Shark holiday: Day 7

Friday was a free day in Cape Town. We were staying in the Jewish quarter where it was quite quiet and also quite affluent. A lot of people think Cape Town is dangerous but we didn’t see anything. Some people we talked to about that said that it’s just like any other city and if you go to the wrong place at the wrong time you may have trouble but not otherwise. We didn’t have any trouble or see anything, but then we were pretty tired so we were always home by about 9pm! All the houses did have 7 foot high fences with barbed wire and electric gates though.

070525578.JPG070525566.JPG

We thought we might go up Table Mountain on Friday but in the end we ran out of time. We hadn’t had breakfast many days this week so we had a nice big breakfast on Friday. Then we walked to Camps Bay. This was about 4km from where we were staying and has nice beaches. The water was very cold.

070525575.JPG070525568-copy.jpg

Apparently Camps Bay is quite trendy – it has a lot of bars and cafes. It was really the only place in South Africa where we had a meal that was not very good. Ben had tortillas that were very tasteless and they served lukewarm mango juice that tasted like it had been watered down.

Along the street in Camps Bay there were a lot of people trying to sell things. We bought a little table which has a chess board on the top. We didn’t buy the pieces though. Ben was a shrewd haggler! Once you buy one thing they show you all sorts of things that they would like you to buy but we did not buy anything else.

070525577.JPG

It was quite a hot walk back but the views over Cape Town were really good and it was nice to have a day when we didn’t have a schedule.

070525582.JPG070525579.JPG

Then we went back to Maarten’s guesthouse where we were staying and then found a tapas bar for dinner. I hadn’t had tapas before so it was fun to try. We ordered ten samples which was fun. Unfortunately one of the first ones I tried was anchovies which I do not like at all so that put me off a bit. We also tried squid which is a bit like egg pasta.

End of Day 7

<!–intlink id="124" type="post" text="Back to Day 6“–>

Shark holiday: Day 6

Thursday was our second trip scheduled with Chris and Monique in Simon’s Town. It was an even calmer and bluer day than the previous day, and another early start. I love lying in in the morning, but it was more than worth it to get up early to see the sharks.

We were hoping to see a shark breach but the calm was not broken by a jumping shark! However, we saw lots of sharks round the boat and close up. One shark had half it’s pectoral fin missing, we think from an accident from a boat. The propellors of the boat may have chopped it off if the driver was unaware that the shark was there or wasn’t careful enough.

070524538.JPG070524474.JPG

One of the things that became increasingly apparent during our holiday was how vulnerable great white sharks are. They are not able to reproduce until they reach maturity at around 15 years old and have between 4-9 pups in a litter. They think they produce a litter once every two years. So very few sharks reach an age where they can reproduce so shark numbers seem to be dwindling.

070524459.JPG070524434.JPG

Also a lot of the sharks we saw had a lot of bite scars and scratches where the seals have fought back. This is why sharks only feed on seals in the winter months, when there isn’t much else to eat. They would really rather eat fish as they are not so able to take the sharks on.

One of the other guests on the boat dived in the cage on Thursday. We could have done so too although as it happened I don’t think we would have had time. For me it was more enjoyable seeing the sharks from the boat as I got cold quickly in the cage as the water is quite cold. You get a different view from inside the cage but an excellent view from the boat too.

It was really noticeable that when the cage was in the water the sharks were a lot more wary. We definitely saw fewer sharks on Thursday, when the cage was in the water, and they certainly kept more of a distance. That might be because it was such a strange thing to find in their environment, or possibly because the metal cage gives off electromagnetic waves that the sharks are sensitive to.

070524438.JPG070524441.JPG070524447.JPG

We were originally scheduled to spend two days with Chris and Monique and two days cage diving and so were going to go back to Gansbaai for another cage dive. However, we’d enjoyed the days with Chris and Monique so much that we decided that if we got the chance we would really prefer to go with them for another day. Luckily we heard Monique say they had a cancellation for Saturday so we took the opportunity and asked if we could come along. It would mean a transfer back from Cape Town as we travelling there on Thursday afternoon but they were able to sort that out for us.

When we got back from our trip my luggage turned up.

On Thursday afternoon we transferred to Cape Town which was different again from where we had been. It’s a very quiet time of the season at the moment but compared to Simon’s Town and Gansbaai it still seemed quite bustling.

0705244291.JPG070524563.JPG

End of Day 6

Back to Day 5 part 2
On to Day 7

Shark holiday: Day 5 Part 2

We got back from the boat at around lunchtime and after we had lunch we decided to walk to Boulders Bay. This is a penguin colony so we got to see some nice penguins.

070523408.JPG070523585.JPG

It was also quite interesting seeing the rocks and doing a little rock climbing on them.

070523615.JPG070523610.JPG

It is quite strange when you get to Boulders Bay as there are fences and walkways that make it look a bit like a zoo. You think the penguins are caged in until you realise that it’s you that is being kept where they want you! Penguins nest in holes in the ground so it is actually quite important that people don’t walk over their nests. We saw some baby penguins. Penguins don’t smell all that good.

070523593.JPG070523595.JPG

At Boulders Bay you can pay to go on one beach or go on the next one free. This seemed a bit strange as the free beach had nice rocks, sand and penguins a lot like the beach you have to pay on. Some Americans came to see the penguins whilst we were there too. About 5 penguins hopped out of the sea right near us. The Americans insisted on trying to get the penguins to interact with them. Why can’t people just watch animals doing what they do? They were lucky not to be pecked. Penguins are good at pecking.

070523599.JPG070523594.JPG070523598.JPG

Then we walked back to our room. We were very tired as it had been some busy days and early starts but we didn’t want to go to sleep as we didn’t want to waste the holiday! So we wandered around Simon’s Town a bit and then went and got some dinner.

Ben tried Springbok for dinner. This is a sort of small antelope and he thought it was very tasty. I think that was his favourite meal. I had cape salmon. I don’t really like fish so I decided while we were on holiday with very fresh fish I would try some. It was pretty nice.

070523636.JPG070523632.JPG

End of Day 5.

Back to Day 5: part 1
On to Day 6

Shark holiday: Day 5 Part 1

Day 5 was a really good day in our holiday. We were in Simon’s Town and scheduled for our first white shark breaching trip. These trips are run by Chris and Monique Fallows and their website is www.apexpredators.com. Their photographs are some of the most amazing I have ever seen but also they were really really nice people. They do a lot of work to try to conserve the great white shark as it is being attacked so much more than it attacks. South Africa is thought to be ahead in terms of shark conservation but it seems like they are protecting it with one hand, only to kill it with the other.

070524421.JPG070524419.JPG070524423.JPG

Our trip started at 6.45am at the harbour. By heading off when it’s still dark you have the greatest chance of seeing great whites preying on the seals at Seal Island. They leap out of the water with their whole body as they zoom up from the bottom to take seals swimming on the surface. I had a bit of a panic early on as the boat goes quite fast and I was still very shaken from the rough seas of the previous day. Monique and Chris were so kind though that I was able to get through it and enjoy the trip.

There were only 5 guests on the boat and Chris and Monique so we had lots of opportunity to talk to Chris and Monique about their work. They do a lot of research into white sharks and documented every shark we saw to contribute to what we know about sharks. They also were involved in making the shallow seas part of Planet Earth on the BBC – the bit with white sharks was filmed on their boat with them!

070523228.JPG070523364.JPG070523323.JPG

Although we didn’t see any breaching, we did see about 8 different great whites during our trip. The trip lasts until about 1pm. They don’t need to chum around Seal Island as there are so many sharks there, they just have a decoy (a carpet cut-out of a seal) and a bit of tuna. The atmosphere on the boat was like nothing I have experienced. Chris and Monique really love the sharks and could tell us so much about them. I have been reading about sharks for years, but they knew much more than I did. Also it was calm and relaxed and most of the sharks were very calm and relaxed too.

070523219.JPG070524429.JPG070523355.JPG

Often the sharks would swim silently up to the boat, take a look at us and swim round. We got fantastic views of the sharks, and also time to observe them behaving quite naturally. Each individual shark had its own character. One shark which we called Myrtle was quite cunning as she would wait under or near the boat until we weren’t expecting her and then come very quietly and pinch the bait before we had noticed! She did this so many times that eventually she got all the bait!

070523338.JPG070523292.JPG

It was also really interesting to see how Chris and Monique identify the sharks and write down their identifying features so that if they see the shark again they will be able to recognise them. Some sharks had beautiful mottling on their dorsal fin, and others were very white by their tail fin. Another one had dark spots on its side and quite a few had scars where the seals had fought back.

I had gone to South Africa hoping to see a great white shark. Already I had seen 13, but also had had the opportunity to share that experience with people who love and know a lot about great whites. With so few people on board I was soon brave enough to ask my questions and Chris and Monique were so nice and friendly that I was able to ask everything I could think of. In fact that evening Ben and I tried to think of more questions to ask the next day!

070523309.JPG070523279.JPG070523348.JPG

Back to Day 4
On to Day 5 part 2

Shark holiday: Day 4

Tuesday was a big day: our first chance to see the great white sharks in Gansbaai. We headed off to the shark diving centre at around 9am and had a bit of breakfast there, and then started out on the trip.

