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Two Weeks in South Africa, 1999

Mossel Bay and the Great White Shark Cage Diving Experience

I pulled into Mossel Bay well short of sundown. For some reason the Backpacker's lodge was full - well, there was space in the dorms, but I wanted my own room - so I ended up in the Backpackers Park. There must have been a couple dozen Backpacker's places in Mossel Bay. I'm not sure if they were all run by the same people or not. The Backpackers Park was a great place. It was a large house at the edge of (would you believe) a park with tennis courts. Genteel European stock characters were pulling up all the time with their tennis racquets while blacks seemed to be as usual just hanging out in the vicinity. The Park was "run" by a 20-ish young lady, scrumptuously attractive, who had a boyfriend, and you could hear all that was going on between the two anywhere in the house. The two of them recommended where I should go to eat and drink, and they recommended the Jazbery, which was a great place to have a meal, an African flavor eatery run by a graduate of some cooking school who was on her way to make her mark in world cuisine. Was it the sprigs of rosemary? The tenderness of the ostrich steak? The sauce? The freshness and wholesomeness of the bread? The quality of the wines served? Here you are in Africa, so it makes you wonder.

Back to the Park where I came upon the only other resident, a long-haired South African, working on a business proposition out of his briefcase, and not being obvious, but the smell of the cigarette he had been smoking still permeating the room. I was just then carrying in some "groceries" from the car, the contents of which included some brandy, so I offered a hit of that for a hit of whatever it was he had been smoking. Transkei he said. Not bad stuff as it turned out. There happened to be a set of brandy snifters in a glass cabinet in the common room, and we used those, being careful to wash up and return what we used. There was no telling what you would find in nooks and crannies of that house. In one of the rooms I had been shown there was a nylon string guitar, in not bad condition, so I tuned it and took it to my room. Everything there was opened and unlocked. There was no security, but maybe there was no need for any. Certainly not while I was there. Hey you two, in the room beneath mine, keep it down, willya?


Next morning, up with the sunlight as usual, and 8 o'clock I was supposed to meet at the office of the Infante shark diving outfit, which I did, along with a dozen other people. The previous day's outing had been cancelled, and half a dozen of those turning up had been hanging around the day before for the occasion. There was certainly a lot of anticipation as we tried on our wetsuits. We all went down to the dock where Roy met us in his dinghy to ferry us out to the Infante. We then proceeded on gps half an hour out into the harbor, where Roy, a long-haired and peroxided septuagenarian, started laying out a scent slick of pulverized fish waste. The process was interesting. The fish waste would attract the sharks, which it did, and the fish under the buoy was supposed to make the creature focus on our cage, which would be lowered as soon at the shark began to "play". At that point, people would start going into the nine degree C water in wetsuits in pairs, in the order in which they had made their bookings. Since I was the last to book, I was to be about the 5th in the cage. Air would be supplied through a hookah setup, so there was no diving qualification necessary, just the willingness to endure the shock of cold water, and the desire to see the bottom of a Great White.

As it turned out, the day fell well short of expectations. We went to the point specified on the gps and anchored. We were just a few km from major beaches, but Roy explained that the sharks could be seen from planes to hang just back from the surf line and not interact with the swimmers. He was convinced that any sharks that did "interact" with swimmers only bit them and spit them out. A seal colony on a nearby island suggested that if the sharks wanted to eat a human, they would treat them as they did the seals, really tear into them.

We waited for a long time on the boat waiting for sharks to appear. During the day, 4 different ones did buzz the boat, but none hung around long enough to warrant putting the cage in the water. This instance of indulgance in "extreme sport" turned out to be extremely boring, though we did see 4 sharks as they swam around the buoy checking out the bait. It was interesting to see these creatures and learn that they did not in fact swim with their fins out of the water, except almost inadvertently, and also that from the top they appeared dark in color. Also, we there were several whales in the harbor at the time we were looking for sharks, and I enjoyed watching them through my field glasses.

At some time after 2, our hosts decided that they had given it their best shot, and they pulled up anchor and headed us for home. They charged 300 rand to anyone who wanted to come out and sit on the boat and watch divers go into the cage, and 450 for those who wanted to go into the cage. On this particular day, the cage did not even go into the water. Yet there was no suggestion of a refund for those whose experience was not up to that advertised. In other words, no the same boat there were those who paid 300 and those who paid 450, and the operators themselves decided at 2 to abort the 450 trip. So I would warn those considering booking through this particular outfit to negotiate in advance a contingency in the event they are not invited into the cage, or to book through someone else. In the case of those on this particular trip, we felt ripped off not only in investing our time through a venture which did not pan out, but in being charged for services not rendered, which is a questionable business practice.

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Last updated: December 20, 1999