Chapter 5

Near misses and Great White shark encounters

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The Jo’burg – Delhi Express

The adventures of young men discovering the world
Chapter Five

A few people we’d met in South Africa had recommended Knysna to us, claiming it to be a charming little town with plenty of activities to keep a person entertained for a few days. Understandably then, with all the positive comments received, we were very much looking forward to paying the place a visit.

Unfortunately, despite the rave reviews, we were to be disappointed. Knysna and its surrounding areas were undoubtedly quaint, but really not worth all the hype. Or not in my opinion anyway. I imagine if you were an affluent visitor then it would be a great little place to have a summer home or go sailing on the lagoon. But for a group of rag arsed, lazy backpackers Knysna really didn’t seem up to much at all.

Monica’s chum Adrian left us in Knysna to return to her studies in Johannesburg – so it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Adrian wasn’t a bad girl as such; her heart was definitely in the right place. Yet the incessant attempts at jokey flirtation had driven us lads insane. Danny was one innuendo away from breaking her nose it seemed. Plus, we didn’t want to share our talisman Monica anymore, so frankly it was good riddance to the gobby Canadian.

The three of us lads and Monica decided on the first day in Knysna that our budgets couldn’t justify a trip to the nearby attractions, purely because they didn’t appeal sufficiently.

Instead, we strolled the pretty town’s heart and beside the attractive quay before holing ourselves up in our little hostel watching premier league football. Liverpool were playing and Dean was determined to watch them. And I was just as eager to watch Arsenal who were scheduled to play later in the afternoon.

From the ensuing results we wished we hadn’t bothered. Liverpool managed to fluke a draw having played terribly. Whereas Arsenal weren’t quite so lucky, losing to a poor Sunderland side after performing in a similar vein.

I know travelling half way across the world to watch football is a bit silly. But if you are passionate about something then why should your location dictate whether you enjoy it or not? In saying that, I can’t actually claim to have enjoyed viewing Arsenal play like a troop of paraplegics, and by the final whistle I was in a foul mood.

We’d learnt of terrible floods sweeping across many parts of Cumbria – our home county – at this juncture in the trip. Flood water had seeped its way into the homes of both Danny’s mother and sister and this had understandably upset him. He was now in a similarly pissed off mood to both Dean and I, except his reasons were more justifiable than ours regarding the poor football results.

“I don’t know about you lads but I’m going for a beer.” said Dan looking fed up.

“Bollocks to this no drinking lark,” replied Dean, referring to our latest attempts at sobriety. “I’m well up for getting smashed after watching that shite.”

“Jord’, are you game?”

“Hmm,” I uttered, not really feeling it. “I dunno if I can be arsed.”

“I’m only having a couple. I’m just going out dressed in this,” said Danny pointing to his shorts and t-shirt.

“Go on then. So long as it is only a couple. I really don’t wanna be feeling ropey for the bus tomorrow.”

Danny, Dean, Monica and I set off towards the swanky quayside area in search of a decent looking bar. We made the error of taking a shortcut past the local markets. Here, gangs of dreadlocked men were plying all manner of rotten looking root vegetables spread upon equally foul looking rags. It soon transpired that these manky vegetables were just a cover up for a less legal plant based product they wished to sell. Although by the looks on their bleary eyed, docile faces I wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d smoked most of their stash already.

Escaping the shortcut weed free and still with all our belongings, we arrived at an inviting looking Irish bar and made our way to a free table.   The beer flowed fantastically within. It always does when you’re trying hard to avoid the stuff. And before long the decision was made that we couldn’t just have ‘a couple’. That would’ve meant two people escaped getting a round in and that’s just not on. Plus Monica had annoyingly ordered one of the most expensive drinks available so we were keen for the fussy cow to delve into her purse and splash her cash a little too.

Four beers, or four double clementine vodkas later depending on one’s tastes, and we were all well on our way to being tipsy. Little Monica was especially drunk, having consumed the equivalent of eight shots. Sitting there all red faced, grinning and content, the happy Canadian looked like a stoned tomato. She would’ve fitted right in sat on a mucky rug at the shifty market we ventured through an hour earlier.

“Who’s up for a shot of Stroh rum?” asked Dean.

“Not me. That stuff nearly killed me last time.”

“What is it Deano?” quizzed Danny.

“It’s this shot they made us take when we were at Black Mamba’s. It’s killer stuff like. It separates the men from the boys.”

“I’m in then. Jord’?”

“Nope, I’ll leave you two men to it. Me and Mon’ will remain with the boys.”

“Monica’s having one, aren’t you Mon’?”

“Sure.” she replied mid hiccup.

“She is fuck. It’ll knock her right on her arse,” I said concerned. “I’ll do one if I have to, but you shouldn’t make her.”

