Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Valentines Day 2004: People threw up, some turned heads, and I touched a shark

Saturday, February 14th, 2004
South Africa

Pictures by Jason Hildebrand

4am in the morning my alarm rang an auspicious start. It seems to me that 4am alarmclock starts always lead to memorable trips.

We groggily made our way out to the George-driven bus.
(That man snored like a bear. So bassy and deep that ear plugs were useless. He was our bus driver for our whole trip around South Africa. His wife gave birth to his 11th son [he was excited to be able to field a whole side at soccer] while he was driving us around so he asked for us pick his son's "English" name. So right now there is a 7 year old boy somewhere in SA named Kendall after a farm boy from Saskatchewan. This makes me smile.)

Gansbaai was our destination. Down at the southern tip of Africa one will find some of the best great white shark tours in the world. At least according to the advertisements.

I don't remember too much of the trip there as we rode in that slightly sleep-deprived/trippy travel state. And it was dark out. And we slept.

Not all of the students/staff signed up for the shark viewing/cage experience so divided into two groups we would each make a trip aboard a boat out into the briney deep in search of our destiny, in search of a great white.

My lot fell to be in group 2. Though I don't think we actually cast lots. We decided in some other manner. But this left me and 12 students the whole morning to be around the coastal town whilst group 1 was out on the sea.

Some interesting facts about the composition of the student group? The majority of them were from Manitoba and other land-locked territories. And the girls out-numbered the boys. So it was that on Valentine's Day of 2004 I was walking around a small coastal town with Jared, and 11 girls. It took me a little while to key into the peculiarity of this convergence of demographics and date. As we walked around town I noticed that we were collecting odd glances and grins. At first I chalked it up to us just being a group of young people walking around a town in it's not so touristy season. But as we entered store after store (the greater population of girls drove the agenda for our townish foray) I realized something more was afoot. And then it came to me like a flash from the heavens! Insight! And little hearts and valentines images spread about. It was Valentine's Day and there are two guys walking around town with 11 girls.

I told Jared and we enjoyed the rest of the morning walking about amongst bewildered looks and smiles, nodding and winking, and generally laughing a lot.

We made it back to the tour operators for lunch. During which time my friend Kara and I sat on the steps and talked with the owner, a fascinating woman. She told us about the ways she'd grown and learned over the years:
How she started out being a somewhat sheltered and quiet girl.
How when she married her first husband he really challenged her and encouraged her to develop into a more charismatic, open, confident woman.
How she looks out now from her porch upon the ocean that whales traverse in her sight, as the owner of her business, and thinks about the ways life has taught her and brought her from that quiet girl to her present powerful spirit.

Talk to people. They have amazing stories. We all grow together.

Ok ok... so what about touching the shark!? Well.....

We made our way to the wharf
and down the wharf we went.
As we neared the boat we saw pale Steve
his gaunt face looked spent.

He hearkened from the town of
Portage la Prairie
And never had he spent so long
rolling on the sea.

His legs they wobbled
his spirit too
his lips had quivered
for he had spewed.

Yeah.. the first boat had spent most of the trip waiting for a shark. They'd drifted out there on the sea, slowly rolling and bobbing up and down with the waves. And many people did not find this comforting.

Different people handle the sea in different ways. I've grown up alongside it, in it, on it. My Grandpa was a commercial fisherman and one of my early memories of him is riding on his fishing boat and sleeping in the bunk below deck. The rolling waves have a lulling and soporific effect on me. I can lose myself in it. I've walked with it, swam in it, drank it, been scared by it, respect it, been hurt in it, leaked salty tears into it, been healed by it. Yes it could be said that I love the sea.

I sometimes stop in amazement at ideas. Like how all of the water that is in me at this exact moment has delved the depths of the ocean, swirled about it, traversed it, been in glaciers and animals, eroded rock and nurtured plants. And flows through me at this very moment.

That amazes me.

But this is about sharks right? and love.

Well... as the crew of voyage one staggered their way up the wharf there were a few smiles dotted about. A shark had appeared near the end of their time out and they'd all been able to see it, some went into the shark cage with snorkels for a closer experience. And it was definitely memorable for them all ;)

So we hopped aboard and chugged on out into the sea.

Our captain was a very captainy fellow. His other job was as an underwater diamond driller. Yes, he'd spend hours underwater having air pumped down to him as he mined diamonds in the sea. I didn't know that was a job. I'm ok not doing that one. ;)

We went out to the spot they'd last met the shark and out tossed some bait. Sure enough we didn't have to wait long at all before our fishy bitey friend came along to check it out. We took many pictures and the captain made sure we'd all seen it enough before anyone was allowed into the cage in the water. He said that sometimes the act of people going in the cage/water will frighten the shark away.

So on squeezed the wetsuits, the goggles, and the snorkel, and into the ocean we went. 2-3 people at a time.

When my turn came I honestly don't remember if there was anyone else in the cage with me. What I do know is that the great white was right there. Just outside the cage. I'd been watching the captain for awhile now, what he'd do, and what the people in the cage would do. The captain would drop the fish into the water and pull it out to lure the shark near the cage.

So.... when it was my turn in the water I observed all of this. And how the bitey part of the shark was way up near the bait.. and the flank of the shark was right next to the cage.. and I... well.. I popped my hand quickly through the cage and touched the side of the shark. And was promptly told by the captain to NEVER DO THAT AGAIN. I can understand his concern. Though I also felt that it was a carefully weighed risk. And I won't do it again. There are likely many rules and precautions around the industry and I respect that. Also they feel just like a dogfish; sandpapery.

When my brother and I were probably around the ages of 8 & 9 we used to walk over to the marina when we were bored. Sometimes fishermen would be coming back in from the day with some dead dogfish they'd caught, killed, and were going to throw in the garbage. So we'd get them instead. Then we'd walk the 15ish minutes home and the 5 minutes further to the beach and the rock bluff. We'd then climb the bluff, carrying the dogfish. Once we'd scaled up 40 to 60ft we'd chuck the dead dogfish and watch as it flew, fell, crunched, its way to the rocky beach below. You can only play that game a couple times per fish before it becomes very redundant.

We'd then toss the dead and throughouly tenderized dogfish back into the sea or over into some rocks to let it feed the circle of life.

So to answer the question "Do dogfish fly?" Yes, with assistance, but very poorly.
And their skin feels like that of a great white shark.

Kids dont need fancy toys to entertain themselves. Dead fish and rock cliffs work just fine.

The bus-ride back was beautiful. Large sunset lit cliff faces, different looking trees and grasses, and Steve getting some colour back to his face.

And I love the sea. Though it feels indifferent to me.
Story of my life. ;)

And let's end with the happy dance ;)


Rachel said...

i can't believe all the adventures you've had! they're always so interesting :>

Jordan said...

:D Thanks very much Rachel! Adventures lurk everywhere if we only know how to see them ;) And they don't have to be touching sharks. They can be touching slugs. Or turning left instead of right. Or looking really really closely at a garden and seeing things you never saw before... :D

The options are endless ;) :D

ps you do great work too ;) :D

mom said...

I was remembering you and Dave feeding spider webs as kids to watch what the spider does, was that a small beginning?

Kara said...

I'm very impressed that you remember that day with such great detail! Thanks for sharing :)

Jordan said...

Thanks Mom :D And I remember how you told us that you used to be freaked out about spiders but didn't want us to learn that from you so you instead taught us about how neat and cool they were :D

Thank you Kara :D I remembered quite a bit of it, and also found my old journal entry for that day which had 3 or so sentences to connect me with it more fully as well :)

Victoria said...

Oh my! Good one :)