Fabric is just Crack by the yard…

Somebody stop me! I can’t stop buying these beautiful African fabrics. They are as addictive as any controlled substance. Granted, there is not much to do here – and no clothes shopping at all – so I have to fill my days somehow. Until recently, I merely bought fabric and never actually did anything with it.  I was simply stocking my shelves and waiting for inspiration to strike.  In the past couple of weeks however, my huge stack of fabrics has become completely inadequate, as ideas for projects are flowing like the Kwanza River.  Pillows, casserole caddies, book bags for kids at the orphanage, quilts, tablecloths…oh, and did I mention pillows? These bright, vibrant patterns are so much fun to mix, they beg to be cut into pieces and sewn together.

The possibilities and projects are endless, but buying fabrics here is like a scavenger hunt. Of course, there are always the ladies on the street, with fabric stacked high on their heads, but much of this fabric can be low on the quality scale. Benfica, the large craft area I mentioned in a previous blog, is also an option. But, it is a long drive and filled with overzealous merchants who follow expats like me around until they wear us down. I tend to buy fabric I don’t even like, just to make these guys go away.

Undoubtedly, the mecca for fabric shoppers here is a place south of town call Sao Paolo, which I have been to only once. It was over a year ago, and we were here on our look-see visit.  As a wide-eyed visitor, one of the long-time expat ladies took it upon herself to show me the ropes. I will call her Mrs. Lisbon. A native of Portugal and expert on life in Luanda, she was the ideal guide for a nervous newbie like me.

One morning, Mrs. Lisbon offered to show me some fabric shops and asked if my driver could transport us.  As she and another expat lady crawled into my car, Mrs. Lisbon spoke quickly in Portuguese to my driver, a very meek fellow who had been assigned to me for the week. I had no idea what she was asking him, but he clearly wanted no part of it.  After a few minutes of this back and forth, he finally gave in and agreed to drive us to Sao Paolo, a place I learned later is in the “red zone” for our drivers. Crowded, dangerous and prone to raids by the police, it is strictly off-limits. In fact, Mrs. Lisbon’s own driver would not take her. As powerful as her charms were, I guess he valued his job a bit too much. Of course at the time, I knew nothing about the dangers of the place, and was simply along for the ride.  Ignorance is bliss, and I was happy as a clam.

As we approached the long, pot-holed dirt road in Sao Paolo lined with shops, my driver was clearly nervous. I assumed his white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel was because he was having a hard time finding a place to park.  Later, I learned that cars are often vandalized in Sao Paolo, even with the owners very close by. I’m sure he was sweating the possibility of explaining a damaged vehicle to our company, especially if it had occurred in an area he was supposed to avoid.

After about ten minutes, he finally found a place to park, and declared that he was staying with the car, which was clearly more important to him than we were. As we got out of the car, Mrs. Lisbon directed me to stay very close to her and tuck my purse under my arm. This made me a little nervous, but I mustered my courage and kept a death grip on my bag.  As we walked quickly along, we peered into one small doorway after another, each one revealing poorly lit rooms with colorful fabric stacked floor to ceiling. Mrs. Lisbon was looking for a particular shop that she knew carried the very best fabrics and selection.

Once she located the shop, we walked in and up some very steep stairs, revealing a maze-like set up. Thousands of yards of fabric loomed from all sides and immediately overwhelmed me. There were just too many choices!  The stacks were vaguely divided into makeshift booths and each booth’s owner stood ready to negotiate over their colorful wares. No prices were posted, but Mrs. Lisbon informed me that each bunch of about six yards of fabric cost between ten to twelve dollars. Cheap as chips – literally, since chips (or crisps, as the British say) are about ten dollars a bag here!

Choices had to be made quickly, as the ladies began to open up and display yard after yard, all the while giving me their best sales pitch. Within moments, dozens of patterns and colors were laid out before me. All I could do was close my eyes and point. In no more than fifteen minutes, I had purchased as much as I could cram into an already full suitcase. Much to my husband’s dismay, I dragged that fabric back to London with me, where it sat in a corner for a full year. When we moved here to Luanda the following September, that same fabric made the four-thousand mile trip back here, and is finally being put to good use.