“Ah, she’ll be alright off just one shot.” confidently added Danny. “I’ll go half’s with you Dean. Get four and if Monica doesn’t drink hers then Jord’ can have it.”

The smell of the Stroh alone was enough to make me want to vomit. I was pretty determined Monica wasn’t going to have one as I felt it would have knocked her out cold. And I really didn’t fancy carrying her stout arse all the way back to the hostel if it did.

Reluctantly I took the shot the boys had got me, just so as to not look like a complete tart. Unfortunately I then had to have Monica’s shot, seeing as though I’d stupidly taken on the role of her temporary guardian. I managed to get half of the noxious rum in my mouth before she grabbed the glass from me and threw it down the hatch.

Stumbling from the Irish pub, we set out in the direction of our accommodation, stopping off at a bar called Zanzibar along the way.

The large and colourful pub was relatively busy considering it was still early. Various groups sat around tall tables sipping at beers or playing pool in the main room.

Within minutes of arriving Dean and Danny were socialising with a group of good looking Scandinavian chicks by the pool tables. The Stroh had obviously had a positive effect on them as they appeared to ooze charm and wit from every pore.

Conversely, Monica and I weren’t so buoyant. The Stroh shots had transformed us into a couple of slobbering introverts and the concept of mixing with others seemed a feat well out of our grasp. Avoiding the boys and the group of giggling Swedes, we sat in a quiet corner slurring amongst ourselves.

It was decided – mainly by Dean and Danny – that seeing as the alcohol ban had already been broken we may as well continue drinking and have a big one. Had I been the one getting stuck into a bevy of attractive girls then my enthusiasm may have been a tad grander. Yet as I had the charm of a soiled toilet brush that eve, my readiness to carry on was minimal to say the least.

“What’s up with you mate?” asked Dean as we hurried back to the hostel to spruce ourselves up a touch.

“Fuck all.” I snapped, not wanting to explain that I wasn’t feeling up for a session on the beer.

“I was only asking. Jesus.”

“I’m fine.”

“You’ve clearly seen your arse so I’ll leave you to it.”

“Aye. Nice one.” I responded, getting Dean’s back up and causing an all-out slanging match to ensue.

Admittedly, I was in a foul mood on the way home and no doubt had a face like a slapped arse. I don’t know why for certain. Perhaps it was jealousy because I hadn’t been talking to any women. Or maybe my melancholia was due to Danny and Dean getting along so well and I felt a little left out. Whatever the reason though, it caused Dean and I to share our first crossed words of the trip as we drunkenly meandered the now darkened streets of Knysna.

In a lot of ways Dean and I were very similar. We could both be extremely awkward when we wanted to be. Stubbornness was a commonality too, and also the fact that each of us had a frustrating level of pride to the point of being very unreasonable. All of the above traits could prove volatile when spending prolonged periods of time together and very few people who knew us both had faith that we would remain friends throughout the trip.

Both Dean and I had been abroad a lot since our late teens; Dean working in bars across Europe, whilst I’d been lucky enough to independently travel a fair bit of the world in recent years. Deep down I think there was a tinge of jealousy between Dean and I regarding what the other had seen, done and achieved. I admired him greatly for the courage shown to up and leave our small town at seventeen like he did, and I think he respected what I had done also. Idiotically though, we proceeded to slag one another off during this first spat over the very things we found admirable in the other, until eventually we exhausted the argument completely and brooded home in silence.

It soon dawned on me that our falling out had stemmed from me being petulant. Right from the very start of our travels we’d discussed how difficult it was inevitably going to be living in each other’s pockets. But if the adventure was to be a success we’d agreed to be open with one another and not hold any grudges.

Five minutes after the crossed words I swallowed my pride and asked him how he had got on with the girls in the previous bar. Appreciating the gesture Dean shook my hand, acknowledging it was my awkward way of saying I was sorry. We both then apologised properly for our parts in the argument before Dean went on to say how he would have loved to bang the lot of them.

Our quick shower and change managed to disturb the entire hostel – an easy feat when the only other guest was a peculiar Frenchman who slept in the attic above the bathroom

We were back in Zanzibar in no time. With clean clothes and my quiff fully erect I had a renewed sense of vigour. I still didn’t have the balls to go and chat up the still drinking Scandinavians like the other two lads, but I was happy enough in myself to avoid becoming the introverted freak once again.

As well as my occasional shyness, another excuse for being unsociable and not joining the group was that they were playing pool. Pool is a pastime I have detested ever since my Dad would wipe the floor with me every time we went for a family bar meal growing up. Leaving the group to their confidence destroying billiards, I sat watching on a small set of steps nearby.

