AfricaScubaSouth Africa

6/19-6/21: Travel to Africa

“You’re Doing What?”

Last year I picked up a flyer at my dive shop Pan Aqua Dive Center that summarized a trip they were planning to South Africa for the Sardine Run. For a few weeks every year, millions of sardines travel north through the ocean off South Africa’s coast. This event in and of itself is hardly worth a 25-hour flight, but the predators that hunt the sardines are a sight to behold. Sharks, whales, dolphins and birds arrive by the thousands to feed off large shoals of sardines, creating an experience unlike anything else in the world. When I first heard about this I thought, “Well. That’s just crazy.” My friends weren’t interested, and my “Places to See List” didn’t include another trip to Africa right away. But for whatever reason, I posted the flyer for the Sardine Run on the wall of my cubicle at work and soon after I’d promised myself I’d go. Life is too short to turn down these experiences. Deposits were made, airplane tickets purchased, new gear procured, and I was off for another adventure.

The Trip

The trip to Africa was a rather long and arduous one, which began with a delay at JFK that required us to sit on the runway for two hours while rain traveled through the area. I spent the time slightly anxiety-ridden that I’d miss my 2.5 hour window in Amsterdam to catch my flight to Johannesburg. The next flight wouldn’t leave until 24 hours later, robbing me of a crucial sardine run day. But we took off in just enough time for me to bolt through Amsterdam Airport and to board the 10-hour flight to Jo’burg. I’m a terrible airplane sleeper, so I was bleary-eyed and exhausted when I met my roommate, Bernadette, with whom I’d spend the night in the Johannesburg Southern Sun.

One Bag Short

The next morning we boarded a lovely hour-long flight into Durban, where I’d locate my scuba bag but not my luggage. I had my backpack in Jo’burg so I knew it was still in the country. And while this ordinarily wasn’t a serious problem, the situation was slightly complicated as we were liaising with our tour group for a four hour drive to the Wild Coast. So I had no clothes. No toiletries. No bathing suits. No medication. No sunscreen. I stopped by the airport drugstore to purchase the essentials and a few spare shirts and underwear. I also decided to let the first tour bus leave in favor of waiting at the airport for a few more hours for the next group and – hopefully – my luggage. Now I know… I know… my proximity to the airport has no correlation to the delivery of my backpack, but I felt the need to be even just a little in control. As it turn out, this was a smart choice since the last bus was significantly less full and the ride much more comfortable. I had no clothes, but I did have a seat all to myself.

On the bus we had a plethora of interesting people to keep me entertained and distracted from the lack of belongings:

  • Dave – our guide and Dive Master
  • Matt – a photographer from Atlanta
  • Skip and Sue – a couple of doctors from Las Vegas
  • Kevin – an entrepreneur from Jupiter, Florida
  • Lesley and Mark – a couple from Melbourne, Florida
  • Ken – a retired photographer

Extreme Vacations

We are all with SEAL Expeditions – the organization that organized this Sardine Run excursion. I’ve always thought of myself as adventurous spirit and a well-traveled soul, but the people on this trip make me feel almost provincial. Ken has been to dive sites teeming with tiger sharks. Skip and Sue have worked on scuba research vessels. Kevin has traveled to countries I can’t even pronounce. My trip around the world is practically “predictable” compared to these people. And – as a result – my “Places to See List” is going to grow exponentially. Apparently I need to win the lottery.

We arrived at the Mboyti River Lodge (pronounced Mm-boy-kee) shortly after 7:30. It’s a lovely resorty area with a collection of cabins and facilities located just on the edge of the Indian Ocean. SEAL Expeditions has essentially taken over the place since there are thirty-two of us in total, seventeen of whom are from Pan Aqua Dive Center. So the dinner table was full of scuba stories, shark sightings, and exotic memories.

My roommate, Evelyn, is from LA and – like everyone else here – an adventure seeker and avid scuba diver. She’s an anesthesiologist who takes three months off every year to visit places like Antarctica and Kokos Island. She’s absolutely hysterical, and has been here for two weeks already so she knows the dive staff very well. This is already turning out to be a fun trip, despite the luggage debacle.