After we moved here, I heard one Sao Paolo horror story after another, although my trip had come off without a hitch. Apparently, pickpockets frequent the area and make no attempt to hide what they are doing. One lady I spoke to was robbed twice on the same trip! The occasional police who patrol the area only bring chaos when they arrive. You see, technically it is illegal to sell items on the street, even though there are people throughout the city selling everything from fabrics to food to toilet seats. Occasionally, the police will raid areas like Sao Paolo. Coming in like gangbusters, they hurl the ladies’ wares into the muddy street, or smash produce with a billy club. I have never heard an explanation as to what prompts these raids, but I have no desire to see one firsthand.

Today, I asked my driver where to find nice fabrics here in town. He took me to a lovely shop filled with artwork, carvings, decorative items and a very small section of about fifteen different patterns.  I paid the equivalent of sixty dollars for a six yard piece – roughly six times what I paid at Sao Paolo! Did I overpay? I’m not so sure. There weren’t many patterns, so the choices were easy. The place was air-conditioned, my purse was safe on my shoulder, and there was no danger of being caught in a police raid. I think sixty dollars was a true bargain, here in the world’s most expensive city.

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Living in a Minefield…

Going to the grocery store should not be a hazardous activity, but here in Luanda, there are pitfalls and stumbling blocks everywhere you go.  Just today, as I was walking out of the grocery store, to my left stood a soldier with a machine gun. To my right, several men walked quickly towards me, sizing me up and shouting in Portuguese. I assumed from their demeanor that they were asking for money, which quickened my steps. Just as I approached the passenger side of my vehicle, with my driver inside and engine running, I narrowly missed falling into a three-foot-wide, six-foot-deep, open manhole. This could have been the end of me. Going to a hospital here is as dangerous as any accident.

No, Luanda is not a safe place for a klutz like me. I fall down – a lot. A bad ankle is the usual excuse for these spills, but mostly I am just too distracted by what is around me to watch where I put my feet. My favorite story about this legendary klutziness recalls my first date with the cutie-pie who would later become my husband. He is one of the most graceful and athletic people I know, by the way.

It was a date to go water-skiing. Don’t get ahead of me, now. The two of us had been set up on this date by another couple. The girl was a friend of mine from grad school, and her boyfriend was one of my hubby’s co-workers. Everything was going along perfectly until the two guys tried to launch the boat from a very steep boat ramp, something both of them had done many times before.  Suddenly, the boat launched itself off of the trailer and began to float away. While all of this was going on, I was walking towards the water, enthralled with all of the commotion, and of course my hot date.

The next thing I know, I am flat on my back laying in dead shrimp. While I had been gawking at my hubby, I had stepped right off of a four-foot embankment, and landed right in the middle of two young boys who were fishing with the stinky shrimp I had just squashed. Not one to admit pain, I jumped right up and declared, “I’m Oookayyy!”, doing my best arms-in-the-air, Olympic dismount gesture. How embarrassing! Here I was wearing my brand-new bikini, preparing to dazzle this handsome guy with my skiing prowess, and I fall down like a bumbling idiot. One thing is for sure, I made an impression that stuck.  We did wind up getting married, after all. Years later, my husband told me that his first thought was, “She’s clumsy, but she’s tough!”.

All of this is to say that I am ill-equipped for life in such a hazard-filled place.  There are no clean, even sidewalks here. There are holes and rocks and mud puddles. The mud puddles especially need to be avoided.  You don’t want to know what is most-likely floating in them. I’ve found the best shoes to wear here are FitFlops, those very unattractive rubber platform sandals that allow for walking slightly above the muck and can be hosed off and disinfected later. In addition to concentrating on all of the hazards on the ground, one must also watch out for hazards coming from all sides: crazy drivers that have no intention of stopping, potential muggers and the occasional stray dog. Sometimes, it is just too much for my ADD mind to handle!

In all seriousness, while I speak of Luanda as an urban minefield, there are many real, actual minefields still remaining in this country, mostly in outlying communities. In fact, Angola is still one of the most heavily land-mined countries in the world.  Following the end of the decades-long civil war, many land mines have been removed, but an estimated ten million still remain. Let that number sink in a moment. Ten million land mines. Imagine the damage they can do. And they are not designed to kill. They are designed to maim.  Many, many people are seen with missing limbs, even in Luanda.  It is a terrible tragedy that is entirely man-made.

Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to a presentation by MAG (Mines Advisory Group), a non-governmental British and American organization that leads a de-mining effort in Moxico, eastern Angola. Understandably, the process is long and dangerous. Money is short for training and equipping these brave workers. They are making progress, but it will be many years before their work is done in Moxico alone. Of course, donations are sorely needed so they can continue their work and rid these communities of mines. Here is some more information about MAG:


Other international organizations, such as HALO Trust, work in different parts of the country. Princess Diana was famously photographed walking through a land mine area while here on a visit with HALO Trust.  Fortunately, Prince Harry has continued Diana’s work through his visits to Angola. Here is their website as well:


Of course, a klutz like me would be more of a danger than a help in clearing land mines. There is not enough protective gear around that would make me safe in such a situation. But, I can certainly contribute monetarily and plan to do so.  In the meantime, I will be stepping very carefully as I travel around the city of Luanda. As interesting as it could be, I don’t really want to write a blog about an Angolan emergency room, thank you very much.

Now, back to that water-skiing trip.  I am happy to report that I did dazzle my date, and the other couple too, with my skiing prowess. In fact, with each fall – and there were many – those comedians on the boat yelled out, “That’s a 9.5!” or “That’s a 10!”  Yes, I did fall spectacularly, but I also got back onto those darn skis until my date, with his infinite patience, had finally taught me how to slalom ski.  And I didn’t even lose my brand-new bikini top in the process.

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

The Southern Cross…

When you see the Southern Cross for the first time, you understand now why you came this way. – Crosby, Stills and Nash.

As we stood on our balcony in Cape Town, my husband pointed out the Southern Cross in the dark African sky.  A wave of emotion took me by surprise as I gazed at those four stars.  Maybe it was because – as the song goes – it was my first time to see this constellation, which is not visible from most of the northern hemisphere. Or perhaps it was because it brought back fond memories of listening to the song, one of my favorites, from so many years ago.  Mostly, I think it was because I have been struggling and searching for a reason as to why we are now living in Africa, a place I never thought I would visit, let alone move to.  After living here for six months, I am still in a state of disbelief.

Of course, the obvious reason we are here is for my husband’s job.  But, the bigger question for me is: why was this opportunity placed in our path? For those of you who have read my blogs thus far, it may appear that we moved here only to go on vacation. Some of you have said you don’t think my husband works at all! While it is true that we have seen some beautiful places, day to day living in Luanda is anything but beautiful. Moving here to go on great vacations is really doing things the hard way. You don’t buy a cow to get a glass of milk. And Luanda is a real pain-in-the-ass cow.  This is considered a “hardship” location for many reasons: it’s dirty, dangerous, smelly, ridiculously expensive and the work is difficult and frustrating.  We would have to be daft to move here just to go on exotic vacations.

Of course, there is the monetary aspect of an Angolan posting.  We are provided a nice “uplift” for living here. But for me, that is not enough to move to a place like this, thousands of miles from family, friends, and all that is familiar.  Money is nice, don’t get me wrong, but money is cold comfort when you can’t walk two blocks for fear of being mugged, or spend days with a belly ache because you trusted food you shouldn’t have. So, if it was not for the vacations and not for the money, why did we move here?

I believe that God – and not my husband’s company – put us here for a reason.  Now, my ego is not so inflated as to believe that I am here to change the world. I’m not a change-the-world kind of gal.  I’m quiet and fairly shy and more than a little lazy.  God has his work cut out for Him just getting me out of bed in the morning and out the door. But, I do believe He had a reason for putting us here.  That reason, although still cloudy, is beginning to take shape.

Strangely, I turn to Hollywood to make my point, by way of the movie Yes Man, with Jim Carrey.  For those of you who have not seen it, Jim Carrey’s character learns through a series of crazy events, that when we say “yes” to opportunities – especially if they exist far outside of our warm and fuzzy comfort zone – the result is something amazing and completely unexpected.  Although the movie never references anything other than a cosmic, karma-esque reason for this, the point is clear: it’s not life that gets us, it’s our reaction to it.