It wasn’t long before I began chatting to a fellow traveller named Tanveer. He was from the Bronx and had a similar view to pool as my own. Tanveer looked massively familiar and I was sure I’d seen him somewhere before. It bugged me that I couldn’t quite place the guy, so I did my best to put it to the back of my mind.

I soon learned that the pleasant Tanveer was of Bangladeshi ancestry. I hoped to visit Bangladesh in the months ahead and I really enjoyed talking to him about the country. We spoke for ages about his roots and where his family originated before moving onto the subject of past travels and our experiences thus far in South Africa.

As discourse flowed onto his home city of New York, it finally dawned on me where I thought I knew Tanveer from.

Flight of the Conchords.

Tanveer was the spitting image of the xenophobic fruit vendor who doesn’t sell to ‘New Zealandies’. His cool, good looking girlfriend only added to my suspicions that he was a TV personality of sorts, yet I didn’t dare ask the guy in case he took offence. I generally try and avoid ‘we don’t all look the same’ situations if I can.

Sitting on the steps, waiting for my new mate to return from the bar, I was approached by one of the Scandinavian girls who asked if I wanted to play doubles with them. Thanking her, I declined the offer and expected her to walk away insulted at the rebuffing.

“So why don’t you play pool? Think you’re a bit too cool for it?” asked the girl sarcastically.

“Not in the least. I’m just shit at it, so I’d rather not bother.”

“It doesn’t matter if your good or not, you should come and join in.”

“I’ve been quite happy getting to know this guy” I said pointing towards the possible fruit vendor who was walking towards us, “He’s a really interesting dude.”

“Your rubbish.” replied the Scando.

“Thanks,” I said offering her my hand. “But I’m actually Jordan.”

“I’m Pariah,” she answered, shaking my mitt. “You’re English like the other two boys, right?”

“I sure am.”

“You don’t really look English.”

“And you don’t look particularly Swedish.”

“You’re right. I was born in Persia,” Pariah said, looking confused. “How did you know I was Swedish anyway?”

“I asked Dean about you before. Persian eh, that sounds wonderfully exotic. How is Iran nowadays?”

“Ah, so you know the difference?” she answered, smiling, “I’m impressed. Normally the Persian thing fools people.”

“Not me dear. I really want to go there someday. I think Esfahan and Shiraz sound amazing. I don’t know why people are ashamed to say Iran – everybody I’ve met with Iranian roots says they’re from bloody Persia.”

“Persia just sounds more exciting,” replied Pariah. “And a lot less terroristy.”

I couldn’t believe my luck. I was being chatted up by a tidy Middle Eastern/Scandinavian. At least I assumed I was being chatted up. We were certainly chatting, and she had since sat on a lower step looking up at me, so in a literal sense, I was definitely being chatted up.

Discussing a country I’d been fascinated with for years was brilliant. I don’t believe there was a western man alive as thankful for Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s existence as I was that night after name dropping the Iranian leader a few times for extra impetus.

Pariah and I stayed together from then onwards. I was enthralled with the stories of Iran she shared. Her family had left during the war with Iraq in the early nineties. And dodgy visits back to the country where she was held up at gun point by the psychotic religious police kept me entertained for ages. The girl really intrigued me and I was very happy to have met her.

The others had continued playing pool until the staff at Zanzibar kicked everybody out. Dean and Danny were getting on great with two young Danish girls and the four followed me and Pariah, plus her friend Denise and a pissed up Monica, towards another club across town.

The distant nightspot was absolutely dead when we arrived and showed no signs of getting any better. Three people danced lethargically while the rest of the room gathered at the sides watching in quiet embarrassment.

Having poked their heads around the door Dean and Danny hadn’t bothered paying to enter. Instead they had offered to walk their new Danish pals back to their hostel. Unlucky in their pursuit of a quick bit of romance, the boys then stumbled home, amusing themselves along the way by each having a dump on the pavement of Knysna’s main street.

The dirty bastards.

While they were defacing pavements with their bowel based graffiti, I continued to flirt with Pariah. I was very keen on her. And from the amount I dropped her home nation into conversation, she couldn’t help but be smitten back too, surely? Working on the presumption that incessant chatter about a volatile Middle Eastern state had won her affection, I went in for the kiss. And thankfully I wasn’t rejected.

Regardless of our delicious smooch, the terrible nightclub soon depressed us both. Pariah asked if I wanted to join her at her hostel for a drink and I eagerly agreed. Walking a dribbling Monica safely home, we then traipsed across town again to Pariah’s domain.

The hostel was as quiet as a mouse upon our arrival. It was three o’clock in the morning so there was little wonder the place was so eerily still.

Getting the proposed drink seemed impossible without waking other residents. The only other option was to head straight to bed. Praying I wasn’t going to be asked to leave, the invitation towards the small room Pariah shared with her friend soon arrived.

