A Californian Encountering Africa And Sharks In Cape Town


I met this Californian guy called Chris via TripAdvisor. Chris had a lot of questions and it was clear that his the kind of guy that would love Cape Town, the wine routes and False Bay. This is what Chris said to me one day:

I will avoid the place popular w/ the tourists as I don’t find those to represent local culture very well. I am one of those who likes to dine where the locals dine and I realize I hit the jackpot when I hear, “how did you hear about this place? We don’t tell tourists about it”.

My kind of guy. But Chris wanted a South African braai. I should have invited him home. After the trip I got this email from Chris:

I just wanted to drop you a quick note of thanks for all of your advice and assistance for our trip.

We stopped at both the Olympia and the Black Marlin and they were lovely.

I would’ve liked to have made it to the braai place, but I couldn’t ever get good coordinates for where it was.

I must compliment you on the beauty of your country and her people. You live in a wonderful place. We had a very moving and memorable time in your land. I can’t imagine a place on earth that has more diversity in terms of wildlife. Lions AND penguins in the same land…not sure you hear about that often.

In any event, I just wanted to take a moment to express my appreciation for your efforts.
That was really encouraging and I decided to ask Chris about his Cape Town experiences. And he shared his shark diving encounter in his jovial and innocent manner (this is is his own words and I hope you are not to sensitive):
The highlight was the great white shark excursion.

Great White Shark Diving [Credit: photography.nationalgeographic.com]

A) the guide for the tour is a prominent figure on National Geographic and Discovery networks…had the chance to chat him up a bit…nice guy

B) when I went in the cage, I was by myself and a shark actually swam into the cage as it passed…it was a broadside hit vs the money making end…I got a very good look at the mid body and tail, which actually slapped the cage…it was close enough to touch and I considered it, but my other thought was, “holy s***, that is a 14 foot predator”…the captain sized her up at better than 4 meters…a meter being a bit more than a yard..I don’t mind saying I got myself nauseous w/ anxiety prior to getting in the water…it was an overcast, dark and misty day and in those conditions water quality for viewing is poor..I’d think about 10 feet or a bit more than that, but very grainy waters and an omnipresent school of fish around the cage…

THE moment is really when you leave the boat and plop into the cage and they close the lid on you…then you sit there w/ your head above the bobbing, dark water waiting for someone to yell, “DOWN, DOWN, DOWN!!!” and you submerge yourself and start looking for whatever they saw…sharks are coming up from the depths, so you can see that better from above than you can at the water’s surface…usually right before the you’d hear, “DOWN, DOWN, DOWN” you’d also hear, “OH MY GOD! HOLY S***!” as people on deck were seeing what you are waiting to see

Aside from the shark that hit the cage, I got a look at the head of one plunging from the surface closing its mouth on fish that were being thrown at it attached to a buoy…their jaws are kind of suspended so when they close their mouths it is kind of on the order of a person whose dentures have come unsecured trying to use their mouth to form them back to where they belong so you can close that yap up entirely

When we headed out from the dock, the captain asked how many of the 13 aboard planned to go in the water and about 10 indicated they would…in the end, 6 went in…I have to tell you I reconsidered once I saw my first shark…those beasts are massive and in those light conditions their backs appeared absolutely black…it was a like a shadow full of teeth. I expected them to be big, but once you see it in person and unbounded by an aquarium, etc-that’s entirely different

That’s the thing about these encounters is there are no walls…in either safari or these sea ventures…there you are, there they are…no glass, no fence, no wall, no moat
I found it hard to believe that people don’t get out of their cars to try to get closer to animals and I’m sure that occurs, but I didn’t see anyone try that…they all just lean out of their vehicles and aim expensive cameras at whatever game is around…

I like photography and I’m not entirely happy w/ my camera, but it is quite functional and really these experiences are more about the “being there in the moment” piece vs the moment in time captured in a square

I sized S Africa up spot on before departure…I expected California in Africa, nice people, clean conditions…and it was all of that…we did some wine tastings that even included some house made brandies…the roads and signage were excellent…

Absolutely, stunningly beautiful mountainous coastline in the South….much like California, but bigger…I haven’t been to Hawaii, but some of it reminded me of pictures I’ve seen of their coast.

I can’t imagine a more diverse place to see wildlife…where else has native lion AND penguin? We missed whale watch season, but S Africa would be incredible for that…you can tell talking to local people that they have a very high standard of entertainment for what they want to see out of whales…if you just breathe at the surface and show your tail fluke as you dive, they don’t have much use for you…you better plan on showing your entire ass out of the water to impress a South African.

..very affordable once there…entrees were typically about $4-6 US and bottles of wine right in the same price range…we had numerous dinners of wine, appetizer or dessert and 2 entrees for about $30.
I am sure you enjoyed this as much as I did. We live here in Cape Town and get blinded and don’t always appreciate the lovely place we call home. And that goes for most of South Africa.
In another email Chris concluded:
We returned to the States last Friday, unfortunately.

It’s ironic to admit that while in S Africa, we occasionally wished for some clouds as we found the intensity of the sun oppressive and now we return here to the dreary and cold upper Midwest of the US where there is never sun and I immediately miss the bright skies of S Africa.

I forgot to mention that we HQ’ed out of Simon’s Town and we found it a lovely place. Our favorite town on that side of the cape…very Victorian. We stayed at the Quayside (Hotel) and our room looked directly down the peer.
Simnstown Sunrise

Simonstown Sunrise

There was some driving to be done, but I really liked the peace and quite of where we were vs the hectic and touristic nature of Cape Town. I get it with Cape Town and it was nice enough, but I much enjoyed the solitude of where we were.

We’d return in an instant, but in all probability that will be our run there. I tend to focus on new destinations to see vs returns when it comes to international travel-BUT were I to return anywhere, it would be to S Africa during whale season. We saw none, but I can tell S Africans have a high standard for what they expect from their whales.

We stopped at Hermanus and asked if there were any whales around and the woman at the information booth said, “oh yes, we see the (forget the name) whale daily, but they are entirely uninteresting. They don’t breach. They just take breaths and disappear into the water”.

…had a great, great time though and leave your country w/ many warm memories in our hearts…
South African Braai

South African Braai Friday [credit]

I don’t know about you but Chris and fellow tourists like him deserve a braai. Chris I thank you for sharing and for having lots of fun in our country. You came with an open mind and found a place that’s friendly and inviting as you are.

Have fun in California.

Johan Horak

April 3, 2013

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