Published: August 29th 2008August 27th 2008
After being turned away from Robben Island, we got smart and bought our tickets the day before and returned the Waterfront on Wednesday. We were incredibly lucky as the weather was perfect for a boat trip and visit to the island.
Robben Island housed a prison for many years, similar to Alcatraz, it is now a museum. Nelson Mandela spent 19 of his 27 years incarcerated on Robben Island. The island was home to mostly black political prisoners like Mandela, but there were also criminals held here too. I found it interesting that they used to hold the criminals and political prisoners together, but separated them after the political prisoners started to influence the criminals. There were white political prisoners as well, but they were held in a prison on the mainland. The guide on our bus also told us that the guards would play rugby and soccer with the criminals rather than the political prisoners because they trusted the criminals more. It was quite well known that the criminals were treated much better than the political prisoners. From clothing (especially in winter) to working conditions.
The tour of the island starts with the boat trip over on a
fast cat. We had a beautiful day for our trip, so we took tons of photos from the boat back toward Cape Town and Table Mountain (of course!). Once you disembark the boat the tourists are shuttled onto buses and the tour of the island begins. The tours are well organized so that only two or three groups are at any one point at the same time. Especially once you reach the prison and commence the walking tour of the cells. At the prison building we were handed over to an ex-political prisoner who walks us through a typical day in the dorms and the cells. Our guide was imprisoned on Robben Island for 15 years. He was charged with terrorism because he had been active in organizing an anti-apartheid rally. The police tortured all the attendees captured at the rally until they got the names of about 10 of the organizers and then they arrested the organizers and they were sent to Robben Island. The living conditions of the political prisoners was appalling. Thin blankets placed on the cold concrete floor constituted as a bed for decades, until the bunks were brought in. The dorms held up to 60
men, with only two toilets available to each dorm. We also visited the cells where Mandela and other high-ranking political prisoners were held. The cells were very small and the prisoners also slept on the thin blankets on the concrete floors.
The tour of the prison is very moving, but I think the part that really struck me is when our guide told our group that he hates having to come back to Robben Island everyday, it is the last place on earth he wants to be. When asked why he is here then, he replied that it is very simple. After his release, he found it very difficult to find full-time, meaningful work. When one of his friends suggested that he become a guide at Robben Island, he refused at first, but then realized that with his lack of skills and work history, he would find it very difficult to find a stable job. With this knowledge he reluctantly accepted a position at the Robben Island museum. As we walked away from the prison, back toward the dock to catch our return boat back, I caught up to our guide and with a tear in my eye, I
thanked him for facing his demons every day so that he could relay the horrors of the apartheid era to others, so that collectively we can work to ensure this never happens again. He gave me a hug and thanked me for my kind words. Just relaying this here brings tears to my eyes again.
On the weekend, we moved yet again. We said goodbye to Keith and Norma and were dropped off at Deirdre (cousin on Peter's mum's side) and Sydney's in Kenwyn. We settled in very quickly at Dee and Syd's. Taking over their guest room completely and making ourselves at home in the kitchen. On Saturday night Dee and Syd took us to a friends birthday party where we ate like kings! The starter was braiied snoek, then the plentiful curries, salads, meat pies and samosas came out. After everyone had their fill of this the desserts appeared. The spread was incredible considering there were at least 50 people at this party!
On Sunday we visited the Muizenberg Beach Flea Market. What a treat! We had a beautiful day for wandering around the large flea market area (which sells both flea market and new items)
and managed to pick up a few deals too. Dee's sister Diane (in Toronto) told us that we must have calamari and chips at the flea market. Dee concurred that a visit to the flea market is not complete without the calamari and chips. So we lined up (there was a large line up the whole time we were at the market) and waited for our very fresh and very delicious take-away calamari and chips. YUM! The best we have had yet!
On Monday Sydney took Peter and I to Kirstenbosch Gardens along with a driving tour around areas of Cape Town we hadn't see yet. Even though it is in the middle of winter here, I think you will agree looking at the photos that the Kirstenbosch Gardens are stunning! We can only imagine how much more spectacular they must be in the summer when all the flowers are in bloom and the trees have all their leaves. It is a large park that includes several walking and hiking trails in to the mountains behind. Even though there were several tour buses in the parking lot, we hardly saw any other people and enjoyed the tranquility and beauty
This plaque shows a photo of released prisoners returning to Cape Town.
of this magical garden. One of my favourites was the discovery of the "Mandela's Gold" variety of bird of paradise flower. I'm sure the photos won't do the gardens justice, you will just have to visit and see for yourself!
After the gardens we drove up to the Cecil Rhodes Memorial, perched high on a hill above the University of Cape Town. The views from the Rhodes Memorial were fabulous. After here we took a drive that allowed us views of the Cape Town harbour, it is much larger than we ever thought. Seeing it from above, you are really able to see the magnitude of this busy harbour. Syd then took us along the coast drive from Sea Point to Llandudno and back again. We saw the Twelve Apostles in all their glory and marvelled at the massive, expensive homes lining all the beach communities. All in all we had an amazing day with Syd as our tour guide and driver.
The next day was Table Mountain day! Finally - after being in Cape Town for 6 weeks we were going up Table Mountain!! I'll be honest, Peter and I really wanted to hike up Table Mountain,
but we couldn't find anyone to go with us and we didn't feel comfortable going up just the two of us with the recent number of thefts along the trails. In the end, Peter's cousin Michael took us up the cable car and on a spectacular day! We were concerned because it was quite windy in the morning, but when we got up to the top it was wonderful. We had clear views in all directions, took tons of photos and even saw the famous "dassie" (rodent type animal that lives in rocky areas). We had been to so many viewpoints already, I honestly wondered if Table Mountain was going to be any better. I was wrong! It was 10 times better! We had our binoculars out to check out each view in each direction, sat in the sun sheltered from the wind and just enjoyed the view and snapped shot after shot of the views, the animals and the lizards. We had a fantastic time on Table Mountain and I would heartily recommend it to any visitor to Cape Town. Thank you to Michael for taking us up this icon of Cape Town!
With Table Mountain finally under
our belts, we decided it was time to start exploring a little further afield. To do this we researched car rental companies and found the cheapest we could (with excellent coverage and vehicles mind you) and booked a car for 10 days to do a tour of a 200 km radius of Cape Town. The two places we most wanted to visit were the West Coast (as the spring flowers are just emerging) and Cape Agulhas (on the East Coast).
Our next entry will document our road trip!
Thanks for all your patience with our entries as they are few and far between these days!
Lots of love,
Laini and Peter
p.s. Explanation of "The Gatsby" sandwich - this is a large (HUGE) french loaf, cut open, filled with steak, peppers, tomatoes, cheese, marsala sauce and hot chips (french fries) - at least our inaugral Gatsby was. There are several different fillings to choose from. We asked for our Gatsby to be cut into four and I was a little hesitant that it would feed four adults. Guess who was wrong again??? It was massive and very filling! I'm sure it's a heart attack in a
loaf, but we had to try it!
There are more photos below