Whispered chit chatting proved too noisy to be maintained without disturbing Denise curled up on the top bunk. Instead then, the two of us communicated directly with our tongues, sharing a passionate kiss and semi clothed fumble before falling into a cosy slumber.

The next morning I said farewell to Pariah on the pavement outside her accommodation. I was a little sad saying goodbye considering we got along so well. But hasty partings are one of the few downsides to travelling. Life goes on, and so must you – onwards and upwards hopefully. In my case it was onwards and westwards however. I had a bus to catch leaving in half an hour’s time.

Giving Pariah one last kiss I then sprinted back to the hostel to throw my shit together.

*

The ride from Knysna to Hermanus began just as pleasantly as all the other South African bus journeys had. Surprisingly, I wasn’t hungover from the night before, and the drive through the unspoilt countryside and juxtaposed ragged townships proved a joy to behold.

The colourful inhabitants of these downtrodden townships were an interesting bunch. Having driven through a number of impoverished areas in South Africa I now know where the second-hand clothing of the first world goes before its days are numbered.

The local populaces all appeared to sport a funky mix of forgotten trends from the west. From shell suits to tweed blazers, old school uniforms and outdated military wear, all were enjoying one last shot at adornment in these quiet South African settlements.

Everybody I came across on this particular day sported a bizarre cocktail of styles, shapes and sizes. I appreciate it would be a little unfair to expect some of the poorest people in the world to be well and truly in vogue. But a little bit of fashion sense wouldn’t go amiss surely? High heels, for example, should at least be the same colour when worn with a pair of half-mast army issue cargo pants. Just as purple shell suit jackets designed for thirty stone Americans are not a child’s full length dress. And rugby socks should be on the feet rather than worn as long, dangly hats.

A gentleman who looked a lot like Seal particularly tickled me that morning. Not the flipper clapping, ball balancing kind of seal obviously. I mean the musical, punching well above his weight by impregnating Heidi Klum regularly Seal. Not only did this guy look like a celebrity with a semi aquatic mammal for an alias, he too appeared to be all set for a prolonged period spent out at sea.

His attire was exactly like that of Captain Birdseye: sailors cap, long pea coat, white roll neck – the works. The fact we were nowhere near the coast and it was a red hot day hadn’t put off this nautical aficionado whatsoever. His confident swagger outside a TV repair shop was certainly akin to a man who had just returned from a daring voyage across the seven seas. Either that or he was simply off his head.

Pulling into the small town of George for a quick lunch break I couldn’t help but gawp at another band of ill-fated beings. I don’t usually make a habit of ogling people less fortunate than myself – it’s a most unbecoming pastime I know. On this particular day however, I simply couldn’t help it.

This latest group of sombre looking souls were stood outside the gates of a sinister looking hospital. Every one of the miserable posse were puffing greedily on cigarettes. Not the wisest of pursuits when you’re hardly the picture of health, but this lot seemingly didn’t give a hoot.

Sick people damaging themselves further with lung blackening fags are omnipresent throughout the world and not overly entertaining. It is certainly idiotic, but not particularly amusing to see. What got me though was that each one had a different part of their body bandaged up. One man’s left arm was in a cast, as was another guy’s right. A broken left leg on one puffing woman was matched by that of a broken right on somebody else. A gent’s skull was wrapped up, Jacob Marley style, while a lady had her neck in a thick brace. And the last poor addict kept himself upright by holding onto a portable drip.

Put all their ailments on one person and they would’ve been wrapped up tighter than Tutankhamen’s mummy. The melancholic scene was like something out of the Beano.

However ill the group of morose smokers had looked, they appeared a lot better off than the next dude I saw in George. He was lying face down and spread eagled in the middle of a grassy park. God only knows if he was dead or just drunk – he certainly didn’t appear overly alive to me with his face buried in the grass. This kind of scene must have been a regular occurrence in George as nobody on the streets appeared to give a shit about the poor bloke. They all just continued to amble by regardless.

The Baz Bus pulled into a McDonalds’ car park and ground to halt outside the front door. Disembarking, the bus load of hungry travellers raced inside the popular restaurant. Once filled with delicious junk food, everybody hopped back onto the bus, eager to reach the next destination.

I had pigged out in McDonalds and regretted it the moment I sat back in my seat. Karma, that good old friend of the Hindus and Buddhists, came swooping down from the heavens and delivered me a solid and possibly well-deserved kick in the stomach.

“That will teach you to find amusement in the deprived you massive streak of piss” it would have said, had karma had vocal chords and colloquial diction. The vindictive bastard.

