Cape Town where a Spark brings Robben Is. to life!


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Africa » South Africa » Western Cape » Cape Town
May 4th 2016
Published: June 26th 2017
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Cape Town is one of the most iconic cities in the world. It's a city in the southern hemisphere on the same latitude as Sydney and Buenos Aires and equivalent to Casablanca and Los Angeles in the northern hemisphere. It lies at the start of a 25 mile peninsula at the extreme South (but west a bit!!) of the African continent.

South Africa boasts 11 official languages with English and Afrikaans representing Dutch and English collonisaton sometime back in the 17th century. I'm not too sure if 'boasts' is the correct word to use as India ‘boasts' 1652 mother tongues of which 150 languages are used by a sizable population and even 22 old those are classed as official languages!! In your face South Africa!! (Although you come a very credible second in the ‘who speaks the most official languages' contest!!!)

Whilst English is the most widely spoken language it is not even second as a South African spoken first language. For the record Zulu is the most spoken language with 11 million speakers, then comes Xhosa, Afrikaans then English just creeping in to that fourth Champion Leagues spot just ahead of Northern Sotho and Tswana!!

The central area of Cape Town is known as the City Bowl lying in the shadow of the world famous Table Mountain, with its near vertical cliffs and flat-topped summit over 1,000 m above sea level. The flat plateau of Table mountain is bookended by Devils Peak and the pointy bit I referred to in my previous blog which I now know to be Lions Head. They curve around the city to form a dramatic mountainous backdrop.

Cape Town is also referred to as the Mother City. This refers to the earlier colonists who used Cape Town as a trading post on the way to the East Indies and where the first parliament and early laws were created. From these earlier settlers colonies spread out across what we now know today as South Africa.

Today is going to be cram packed so without further ado our first stop was the hop-on hop off bus. For only £9 each we could use this bus to get us around the city and with them running every 15 minutes we expected not to waste too much time ‘hanging around'.

We had only walked a few yards when on the lamp post we spotted at poster: ‘Leicester City two page spread in the Cape Times.' It's amazing what winning one English Premier League title can do for world domination!! Well done you Foxes. You didn't become road kill after all!!

We had expected to walk 25 minutes to the Victoria & Alfred waterfront to alight the ho-ho but Donald our friendly receptionist advised us that we can alight at any designated stop and pay the driver. That said, our nearest stop was ‘Light House', across the road and a walk through Green Point Park, ten minutes away. In the park, for some strange reason, there were an oversized pair of spectacles. No note from the sculptor, just the ‘Two Ronnies' style specs. A good title would have been: ‘…and its good night from him!!'

A few yards further on and we happened on to five white horses at various angles in the grass. In 1966 the SA Seafarer ran aground of the coast of Cape Town. The ship was carrying thousands of bottles of White Horse whisky which all carried a miniature plastic white horse around the neck of the bottle. All the crew were rescued and five of the plastic white horse were washed up on the beach embedded in the sand at angles depicted by this sculpture. The consignment of whisky was never recovered as the crate and bottle were smashed up on the rocks. As the saying goes: One man's loss is another man's gain as this incident, for the next six months, made fish restaurants very popular!!!

Strolling along the Corniche with the bus stop in sight I became aware of a young man carrying a black hold all walking up on my inside.

Hello', he said as he started to match our pace astride for stride. He continued:I'm from Zimbabwe and I'm looking for a job'

At this point I was tempted to point at the tall cranes clustered on the sky line and say: ‘Oh! Why didn't you say? Head over to that building site and ask for the foreman. Tell him Honest Hodgson sent you!!' However we just smiled and told him that we can't help him as we're only visitors. Then the usual questions came out: ‘Where are you from? How long are you here? etc.. He then told us that when he gets a job he will send for his family back home. There is no work back there. Now the punch line. He was very hungry and could we help him out. Now came the reply our uninvited Zimbabwean guest had probably heard a thousand times before: ‘Sorry, we have only just arrived and we have no money on us!!' With that we stopped as if to look at the light house, our job seeker continued on and bade us farewell.

Our plan was to stay on the ho-ho until the cable car station, go up to Table Mountain then back on the ho-ho to complete the 1½ hour circuit before getting off at the stop for the Robben Island tour. The boat sails at 13:00. It was now almost 10:30. Plenty of time!

The bus continued along the corniche, past the Cape Town stadium where we hoped to finish off the evening, stopping at the Victoria & Alfred water front, stop 1 on the map. The Victoria & Alfred waterfront is named after Queen Victoria's second son who started work on the first basin in 1860. When I say ‘started work' I don't actually mean that he did the shoveling!! The second basin was
Cape town from Table Mountain (lower station!!)Cape town from Table Mountain (lower station!!)Cape town from Table Mountain (lower station!!)

