Hello from Coober Pedy!

Once again, it’’s been an eventful few days. We based ourselves in Port Lincoln for ten days while Grant and I took turns going on the Rodney Fox Shark Diving Expedition. Grant’s trip was two diving days and mine was four. I had originally booked three days, but for some reason the trip got changed to four and they never charged me any extra. Very cool! Both of us had an amazing time, even if Grant’’s trip was a bit on the short side. Here’s an account of my trip:

I joined the ‘sharkers’ at the Marina Hotel for dinner before boarding the Princess II for the evening. Jessica and Grant joined us, and Grant was able to catch up with some of the crew he met on his trip earlier in the week. The crew and passengers all seemed really nice, so it looked as though the trip was going to be a lot of fun. Funnily enough, there were two guys from Calgary! Also, Rodney Fox had unexpectedly joined our expedition so Grant and I both got the chance to meet the man who survived a great white shark attack.

Grant and Jessica came back to the boat for a few moments, and then I was on my own. Amazingly, I was the only single woman on the boat, and there had been some cancellations. So, I ended up with my own cabin –- complete with a window and a bathroom! WOW! I haven’’t had that much privacy for YEARS! I had had a bit of a tummy bug for the past few days and definitely wasn’t looking forward to the trip out to the islands on the forwarding day. Grant had warned me that I was likely in for a pretty rough ride. So, armed with my seasickness tablets, off I went.

The night was pretty uneventful, as we spent it in the marina and the slight movement of the boat was lovely. I had a decent sleep and was feeling OK, so I got up and had breakfast as we got underway. But when we hit the open water there was a side swell for a couple of hours. Side swell: now my two least favorite words in the English language. I had taken the largest possible dose of Dramamine before we even left the marina, but it didn’t seem to matter. I have never in my life been that miserable. I puked more in those two hours than I did during my entire pregnancy. Between my tummy bug and the seasickness…..I was eternally grateful for my private bathroom!

Ah well… – we arrived and I stopped feeling sick fairly quickly. I was still pretty drained, but was starting to get very excited about the whole idea of getting in the water with a great white! So, I chatted with the passengers and explored the boat… – and waited… – and waited… – and had a few bites of lunch… – and waited…… – Grant had told me that when the sharks come everything happens really fast so have your camera and gear ready to go when it does. I had put my bathing suit under my clothes at 7am, expecting to be fitted into a wetsuit on the ride out there. I had failed to account for the “no worries” Aussie attitude. It was 3:30pm when I finally said: “Um…..Andrew…..can I PLEASE have a wetsuit… – you know, just in case a shark comes by or something?” (Typical pushy Tammy, but several other passengers were silently cheering me on!)

That got things moving a bit and we all tried on some wetsuits. Sure enough, the first person into the cage for a ‘test dive’ spots a 16ft shark –about ten seconds after he’’s closed the front doors of the cage! Luckily for us, the shark was fairly interested in the boat and stuck around for quite a while. Everyone got a chance to get down in the cage to see him up close and personal.

I’ve thought about how to describe this for days. There are honestly no words that are really adequate. It’s kind of like trying to describe how I felt the first time I held my daughter. It was absolutely the most incredible experience. Great white sharks are such beautiful, powerful creatures and I feel completely honored to be one of the lucky few to have seen them in their natural environment.

The thing that amazed me the most was that I felt no fear whatsoever in the water. Once I had a few moments to observe the first shark at close range, it was obvious that he wasn’t acting in an aggressive manner. Aside from a few looks into the cage, he wasn’t really interested in us at all. Even when I was standing out on the back platform in all my unwieldy scuba gear and weights (a slippery metal platform covered in fish guts and heaving with the swell of the ocean) with a massive shark swimming REALLY close by, I wasn’t worried in the least. I wasn’t about to voluntarily jump into the water, but it felt like if I did happen to fall in, the shark would most likely ignore me. The thing I WAS worried about is that I would fall in like an idiot and my weights would drag me to the bottom and I’d have no air because we weren’t using tanks. Luckily, trusty Andrew or Johnsy were always nearby to help haul my clumsy butt out of the cage!

