Swimming with sharks
Editor's note: This is part of an occasional summer series chronicling Woodbury teachers' summer activities. If you are a teacher in Woodbury and would like to share your story, please contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Earlier this year East Ridge High School science teacher Nancy Berg, her husband Ryan and their daughter Hallie were brainstorming possible places to vacation this summer.
After some research, the Bergs -- avid travelers -- ultimately decided on the island nation of Fiji, which is just north of Australia.
"We've been diving a lot lately, so we wanted to see something different with scuba diving," Nancy said, "and Fiji has the best shark dive in the world.
"I knew I was either coming back with great photos or a great obituary."
The Bergs traveled to Fiji, a nation comprised of 30 islands, June 27 to July 7.
The first thing on the Bergs' itinerary in Fiji was to get wet.
"We were planning on doing two coral dives just to get used to the water," Nancy said. "But, when we got out to the dive boat that morning there were eight college students on there who were all there on a shark research project and they wanted to look for shark teeth."
So, the first plunge of the Bergs' vacation consisted of diving down 110 feet, which is out of the ordinary for them since they typically stick to about 60 feet, Nancy said.
"That was the first dive that we didn't really plan on," she said.
There, the Bergs found a few shark teeth, but the real thrill were the 500-pound bull sharks that were swimming around.
The family's next dive was the one that they were looking forward to - swimming the bull sharks.
Bull sharks are considered to be one of the most aggressive sharks and are responsible for the most shark attacks, Nancy said.
"The whole night before I heard the 'Jaws' theme in my head," Nancy said. "I almost had second thoughts about it."
For the dive, the group descended to a depth of 100 feet where they then kneeled behind a coral wall.
Once the divers were in place, including the dive master who carried a prod for security, a container was lowered into the water which then dropped fish heads into the water in order to attract the sharks.
"There were 20 to 30 sharks at a time circling around us," Nancy said. "They were feeding all around us."
Both Nancy and Ryan Berg said the experience of swimming with the bull sharks was one that is difficult to put into words.
"It was just amazing," Nancy said. "It's really hard to explain when you have a 500 pound shark right in front of you and you have a whole frame picture of it."
"There was just so much action," Ryan said.
Despite their deadly reputation, Nancy said she was never afraid since there's only about seven bull sharks fatalities a year.
"You have a better chance of winning the lottery than you would being attacked by a shark ," she said. "Plus, when you're diving, you almost feel like you're in a bubble and that you're protected, so you're never ever afraid.
"I almost felt like I was in a theater sitting in my seat watching this program, but it was in 3D."
In addition to the shark dives, the Bergs were also able to experience several of the villages in Fiji.
"I don't want to say Fiji is untouched, but there's still a lot of culture there," Nancy said.
The first village they visited, on Beqa Island, was a primitive, tribal village.
In fact, the village, once inhabited by cannibals, was where "fire walking" originated.
Even though cannibalism is no longer practiced there, it is still a part of their culture and history as evidenced through a traditional storytelling dance, Nancy said.
"The dance told the story of their people," she said, "and cannibalism is still very much a part of their culture and their history."
The fire walking on the other hand, is still done today in religious ceremonies, which the Bergs were able to witness.
The Bergs also visited another, more modern village.
One ceremony that the Bergs were able to participate in was a "Kava," the national drink, ceremony.
"You drink this Kava out of a cup and it kind of sedates you," Nancy said. "It tasted like muddy water."
The Bergs said they greatly enjoyed the trip.
"We didn't go for the beaches, we went for the adventure," Nancy said.