Back in Texas, we attended a church for many years that we really enjoyed.  Through that church and also through our neighborhood, I had participated in a number of bible studies through the years, but I had never taken part in a study by Beth Moore.  I had heard much about the energetic Mrs. Moore, and had always wanted to do one of her studies, but had never accepted any of the opportunities that presented themselves – and there were many.  I was saying “No” and not saying “Yes”. If you have never heard of Beth, take a moment to look her up on YouTube.  That tiny Texas dynamo could motivate anyone.  Less than a week after moving here, one of the lovely angels who lives in my building invited me to come to her bible study class.  Imagine my surprise to learn they were doing a Beth Moore study!

Let me tell you, I was not disappointed. Full of piss and vinegar (as my dad used to say), Beth seemed to cut straight through all of the religious fog to reveal an undeniable point: all of us are put here to serve God’s purposes. If we will only be still for a moment, open our hearts and listen, He will reveal what that is for us. It may have taken a move to Africa for me to finally join a fellow Texan’s bible study, but now I see it.  Yes is good.  Yes leads to good things happening in your life.

While it is great that I have benefitted spiritually by this move, surely that is not the only reason I am here.  God calls us to help others, and there is so much need here – really so much that it can be overwhelming. What can one person do? Take a first step and then see where it leads, that is all any of us can do. Through the lovely ladies I met in my bible study, I decided to help teach English at a local orphanage.  This activity takes me far outside of my comfort zone, so saying “yes” to this was a little tougher than it was to the bible study. You see, I’ve got a very soft heart and it gets broken easily. I’ve done loads of volunteer work over the years, but have generally avoided dealing directly with kids in difficult situations. I just can’t take it. An orphanage here is a surefire heart-breaker.  The depth of poverty in Angola is something most people in the western world will never see.  I will be shedding tears – buckets of them – at the plight of these kids. But there is a reason I was given this opportunity and so I said “yes”.  Maybe one of these kids will be helped in some small way by my participation.  If so, then it will be worth every tear.

My purpose in writing this blog is not to toot my own horn. Considering the amount of need here, teaching a class is a tiny drop in the bucket. My purpose is just to encourage others to say yes the next time an opportunity knocks on the door.  Especially if the first instinct is to say no.  Just trust that by embracing the opportunities that appear, good things will be the result, even though they may not be visible directly.

The lovely angel who invited me to her bible study left Luanda several months ago.  Her husband had been suffering from a nasty cough for almost a year, and during a trip home to the U.S., doctors discovered that it was cancer. They have remained in the U.S. until his treatment is complete. Ever cheerful, they inspire others merely by being examples of the willing servants God wants us to be. Even while dealing with a very sick husband, she had made the effort to reach out to me, a newcomer, and had a huge impact on my life as a result. She doesn’t know what she set in motion with the simple act of inviting me to her bible study, just as I may never know how my actions will impact others after I leave.  In the meantime, I will do my best to make those interactions positive, and then trust God to create the good that comes next.

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Wine a little, you’ll feel better…

Although our Shark Cage Diving experience was exciting, it was not exactly a romantic start to our South African vacation.  Luckily, my sweet hubby had planned a picture perfect part two: several days in the Franschhoek wine region, a foodie haven with spectacular scenery and world-class wines.  The drive from Cape Town was only a little over an hour, but it was filled with lovely views of vineyards and beautiful mountains.

We arrived at our hotel, Mont Rochelle, which Sir Richard Branson had recently acquired and completely refurbished.  Cool grays, bright pops of color, and modern lines dominate the decor. Everything seems very well thought out, as many of the newer “design hotels” are, but Sir Richard also threw in some whimsical pieces: chairs covered in artificial grass and strange yellow bowls that resembled large empty tennis balls.  The two resident cats also lend a homey touch.

Here are a few shots of the hotel and grounds:

Lovely views all around.  This was where we ate breakfast each morning.
Lovely views all around. This was where we ate breakfast each morning.
Grass chairs? But, of course!
Grass chairs? But, of course!


The wonderful restaurant, still a bit undiscovered...
The wonderful restaurant, still a bit undiscovered…
Not a bad view to wake up to!
Not a bad view to wake up to!

