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Reports

Wednesday, 24 October 2001
Stanford --> Bredasdorp (SA)

I was picked up in the morning by the local legendary specialist in the White Shark and this man took me along for sail and to try and dive in a cage to wave at the sharks. Now that was a total temptation!
Facial sunburned I later the day hitchhiked towards my next destination, some 60km south east, where my hostingfamily just would not let me leave the next day...

David Abbott woke me up this morning and I definitely enjoyed the view I had from my bed. David prepared me toast with eggs for breakfast and I had to hurry in packing my backpack again. Meanwhile Sara was making me jealous as she and a friend of hers were horse riding around the house. What a life!

Today I went shark cage diving, as I was invited to come along on the boat trip that Brian McFarlane organizes.

David dropped me off at the Stanford car garage at 9.20am and I thanked him and his family for letting me stay on their farm for one day.

I jumped into Brian’s Landrover and sat next to two girls from Holland, Agnes and Karin, who were travelling around South Africa and were also after the sharks today.

Brian McFarlane is a professional diver and skipper and has made a living from the sea his whole life. He started diving for perlemoen at a young age, then moved on to become a commercial fisherman for 6 years and spent another 6 years diving in search of wrecks along the southern coast of Africa.

This was followed by the diving for diamonds from the sea bed for the next 20 years.

He has become a local legend with his fascinating tales about the sea and underwater experiences. During the time when Great White Shark fishing was allowed, Brian caught 33 Great Whites, some weighing more than 3 tons.

Today, he dearly regrets this and now spends his time and efforts in finding the great beasts to be observed and photographed at close range. Brian has had a 97% success rate in the last four years in concern with sightings of the Great White Shark.

So I was really curious what today would bring. Brian drove us to Gansbaai, where we got on a small boat that took us onto the sea. In the car he had offered us a pill that we had to swallow, just to play on the safe side: it would prevent seasickness.

Fishermen founded Gansbaai, the goose bay in 1881 and named it after the many wild geese they found living in the area. Until a few years ago, Gansbaai, 30 minutes east of Hermanus, was still a sleepy fishing village with a small harbour, a fish factory and a few shops and pubs. Since 1997, however, life has become much more hectic in Gansbaai. Tourism dominates the place and the number of residents has multiplied.

Four Germans and a lady from France joined us and Brian and his assistant Gert took off on the boat.

The weather was sunny and not really that windy anymore. Everything was good to go for a dive in the water and wave to the sharks.

Brian knew exactly where the sharks would be and lowered the big cage into the water at that location. In the cage he had placed some shark-liver, which helps to attract the sharks.

We’d be back after one hour as we sailed towards Dyer Island, and remote island under the protection of Cape Nature Conservation and there is a large colony of some 30,000 Cape Fur Seals on the island which make excellent prey for sharks. We spent a lot of time enjoying and photographing this enormous seal colony as the boat just cruised through it.

I was sitting on top of the boat, together with Agnes and Karin. They had been interns in a hospital in Zimbabwe and were now enjoying their last week in South Africa, before heading home to The Netherlands again.

After a while the boat got back to the shark-spot and the cage was taken to the boat again. Gert cut a little shark into pieces and put them on a rope, Brian threw out the rope with the bite on it and we all waited for the sharks to come.

And they did come, after having some patience and after listening to the stories Brians had to tell about his history with the life on the sea. He loves his job and gets totally satisfied if he can entertain his customers with his shark watching and diving.

We saw how a few sharks swam under the boat, especially from the top floor where I stood the view on that was stunning! These creatures are BIG!

The sharks weren’t aggressive at all. They first explored the bite by swimming around it and tried to grab it with mouth wide open, exposing their rows of sharp teeth. Of course Brian pulled on the rope to make it difficult for the sharks.

Every time they tried to bite the fish, they got fooled, making them try different tactics in approaching it.

Two men onboard got into their own wetsuits and got lowered into the cage that was just right next to the boat. At the moment they were down there in the water, a shark on the other side of the boat got Brian’s attention and suddenly another one already had the bite between its teeth.

This time Brian was fooled, but he kept the rope tied, pulling it back again. The shark tried everything to get his meal and splashed around in the water, a most fascinating performance, especially as I stood just 1.5 meters away from it.

Suddenly the shark jumped up and bit in another part of the rope to get all that he wants, creating this massive splash that almost covered the complete boat. That was great!


However some of the German tourist did nothing but complaining about their wet clothing and possible wet photo cameras, but I guess you could expect something like this.

And with several biting sharks and the two men in the cage, the wind suddenly changed from direction – now coming straight from the sea. It made the water rough and high waves were moving the boat from side to side. We really had to hold on very well, as nobody ever wants to fall in the water with the sharks in the area.

The waves made in impossible for the rest to go into the cage and I found that pretty okay. It was just too windy and cold now to be walking around wet.

It was a few hours of shark-pleasure and a lunch on board later when the boat returned back to the harbor as most of the Germans had been throwing up. They thought that that pill wasn’t really necessary for them…

Back ashore the Germans left the boat crawling on their knees and Brian treated the remaining people on coffee and candies from the local harbor café.

