Saturday, October 20, 2007

South Africa: Extreme Week on the Garden Route

Cultural ponderings shelved, this week was all about action and adrenaline, like some sort of Red Bull-fueled obstacle course.

To be honest, extreme week started in Coffee Bay, where a local backpackers´ lodge offered cliff jumping as an excursion. We hiked over hill and dale and then up a cliff face to dare the devil´s jacuzzi (who comes up with these names?). You had to time your jump to coincide with the tide, so that you could jump, land in water, swim to the edge, and scramble out before another wave pushed you into a craggy mass of barnacle-laden rocks. Fun, no? Eric wisely opted out of this one, but Kathleen was egged on by another girl and her ego got the best of her. Aiiiiyyyyyyeeee! All went well for Kathleen, but the girl who followed her had a harder time swimming and came out with quite a few barnacle souvenirs. Ouch.

Undettered, we next braved Bloukran´s Bridge with a bungy cord strapped to our ankles to earn bragging rights about braving the Guinness World Record´s longest bungy jump at 216 meters (708 feet). We can´t really say why we did this, but we just had to. Kind of like when you hike to an icy cold lake in the mountains. It might not be the most enjoyable thing to dive in, but you have no choice. We felt the same way being faced with the bungy. The contemplation made us queasy (and gave Kathleen nightmares), but we just couldn´t not do it. Five, Four, Three, Two, One, Bungeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.....

It´s a crazy, unreal feeling to simply jump off a bridge with a strap around your ankles. You free fall for a full five seconds (enough time to say to yourself, "wow, I am still falling...and falling...and falling") until you reach the end of the cord, then swing back around and bounce, floating weightlessly up. Eric swears the view was amazing, while Kathleen contemplated the back of her tightly screwed eyelids. Then you hang and twist in the wind until the spiderman lowers himself down and winches you back up. Wow.

Still high on adrenaline, we figured we might as well slip into a steel cage to meet the Earth´s most fearsome predator (or something like that). This one was a big decision for us, and we contemplated the environmental impact of chumming the water (vis a vis shark habits, surfer´s reports, etc.) and how we felt about shark-viewing being a "sport." We did a bunch of internet research and ultimately decided that we felt okay about it. So off we went with a hilarious cast of characters including an older long-haired hippy with plenty of tattoos and piercings but no pants, a mysterious Russian woman in a belted jacket and high heels who never got in the water, and two screaming kids who ate all the food on the boat and loudly misidentified all the animals. Not exactly a National Geographic film crew, but Eric looked a tad like Jacques Cousteau nonetheless, no?

So we motored out and lured the sharks with a stinky soup of fish blood. Contrary to what we expected, the sharks did not appear from every corner, circling the boat with teeth knashing in an attempt to flip us over. We actually had to wait over an hour for any to appear. There weren´t nearly as many as we expected, nor as interested in the bait as we would have thought. But they were certainly huge, beautiful animals. Magestic, really. When the first big one swam by, we questioned whether we really wanted to get in the water with it. But there was no turning back now. Six people would hop into the cage strapped to the side of the boat, and when the shark was nearby, the boat captain would yell ´down!´and you´d hold your breath, grab onto a bar (we were wearing snorkel masks and diving weights), and plunge under to watch the great white shark swimming by. Pretty cool, we must say. Even Eric thought so, despite feeling a tad queasy on the anchored boat. Or, to be honest, more than a tad. Happily, the sharks didn´t seem too interested in the vomit in the water, although we´re not sure what the other folks in the cage thought. We didn´t ask. Rounding out the day was the Southern Right Whale that circled the boat (while the kids yelled ´humpback!´) and the sea lions (´otter!´) that were frolicking on a nearby rock island. All in all, the experience was not as adrenaline-racing as we´d thought, or as environmentally suspect as we´d feared. Not to say that we´d have wanted the cage to have any larger holes than it already did....

No comments: