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Stephanie's Blog

Rains Go Away And Sharks Come To Play

Sunday, June 7, 2009

I woke up to the dark engulfing our hotel as we got on the bus for a trip of a lifetime. Although it was only 6:30a.m. the sun had not yet risen and the world of South Africa was asleep. That is exactly where I thought I should have been therefore, I decided to take a nice and long nap on the way to the cage diving company, a two and a half hour bus ride out into the country beyond Cape Town.
When waking I found an extraordinary view surround me. The mountains with glistening water snaking its way down. On the other side the Atlantic and Indian Oceans roared like a beast. The sun was just coming up over the mountains, casting a glorious beam of light on the world. To say the least the view was magnificent and incomparable.
Upon arrival at the cage diving company we were presented with an American like breakfast of cereal and breads. During breakfast the instructor told us to take some motion sickness medicine. This should have been my first clue that the ocean was quite rough. Of course I followed the directions and did as I was told. Once finished we went to a presentation from a marine biologist that studied the Great White Sharks. During the presentation I found myself thinking about my future and how someday that will be me up there talking to students about animals of the water in which I love. The presentation was really interesting, though. The marine biologist, Allison, talked about the misperceptions people have about Great White Sharks all because of the movie "Jaws". She also explained to us how good the senses of these creatures were. A Great White Shark can smell a drop of blood in an Olympic size swimming pool. Sharks do not mean to kill people. Usually when people are eaten by sharks the shark made a small mistake. We were all just hoping there would be no mistakes today. Along with some characteristics of the Great White we learned about its history and how it is thought that the Great White had been on earth for 40 billion years. This means the Great Whites were around when the dinosaurs roamed the earth. The evidence found to support this theory is found in ancient Great White teeth that have been dated back that far. The bones of Great Whites cannot be dated back because they are made of cartilage. No one was brave enough to ask the scariest question of all, has anyone ever died on this coast doing what we are doing today?
After the presentation we all boarded the boat for Shark Alley. Shark Alley is nestled between Seal Island and Dyer Island. About 7 kilometers off the coast. This is a prime location for Great Whites to live due to the water temperature and the amount of food that is found there. The ride out to the island was rough, like a roller coaster ride, but the seasickness did not set in until we stopped and waves rocked the boat back and forth with quite a force. At first the cage diving company started to bait the sharks. To do this they used a fake looking penguin and the head of a tuna. Sure enough the sharks began to come; one by one they would pop their ferocious heads through the surface and try to snatch the bait before it was pulled from under their jaws.
The first divers entered the cage screaming in fear. Rain began to pour and the waves picked up rapidly. The instructors called for the next group and any that were starting to feel sick. I immediately went down and the bottom deck was worse. My food began to churn and before I knew it I was getting sick over the side of the boat. The company helped me get into my wet suit because there was no way to stop me. I was too excited and didn't want to give up this once in a lifetime experience. I sat waiting for a while and I just kept feeling worse, but this was my dream and there was no way I was going to miss it.
Finally my turn came and I entered the cage with six other people. The last to go in was I and the freezing cold water had me shaking, teeth chattering and all. We hung on the top bars of the cage, waiting to be instructed to go under. My arms felt week, waiting with such fear and hesitation. There was no turning back now. Eventually after waiting for what seemed like forever the man screamed, "Go under and look to the left." We all took in great big breaths and submerged ourselves under the freezing water. Right before my very own eyes, inches from my face stood the deadliest creature known to man. I was not fased one bit, instead I was the most excited I have ever been. I have never seen such a dangerous and magnificently beautiful creature. Shattering the surface when we came back up for air everyone complained about the saltwater taste. For me, salt water had never tasted better. We continued to repeat the process becoming more amazed with each dive under and trying to catch the perfect picture to frame on that one blank bedroom wall. Once our turn was up we climbed out of the cage onto the rocking deck above. So amazed and excited our faces beamed with glowing smiles. Some experiences in life can never be forgotten, and this is one of them.
Sitting back on board just made me sicker and then the boat finally started and we departed back to shore. One the way we stopped at Seal Island, also known as Great White Shark's dinner plate. The island was covered with seals. I never knew so many of them existed, or could be found so close together. I litterally couldn't even see the surface of the island. After observing for a while the boat started moving and before I knew it we were back on land. As soon as I stepped on to the nonmoving surface I felt so much better. Although the experience made me sick my dreams have not changed for being a marine biologist. I guess I will just have to deal and learn to not get motion sickness on rough seas. Upon arrival on shore there was food waiting for us and I was starving. Cage diving was probably one of the coolest experiences and will never be forgotten.
The drive back to Cape Town was long, because we decided to take the more scenic route, riding right along the ocean. Many of us slept tired from the day’s excitement. At one point the bus stopped for us to see the Southern Right Whale. The glorious animal and its young were visible in a spot that it was not usually visible during this time of year. After observing the landscape of Cape Town, we headed to a local families house for a home cooked authentic meal and a drumming lesson.
The drumming lesson was very unique. We learned a basic pattern of different beats and sounds. From that we just kept on adding making the music bounce in my ears and vibrate off the walls of the house. The instructors then added different instruments like bells and such. Next came the dancers and before we knew it we were like our own little performing group, with a sound of everyone's heartbeat. The dinner was quite good. The dinner was made up of buboiti a type of ground beef with different spices added in. The butternut squash soup left a taste in my mouth craving more. The highlight of the dinner was by far the dessert. The dessert was a hot cake square covered in vanilla custard. Just typing this makes me want more. The dinner was a good way to experience African cuisine in its normal state. Although today was rough for me, the sights I have seen was worth any pain it may have caused. Tomorrow is a new day and I can't wait to see what it brings.


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Essential Programs Details

Duration 12 days
When June 2nd - 13th, 2009
Focus Wildlife Research/Conservation
Political History