God left dis place a luong tahme agoo - Days Five and Six

Day five passes peacefully with pictures, pleasantness and posh nosh before and early night.

Going to bed at 9.30 has its benefits, in particular it makes getting up at 6am feel less being forced to testify against a friend. Our last guide, Q, arrives a little early at our hotel in order to cross-examine the owners. His daughter is getting married in a couple of months and he is looking for somewhere local to put them up on their wedding night. He likes the look of our hotel; he might be back.
Q will drive us further along the coast to Gansbaai where real adventure, lifelong dreams and some enormous fish await. Along the way I decide to ask him about his background. His ethnicity is almost impossible to pinpoint, but it's highly unlikely he'd have been white enough for some racist pencil-wielding motherfucker making the decisions in the 1960s.
“Where did you grow up?” I ask when he points out a township.
“District Six.”
“Yah. I can tell you about it because I lived it.”
He can, but it seems he won't. Whereas everyone else has been surprisingly forthcoming with information and opinion, Q seems quite reluctant. When I decide to ignore this and push on with questioning him anyway, I can feel the ugly pang of Actual Journalism inside. I don't like it, but my mind scrabbles and finds follow up questions. Even more unfortunately, they garner some genuinely excellent, highly usable quotes. Suffice to say here that his family were uprooted and displaced like everyone else. Happily – for his family at least – they were shunted into an area that would eventually become one of the most sought-after neighbourhoods in the entire city.
It's clear, though, that he's much more keen to talk about the present and the future, whether it's the World Cup, his daughter's wedding or the next five minutes in front of our faces. In any case, he's a nice guy, even though he's in the unfortunate situation of being our fifth guide of the week; the majority of his Capetonian factoids aren't new to us.
Most folks'll tell you that if you want to see whales in South Africa, the best place to go is Hermanus, which locals pronounce Herrmaaanoos. As usual, most folks are wrong. While its more glamorous neighbour has swollen in population to cope with the colossal number of tourists who go there every year to watch whales from the shore, the neighbouring Gansbaai is the teeming body of water Hermanus would rather you didn't know about.
For me, the idea of whale watching has never really held that much appeal: standing on a cold cliff watching something a bit dark that may or may not be a mega-mammal bob around in the waves just sounds, well, a bit shit. For Wee Mo, though, it's much more important – a sporadic hobby, but moreover a long-standing passion. When we get on the boat for our whale watching tour, being honest, I'm thinking: this is for her first, my piece second.
That negativity lasts less than two minutes as barely has the skipper opened up the engine – the tour operator certainly hasn't finished his briefing - and we stop. Here, just ahead, two southern right whales are lolling around and, gradually, heading in our direction. Initially, the biggest surprise about them is the roar they produce when exhaling through their blow-hole which looks like a big plasticine nose pointing skywards. Amazingly, they come right over to the ship, dwarfing it from below. The zoom lens I've got on the front of my camera actually puts me too close to them to get a decent picture.

If their noise and attitude are a surprise, though, the fact that they were hunted to near extinction is not. Naturally curious and slow moving, these languid leviathans got their name because they were such easy quarry – if you saw one of these, you knew it was the right whale to be following.
When we move off, I'm a bit worried that after this flying start it will all peter out. But as anyone who looked at my Bet 365 account circa 2002 – 2006 will be able to tell you, I'm pish at predicting pretty much anything. We make five or six more stops, each time getting good long looks at the whales. At one point, one of them even gives the boat a gentle nudge. “Don't touch the whales,” they told us at the start – I thought they were talking shite.
It's alternately serene and exciting, but photographing them is often frustrating. It reminds me of watching waves, willing the next one to be a mini tsunami, only to see its retreating predecessors suck away its power. Here, just when it looks like you're going to get the iconic shot of a V-shaped tale with a sweeping panorama behind, the whale dives just a little early, or turns, or just gets a bit lazy and doesn't bother committing mooning us.
Two hours fly past and we turn for shore. It's been fantastic, better than I could have imagined and then they stop the boat for one more whale. This one – god bless the fat bastard – decides to breach, right in front of us, disappearing for a few seconds then repeatedly hurling itself into the air.

