Shark Bait – Eye to eye with a Great White Shark

Due to a standing date with the ocean, we left Stellenbosch way before the break of dawn and headed towards the coast yet again. It was time to SHARK DIVE! We met up with our group, had a short briefing over breakfast, and boarded our trusty vessel. There was no turning back now! With the water temperature below 60 degrees, everyone wrestled their way into wetsuits and clambered up to the roof of the boat to wait for a shark as the deck hands tossed chum and fish heads into the water to bait our finned friends. It did not take long! The cage was already bobbing alongside the boat waiting for us. We pulled our goggles tight and hopped in feet first. (Contrary to popular belief, the preferred shark diving method is in fact not scuba, but rather to just use goggles and put your head under water. This actually gets you closer to the shark itself seeing as they are surface dwellers and your visibility is significantly better. Who knew?)
In case you were not already aware: Sharks are HUGE! The first couple of times we dunked under I audibly screamed under water. Oddly enough, it was not out of fear, but rather just pure adrenaline and excitement. We could hardly contain ourselves. There were sharks gliding by only inches from our faces! We were looking straight into their beady eyes! Their sharp teeth were RIGHT THERE! This was no aquarium. It was crazy! When a shark made a dive at the bait, the deck hands pulled it back to the boat as quickly as possible since we only had a limited amount meant to last for the whole tour. Sometimes they were successful, and sometimes not so much. Either way, the shark would come straight at the cage as a result. Mouth open. Teeth barred. It was AWESOME! Such a rush! We were even lucky enough to get some really feisty sharks that came up from underneath the bait, jumping straight out of the water four or five times. Usually it is a great day if this happens even one time. We came into this experience with hopes of getting maybe three sightings, from a distance, of fairly docile sharks so to have countless, up-close-and-personal encounters with extraordinarily active sharks was a real treat! Shark diving definitely is up at the top of the trip highlight list. Wow!
After our heart pumping morning, we drove back towards Hermanus where we would be staying for the night. Along the way, we stopped at some cliffs famous for their Southern Right Whale population. We walked out towards the ocean and were able to get right on the water essentially. There were several groups of whales just basking in the afternoon sun and playing around. We were wrong…sharks are big, but whales are HUGE! Watching as they flipped their tails and playfully rolled in circles with their giant fins propelling them around was incredible! We just sat for a good long time admiring these unbelievable animals. Their sheer size was mesmerizing. Eventually they swam out to deeper waters and we took that as our cue to be on our own jolly way.
A morning run along the Hermanus Cliff Paths and we were ready to move on to Oudtshoorn, the ostrich capital of the world. (Why not? Somewhere has to be, right?) Ostriches are originally from the Sahara Desert, but they migrated to this area many years ago. Some time back now, ostrich feathers were a hot commodity and the local ostrich farmers took advantage of this and struck it rich. This trend, however, was just that…a trend. When ostrich feathers went out of style, the farmers adapted their farming methods and now primarily farm ostriches for their meat and leather. Naturally, our first stop in this quaint little town was an ostrich farm for a show tour. This was an extremely interactive tour where we got to feed the ostriches, visit the incubators, and stand on their amazingly strong eggs. Hands down, the best part of the tour was when we got to ride an ostrich. Yes, you read that correctly; ride.
Ostriches have unbeatable eyesight. They also have a very violent and unpredictable temperament. But when you take away an ostrich’s eyesight, they become very docile. I know…weird. Anyways, that is exactly how we were able to mount these giant birds. the jockies hooked one around the neck and slipped a cloth bag over its head. We quickly climbed on and grabbed hold of each wing before they slipped the bag off and took off as fast as lightening. Hanging on for dear life and bouncing up and down like crazy, neither of us could stop laughing. It was a total hoot! Maybe in a future life we will be ostrich jockies. After how much fun we had at the farm, we can only hope.
It’s hard to compete with an afternoon of ostrich riding, but the Cango Caves certainly gave it a run for its money. Just north of Oudtshoorn lie these absurdly pretty caves. Despite having opted to take the “Adventure Tour” we seriously considered wearing flip flops, thinking, “How adventurous can this really be?” Well, it was good we came to our senses and tightened our laces! You start by walking into these giant caverns filled with stalactites and stalagmites resembling big chandeliers and pillars of limestone sculpted by hundreds of thousands of years. It felt like you should be underwater in some mysterious, undiscovered coral reef. From there it only gets better.
There is a series of four tunnels you need to go through. The first is a low ceiling that requires some crouching of the back and bending of the knees, but nothing much. From there you head into the “Tunnel of Love” which is essentially a really small slot canyon that you shimmy your way through sideways. Next stop is the “Devil’s Chimney” which, unlike the others, goes vertically about 12-15 feet. Looking at the entry port you think that there is no way a whole person can get in there. It’s nuts! Basically, you squeeze your way in and hoist yourself up with just your legs into a shoulder-pressing and very confining hole moving towards the only light you can see until you eventually pop out into a larger room. The final obstacle is aptly named the “Letterbox” seeing as it accurately resembles the slit in a post box. Crawling on your belly through a super narrow tunnel, you reach avery small hole in the wall. You slide head first down a smooth slide-like surface through the hole and into a what feels like a very spacious room after all of that. This is one bizarre place, but for every bit as bizarre it is, it is ten times that amount of fun! We had a blast slipping, sliding, and squeezing our way through the day!
A nice drive up Swartsburg Pass for lunch to topped off the morning with expansive views of the countryside before we made our way back to the hostel for an afternoon of laundry, Ron’s first international haircut, other miscellaneous chores, and of course…ice cream!
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