Our first night, we enjoyed the restaurant at the hotel and settled into the relaxing atmosphere.  The next morning, we had a full day wine tour planned of the Franschhoek/Stellenbosh Wine Regions, or at least a very small portion of it.  This wine area is enormous, with close to 300 wineries.  There was no way we could see them all and live to tell about it!

We learned the hard way on previous trips to Napa that trying to tackle more than three or four wineries in a day just makes you silly drunk and unable to taste much of anything.  Not starting out with a long list of must-see wineries made it much easier, as the pressure was off to rush about from place to place.  We left the choices up to our driver, and he picked three very nice spots based on our favorite types of wine.

Our first stop was Ernie Els winery, a gorgeous spot high on the side of a hill, with an amazing view and excellent red wines.  It also has the bonus of a trophy room featuring great photos of Ernie throughout his illustrious golfing career. We could have sat there all day, taking in the view, but we had given our driver permission to push us along when needed.  Here are a few photos of Ernie’s place:

What a view!
What a view!
Of course there was a putting green!
Of course there was a putting green!
Ernie makes some fabulous reds...
Ernie makes some fabulous reds…

Next, we visited Neethlingshof, to sample their excellent pinotage, a uniquely South African blend of hermitage and pinot noir grapes. We stopped for lunch at the lovely Bread & Wine restaurant at Moreson Winery, and nibbled on their recommended charcuterie platter.

2015-02-11 13.45.40

Our last stop for the day was at La Motte, and then we were done.  Even with pouring out much of what we were served, we had had enough wine for the day.  Slow and steady wins the race, and we had several more days of this ahead of us.

The next day we began with a lovely drive just outside of Franschhoek, where we discovered near wilderness.  This seems to be the main difference between this wine region and others we have visited.  Its vastness and relative sparse crowds give the impression that you have the place to yourself.  So relaxing.

Looking down at Franschhoek from the pass.
Looking down at Franschhoek from the pass.
Wide open spaces just outside of town.
Wide open spaces just outside of town.

After our short drive, we headed towards Stellenbosch to see a couple of places we had missed.

Visiting Haute Caubriere, were we tasted an un-oaked Pinot Noir, a lovely mix between a white and a red wine.  Not a rose, but something entirely new.
Visiting Haute Caubriere, were we tasted an un-oaked Pinot Noir, a lovely mix between a white and a red wine. Not a rose, but something entirely new.
Visiting Delaire Graff, a very posh hotel and winery with a spectacular view.

Dinner that night was a Le Bon Vivant, a small french restaurant in town. Franschhoek (which is dutch for “French corner”) was settled by French huguenots in the 1600’s.  Their influence is still strongly felt in many ways, not least of which is the predominance of excellent French restaurants in the area.

The next day we hopped aboard the “Wine Tram”, a slightly hokey, but fun way to see more great wineries without having to drive under the influence.  We enjoyed the experience and were able to try even more wine, even though we were both reaching our limits.

The Wine Tram.  All aboard!  Toot! Toot!
The Wine Tram. All aboard! Toot! Toot!

Since this was our final night, we had saved the best restaurant for last.  La Petite Ferme is a very popular spot, but usually only open for lunch.  But on Friday nights it is open for dinner and live music is played on the lawn overlooking the vineyard.  We had called several weeks before the trip and made a reservation for 7:00 pm.  We arrive on time only to have a very surly hostess inform us that we did not have a reservation, but she did find our name on a waiting list. The place was completely booked, especially the outside tables overlooking the jazz band.  What to do? I’ve found the best tactic is to smile sweetly and stand your ground until someone finds a solution.  We were not leaving, so they needed to figure out where to put us.

The surly hostess placed us at a table in the back near the kitchen.  It was’t exactly what we had in mind, but at least we would be able to have a nice meal.  Then, our darling waitress saved the day.  She sat up a table outside in what is normally the bar area.  It had a perfect view of the band and vineyards and we felt very special.  See, there are angels among us.

We had the best spot in the house.
We had the best spot in the house.
An excellent band played all kinds of music and we even had a chance to dance under the stars.
An excellent band played all kinds of music. After the sun went down, we danced under the stars.

It was a wonderful week in South Africa and we cannot wait to return.  Having only scratched the surface of what this beautiful country has to offer, we look forward to finding new treasures on our next trip.  As long as my husband doesn’t announce a lifelong desire to go bungee jumping or hang-gliding, our future trips are sure to be romantic from start to finish!

