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A wanderer. A bon vivant. A movie aficionado. En amour avec 'A'. These four remain constant. New interests develop every day. Latest being photography. And mastering the French language. Training for the marathon. And blogging.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Shark Tale

No late night for us, even though we are on a holiday. The sea food and red wine session at V&A waterfront had to be wrapped up early, so that we could be in bed by 9, sober enough to wake up at 4 am. Skip the morning shower as it is freezing cold. Have a couple of biscuits for breakfast and huddle ourselves inside the pick up van at around 4.30 am, all set for our trip to see the Great White Sharks in action at the "Shark Alley", near the fishing village of Gansbaai, off Dyer Island. It is around 160 km from Cape Town and the journey takes about 2 hours. I cannot tell you much about the journey though; as I promptly went off to sleep the moment I made myself comfortable inside the minivan. As and when I would wake up – mostly to pinch A, if he started snoring, I passed by some pretty scenery and picture perfect villages. I drift in and out of sleep, watching the sun breaking out in the horizon and admiring the freshly washed morning sky.

Cage diving with Great White Sharks is a popular tourist attraction off the coasts of Australia, South Africa, and Guadalupe Island in Baja California. A common practice is to chum the water with pieces of fish to attract sharks, while the divers are lowered in the water inside a steel cage, through which they can watch the action. Not sure if that is a good way to lure the sharks, but since I am in South Africa, and this is my only chance to see the Great Whites up, close and personal, I just had to do it.

We reach Gansbaai at around 7 – all charged up for the adventure. We are taken to a cottage – which serves as the office of the Tour Operator we have booked for the Shark Diving. There are plenty of operators running diving cruises and plenty of takers as well. We are about 20 in our group that range from a 10 year old kid to a 50 year old woman. We are served breakfast and briefed about the journey ahead. We are also given bright orange hoods to save ourselves from the Rain God, as the weatherman predicted some heavy showers during the day.

We are out in the sea by 8 and the rain starts pouring down on us by 8.15. Hallelujah. As I sit there, trying to save myself from the downpour, while balancing myself, along with my paraphernalia, in a very choppy sea, I ponder over my relationship with the Weather Gods. How they hate me! When I went whale watching last year, it rained so hard that the trip almost got cancelled. But we went ahead anyway in the rain, braving the cold. Then the balloon ride over Masai Mara – no one could save that from the wraths of the Wind God, who decided to blow a little more intensely that very morning. And today the Rain God had to strike again.

The already cold temperature drops further. The catamaran tosses and turns in the lashing waves like a paper boat. People start throwing up. I hold on to my pride for a while but soon, my breakfast and all the sea food I had consumed over the last 2 days come pouring out. I decide to spend some time in the toilet, getting sick and feeling miserable. The boat is now anchored near the seal island and the stink from a colony of hundreds of seals only makes the matter worse.

I manage to empty my stomach and make my way gingerly towards the deck. The first batch of divers is already in their wet suits and inside the cage in the water. The chum is in the water, a pound of tuna, soaked in blood, living a trail to attract the predator. No sign of the Great White, though. The poor divers sit in the rain and cold for almost half an hour. It seems like the sharks have also called in sick because of the downpour.

We are all getting restless when suddenly the captain shouts “Go under” – a call for the divers to get their heads under the water as a shark makes it way to the bait. I am expecting a “Jaws” like scenario – a triangle shaped fin zigzagging towards us, with the background score et al – but it’s nothing like that. Just the tip is visible in the distance and before we know it, we see it swimming near the cage. It seems harmless enough – more like the fish you catch sight of while diving or snorkeling. To prove us wrong, however, it suddenly brings its head out of the water, showing its ferocity, while it tears off the fish from the bait. It is the Great White Shark all right – you see it with its jaws open and you know it’s not wise to mess with it.

The first batch of divers is privy to another round of shark antiques, while the second batch gets ready. We, as in A and me, hold on to our patience and our innards and let the second batch have their buzz under the water. To say I am feeling miserable would be an understatement. I am so cold and nauseous that all I can think of is a warm shower and a cozy bed.

But, since I am here, I might as well do it, right. No point feeling sick and then regretting it later. We force ourselves to get out of the comforts of our heavy jackets and get into the wetsuits. I visit the toilet once more, so that I don’t make a fool of myself in the water. Heavy weights are wrapped around our waist, we put on our snorkeling masks and brave the cold and get into the cage. As we are lowered down into the freezing cold water, I can almost hear my heart beat. We position ourselves – holding on to the top of the cage and awaiting our turn to see the Great White in action.

We hear the captain shouting “Go under” and we follow his instructions promptly. As my eyes try to adjust to the water, I see a Great White coming towards us. My brain freezes, my adrenalin kicks its strongest and millions of sensations pass through my neurons. I watch with my jaws dropped – a scene from Nat Geo – but in HD and 4D. The most feared predator of all the seas has arrived. Everything else blurs as the Great White makes its way towards the cage, hovers around it for a few seconds, as if trying to decide whether to go for the bait or the 6 human bodies inside the cage. It decides on the former – the tried and tasted fish, which, any day, tastes better than human flesh. It rushes up, and in one single shrug, unhooks the fish, showing the inside of its mouth to us. The banks of razor edged teeth are but centimeters away - the huge gaping jaws revealing the true danger of the imminent encounter. My blood freezes – I am not sure if it is from the cold or seeing a shark in action so close to me that I can almost touch its nose with my outstretched hands.

The moment is over too soon. We get our heads out of water and catch up on our breaths. We look at each other – 6 strangers bound by a common experience that will be etched in our minds forever. We implore with the captain to give us another show. We wait patiently in the cold and rain – of course, all that does not matter now - looking for some more action.

Round 2 begins in about another 15 minutes that seems like eternity. We duck our heads inside the water and now that my brain is working again, I curse myself for not having an under water camera. The shark, for this show, is a smaller one and I remember the misadventures I have read about smaller sharks getting into the cage and spoiling the show. This one may be smaller but is as ferocious as the last one. Even with its mouth closed, it looks vicious. It gives us an equally thrilling performance – teasing us with a thump on the cage with its tail, as it leaves with the bait.

The show is over too soon again and we are hauled off the water. As we animatedly compare notes and see the pictures taken by some under water, our boat makes its way back to the shore. The rain has stopped by now, but the wind is still playing hard and cold with us. But I am way beyond feeling anything, but buzzed, and I chatter away with the fellow brave hearts. A not-so-warm shower and fresh dry clothes later, we sit down for some warm soup and are handed our certificates. Yes, we are certified “Great White Shark Divers” now – so what it was from inside a cage. The thrill that this experience has, is worth the entire chill that I endured through the morning.

The other day, I came across this list - – that I have decided to put away in my travel folder for future reference.

Though I am not sure if I will ever visit Las Vegas – even if it is to get a high from the 110th storey, I think the rest of the list is achievable. I have already ticked off one in the list and have only 8 more to go. My friends think I am crazy to dream of a holiday that entails running with the bulls and I tell them: 'Now you know why I took up running in the first place'.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sasha, my 2nd visit to your blog, the first remember was about your airport trysts..
    I like the way you narrate, simple effective story telling. Keep it up.


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