Hot flushes rushed through my body and I could feel myself turning green. The McDonalds I’d gone over the top on, although absolutely delightful, did not agree with the alcohol in my belly on this rare occasion and had sent my guts into spasm. Cold sweats intermittently replaced the hot bursts and I was gripped with nausea.

Within ten minutes of departing George I gained the terrible knowledge that I was one speed bump away from filling my underpants with McSlurry.

Not far from George was the coastal town of Mossel Bay. It was with good grace that the bus stopped here to pick up a group of backpackers from a beachside hostel. As soon as we pulled over I jumped out and sprinted off to do my business in the lavatory of a rather fancy restaurant.

Returning to the bus I felt drained but very relieved. Setting off to another hostel across town however, I became aware that my relief was premature. My guts began going bananas once again, and as we returned back to my original place of defecation to pick up a couple of late passengers I almost crapped myself for a second time in ten minutes.

There was no way I could continue the journey to Hermanus. Not without severe embarrassment anyway. Consequently, I meekly asked the driver to find my bag in the hold.

“Are you alright Jord?” quizzed Danny.

“No mate. I’m fucked. My guts are going mental.”

“Are you gonna spend the night here then?”

“Yeah I think so. I can’t stay on the bus man, I’ll end up shitting myself for definite.”

“We’ll all stop then,” replied Danny. “It would be best if we all stick together.”

“You’re alright mate, honestly. You lot go and do that whale kayaking thing. I don’t fancy that so I’ll catch you up tomorrow if I’m better.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. Cheers though. I should be ok soon. I’ll see you at Hermanus Backpackers right?”

After an answer in the affirmative I entered the reception of the hostel we’d pulled up outside and prayed they had a spare dorm bed for me. As it happened they had plenty of dorm beds free, largely due to the place being completely empty of guests.

The peculiar hostel was set within an old, stationary train. The dormitory was a converted carriage with creaking bunk beds lining each side of the grotty aisle where seats had once lived.

Once checked into this strange form of accommodation, safe in the knowledge that I had no more travelling to do that day, I suddenly felt fantastic. The belly ache had gone, and the feeling that I could shit through the eye of a needle was nothing but a distant, stinking memory.

Realising Mossel Bay was a relatively pretty but rather boring place to be when alone, I made haste to get myself out of there as soon as possible. While in reception waiting to use the phone I listened into the conversation of an erratic Belgian girl as she shouted at whoever was on the other end of the line. The Belgian was moaning about how she and her friend had been deserted in Mossel Bay by the Baz Bus. I knew this not to be true. The driver had in fact gone out of his way to collect these girls twice, hence my own personal alighting on his second trip to pick them up. They’d failed to show up on both occasions, so he had quite rightly buggered off without them.

When the girl finished on the phone I smiled politely and said hello.

“All ok?” I asked, knowing fine well all was not.

“No,” she replied predictably. “The fucking Baz Bus has gone without us again.”

“Again?”

“This happened yesterday.”

“And again today? Weren’t you here on time for it?”

“Yes we were here on time,” she barked back. “But they didn’t wait for us.”

“The bastards,” I said hypocritically.

“Exactly! They are bastards. I’ve just complained about the driver.”

“That’s not very nice of him,” I replied, giving Karma another excuse to pay me a visit. The driver had been very kind to me when I told him how rotten I felt and this was how I repaid him – turning on the guy to side with two people who had absolutely no concept of being on time, purely because they possessed vaginas. What an utterly shit human being I am.

The girls, a Belgian and her more reserved German pal (who clearly hadn’t been informed of her nation’s stereotypical timekeeping) subsequently checked back into the dormitory carriage.

Whilst rebooking my Baz Bus seat to Hermanus for the following day I received a spot of bad news. I was told by the booking office that my ticket had expired that day and I’d have to stump up a further £35 for another.

I was gutted. This unforeseen expense made the stomach wrenching experience earlier all the more harder to bear. Not only had it been one of the most painful and potentially embarrassing episodes in a long while, it had now become the most expensive dump I’d ever undertaken.

My one night in Mossel Bay was rubbish. Sitting alone in an expensive beachside restaurant I ordered a chicken sandwich which only became edible once I’d scraped all the chicken out of it. I’d hoped the two girls from earlier would show their faces and I would be able to tempt them into an impromptu drinking session, but that never happened. Instead, the girls returned back to the dorm well after I had gone to bed and rattled around until the wee hours repacking their bags.

I’d felt miserable and also pretty scared in the dark train carriage before the tardy women had returned. The place felt incredibly exposed. Earlier that day I’d caught a very shifty looking black guy dressed in a dark green parka jacket rummaging around in the dorm room fridge. Terrified, I confronted him, and was soon made to feel an idiot when he told me he was the hostel’s security guard. Turning the tables, the guy then proceeded to make me prove who I was by flashing my passport.

