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South African interlude - Sex and Sums and a Controlled Dose of Rock and Roll [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Richard Clegg

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South African interlude [May. 29th, 2010|06:53 pm]
Richard Clegg
I was not sorry to leave Capetown in the slightest, it's a town with little I could find to recommend it and a dangerous feel to it after dark. Simply walking from Long Street (a heavily patrolled tourist street) to a restaurant on the next street, one of the (many) street patrols told us not to go that way as we would certainly be robbed. Generally this confirmed the feeling I had about the city anyway. The tour of Robben Island guided by an ex prisoner was interesting but bad weather meant we couldn't do the Tabletop mountain tour.

Now Caron and I are in a tranquil dive site in Aliwal Shoal famous for some of the best shark diving in the world. The first dive this morning was absolutely amazing, despite an initial contretemps with a diver who managed to nearly lose his cylinder, lose half the weights off his weight belt and crack his head open all on the same dive.

I won't bore you with a list of everything we saw but (links are to pictures) there was a lovely marbled electric ray, dozens of sand tiger sharks (known here as Raggies or Ragged tooth sharks), tiny colourful nudibranchs, the spectacularly peculiar paperfish (also known as a leaf scorpionfish), a solitary whitetip reef shark, a freeswimming Hawksbill Turtle and an enormous sleeping Loggerhead, an emperor angelfish and some of its young a raggy scorpionfish and best of all a hunting dolphin powering through a school of fish. If you're a fan of "finding nemo" we also saw several Gil and Dory.

Once the dive was underway everything was really tranquil. A bit of a surge meant we were fairly zooming through the water but being washed from side to side which when you go with it and let the current take you is actually quite relaxing, like being rocked. It's also quite interesting when it rocks you rather closer than you intended to some harmless but not-so-harmless-looking 2 meter long Sand Tiger sharks (the local name of "ragged-tooth" or "Raggie" sharks is quite apt for the villainous array that they display). The Sand Tiger is a classic aquarium shark but they're not really that sharky looking a shark with a kind of depressed look to them, an ugly hunch back and a droopy looking dorsal. The humble white-tip reef is much more sharky-looking, a torpedo shaped thing of beauty. All through the first half of the dive we could hear the whistle of hunting dolphins. Our dive guide, a comical old Afrikaans called Dick, warned us to look up occasionally when we heard the whistle and sure enough we were rewarded with the sight of a huge school of fish packed together for self defence and eventually a dolphin powering through 15 metres above us.

It tells you something about the nature of what divers are like that we had seen so many Sand Tigers (by the way, they're Grey Nurse sharks if you're an Aussie) that by the end of the dive we were crowding into a cave containing two moderate size specimens in order to see a pair of two centimeter long paperfish, peculiar little creatures I'd never even heard of before this trip. Just as we were about to surface after nearly an hour of diving Dick pointed out a huge old loggerhead turtle resting sleepily on the bottom -- such a peaceful sight. Turtles aren't hunted here and don't seem afraid of divers at all.

Meanwhile on the surface you will hear sardines and rumours of sardines (as it nearly says in revelations). The sardine run is starting early, one of the greatest spectacles of the undersea world. Huge shoals of sardines chased by everything imaginable are making their way slowly up the coast towards us. Alas, rather too slowly as we only have two days of diving left.

Monday we depart for Protea Banks where we've paid for a baited shark dive and are apparently pretty much guaranteed Tigers and Bulls (the sharks, not the animals) which are two of the bitiest sharks around. Unless you're my sister in which case we've paid for a course in advanced knitting and will be in a classroom all day.

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[User Picture]From: steer
2010-06-02 08:43 am (UTC)
The diving was certainly amazing.

I honestly didn't think there was much to see in Cape Town itself even if I'd have had a week. I regretted not being able to go up Table Top mountain but other than that, the (average) aquarium and the Robben Island tour and I was ready to leave. There were one or two other museums but nothing special. Caron did a township tour but that's really not something I ever want to do (felt the same about favella tour in Brazil).
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[User Picture]From: kissmeforlonger
2010-05-31 08:56 am (UTC)
Got the pics! Very exciting. Hope you're both still in one piece.
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[User Picture]From: steer
2010-06-02 08:51 am (UTC)
Managed not to be eaten despite accidentally diving in the bait in our baited shark dive.
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[User Picture]From: taryn_vee
2010-05-31 01:28 pm (UTC)
ironically cape town is prob (or at least was)the safest big city in SA - pity it was a bit scary as its gorgeous there...

the sea life in sa is awesome... its a pity dive gear is so expensive i only got to learn once i got here...
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[User Picture]From: steer
2010-06-02 08:47 am (UTC)
I must admit I did not find much to do in Capetown (I realise it's safer than Jo'burg). I think there's a lot to do in that area... go whale watching on the cape, wine tours, etc etc, but the town itself... I don't know, I don't think I would have found so much to do during the day if I hadn't had a conference to go to. I know Caron had six days there and was really struggling to find things. The sea front area is nice though.

I've never in my life had the experience of a security guy telling me that if I go down a certain street I will definitely be robbed and I'm pretty gung ho about "it may be a dark alley in a city with a dark reputation but what the heck". It was so much worse that the street was so close to tourist areas (recommended "posh" restaurant one street off Long Street).

Diving was awesome though, Aliwal Shoal was great and alive with Raggies. Protea Banks we did the baited shark dive.
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