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Oh, When the Shark Bites…

Sharks have never been my favorite sea life, even though I am a scuba diver from way back.  I won’t say how far back, but my original certification documents were lost in a fire at the PADI office sometime in the 1980’s. They were kept on microfilm, you see. All of this is to illustrate that I am generally very comfortable in and under the water. My selective fear of sharks is a result of my very first open-water dive in Cozumel, Mexico, so may moons ago. There I was, a newbie diver, trying to juggle fifty-plus pounds of bulky equipment and perform a perfect “giant-stride” entry off of the boat. Yeah, right. Grace was not my strong suit then, and it still isn’t. Instead, I splashed into the water with all of the finesse of a watermelon falling from a two story building. Mask askew and completely disoriented, I took a moment to get myself organized. When the bubbles cleared and I took my first breath of cold, compressed air, the first thing I saw were two shadowy figures about 50 feet away. Yes, they were sharks, and I was certain I was going to die.

Obviously, that did not happen. Duh.

Instead, the two sharks simply turned and swam away, and I was left with a permanent fear of those sleek, gray killing machines.  Well, maybe that is a little overdramatic, but I really, really don’t like sharks.  Apparently, I need to speak up more forcefully about my deepest fears, because what did my husband sign us up for on a romantic trip to Cape Town, South Africa?  Yes, Shark Cage Diving.  Just take me out back and shoot me.

But I’m a big girl and no hissy fits ensued.  However, I did start praying for bad weather, a broken down boat, a sudden onset of fever – anything to avoid getting into the freezing cold South African water where you are guaranteed there will be sharks. Keep in mind, these are not little sissy sharks, we would be in the water with Great Whites.  They make movies about such beasts.  Oh, and by the way, I really, really don’t like cold water either.

The day came for our trip and we arrived in Cape Town to beautiful weather.  Darn it.  We were scheduled to go diving early the next morning. My husband in his wisdom had planned it early in the trip, bless him, so we could get it over with and then enjoy our vacation. Upon arrival to our hotel, the concierge told us our dive had been cancelled due to a very windy forecast for the next day. Oh, joy! I tried hard not to break out in a happy dance. Then she said they had rescheduled it for the following day, which was forecasted to be perfect weather. Crap.  Now I had another twenty-four hours to fret.

We spent our now free day enjoying the beauty of Cape Town, including a tram ride up to the top of Table Mountain.  It really is a lovely city, very clean and modern – and cheap. Cape Town has very reasonable prices for hotels, restaurants and shopping, especially when compared to Luanda or most major European cities. Here are a few photos of the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront area and Table Mountain:

Beautiful Table Mountain with a view of our hotel, the Cape Grace.
Lovely view from our room at the Cape Grace. My yacht is the big, white one – in my next life…
The tram to the top of Table Mountain.  The floor rotates so everyone has a great view on the way up!
The tram to the top of Table Mountain. The floor rotates so everyone has a great view on the way up!
The view from the top!
The view from the top!
There is a trail to the top for those people with excessive amounts of time and energy.
There is a trail to the top for those people with excessive amounts of time and energy.
One of a very interesting group of characters.
My hubby, the King of the Hill.
My hubby, the King of the Hill.

The next morning, my prayers went unanswered as we awoke to a clear, calm day. Hubby made it clear that Shark Cage Diving had always been very high on his bucket list, so I finally decided to fake a smile and go along.  This act was not entirely altruistic, I must admit. I’m still hoping for diamonds as a reward.

We were picked up at our hotel along with a group of four quite rotund British tourists, two women and two men.  I don’t say this to be in any way derogatory, but I was certain that the tour company would not have wet suits large enough to fit either of the men.  Already waiting in the van, was a very quiet Indian couple, who had planned this excursion for the wife’s birthday.  She seemed particularly excited and he, well, looked about as excited as I was. It was a two hour drive to where the boat would be picking us up in Gansbaai.  Along the way, we learned that only one of the British men was planning to dive.  The rest of the group was only along to take pictures. I breathed a sigh of relief to know that we would not be crammed into a cage with them, lovely and friendly as they were.