We didn't decide to go to the top of Table Mountain because the view would probably be the same only further away!!!
named after his mother. It is often mistakenly called Victoria and Albert as that is the more expected combination. The waterfront is designed on both San Francisco's and Sydney Harbour waterfront although the Cape Townians will argue theirs is better, more cosmopolitan with a better back drop! I'm sure the good people of Sydney would have something to say about that. Cape Town is also sometimes referred to as the Rainbow City. I'm sure the good people of San Francisco would have something to say about that, as well!! Nowadays the V & A waterfront is a mix of restaurants, souvenir stores and shopping malls to suit all tastes. Once again, almost as a theme running through this city, the facades of many buildings are balconied and balustraded in the colonial style of an era long since passed.

After stopping at the Robben Island Ferry (so we know where to get off later today) the bus headed down town, through the narrow but well defined streets of Cape Town with colonial building set amongst the high rise office blocks of international conglomerates.

The Ho-ho comes with a free audio commentary and we learned, if nothing else, that traffic signals here are referred to as ‘robots' so when someone gives you directions and says: ‘turn left at the second robot' you are not expected to be on the lookout from a creation from an Isaac Asimov novel but turn left at the second set of lights!!

It was slow but not unpleasant as we crawled our way through down town. We then started our ascent and arrived at the lower cable car station for Table Mountain.

It was now 11:10. It only takes 5 minutes to ascend to the summit but without a ticket we would have to negotiate the rather large queue that has suddenly formed. As well as looking up to the top of Table Mountain, the terrace where the bus had dropped us off looked down on Cape Town. I'm sure the view from atop would be no different from what we were already staring at. The only difference being that the view from the top would be further away!! There would still be that haze in the air that comes when the heat reflects off the earth and the mist where the hot air meets the cooler water. We made the executive decision to forego the cable car (much to Roisin's relief) and continue with our journey around the city and suburbs.

Apparently it is possible to hike up the mountain. The guide book states that you should give yourself about 2 ½ hours of which 2 hours is very strenuous. Just for the record, the first woman to climb Table Mountain was Lady Anne Barnard. Along with Sir John Barrow, two naval officers, her maid, a couple of servants and several slaves (straining under the weight of cold meats, Port, Madeira and Cape wine), she set out up Platteklip Gorge in July 1797, dressed in her husband's trousers, her shoes tied on with tape and carrying an umbrella. They reached the summit after a five-hour slog, feasted on their cold meat and drank a toast to the king. How times have changed!! In today's climate after 5 hours she'd be moaning that she couldn't get a signal!!!

The route then took us through to the Atlantic ‘bays' consisting of Camps Bay, Clifton Bay and Bantry Bay. The coast line was more rugged on this side of town due to the erosion caused by the unpredictable weather pattern. Along this part of the coast, the Atlantic is actually colder in summer than winter. This is due to the sou'wester that blows all the warm water out in to the ocean and this is then replaced by the deeper colder water!

We arrived at the Ferry terminal 45 minutes before the ferry was due to depart. A queue had formed with a few hundred eagerly awaiting passengers already in front of us. Roisin went out in search of lunch and came back with the most enormous flat bread stuffed with cheese, bacon, chicken and salad. We had one between us and saved one for later.

We felt somewhat honoured to be part of this organised tour. Tickets are usually at a premium as only a certain number of guests are allowed on the island at any one time. There are three tours per day. Both the 9 and 11am excursions were sold out at the time of booking hence our 1pm slot.

Robin Island had been formally a prison since 1662. The island is 2½ mile circumference and 10km from Cape Town (7km from the nearest point of mainland). One of the first known inmates was a peasant who tried to take back his livestock that he felt was unfairly taken from him. (Isn't that called taxation!!)

The island was also home to a leper colony. Confirmed leprosy case as well as those who had a skin complaint that couldn't be diagnosed were sent there to safeguard against any contagion. This was definitely not a good time to live if you suffered from eczema or psoriasis!!

The tour is accompanied throughout, starting with a 40 minute bus tour of the island. And culminating in a further 30 minute tour of the prison. Our bus guide handed us over to our prison guide. These guides are ex political prisoners. Our guide and orator was called Sparks Mlilwana. He was jailed at 17 for a sentence of 15 years but only served 7. Sparks was released in April 1991. His crime, he said was for terrorism. In reality Sparks was in the military arm of the ANC (African National Congress) and was charged with sabotage and inciting others to join.

