My View, Ben Parkinson: Shark cage diving was truly amazing

Ben Parkinson during his shark cage diving session
Ben Parkinson during his shark cage diving session
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A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to visit South Africa with the Pilgrimbandits. Several amputees went and my twin brother Daniel went as my carer. It was a very long flight but it was so worth it because down on the Cape where we were staying it is the most beautiful place you can imagine.

We had a very full week with so many things to do.

Firstly we went on Safari in a private game reserve. It was amazing and so different from seeing animals in the zoo or in safari parks. We were in open-top Land Rovers with guides who knew exactly what to do to get us really near to the animals but safely for us and for them! We saw elephants, hippos, antelope, zebra and best of all lions. All in their natural territory and not interested in us at all.

We went to the Cape itself and I achieved a new first. I’ve never walked on sand or been on the beach since I was injured, and I can tell you it’s hard going. But it was worth it because I was able to stand, so to speak, with one stump in the Atlantic Ocean and one in the Indian Ocean which is quite something. I also did a bit of beach sunbathing for the first time – very enjoyable. We visited a massive winery which has the biggest vat in the world. Unfortunately I don’t drink but the rest of the party seemed to enjoy this part of the visit very much. Having said that there are some massive advantages to not drinking; South Africa has the best milkshakes in the world. They were so different and so much better than anything I’ve ever had and I promise you I am a connoisseur. I thought it necessary to try every flavour purely on the grounds of research and I’m trying to lose the weight now.

I was also very fond of one of their national dishes called milk terte. It is like our custard tart but with lots of cinnamon instead of nutmeg on the top. Very delicious.

On our last full day was the event which we all pretended we were looking forward to so much. Shark cage diving. We were all given wetsuits and lowered into a cage six at a time. This was then pulled behind a boat while the staff attracted the sharks with bait. It was brilliant. The sharks were enormous and very agitated because of the food in the water. I admit it was absolutely terrifying but also one of the most fantastic things I have ever done.

One strange thing, when we were back on the boat everyone in the party kept saying how they put their hand on to the sharks and stroked their skin. Funny but that’s not how it looked to me, everyone seemed to be trying to bury themselves as far into the back of the cage as they possibly could, me included.

It was a wonderful trip and everyone was so friendly. The best part is that in 2017 I am going back to kayak down the Orange River. Can’t wait.