South Africa Marine Field Course: Cape Town

Wednesday, 17 April: We flew from Durban to Cape Town arriving at various times. My flight was delayed so I arrived a bit later than most people around 6PM. That night and during the day, I worked hard on my report so I could do some exploring on our “free” day.

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Thursday, 18 April: While everyone was locked inside doing their reports, mine was mostly done, so I got the chance to explore Cape Town. Although I would have liked to climb Table Mountain, the weather up there was horrendous and with the fog, you wouldn’t be able to see much anyway.

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Lewis’s body language with his head in his hands speaks for us all.

Instead, I walked from the hostel to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. It was a nice marina with unique shops and intriguing street performers… and seals!

That night, I few of us went out for the best meal I had on my whole holiday at a vegan restaurant called The Hungry Herbivore. It warmed my heart to see how my fellow coursemates were starting to realize animals don’t have to suffer for a delicious meal. We all played roulette passing around our different orders for the others to try, my favorite being my loaded fries starter: sweet potato fries topped with onion, spicy mayo, cheese and bacon (all vegan, of course).

Friday, 19 April: We drove to Simon’s Town for a cape fur seal and shark dive. At the dive shop, we gave Bill a gift of a card everyone signed, wine and a shirt to show our appreciation for all the hard work he put into organizing this trip, keeping us all in line and mentoring us through this unique academic opportunity. My two favorite notes were from Pedro, who ended his note with, “If you have trouble reading this, wait until you see my dive log” and Jack, who preceded his with, “I know we don’t always see eye-to-eye… because you’re short.” I’ve come to really appreciate the student-supervisor relationship on this trip as I’ve never been on a field trip as an adult. This time around, they weren’t there to hold your hand like in middle school field trips but rather support you in your work and make sure you get the most out of the trip… and eventually take the piss out of you, which I secretly like because that means they like you.

Anyway, back to diving. My group was the first to head to the seals and although the water was freezing, the seals were amazing! Probably my favorite dive of the trip. They were so playful, spinning, playing with our bubbles, biting at our fins and hoods and playing with each other. They’re so precious! I will share videos of all my dives within the next few days.

Then, we headed for a catshark and cowshark dive in the kelp forest, which was quite different from all the reefs I’ve seen, but I don’t think it was my favorite dive in the world. It was fucking cold and although we saw lots of small catsharks, the cowsharks didn’t make an appearance. All in all, it was still a great day, but quite bitter sweet those were my last dives for a while.

Saturday, 20 April: Our final day was a hectic one. We left the hostel at 3:30AM for Gansbaai for a day of fun at sea.

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First, we went cage diving with great white sharks. After luring the sharks (and dozens of sea birds) in with chum, the crew set out seal decoys and bait to keep the sharks interested while we climbed into the cage. The cage was about 5 meters long, 3 meters deep and one meter wide. About eight of us at a time would climb into the cage and keep our head above water until the crew spotted the shark. At that time, we would go under and pull the bait or decoy closer to the cage so we can get a close view. The poor visibility made it so we couldn’t see the animal until it was right in front of our face, which made for a frightening, but very exciting experience. Again, please be patient as the videos are yet to come! I was in the first group and we got about four interactions with the sharks before we rotated. When you’re not in the cage, you get an almost equally exciting experience from the boat, watching at they close in on the bait. There was one shark that actually took the bait entirely after a battle with the crew member on the other end of the line. There was a lot of thrashing by the cage and although it was exciting from the boat, those in the cage just saw a bunch of bubbles until the fin slapped them in the face. Now that’s what I call a close encounter!

After that, we went on a marine safari to spot the marine big five: dolphins, sharks, penguins, whales and fur seals. Already having swam with seals, dolphins and sharks, they were old news… just kidding (kind of). It was amazing to see the massive colony of seals on Geyser Island and watch a cage dive from a different perspective, but nothing beats a face to face interaction!

Additionally, we saw some penguins in the water throughout the trip and Indian hunchback dolphin which was quite special! Unfortunately, no whales, though.

To end our day, we popped into the African Seabird and Penguin Sanctuary, where we got to see some critters and ask any questions about the nature and care of the birds.

For our last night, we went out for a group dinner at a fun restaurant with live music. We ate, drank and danced one last time together before we all went home or on to explore more of South Africa in our own time in the morning.

This whole experience, from travelling to a new country, doing research underwater, travelling in a group of 20+ people and seeing some amazing life both on land and on the reefs was something entirely new to me. It was challenging physically, mentally and emotionally but hell, we did it. Although I think I still prefer alone time, I’m glad I had the company and support of my fellow students and supervisors and especially thankful towards Bill who has done a beautiful job organizing and running this trip and also acted as a mentor for myself and my group. I’ve come to admire him quite a lot and it was a privilege to work under him.

I’m going home with more mosquito bites than I can count, a habit of giving the diving “okay” sign in conversation that will take me weeks to break and a bit fat smile on my face because I basically get to live this trip a few more times over when I share my experience and photos with my boyfriend and family.

Until next time, South Africa.

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4 Comments

  1. Charlene Redpath
    April 21, 2018 / 7:37 pm

    Your blogs are always fascinating but I’m wondering what camera you use for these incredible photos!

    • rachelwuest
      April 23, 2018 / 11:40 am

      Just my phone!

  2. Don Cox
    April 21, 2018 / 9:07 pm

    Sounds like a successful exciting adventure.

  3. Don Cox
    April 21, 2018 / 9:08 pm

    BTW, Sean is back home with Carol.

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