It was nice to know there was some sort of security, even if it did go around stealing food. A prepped and ready Swiss army knife was under my pillow for most of the night nonetheless.

I wasn’t being picked up until mid-afternoon the following day, meaning I had practically a full day to kill in Mossel Bay. The idea of catching a few rays didn’t seem like such a terrible one. Yet ten minutes of sunbathing on the windy beach felt like I was being sand blasted, so I ditched the towel and decided to explore the town instead.

There really wasn’t much to see it transpired – the highlight being a museum depicting the arrival of the first Portuguese explorers to the bay in the 15th century. The most enjoyable part of my day came when I ate a cheese and ham sandwich and two packets of crisps sat beside a giant whale skull in the museum gardens.

I stayed in these gardens a while, reading my book and writing my diary before heading back to the train cum hostel. Having packed my belongings I then collapsed in a wicker chair at reception and fell asleep for an hour whilst cuddling my backpack. I had a packet of biscuits in there and didn’t fancy my chances of keeping hold of them with that sticky fingered bastard in the parka flitting around.

On their third day of attempting to leave the town, the two moaning girls were actually on time when the Baz Bus arrived. We all set off together, leaving the relatively dull, yet also quite attractive Mossel Bay behind us and drove westward in the direction of Cape Town.

The bus dropped me off at a small motel a few miles from the coastal town of Hermanus. Danny, Dean and Monica were all waiting for me here and an amiable member of staff from Hermanus Backpackers hostel – who looked like a handsome version of Sideshow Bob – arrived shortly after to pick me up.

Upon reaching the hostel I was met by Danny and Dean in the car park. They told me they were just heading out for dinner with Monica and three American girls they’d been chatting to earlier that morning.

“There’s even a tonga for you Jord’.”

“A tonga?” I said, momentarily confused before remembering they were being lovably racist. “An Asian chick? Tidy. Where from?”

“Christ knows. China or something maybe? She’s bonny though, you’ll like her. Hurry up and get ready, we’re heading to the restaurant ASAP.”

We arrived at the small African themed restaurant and made our way over to the table where Monica sat with the three girls. The boys had been right – I most certainly was attracted to the Asian girl amongst them. But then I’m pretty much attracted to any Asian girl providing she is legal and under thirteen stone.

This girl was undeniably pretty, as were her other two Caucasian friends. Slipping into my most agreeable persona I offered warm salutations and began to smooth the path for a spot of casual wooing.

“So Jordan,” said Monica, trying to suppress a grin, “How’s your stomach today? You’re not planning on shitting yourself at the table are you?”

“No Monica, I feel fine now thank you.” I replied before mouthing the words ‘gobby twat’ at her over the table.

“So, what was wrong with you?” asked Rio, the good looking Asian girl.

“I had a McDonalds and it didn’t agree with me too well.”

“Monica said you had to rush off the bus or something.”

“Did she now?” I said, giving Monica another look. “That was good of her. Yes, if I hadn’t then I would most definitely have crapped in my pants.”

“Nice.”

“Not really,” I replied honestly, knowing that my chances of pulling her were now none existent. “But you did ask.”

Sitting there pondering which peculiar African animal we should devour from the menu seemed to take an eternity. I was starving, and the women were doing my head in with their indecisiveness.

Eventually a doddering, geriatric waiter came and finally took our order. He was a sweet old guy, but was dressed – I am afraid to say – very much like he styled himself on the images found on the underside of Robertson’s jam lids. Before they became politically incorrect that is. His oversized corduroy suit, big collared shirt and jazzy red tie were possibly de-rigueur for employment in a restaurant which served warthog ribs. But the man’s outfit didn’t half make him look like he’d have been more at home on the mantelpiece of a moderately racist conserve enthusiast from the early 80’s.

As we waited for our food to arrive, a large group of African men dressed in loin cloths and not much else walked into the restaurant and congregated at the foot of our table. The guy who appeared to be in charge of the troop began leading the men in traditional song, dancing and miming energetically as he went.

The group of local musicians were fantastic. It was like having a personal concert performed by Lady Blacksmith Mambaza. Their five minute show was far more enjoyable than attempting to pull a girl who thinks you have irritable bowel syndrome. Even if I didn’t have a clue what they were hollering about at the time.

It turned out that the men were singing of health and crime issues. Their aim was to educate the local populace and better society as a whole. The group’s animated passion was quite moving, and the spectacle as a whole was very enjoyable. Their noble crusade was appreciated wholeheartedly throughout the restaurant and rewarded justly. Even I was happy to part with a few Rand from my usually tight wallet.

The African meal was a novel experience and the warthog I ordered was really quite tasty. The conversation and night as a whole, however, was actually rather drab. Apart from the unexpected local singers, we all returned to the hostel having had a very average evening indeed.

