Road to Everywhere: Chapter 3

We had not made any reservations in Cape Town, but Lonely Planet said there were budget hostels on Long Street, so we headed there.

This was the first time I had tried walking more than a few minutes with my big backpack, and I quickly realized I had made a big mistake, when I had packed so damn much.

It took us a good 30 minutes to find Long Street from the train station, and my back and legs were on fire. I resolved then and there to downsize my gear. My bag was nearly 50 pounds when weighed at the airport.

The guide book had said Long Street was the most busy when it came to bars and nightlife, but this early in the morning it wasn’t so much.

I, and most of the other students slept most of the day in the hostel, once again in small dorm rooms with bunkbeds, as we were pretty worn out from the train ride and lack of sleep.

When I got up, the rest of the hostel guest were also up and about, and we started socializing with them and the staff, looking for fun stuff to do in Cape Town.

Even though we hadn’t planned or booked anything in advanced, the one thing most of us definitely wanted to do here was cage diving with great white sharks. Cage diving tours are pretty popular here, and we booked one with reception, who Im sure gets a commission.

Not everyone in our group with interested in cage diving. A few of the older students booked a day tour of the wine region with some huge wineries that are famous in South Africa. No way was I missing sharks though.

The next morning, the owner of a cage diving boat tour picked us up at our hostel in a big van, and let me tell you, this guy looked exactly like a cage diving guide!

This guy must have been a hybrid of Steve Erwin and Crocodile Dundee, with his big straw hat, shark tooth necklace, long white/blond hair, 6 foot 4 inch frame tanned to a dark crisp.

He looked like he was fully comfortable giving a great white a headlock and wrestling it to submission. His deep South African accent made it even better.

It was a long drive down the beautiful coast to the tour boat, with long beautiful beaches to the right, and rocky cliffs and occasional tunnels to the left. We were all enjoying pretty and foreign scenery, in-between shark stories from our driver.

When we arrived at the small port with the tour boats, we did a short briefing, and then boarded a medium size boat named the Megalodon. Pretty sweet name for a shark tour boat.

There area apparently a lot of regulations to the shark tours in South Africa. We anchored in an area with lots of other boats around, and started chumming the waters.

One of the regulations was that each boat can only use so much chum, or fish guts, to attract the sharks, and apparently thats about one tuna head and a bucket’s worth of blood and guts.

Since we couldn’t restock the chum if we ran out, the crew was very sparing. Once we were stopped they started pouring blood over the side, a few cups here and there. They tied the big fish head onto a rope, that they would start chucking far out, then reeling back in.

The game was to attract sharks from far off with the blood, and then get them close to the cage with the fish head. But the real skill, since we only had one head, was to get a shark to lunge out of the water, or towards the cage.

The other skill, was to not get the head eaten, so we could keep using it. To do that the rope guy would be standing on the tall platform, and when he would see a shark coming for the head, he would get it as close to the cage as possible, then yank it out of the way just in time to save it.

Each time I though the shark would get it, but somehow the guy always saw it coming, even from deep, and kept the sharks breaching the surface, or nosing the cage.

as for the cage itself, i was surprised to find that it wasn’t actually “diving” on this cage diving tour. Four people at a time would put on heavy wetsuits, and step into the open top of the cage at the side of the boat, and submerge to their chins.

The water was so freezing that it was almost unbearable to go under completely, so we would bob on the surface, with only our faces and hands not covers (except for our goggles).

We probably looked pretty funny bobbing there with our hands in the air, trying to keep them warm and out of the water.

Our Crocodile Dundee shark guide would be standing over the cage on the boat, watching for a shark. When he would see one coming he would shout “shark!”, which was our cue to all get underwater and look.

You had to go under fast too, as the sharks were moving fast for the fish head.

There were a lot of people on the boat, so turns didn’t last too long, but he made sure we each got to see our fair share of sharks up close. Then he would yell, “next, everyone out!”, and we would revolve places with the next four.

On my turn, it only took a minute of bobbing with hands in the air, for him to see a shark. At his call I dove under and held on the to the cage to stay down.

Right as I got under and looked through the bars, I saw the huge great white speeding right towards me, chasing the end of the rope. I swear to this day that his eye looked right at me as he turned to one side, and he sharply curved away. He was more scared of me then I was of him.

If I had any apprehension before getting into the cage with great whites, it melted instantly after seeing that. I wasn’t food at all. Maybe he had never seen humans, or maybe he saw tourists here everyday. Either way he knew I wasn’t food, and I lost any concern.

After that first shark circled a few times in front of the cage, just feet away, I got to see two more, bigger and smaller than the first. It was such a rush that I no longer felt cold and wanted to stay much longer.

One time near the end of my turn the expert bait rope guy saw a shark speeding in from shallow water, not straight up from the deep, and managed to coax the monster up out of the water and partially on top of the cage, right over my head. It was awesome.

They look menacing as they speed towards you, because they are chasing that fish head with open jaws ready to chomp, and I could see tons of triangle shape teeth in the white mouth and silver body.

One of the best experiences of my life.

It was almost as fun, even when it wasn’t my turn. I took my camera to the top of the boat, and tried to get warm and dry, while also trying to capture a photo at the exact moment when a shark would jump out of the water after the fish head.

Seeing great whites on these tours isn’t guaranteed apparently, but that day we saw 11, and we could see that some of the other boats were seeing them too, based on the amount of girls screaming, and all the splashing going on.

South Africa is weird because even though the weather is very hot, the ocean sure isn’t. Right down there where the Atlantic meets the Indian Ocean, it was pretty unpleasant! But seeing those sharks face to face made it all worth it.

….

That evening as we all shared war stories of our time with Jaws, at one of many bars lining Long Street, it kept popping into my head that I had already had the best experiences of my life, and this trip had only just begun.

While we described seeing great whites to our classmates who missed out by doing the wine tasting tours, I was constantly reminded of all the awesome things we could and would be doing on this trip, and how infinite more I could do if the trip never ended.

At some point that night we joined a street festival and got pretty drunk, but late that night I started writing down all the cool things I could think of, that I wanted to do one day. Kind of a travel bucket list.

In the morning we headed back to the hostel reception, and found out the best way to head to Cape Point, the southern most point of Africa, to see wild penguins. We decided, even though its a long way to go, that a scooter road trip would be a ton of fun to get there, so thats what we planned to do.

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Justin Carmack
Justin is a dive master and world traveler on a mission to dive and document the top 100 dive sites in the world. In doing this he hopes to bring love for the marine environment to the world!

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