Now that I have returned home to the grey skies and chill winds of a late-winter Canadian climate, I can appreciate my time in South Africa as the impossibly vivid and mind-altering experience that it was.
White Shark Diving Company’s volunteer program offers an extremely rare opportunity to spend an entire month working in the field in a beautiful country, and as part of a highly competitive area of research.
Being able to go to sea nearly every day is a luxury that few marine biologists have, but which most dream of attaining. The strong focus on research and conservation, and of course the white sharks themselves, are what drew me to this program and led me to take the huge leap of travelling across the world on my own for the very first time. It is undoubtedly a scary prospect to ship yourself off to an unfamiliar country, but as soon as I arrived there, I knew I would be well taken care of.
This journey for me was not only one of scientific discovery, but also of adventure, cultural enlightening, and friendship. In Gansbaai, I was able to join a diverse group of people from all over the world, from videographers and marine biologists, to fishermen, all of whom share my passion for the ocean. From day one I felt included in this group, and as the month passed, I was able to take part in many aspects of the amazing lives they lead. One day I would find myself sipping wine as I looked over a valley of vineyards, and the next I would be careening down the side of a dune on a fat bike. We would share drinks around the braai while recounting the stories of an afternoon of paintballing, and indulged in more food than even our enormous appetites could handle.
Every day was filled with a new form of excitement, and left me with fond memories, and sometimes a new bruise or two. Because of the kindness I was shown, I had the opportunity to travel the Garden Route, and to jump from the highest bridge bungee in the world. I saw a diversity of animals I had only ever seen in BBC documentaries, including elephants, lions, baboons, and even penguins. I spent each day in awe of this nature, the wildness that surrounds the pockets of civilization that scatter the coasts of South Africa, and of the fact that the people I knew get to experience these things every day.
I will never forget the insight I gained from this trip so far from home. I feel indescribably lucky to have had this opportunity and to have shared it with such an amazing group of people. I have made friends that I would travel back for, and I know it is only a matter of time before I find myself in Table Mountain’s shadow once again.
Thank you to everyone from WSDC, and to everyone who made my time in South Africa unforgettable. You can’t get rid of me that easily.
By Jena Edwards