Rio and her friend Kat stayed with us for a quick drink at the hostel’s honesty bar before heading to bed. The academic women had a strict revision schedule planned for the following morning and weren’t willing to break it. Their American chum Amanda on the other hand remained with us for a few more beers and turned out to be witty and enjoyable company.

It wasn’t long before we all decided to call it a night too. A docile young Swedish girl had joined us and proceeded to bore the tits off Dean and me by asking the same drunken questions over and over again. It would have been nice to stay up late and get to know a few more people in the hostel, but we had bigger fish to fry in the morning. And a hangover apiece would no doubt have made a very uncomfortable experience decidedly worse.

At 11:00am Danny, Dean, Monica and I were picked up at the hostel by a balding, middle aged South African named Geoff and his Jack Russell terrier. Cramming our wide selves into his not so wide car, we then set off on the forty minute drive towards the tiny fishing village of Gansbaai.

“So, how are you all feeling today?” asked Geoff, looking at us in his rear view mirror.

“Nervous.”

“Ha. Good. That’s to be expected. Any of you guys ever swum with Great Whites before?” he quizzed as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

“Surprisingly, no,” I said. “We’re all novices.”

“Ah, you will love it,” Geoff replied, setting us at ease slightly with his confident retort.

“How many times have you done it Geoff?”

“Well, I haven’t actually done it myself.”

“Why not?”

“I just don’t fancy it. Those things are bloody massive.”

“Good to know. Cheers.”

Our fear stricken group soon arrived at the Great White Shark Diving Company main office. Here we were shown a brief video of the tiny boat that would take us to the dive site, followed by some petrifying shark footage. Geoff and his yappy little dog then walked us down to the harbour and introduced us to the captain.

A Frenchman and his daughter, plus a quiet South African couple were to join us on the diminutive vessel. All aboard, the boat set sail for shark alley – a location just off the coast notorious for its heavy population of Great Whites.

“Will there be many sharks today do you think?” asked the nervous looking French guy.

“There should be,” answered the captain. “We left the cage out there a few hours ago with a load of bait strapped to it, so I would expect a few big ones feeding off it by now.”

The thought of a cage bobbing in the middle of the ocean as giant sharks swarmed around it, tearing chunks of fish from its sides intensified my fear tenfold. I was scared out of my wits as sharks had been one of my biggest fears since childhood.

Reaching the cage, the captain proceeded to attach the flimsy metal structure to the port side of the boat. One of the captain’s assistants, a quiet man who had been laboriously smashing up frozen fish heads with a blood covered spade, threw a bucket load of his meaty stew into the ocean. Within thirty seconds a graceful shadow swam beside the cage as we looked on from the viewing deck above.

“Right, who’s up first?” asked the ponytailed captain. “I need four of you to suit up and meet me downstairs.”

“Us! We will!” screeched Monica, raising her hand and accompanying it with a little jig.

“Shut up you cock.” I urged. “Let someone else go first.”

“Don’t be such a wuss. It’ll be awesome!”

“Right, you four,” said the captain, responding to Monica’s enthusiasm. “Get your wetsuits on and let’s get you into the cage.”

“Shit a brick,” whimpered Dean peering over the edge of the boat as a giant beast eased by, “Look at the size of that bastard!”

The ocean was absolutely freezing when all four of us slipped into the compact cage. The icy chill numbing our brains was the least of our worries at this particular moment mind. The waves which had looked minimal from above felt like small tsunamis at sea level, sweeping our limbs around uncontrollably.

“Where do I put my legs?” shouted Dean, panicked.

“Good question,” I replied before my gob filled up with icy salt water. “I think mine are hanging out the back. I don’t like this one bit.”

“Rest your arse against the back lads,” said Danny, all calm and collected. “Then put your feet on the grey bar half way down.”

Finding the grey bar we did as instructed. Now it felt as if our ankles were going to get nibbled as they teetered out of the back of the cage. Once we were all comfortable, or as comfortable as a person possibly can be when a ton of instinctive killer is in close proximity, the long haired Afrikaans captain barked out our orders.

“When I shout ‘down’ you take your feet off the bar and push on the blue foam roll with your hands until your head is underwater. I will shout the direction to look before shouting ‘down’. If anybody decides to reach through the bars and attempt to touch the shark then I will turn the boat around and we all go home. Understand?”

He was giving us a little more credit on the bravery front than we deserved I think. Who in their right mind would intentionally put their arm in the path of a hungry Great White? We all nodded anyway to say we promised to resist the temptation and he told his crew to begin luring the sharks in.

