I am one of those people that has been watching Shark Week on the Discovery Channel every summer since it first began. I have always been interested in learning about sharks and dreamed of participating in a program like this, so when I heard about White Shark Trust, I knew I had to participate. I arrived in Cape Town with absolutely no idea what to expect from the sharks, Michael and Tracey, or from South Africa. During the progam, I was blown away by all of them.
I will never forget the first time out on the boat. The ride was really rough out there, and I loved every moment of it. When we got out there, Michael pointed out Dyer Island and I got goosebumps from seeing in person a place I had only seen every year on TV- it was a surreal moment for me. A shark approached soon after anchoring, and to this day, I still can't find the words to accurately describe how exciting these animals are to watch. The power, agility, intelligence, and pure rawness is something I will never forget. One of the most incredible experiences I will ever have was cage diving. I had three sharks around me when I was in the cage and all I remember thinking (besides "oh crap!") was I wish I had scuba equipment on so I could just stay down. Every time I went up for air, Ivan just kept yelling "Go Down!!," and I would gasp for more air, go down and watch the sharks coming towards me out of nowhere.
I was fortunate enough to be able to explore the Garden Route for a few days while Michael had other business to attend to in Cape Town. This is something I would recommend to anyone traveling down there. I dont think you ever really see a place until you meet the people who live there, and I met some interesting characters! I also got to ride an ostrich, feed an elephant, pet a cheetah, go on a safari, and stand three feet away from a roaring, salivating lion (definately more intimidating than the sharks). Also, make sure you plan a couple of days for Cape Town- climbing Table Mountain is a must as well as going to the outdoor market for authenic, affordable souvenirs on your way home.
I cant say enough about the hospitality of Michael and Tracey. It cant be easy to have different people come through your house every month, but it has made them experts at making people feel welcome. One of the things I l enjoyed most was going to Die Stall with Tracey and dancing the South African One-Step or whatever it is called. I loved dancing there - here in the states, I could clear a dance floor in about 30 seconds flat, but there people just got out of the way- it was awesome. Michael is nothing like I expected either - I had figured he would be a professional professor-type. Wrong. While he is very serious about his work, he is also one of the funniest people I have ever met - despite the Monty Python imitations!
I am very grateful to Michael and Tracey for this opportunity. I would recommend this experience to anyone interested in shark research. It has been one of the most gratifying summers of my life - its not often you get to realize a dream!