The past three weeks has been filled with pure adventure. I have broken out of my comfort zone and done things I never thought I would have the opportunity to do – like frequent cage diving with Great White Sharks, fat biking over dunes, visiting one of the seven legitimate big cat sanctuaries of South Africa, or meeting people from all over the world.

Not only have I done all of these amazing activities, but I have seen South Africa for what it truly is. Underneath the blanket painted on by tourist attractions (which mind you are great) there are smaller things that made my stay with White Shark Diving Company unique. Living in Gansbaai for a month, you are able to step away from tourism, and soak up the little things. The moments that stand out to me the most while being here aren’t what you would first think of. They are small, but substantial parts of my stay. Yes, the big things are awesome too, but it’s the small things that will make me want to come back to South Africa over and over again.

One of these smaller moments is the drive we take to Hermanus, a neighboring town. While in the car we pass by mountains that never fail to make my stomach flip. Staring out the car window I can’t help myself but smile. They are expansive, stretching as far as my eyes can see. Never in my life have I lived in such a beautiful place. Just as we enter the town, and the mountains disappear, and houses start popping up. In the front yards of these houses we often see a troop of baboons wandering around. Baboons!? When I first saw this I was in awe. Of course this is normal to anyone from the area, but as a New Yorker I would never picture baboons just wandering through a town. As I have been told these baboons come down from the neighboring mountains, and just stroll around the homes of Hermanus, which doesn’t make the townspeople too happy.

Another small moment that makes my time in South Africa unique is listening to Afrikaans. Going to the grocery store and having all the signs be in a different language, or hearing the crew speak it on the boat is an auditory sign of how far out of my comfort zone I have gone. And that is great. Listening to this beautiful language has made me appreciate the culture of South Africa so much more.

Overall both the small moments, and big adventurous moments have made my month in South Africa special. But it is the smaller moments that make my month here different from everyone else’s experience. They are not things I will remember as a tourist, they are things I will remember as someone who soaked up everything a month in South Africa could offer.

Katie Isler

New York