To say life was tough under these conditions was an understatement. The cells were only 2.3m x 2m. In fact we passed some dog kennels further down the island that had more space than the human beings who were only trying to fight for their right to be recognised as such. There were criminal elements incarcerated on the island as well. However, whilst the criminali received their basic human rights, political prisoners could only receive 1 visit per year and you were only allowed to talk in English or Afrikaans. The visit would only last for ½ hour. So some visitors would have travelled hundreds of miles, taken forever to get there and spend the ½ hour sitting in silence.

The political prisoners were given thin sacking to lie on. They had to sleep on the floor and were provided with three blankets. 1 would be used for a pillow and one for a sheet. Prisoners only received two meagre meals a day. Nelson Mandela, the islands most famous inmate spent 18 of his 27 years imprisonment on the Robben Island. He was released in 1990 and all political prisoners were released by April 1991 when Robben Island ceased to be a prison. It is now a UNESCO world heritage site.

There were only two ferry's available for our tour, we were on the faster catamaran whilst the slower boat, the Dias carried the bulk of the passengers. So much so, one arriving back at the mainland it would be easy to mistake it for a boat load of refugees!!

Back on the mainland. Roisin and I got caught up with the colourful ladies of Namibia. All of them attired in brightly coloured dresses with matching headscarf. Each dress was equally bright and gaily patterned yet the ladies maintained their individuality with the differing designs and colours of their dresses.

Roisin thinks they were the ladies rugby team but the squad seemed a little too big if you ask me!! I only asked to take a few of their photos and the leader beckoned everyone to sit down while I took their photo. I only wanted to take a photo of one or two of them; not the whole village!! However, here was the catch. Every one of the ladies had a camera and every one of the ladies decided that she wanted a photo taken so Roisin and I started snapping away. We soon got a few recruits who helped take the photos.

We walked through the V & A waterfront with Roisin threatening to check me in to the Husband Day care Centre tomorrow. Not too sure what to expect. Back to back re-runs of Top Gear? Match of the Day on constant loop or Stella and Amstel on draft? Where to I sign???

We dined at a restaurant called Marco's on the V & A waterfront. Fed up with chicken I decided to try the Ostrich with rice. Oddly enough it didn't taste like chicken. It was very tasty. It was a dark meat with a similar texture to a beef steak.

No trip to foreign climes for any length of time would be complete without a trip to a football match. Today Ajax Cape Town were playing Jomo Cosmos from Johannesburg. I asked a steward where the ticket office was. He advised me that it is now closed but then pointed to a man in a football shirt standing under a lamp. ‘See Dave', said the steward.He'll sort you out'.

We cross over the pathway. ‘Are you Dave?' I asked ‘We were told to see you about tickets to the match'

‘Yes how many you want?'

How much are they? I thought I'd better asked first although sure as I was that Dave was a nice person he didn't have the poise and aura of an official ticket seller standing on the corner.

They're free. Just cheer for Ajax when you get in the stadium!!'

Despite this unexpected revelation there were still touts only yards from Dave asking if we needed tickets!!

On entry I had my bag searched. I learned that as I didn't have a permit I was not allowed in with a camera. Pleading my case and crossing my heart I asked if I could take it in if I promised not to take any photos. ‘It's the law'. I was told but he allowed me in anyway. As the attendance was only 800 in a 55,000 capacity stadium it was difficult to blend in so fearing the wrath of spending a night in the cells, I kept my word.

Also not being a fully paid up member of the Football Writers' Association of South Africa I am also not allowed to give a match report so all I can say is that despite some ropey ball skills, the game ended up 2-2 with the visitors snatching a last gasp equalizer deep in to injury time.

The walk back to the hotel took about 20 minutes through Green Point Park and on to Main Road. I remembered that I still had a sandwich that Roisin bought earlier in the day en route to Robben Island. It was at the bottom of my backpack. It had been there all day in the heat. It was unlikely either of us will be eating it now but if we bumped in to our homeless hungry Zimbabwean friend…


Additional photos below
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5th May 2016

Cape Town looks amazing! Fab photos, and commentary as always!! You certainly packed a lot into your stay. Hope you can have a few days rest on your cruise. x
5th May 2016

Fab blog YMG - really enjoyed it. Also loved the group photo!
6th May 2016

the misses made a spectacle of herself
6th May 2016

Wow. Sounds like your having a fab time. I did the walk up table mountain. Nearly had an asthma attack. (I don't have asthma) but very beautiful. Ahh your bringing back lots of memories from my trip. Roisin. Try an Amarula ice cream next re
staurant you go to a-mazing!!! Xx
6th May 2016

What a beautiful place! Those ladies from Namibia looked wonderful. Looking forward to next installment ?
9th May 2016

Well I never knew there was so much to do or see but I am terrified at you two talking to random strangers!!!!

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