"South & East Africa 2011" story # 21

Gansbaai, Western Cape, South Africa           July 7, 2011

My travels in South Africa, a.k.a. "The Rainbow Nation", continued.
     A coloured trucker drove me from Port Elizabeth, provincial capital of the Eastern Cape, to touristy Knysna in the Western Cape.
     Knysna lied amongst the national parks of the Garden Route. Passing through Tsitsikamma Nat'l Park, I'd exclaimed, "Holy sh**. That's amazing!" Our truck was on a bridge spanning the Storms River. Rocky fingers closed in on the river tightly, coming in from both sides like a jigsaw's teeth, or the teeth of a zipper's track. I looked down amongst the teeth, into the dark depths, but I could see no river, only blackness.
     Knysna also lied within the Cape Floral Region. It was too cold for spring yet. Nevertheless, I saw: a (protea) bush made of teacup-sized flowers, with maroon/transparent petals cupping a yellow stamen inside and hundreds of white filaments; a cauliflower colored purple and yellow; a red flower like a self-propelling squid; an orange flower like an aggressive frilled lizard; and a handful of devils' black fingernails, the fingers connected by orange fire, the thumb piercing a dainty, blue lady's slipper.
     A blue-headed bird had a long, thin, droopy beak, a red breast, and a white body. Delicate. He spoke, "Cheep ... cheep ... cheep ..." And then suddenly, as if possessed, "Wabble-wabble-wibble-wabble-wibble-wabble!"
     The human inhabitants of this land, in the province of Cape Town, were meanwhile more likely to be coloured (half-white/half-black) and less likely to be black. Unlike the crazy bird, the coloureds usually spoke Afrikaans as a first language.
     One such man, Kashfy the tour guide, informed me that the previous, apartheid regime had paid the greater part of the coloureds' salaries in the form of wine and booze. Shocking. In this way, they kept the coloureds substance-dependent and undereducated and powerless.
     In Knysna, nowadays, I came across many happy and humble and beautiful coloured people - like Kashfy. A young man named Sirnitheo, and a girl named Le-Andri, bought my stories. Faith wouldn't buy them, but I convinced this tiny girl she should give reading a try and visit my website; saying good-bye, we didn't want to stop shaking hands. And Emily, who made my copies, had golden skin and a golden-toothed smile as harmonious as a unicorn's.
     The coloureds, of course, worked for white shop-owners.
     My final cultural experience while in Knysna was to attend an Afrikaners' "langarm dans". The event took place in the Angling Club Hall, where fishermen and fisherwomen drank, and it was attended by people of all ages. A gray-haired Casanova wearing a leather jacket danced with a dyed-blond woman in white jeans giving her a wedgy. I danced with blond Elmery and her loving, obedient, sarcastic Afrikaner accent. We were supposed to bop around, following some pattern, to the rapid, loud ballad - but I never got the hang of it.
     I was no gray-haired Casanova.

... But, I was a man about to realize a dream.
     I'd saved up some money while in Knysna. I hitchhiked to Hermanus, a town not far from Cape Town. And I paid 700 rand ($100) to Kim the Shark Lady.
     Hermanus was the Land-Based-Whale-Watching Capital of the World (during late July, August, and September). In early July, twelve other tourists and I were transported to nearby Gansbaai: the Great White Shark Capital of the World. "Can you pull over?" I asked our driver. "I think I'm gonna be carsick."
     Ha ha. I was only kidding, though. It was too early for that.
     We rode a boat out to Dyer Island and Geyser Rock - places whose names I still remembered from a television special twelve years ago. On Dyer Island, thousands of seals barked from the rocks, or twirled in the water, their side fins pointed skyward. Geyser Rock was supposedly home to penguins. In between them ran Shark Alley.
     Our boat's crew-members began throwing soupy chum into the water. They tugged a tuna head around by a rope. They threw a black board into the water, hoping to fool the sharks into believing it was a seal. The sharks weren't fooled. The only big thing we saw here was a Southern Right Whale, whose fin-less back shook the surface of the water.
     Sadly, I was aware that we weren't guaranteed to see sharks on our trip. I was also a bit seasick.
     We moved from the milky blue water here to milky green water near shore. The muscular upper body and narrow tail of a great white swam around our boat. It was shaped like a deflated balloon. Yay! We were going to see sharks!
     We would see seven sharks on the day. Hooray! Each one was between seven and ten feet long. I would see most of them while underwater, in the cage.
     Eight feet long by two feet wide by eight feet deep, the cage could fit four tourists in it at a time - or one well-fed shark and two tourists, sometimes. We wore masks and wetsuits. Lance, our captain, lured the sharks near us with the decapitated tuna head, which he moved as if it was an extension of his body. Our heads, still connected, waited above the water for him to yell, "Go down!"
     Underwater, we saw sharks slowly approaching the tuna head. Sometimes, they dislodged their jaws and opened their mouths in a gnarly fashion. Lance rarely let them get the bait. Still hungry, they swam past our cage.
     Inches from my face, their black pepperonis eyed me. Below their snouts, curved slits led to nostrils. Inches from my face, their white throats and pink gums and jagged white teeth frowned.
     A shark almost bit at a snowboarder from America. He said of the shark, "He's thinking, 'What can I eat here?"
     A big shark flashed his white underside at us and soared past like an aeroplane. The sharks' white genitalia dangled like long handlebar moustaches, or just looked like white fins.
     Above their bellies, the sharks were light gray, marked by dark gray scars. Once, a gray beauty approached the bait, only to meet face-to-face with another giant. Two big galoots right before us! The girl and guy next to me agreed: this was too cool!
     Watching them from the deck of the boat was great, too. Their huge bodies bullied the water's surface. Their fins punctured the waves, and the fins' edges gleamed dark navy.
     We'd been told, already, that Lance's boat wasn't feeding the sharks. And it tried to keep them from running into the cage. In this big ocean, I doubted we were doing much harm to the sharks. We may've worn them out a bit, though.
     Before our day together ended, Lance asked us to sign a petition condemning the proposed construction of a nuclear power plant ten miles from Dyer Island. I signed it.
     I wasn't sure how the sharks felt about me.
     But, I loved them!

sharky dreams,
Modern Oddyseus

Thanks to Johann; 1 coloured + many black garbagemen; Gilles; Jay; Jay, again; Boeta; Jaanji & Luwe; James & Marlize; Noel Greve; and Theo & Patrick for rides!
Much thanks to Gilles; DP Ferreira; James & Marlize; Roleen & Christy; and Father Welsh & "Light of our Lady" Church for offers and places to stay!

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