When we arrived at the pick up spot, it became clear that the number of people on the boat was going to far exceed the people in our little van.  No less that forty people were gathering to board.  They served us a small breakfast, and showed a short introductory film about the dive.  Then, they sized us up individually for our wet suits, masks and booties.  While we were waiting our turn for sizing, I overheard our Indian friend ask one of the workers if they had any motion sickness medicine, which of course they did not. Uh-oh, with my luck, he will definitely be in the cage with us.

After everyone had been sized, they led us to the boat and we headed out to a pre-chosen spot to begin the dive.  The shark cage was already in the water and chum (that disgusting mix of fish parts, etc.) had already been churned around in the water prior to our arrival. Here are a few shots of the location and cage:

Our boat for our three-hour tour.  Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, the tale of a fateful trip...
Our boat for our three-hour tour. Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, the tale of a fateful trip…
Attaching the cage to the boat.
Attaching the cage to the boat.

Who’s first, we all wondered.  The crew began calling out names, handing out our wet suits and putting us into groups.  Luckily, we were not in the first batch.  I needed to see if they survived before I stuck my tootsies into that water.  As the first group entered the cage, the crew tossed a batch of dead fish tied to the end of a rope into the water.  They also had a wooden form that supposedly looked like a small seal, at least to a shark.  Within minutes, the first sharks arrived as the crew taunted them with the fish-on-a-rope.  As the sharks got close to the fish, the crew yanked it away, in an effort to draw the sharks closer to the cage.

Here fishy-fishy…
A game of "catch the fish" between the crew and the sharks...
A game of “catch the fish” between the crew and the sharks…
Almost got it!

Each time, as the shark got close to the cage, the crew yelled “Down, left!” or “Down, right!” so the people in the cage could go underwater to see the sharks up close.  This was all very exciting to watch from above, as we could see what was coming and doubted the people in the cage had any idea.

Finally, it was our turn to enter the cage.  We wriggled into our wet-suits and took the plunge.  The water, although quite cold, actually felt refreshing after the effort of cramming my sweaty body into a too-tight suit.  As predicted, immediately to my left was my green-around-the-gills Indian friend and his wife, grinning with glee.

Taking our turn as lunch in a cage…

The first shark approached and we dove under the water to see the impending jaws of death.  Instead, we saw this:

The only thing visible in the murky water were the small bait fish attracted by the chum in the water.

Again and again, we held our breath and dove down, trying in vain to capture a photo of a full set of teeth.  This was the best photo we got:

If you squint and look closely, you can make out the shape of the back end of a shark.  Not exactly a National Geographic worthy photo, but proof nonetheless..
If you squint and look closely, you can make out the shape of the back end of a shark. Not exactly a National Geographic worthy photo, but proof nonetheless..

The entire twenty or thirty minutes we were in the cage, our Indian friend shivered so violently that it was actually shaking the cage, all the while saying, “C-c-cold, I’m so c-c-cold.”  Poor guy, I don’t think he got much out of the experience.  His wife was freezing as well.  She asked to be let out of the cage early when it became clear that the best views were above the water anyway.

When our time was up, we all climbed out of the cage and the next group climbed in behind us.  Immediately after they closed the cage, a huge and very fast shark managed to grab the fish-on-a-rope. A vicious tug-of-war ensued, as the shark thrashed and spun about, slamming into the cage.

This group got a little more excitement than we did, which was A-OK with me!
This group got a little more excitement than we did, which was A-OK with me!

There were several more groups to follow.  At one point, I looked down to see our very large British friend taking his turn in the cage. Unfortunately for his fellow cage-members, he was doing his own version of chumming the water. Enough said about that, but I was hugely thankful that I was not in there with him.

All in all, it was a fun and very interesting day and not as scary as I expected.  Despite all of my fretting about sharks and cold water, the scariest thing about the whole experience was knowing that if I ever were fool enough to go swimming in that freezing water again, there would be no way to see a shark coming. That and the prospect of the crew pouring chum directly onto the people in the cage, which does happen occasionally, I’m told.

When we got back to shore, they previewed a short video that one of the crew had made during our trip.  I had not noticed him filming, the sneaky guy.  Of course, we bought a copy so we can relive our day, especially if we ever need a reminder NOT to go swimming while in South Africa.

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved