It would appear, if you believe everything that you read in the media, that travel nowadays is less about the destination and more about what you do when you get there. The word they use is experiential. I can relate to that as it’s something that I’ve been doing for years and will continue to do until I pop my clogs. So what’s with the cryptic headline in this week’s blog? Well, I was trying to think of three single words that best described three very distinct ‘adventure’ experiences that I had some years ago as part of a two-week trip down to South Africa. I undertook the classic itinerary which began with a few days based in Cape Town while we explored the city itself and the surrounding countryside down by Simonstown etc, followed by a road trip that took us to Stellenbosch, Oudtshoorn, Hermanus, Gansbaai, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay before ending up in Port Elizabeth. The trip was rounded off with a couple of days on safari up in the Kruger. To this day, it still ranks as possibly the best trip that I’ve ever taken, anywhere in the world. South Africa is an amazing country with beautiful people, incredible food and represents fantastic value for money when you get there.
What singled it out for me though were three experiences that I had whilst I was there — two of them planned and one which wasn’t. South Africa is renowned (along with Australia) for its great white sharks and in particular the cage diving that you can do in order to get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures. The dive was conducted about half a mile or thereabouts off the coast by the small town of Gansbaai which unfortunately wouldn’t win any awards for prettiness. The day in question was rainy and overcast and the sea was a bit choppy with the result that a lot of sand had been churned up in the water, limiting the visibility to just a matter of three or four feet — not the best conditions for seeing great whites! There were several similar boats on the water, all involved in the same activity and all looking for a sighting of one of the great animals. As soon as one was spotted, the coordinates were conveyed to all the other boats in the area who then congregated so that all their respective passengers could participate in what was to follow. One of the deck hands then began throwing out a large piece of bloody fish carcass which was attached to a hook and long piece of line and drawing it back into the boat before repeating the process over and over again. Within a matter of a minute or two, someone spotted the telltale fin of one of the big fish approaching our boat. With practiced accuracy, the deck hand pulled the piece of fish carcass out of the water at just the right moment which resulted in the head of the great White breaking the surface of the water just a matter of feet from the side of the boat so that all of us could clearly see the multiple rows of huge, serrated teeth!
By prior arrangement, we had already donned our wet suits and masks and got into the cage which was attached to one side of the small fishing vessel, four at a time. I had naively assumed that we would be provided with breathing apparatus but as it turned out, we had to hold our breath when we subsequently ducked down below the surface of the water within the cage. Although the water was a bit murky, you could clearly make out the great white and the multiple scarring along its body as it swam right by the cage — literally within inches from our respective faces. We managed three or four passes of the giant animal (we were told it was approximately 4.5 metre long) before it was our turn to exit the cage and let the next batch of adrenaline junkies fill our places. Strangely, given the great anticipation that I had beforehand about doing the cage dive, I found myself slightly underwhelmed by the experience. Don’t get me wrong! I’m glad that I did it, but it didn’t quite live up to whatever expectations that I had of it.
The experience represents the ‘anxious’ in the Blog title above. What I did next in South Africa actually scared me and to find out what that was, you’ll have to come back and visit the website in a week or two’s time!