We returned to the ship by around 2AM. Seeing as I was going shark diving in less than two hours, there didn’t seem to be any point in going to bed. I went to the piano lounge to hangout with people. The piano lounge is always an interesting scene on nights in port. During days in port this place is absolutely dead. Why would anyone be on the ship while you’re in port is one question. But even worse, why would you be in the piano lounge? However, from about 1-4AM this place becomes habitable again. It’s the only spot on the ship where you can buy food 24 hours a day and its generally everyone’s first stop when they bring their tired/drunken selves back to the ship. Everyone swaps stories and gossip; who went home with who, who got robbed. To make a Wedding Crashers reference, the piano lounge is also a spot for extra innings. Just in case the service and the reception wasn’t sufficient to close the deal, the piano lounge is your third swing. It’s an interesting sight and probably the only time when I don’t feel bad for the poor crew members who have to man this station 24 hours a day.
I told everyone that I was going shark diving in another couple of hours so thats why I wasn’t bothering with sleep. A handful of people asked if they could come too and I told them the answer was most likely yes. What originally was supposed to be a full trip was probably going to have about ten free spots. I don’t know how these shark diving companies make money. They start their trips before first light (aka heavy “I was too drunk” “I slept through my alarm” risk) and no one pays in advance. Throughout our time in SA people were bouncing around from trip to trip. There was a group of kids I wanted to go with. First, they were going with one company, then they switched to another that gave them a better price. Then, the night before we supposed to leave they told me their switching to another company that would give them their money back in the event they didn’t see any sharks. I switched the first time but the second I decided not to. None of these kids even bothered to let the companies know they weren’t going anymore.
So, I let the piano lounge know that I was going and that they were free to come along because there would be open spots. Seven kids took me up on my offer. Bob cracks me up. I told him that he could come but that we were leaving in half an hour. He said he was going to go get ready and leaves. I come back half an hour later and Bob is reclined in a lounge chair, talking to some people. Bob looks at me and smiles and doesn’t realize a thing. “Bob, it’s time to go.” He gives me a puzzled look. “Time to go shark diving?” He jumps out of his chair and takes off in a sprint towards his cabin. Soon we were off. We met the shark diving crew in front of the port. Greg, a handsome stocky South African man of about thirty thanks us for actually being on time. There are three vans in front of the dock and so far there’s only about enough people for one van. We wait around for ten minutes and no one else joins us. It’s decided that one van will head off and the others will go if and when they fill. Again, I don’t know how there’s any money in an enterprise like this. We head off into the deserted Cape Town streets. Greg seems like he’s still a bit buzzed from wherever he spent his evening partying. Bob and Adam, too, seem to still be riding last night’s wave. The van is about divided half and half between just wanting to go to sleep and still wanting to party. Greg decides that we should make a detour. We stop in front of a night club and Greg goes inside so that he can get a bottle of “tee-kee-lah” Five minutes go by and everyone thinks this is hilarious. We’re in South Africa, at 4AM, on the way to dive with great white sharks, but first we’re getting a bottle of hard liquor. Ten minutes go by and now we’re wondering where Greg is. Fifteen minutes go by and now we’re pissed because we just want to go shark diving and don’t care about the stupid tequila. Finally, Greg comes out, Jose Cuervo in hand, and we’re off to the races. They pass the bottle back and fourth between the willing participants. The bottle is passed towards me and I give it back. I’m about to go swimming with great white sharks, my interest in tequila shots is less than zero. Still, it was all in good fun and after a little heckling they accepted I wasn’t having any. I did get a kick out of it though when the sun crept up behind table mountain. Here in South Africa, a true tequila sunrise.
The van swiftly passed through the outer suburbs, the streets completely deserted, and up a mountain (not Table) towards Gansbaai, the great white capital of the world. The view of Cape Town sleeping below was almost as pronounced as it is from an airplane as all the orange street lamps outline the city streets. Once we finally passed over the summit and away from the city, the lights on the country road ended and above us was a clear, starlit sky. By this time everyone had passed out except for Bob. I told him to open his window and take a look above us. It was another moment I’ll remember.
Inertia woke me up when I felt the van stop. We were at a gas station. Everyone was using the bathroom. But where was Bob? Out behind the gas station puking in the bushes, of course. That Jose Cuervo. He’ll getcha. Bob got it all out of his system and bought a recovery snack and drink and we were back on our way. We were nearly to Gansbaii. Everytime Greg would give our black driver some direction he would call him “nigga.” I thought to myself, “wow, racism is really obvious here.” I later, on the return trip, asked Greg why he was calling our driver that and he explained that in South Africa the word is not discriminatory in any sense. I was surprised by this but it did make sense considering our driver never seemed to take any offense to it. Still, I wasn’t about to start calling people nigga. “The further away from home one is, the better one ought to behave.”