Over the four days we saw four or five different sharks. I think they were all male, and the largest was around 16ft. That’s fairly small for the area -– in September they apparently get sharks around 20ft fairly often. I was able to dive in the bottom cage and see stingrays and other cool fish swimming around. There were two sharks circling the cage on the safety stop, and they stuck around long enough for me to view them later on from the surface cage. Amazing, wonderful, awe-inspiring….. again… – no words….

Even just viewing them on the surface was (as Crystal would say) ‘AWESOME!’ The crew would throw out bait lines and when the shark came in for the bait, they would pull it towards the boat so we’’d get a better view of the shark. Ideally, the crew member could pull the bait all the way back to the boat without losing it, and we would all get a really up-close and personal view of the shark as it leapt for the bait. This is also the technique they used to tag one of the sharks we spotted. These guys were amazing. They’’d stand on this slippery platform that is actually resting in the water and this huge shark comes slamming in at full speed two inches from their toes chasing bait that they’’re now basically standing on. Well, they don’’t want to let the shark eat too much bait, because full sharks get bored and leave!  In all the years they’ve been doing this, nobody has been hurt. Andrew has a few nicks on his fingers from getting too close to shark teeth when he’s photographing them. Unbelievable!

I will have to say the highlight for me was the one time the shark chased the bait right into the cage I was standing in. It rammed the cage with it’s mouth open and I was essentially looking down the throat of a great white shark from only a couple feet away. Very, very cool. That is one big mouth!

Although I really missed Jessica and Grant (and felt guilty about every second I DIDN’T spend missing them….) the trip was wonderful. The crew spoiled us rotten and all of us gained weight as a testament to Pato’’s phenomenal skills in the kitchen. It was fantastic having Rodney aboard as he’’s an amazing photographer and had about a million stories to tell, including, of course, the infamous shark attack story. The rest of the people on board were good fun -– and the Canadian boys amused us greatly with their antics.

On the final day, we took a trip to one of the local islands (in an inflatable boat roughly the size of the sharks swimming round in the water) and hung out with the seal pups for awhile. One came right up and sniffed my hand… – awwwww! We got back to the boat just in time for one last shark before heading back to shore. We watched the sunset from out in the open water and had the last of a wonderful succession of meals together. That evening, most of us headed out to party for the evening in Port Lincoln. Interestingly enough, the booming metropolis of Port Lincoln does not have much in the way of a club scene! But, we had a fun night laughing at the world’s worst DJ, and SOME of us didn’t make it back to the boat until morning!

Grant picked me up the following morning from the marina (it was REALLY good to see him and Jessica again) and we drove north for about five hours. Thankfully, he was driving because I’’d had absolutely zero sleep the night before. I spent most of the day sleeping in the back of the campervan. We spent the night in a really bleak caravan park in Woomera getting caught up on laundry. Lucky for me (but unlucky for Grant) toilet training was not progressing very well and he was pretty caught up on his and Jessica’s laundry before they picked me up!

Today I drove from Woomera to Coober Pedy. The best word to describe the outback is VAST. It certainly has it’s own type of beauty, though. Coober Pedy is the opal capital of the world…… otherwise known as the middle of nowhere. I’’m sure there are more isolated places than this in the outback, but it’s a pretty desolate town. It’ consists mostly of opal mines and, interestingly enough, opal shops! Likely, we’ll spend tomorrow shopping for opals and maybe taking a tour out to the moon landscape that’s been used in several movies. ‘Red Planet’ was filmed here. The landscape is almost identical to that on Mars. Like I said… – bleak.

Before I forget -– funny Jessica story: Grant was lamenting the other day about how old he is getting – gray hair, etc. He’’s really bothered about the whole turning-40 thing. Anyway, in the middle of this conversation with me about getting old, Jessica did something cute and Grant laughed and went over to kiss her forehead. Her response: “Ewwwww… – Daddy DON’T…. You’’re getting OLD all over me!” Didn’t do much to improve his mood…

Well, that’’s about all the news for now. I’’m not sure when I’’ll have some shark pictures ready to post. Internet access isn’’t readily available in this part of the country -– and it’s really expensive when we can find it. Got some great shots though, stay tuned!!

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