The guy making the fish head soup tossed in another bucket load of his bloody mixture. When a shark was spotted another crew member threw a big fish head connected to a piece of yellow rope in its general direction. None of us could see any of what was going on above or below. We simply bobbed around in terrified anticipation, trying our best to keep all our limbs out of open water.

“Look left, down!” cried the captain and we all took a deep breath before forcing ourselves underwater. Through the slightly murky sea the grey torpedo like shape of a great white gently glided in front of the cage.

Resurfacing, we sat back on our little ledge, trying to get our breath back. It wasn’t long before the unwanted cry of “look right, down” was hollered from above.

Getting my left and rights mixed up for a second I submerged to see Danny looking at me. Even through his goggles I understood the other way dickhead look in his eyes and quickly turned around.

This time the shark came much closer. The rows of serrated teeth set in gnarled, pink tissue clearly visible as it effortlessly swam towards the bait. Making a lunge for the fish head, the shark missed and disappeared into the darkened depths below.

It was an incredible sight to behold so close. Underpants filling yes, but utterly beautiful at the same time.

Bobbing up and down in the deep blue sea the four of us chatted nervously. A couple of minutes passed and since none of us had been mauled to death yet we each grew in confidence.

“Straight ahead! Down!” screamed the captain as the tip of a fin sliced its way slowly through the rippling water, shattering our premature sense of comfort.

The yellow rope with the fish head attached was a few metres in front of us and just visible from underwater. The huge shark made a grab for the bait with its colossal open jaws. Clamping down on the head and rope, the Great White attempted to twist away with its prize. The guy on the other end of the rope wasn’t going to give it quite such an easy ride however. Fighting with the beast in a tug of war style contest he hauled the writhing shark back towards our cage.

The shark – now within touching distance if you were mental – thrashed and pulled at the fish head before slamming itself into the front of the cage. Its head was first to collide and the beasts eerie black eyes seemingly stared into my own. In a flash the beast quickly contorted its body – all the while battering the thin cage precariously with its bulk – until it was vertical. Massive sections of fin and tail slipped through the wide gaps in the cage, swiping at our legs as we all forced ourselves as far away from the shark as possible. The brilliant white underbelly, almost a meter in width, lay flat for a moment pressed against the thin metal strips a few inches in front of us. The shark’s scarred and battered torso writhed with one last violent yank and its razor sharp jaws sliced through the rope before swimming away with its snack.

It was a lot of effort exerted for a little fish head. Had I been the Great White I don’t think I would’ve been quite so focussed. But then I’m not really a big seafood fan.

Once it became clear the sharks weren’t interested in eating us, we relaxed a bit and began to really enjoy the close contact with these incredible fish. I say we, but I mean Danny, Monica and myself. Dean on the other hand wasn’t quite so content. Blaming his distaste for sea water, he got out of the freezing ocean after twenty minutes and stayed out. Not before ruining the group video with one of his “fuck” filled tirades following a particularly fierce encounter with a four metre long beast.

Most of us had our fair share of time in and out of the cage. But it was the little trooper Monica that made us lads all look like wimps. She left the cage once in the entire time we were at the dive site, and that was only because the captain asked her to. For well over an hour she floated in the bitterly cold sea having the time of her life.

That evening, having returned to Hermanus after a day conquering childhood fears, we signed up to a barbeque being hosted by the hostel owners. The food put on was absolutely amazing – another testament to the wonderful produce available in South Africa.

Unfortunately, the atmosphere within our little group wasn’t quite as fantastic as the food. I had begun to feel a bit jaded since returning to the hostel. The only thing I could put my dejectedness down to was having experienced such an amazing high at the shark cage diving, returning to relative normality again felt a bit crap. Separating myself slightly from the others I sat and read my book in silence. I may have come across rude or moody, but I hadn’t intended to. I just wanted to be alone with my thoughts. However I came across though, I don’t think it bode too well with the lads.

Before departing for the shark dive a bit of indecision had arisen as to whether or not to pay a cheaper price and go with a less reputable company. A few minor words had been crossed when we couldn’t come to a conclusion, but it was soon sorted out. Everything seemed to have been swept under the carpet with all the excitement during the dive. Yet upon returning to the hostel the tension had seemed to reappear also.

Nothing was said that evening and I kept well out of both Danny and Dean’s way. They were talking to three young English girls we’d seen on the Baz Bus in the communal living room and seemed happy enough doing so without me.

After a while Monica and I left them to it and ventured to our dorm for a bit of a heart to heart. She too was feeling down that night, possibly for the same reasons as me. Uncertainty regarding our respective futures was an issue that concerned us both also. Why the self-doubt and worry had reared its ugly head on this particular evening I don’t know. But whatever the reason, it made both Monica and I a little forlorn and in need of space from the revelry downstairs.

Categories: Chapter 5, humour, The Jo-burg - Delhi Express, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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