It was a fun day out and a great experience. I have to write it in just a few paragraphs, but it certainly was a sensation!

On the way back to Hermanus, Brian dropped me off in Stanford. I thanked him for the free ride on the waves and said goodbye to the Dutch ladies.

There I was in Stanford City again, standing with my backpack along the road. It was time to hitchhike again and after half an hour one car passed me and fortunately picked me up. I could sit in the back of the man’s pickup, and he took me along the 20km to the first junction and we drove through endless hills of farmland, all with their differences in colors.

When he dropped me off and drove off to another direction, I was standing there in giant patchwork quilt of fields, hills and vales stitched together by dirt tracks, rusty fences, and finely embroidered trees. Bundles of rolled hay dot the hills and texture the landscape. Blue Crane-birds stand solitary in the fields, frozen in their own world of Tai Chi. Two roads crossed each other and there were no cars at all. Oops.

I took off for a walk and walked some 2 kilometers up and down hills towards my final destination. I could also have been sitting next to the road and wait, but I decided that walking was just a good exercise for me, although I wouldn’t make the complete 42 kilometers to Bredasdorp.

It took another hour before a car pulled over and this couple silently took me along to my hosting place. The inside of the car was decorated with all kinds of 70’s remembrances. Elvis Presley was rocking under the rearview mirror and along the road I recollected myself with their complete Abba-collection. Mama Mia, I Have A Dream, Voulez-vous couchez avec moi, Happy New Year and The Winner Takes It All. I can now sing-along their complete tape.

In Bredasdorp they knew where I had to be and left me in front of the home where I was going to stay tonight.

I met up with Nelmarie Van der Merwe and her two daughters Minéll and Petri. When I had my first phone contact with her she sounded timid about my arrival, telling me that they were just ordinary hard working people. She was afraid that they wouldn’t meet up with my standards.

Of course their invite was go-ahead for me, as I like to experience real people. Not everybody is rich, not everybody is poor and I am already honored that they invite me. It would be a boring tour if everybody were the same.

After my arrival Nelmarie noticed my red face, the sun and the waves really did some bad work there. I was really sunburned. She gave me some soaps and moisturizer to let it relax a bit and I had a very necessary nap after today’s experiences in Minéll’s bedroom, where I’d sleep tonight.

I woke up again in the beginning of the evening and met up with Pierce, the father of the family. He heard about me and my travel method on CapeTalk radio and he was proud to have me stay in Bredasdorp.

Bredasdorp is still a small town with some 3,000 citizens and it is a big farming community. “The complete commerce here depends on the harvest of the farmers. A bad year for farmers can be felt in the whole village,” as Pierce told me.

Founded in 1838, Bredasdorp was named after the father of South Africa’s sheep industry and Cape Town's first major, Michael van Breda.

The biggest thing that happened in Bredasdorp was only a few years ago, when an Italian bubblegum commercial was shot. The main street buildings were painted in bright flashy colors with big lemons and cocoons on top of the building.

The shooting took a few weeks and when the Italians were finished all the buildings remained having their bright colors. Somehow the people of Bredasdorp have never really seen that commercial or how it was received in Italy. If any Italian reader knows this bubblegum commercial, just write about it on the messageboard.

Pierce and Nelmarie did not want me to leave tomorrow already, as I would have to make a big jump to another district and I wouldn’t see all the interesting must-see sights in the area. It was clear they wouldn’t let me go either, so I arranged with my upcoming hosts that I’d come one day later and that was all fine with them.

For dinner the Van Merwe family took me out to a local restaurant on Church Street, where we enjoyed a big steak and desert as we talked about life in Bredasdorp.

Pierce and Nelmarie are running three businesses. Nelmarie makes her days in her own little local grocery store with a craft supply shop in it, while Pierce is into carpet cleanings.

Pierce had been working as a chef cook at the South African Air Force base, a concealed area outside Bredasdorp, for over 15 years. He decided to quit that job a few years ago and realized how is got back to normal life again. “I read about how you can succeed with what you already have and thought to give it a go.”

He suddenly got to know the people in the village he normally drives up and down everyday, always on the run for the job. It was a big change for him. “We had to give up the fancy house that the Air Force supplied to the family and start our own businesses, but it was all worth it.”

“Our only luxury,” Nelmarie told me, “is the Internet.”
“We just pay our phone bill without looking at it, it would be to scary to think about that,” Pierce said. Nelmarie uses the Internet the most of the time, surfing around the digital highways and often chatting with others with MSN Messenger. “I might be an addict, but it just is a nice way out of ordinary life, just as watching Big Brother on TV.”

Back home in their small but comfy house, Nelmarie logged onto the web and had to tell her chat buddy’s about me staying with them. Her chat friend in Las Vegas, US, had even already invited me! When the whole family went to bed, they let me write my diary entry of the past days. I wouldn’t make it too late as tomorrow will be a busy day with a lot of sightseeing.

Good night Bredasdorp!

Ramon.



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