It's 1996 or possibly 1997 and everyone in my second year English class must pick and animal, study everything they can about it and give a talk some weeks later. Given that most adolescents can be hung, drawn and quartered by their peers for bird shit on their jacket, it seems a little cruel and unusual. Still, as I'm a weird combination of bully, nerd and big-mouthed prick – able to study with enthusiasm and jeely-body anyone who dare make fun of my effort – it's the sort of thing I love. I choose sharks and spend about a fortnight reading what I can and picking out some pre-Google/Wikipedia information from the internet. I repeatedly watch videos of shark-bite victims round at an Older Pal's house and, partly because of their enthusiasm, settle on a notion that I want to go cage diving with great whites.
Thirteen years later and today is the day. And on somebody else's dime too. We arrive just before they start the briefing and are quickly shuttled onto the boat where we spend the 25 minute commute out to Dyer Island talking about whales.
Strangely, the cage is already out there, bobbing in the ocean waiting for our arrival. An irritating English girl, who has been annoying most folk with a video camera – doubtless so she can charge us a fortune at the end for a pish DVD – starts to give a safety briefing when somebody shouts “Shark!”
I get up to the viewing deck and look below. There's nothing there. This, as it turns out, is how much of the time is spent – waiting, only really watching a large shoal of small fish going wild over the chum and an enormous fish head they're using as bait. Once or twice I think I see a shadow below the surface but it's pretty hard to see much of anything. Hmm.
We gamble and decide to go with the second group into the cage. Then, just as the first diver of the first group is about to get in, it happens; a great white rushes up from the deep and gets a good hold of the bait. It thrashes around like a dog with a rope-toy, then drags it below. The line gets tight for a minute, then goes slack. The buoy goes too. The line-handler below grumbles that he should have had a shout from the spotters on the deck with me about the shark's attack. No body else is complaining.
Wee Mo and I get our wetsuits on about 20 minutes later then go back to watching. Sometimes the shark comes back up to the surface and every time, the older South African who has taken charge of the bait-line has an uncanny ability to predict it. To be honest, though, it's pretty slim pickings. I wonder if those in the water are bored or frustrated. I probably would be.
After what feels like a few days, it's out turn to get into the water. I had expected to get an air supply and to be lowered into the water. Most people (because of Jaws) expect the same, but that's not what happens. Instead you kind of sit in the cage, holding on to the roof with no air other than what you can hold in your lungs. Admittedly, that sounds a bit pish, but once you get the hang of it, it's really not. We're in for literally a few seconds when the first one arrives.
Strangely, fear couldn't be further from my mind. Instead... Instead, I dunno. It's not even excitement, just total fixation. Nothing else in the world matters; just it. It's like being hilariously high – I'm dedicated to the moment and the event, utterly absorbed.
The shark hangs around briefly, then disappears. Ten long minutes pass with nothing happening. Then two divers – women, obviously – decide to jack get back on board and let a couple of Spaniards (the only two people yet to dive) join me, Wee Mo and an amusingly enthusiastic American pensioner in the cage. Maybe they smell tempting – I imagine most healthy Spaniards would probably taste quite nice, pre-marinated almost – but moments after they get in the cage, it all kicks off.
The shark from earlier returns, more determined, keen, it seems to me at any rate, to entertain. Again and again it chases the bait, occasionally taking a break by circling the cage and at one point taking a small bite (alas, not at my end). Every time it appears, it's only for a few seconds, but there's something different about this. Hours later, with waking eyes I can see the images of their gigantic shape tattooed onto my brain. My body changes too. I forget about breathing. Or at least I don't prioritise it, even when I'm underwater – and I haul myself down again and again and again. Most of the time, I see the shark approaching before they do on the surface. I can't remember the last time I was this focussed, this dedicated. Somehow in the middle of it all, I managed to take a couple of decent pictures too. Just when I don't think it can get any better, a second shark turns up, bigger with a patchwork of scars across its face. Other things happen but really they don't matter. This is fucking great.