Soon we arrived at the beach in Gansbaii and were rushed through breakfast on account of the quickly receding tide. We were late and had to board quickly or else we wouldn’t be able to get off the shore. It was still early morning and the air was cold. The ocean water was probably the last place I wanted to be. We boarded our boat. It was about twenty feet long with twin outboard motors. It was special fitted with all sorts of beams and winches for this giant steel cage we were lugging out to sea. Once we were ready they opened up the throttle and sent us out into the breakers. The boat jumped over the waves like an oversized jet ski. It was fast and it was fun. After a ten minute boat ride we were out in the deep but still close to shore. The crew dropped the giant steel box into the water and swung it around the side of the boat. This whole time another crew member had been pouring fish gut water into the sea. The sharks were coming. We were instructed to get our wetsuits on. The wetsuits were damp and cold. Putting them on was miserable but within a few minutes mine started retaining my body heat and then it felt rather toasty. I was outfitted with a weight belt to keep me from bobbing up to the surface of the water. The captain called for the first group of brave souls to approach the cage. We would dive in three groups of seven. I was scared and I wanted someone else to go first so I could see how its done, but at the same time I wanted to face my fear and lead the group. I volunteered to go first. The instructor told us how to enter the cage, where to position our feet, where to position our hands, and where not to position them if we wanted to retain them. I was confused because the cage by this point was in the water and I couldn’t picture all these bars, ropes, and positions he was mentioning. My body was shaking as I plopped into the cold waters of the Atlantic. The instructor helped me assume the proper position. I was ready to dive.
We clung to the yellow bar and waited for the command to submerge. The buoys attached to cage prevented me from seeing the activity occurring on the surface of the water, but I knew we were close. “DIVERS DOWN!” he yelled, as I took my knees off the bar and ducked beneath the water. At first I saw nothing and then a shark the size of a cow passed in front of the cage. It was awesome. We hung out in the cage for about half an hour as this procedure repeated itself. We got some better views from the front and from the side. Then it was time to switch out. Sharks swim near the surface of the water, so the experience out of the cage was almost as cool as the experience in it. I was, however, envious of the third group that had one smack up against the cage. “I TOUCHED IT!” one person said as he returned to the surface.
They cast off the cage, leaving it floating on the surface for the next group they would bring out to this spot later today. We started jetting towards the shore. It was only nine in the morning. How weird it was that we had traveled so far and accomplished so much and yet it was still 9 am on saturday morning, a time we’d normally still be asleep. Carpe diem. We had some warm homemade soup and bought some souvenirs and then piled back into the van and headed back towards Cape Town. On the way back we stopped at a few scenic points. I snoozed on the way back, which was delightful because legitimate sleep was still a long way off. We got back to the ship and felt strangely sad to part with Greg and our driver. Even though we had been together for only five hours it seemed like far longer. Bob and I had some burgers on deck seven, I called home, and then I was ready for my next thrill.
That afternoon that was supposed to be a rugby game and then later that night a soccer game. I met up with a couple of friends who were trying to go to the rugby game, which started in about an hour. Everyone was saying that this game was going to sell out and I was pessimistic about showing up less than an hour before kickoff and trying to get tickets, not to mention the stadium was a good 20 minute drive from the port. I suggested we try for the soccer game but I was overruled, and in the end, thank goodness I was. We made it to the stadium and headed straight for the ticket window. There were still seats together for sale. We each bought a ticket for 120 ZAR and then split up. A couple people left the stadium area to grab some food and three of us went out to this lawn area where everyone was having beers, listening to music and enjoying the saturday afternoon sun. After fighting our way to the front of the crowd and securing a couple of beers, we sat down at a picnic table and chatted with a very friendly, slightly intoxicated South African guy. We took our time and made our way into the stadium slightly after the game’s start.
I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that our seats were center-field field-level. We got a great view of the action, which I must say was very impressive. I’ve never been to a professional rugby game before, or an amateur one for that matter, but it’s intense. They don’t wear pads but they’re still just as physical and brutish as in American football. I think the only difference is that they’re more tactful about their physical contact and don’t just slam into each other willy-nilly. They also display an impressive amount of finesse. For example, in order to catch a ball high in the air, they’ll toss one another high above the ground like a cheer leading squad. It’s a very fast-paced, impressive game. The home team’s colors are blue and white, which are two colors I’m rather fond of clothing-wise, so I was sure to pick up a jersey on my way out.
After heading back to the ship we decided to get dinner at V&A waterfront. It was a warm Saturday night. The sounds of live music coming from different restaurants mingled. The mild din of hundreds of diners chatting over dinner complimented the gentle glow of candles of tables everywhere. I wanted to hit the mall food court because I realized how much money I had already managed to spend in South Africa. Bob and Melissa didn’t agree with me so we compromised on a Joe’s Crab shack type of restaurant called “Seabasket” I had a big variety of fried seafood and it was all reasonably priced I suppose. Our only complaint was how slow the service was. On one hand I was sympathetic because it was a Saturday night and the restaurant was packed, but at the same time , there’s no one forcing them to seat that many tables. Anyways, after dinner I was debating whether to go out tonight or not. I could have been easily swayed into rocking through another night in a caffeine-fueled euphoria, but neither Bob nor Melissa agreed and I didn’t want to have to regroup again, so I went back to the ship and actually slept for once.