It was still quite windy and grey but it wasn’t raining. However, the storm from the few days before meant that there was a really big swell – I was terrified. There were only 4 guests on the boat, including us (not typical I think but they were willing to take out such a small group) and 5 crew. I have never seen such enormous waves let alone been out in a boat on them. Unsurprisingly we didn’t get many pictures (two in total!) but they did make a DVD which they will send us.

070522088.JPG070522087.JPG

As you may have gathered this was a real challenge for me. I wasn’t frightened of the sharks but was terrified of the waves. As we drove out we were meant to sit facing inwards in the cabin area but I really needed to see out so I stood at the front. The boat would soar skywards and then plummet into a trough.

The other thing that was a bit of a problem for me is that I am an emetophobe. This means I have an irrational fear of vomit – doing it myself, or others doing it. I am very embarrassed by this as when people are ill I ought to be very sympathetic and caring. Obviously no-one likes vomit but I get clammy, heart pumping etc etc. I think the biggest issue for me is the mess. So I was very uncomfortable in this situation. And one of the other guests vomited copiousy all over himself. Ben was also sick but I didn’t know (he is extremely good at keeping away from me if he is sick and understanding my apparent lack of sympathy: sorry).

Anyway, we managed to get our cage dive. They put chum in the water to attract the sharks and make them more aggressive, but it also meant we didn’t have to wait very long for them to come. There were 5 sharks while we were in the cage – a long cage attached to the boat so all 4 in at once. This was fortunate in this situation as it meant we didn’t have to wait around for everyone to have a turn!

The sharks were breath-taking. They came really close to the cage and I was really glad we had managed to see some. I did find over the next few days that in a quieter and more relaxed atmosphere you have a much better opportunity to watch the sharks and discover their individual characters (more later). I think the sea was so rough that the crew on the dive boat had to be really rushed to get us in, out and home again but also it’s quite commerical. I suppose their main clientelle are those seeking an adrenaline rush so they want the sharks to seem aggressive, but that really wasn’t what we were after. I also think that doesn’t do the sharks any favours because there is much much more to sharks than that – it’s such a small part of what sharks are like.

I think the other problem for me on this trip was the feeling of having absolutely no control or way of escape. Again perhaps because they were so busy when I said I was frightened there was no response at all from any of the crew.

Anyway, the highlight of the trip (a three day long highlight!) was still to come, but we had achieved my dream of diving with sharks, even if it was at quite a high personal cost!

070522152.JPG

That afternoon we were driven to Simon’s Town where we stayed for two days. I think this was our favourite place as it was a pretty harbour town with a nice atmosphere.

0705235881.JPG070523586.JPG

In the evening we ate in the poshest restaurent we had been to and it was really cheap! About £20 (I think!) for a fancy dinner including pre-dinner sherry, wine, coffee and dessert! Ben tried Swordfish – he said it was ok but quite meaty for a fish. I wasn’t quite up to eating fish after the day’s activities!

070523633.JPG

End of day 4.

Back to day 3
On to day 5: part 1

Shark holiday: Day 3

On Monday it was still a bit cold and windy and the sea was very rough so we couldn’t go diving. Instead we went to visit some underwater caves which are really near the sea in Gansbaai. They have got big pools of fresh water in, which is very rich in minerals so they used to be used for a health spa. Now the caves are locked up because they have stalagtites (hanging down) and stalamites (growing upwards) that were being damaged by tourists.

0705210791.JPG0705210803.JPG0705210811.JPG

There are also bats in the caves – they were quite small and sweet and are called horseshoe bats as they have a horseshoe shaped mouth.

In the caves the air temperature was much higher than the outside temperature – by maybe 6 degrees or something – quite a lot. The water was also the same termperature as the air but it felt much much colder! Me and Ben went for a swim in the pools which was fun. It was a good way of getting a close up look at the stalagtites and stalagmites and there was a stone at one side of the pool which you could sit on.

070521086.JPG070521084.JPG

We also went for some walks around the rocks and did a little climbing. There were quite good rocks in Gansbaai and also we found a grave.

0705210541.JPG070521050.JPG

0705210121.JPG070521057.JPG070521060.JPG

Also Ben’s bag arrived on Monday. A bag for me arrived too – but it someone else’s and was meant to be in Sao Paulo!

We had dinner at the local pub in the evening (the only one!) which was good. They are pretty into their steaks and also Monkeygland Sauce which Ben liked a lot. It tastes quite like sweet and sour sauce. Another day we had a pizza with it on which I did not really think was so great but Ben liked it a lot.

End of day 3.

Back to Day 2
On to Day 4