NOT want to miss great whites, this is a bit of a challenge. So basically we need get up again at 4am the next day, I have to set the alarm for 5pm “tonight”.

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