Friday, January 6, 2012

Christmas in Cape Town: Robben Island

Our vacation in South Africa continued and we left Franshhoek (reluctantly) to head to Cape Town for the remainder of our stay. The drive back was uneventful as we took the highway since we were running a tiny bit late (yes, because we were tasting wine before noon!). We had tickets for the 3pm ferry to Robben Island and the tour, which is why we were on a schedule.

Arrived in Cape Town and tried to find our hotel, which was the Inn on the Square (a dump I'll blog about in a later post) in the Greenmarket area. I looked up the Greenmarket on Google and Brian's phone has GPS so we thought we were all set, but when we reached our 'destination', it looked like an iffy part of town and we couldn't find any of the landmarks we were told to watch out for. For those of you who don't know, Cape Town (S. Africa in general) doesn't have the greatest reputation for safety so we were pretty leery of just rolling down the window to ask directions. We pulled over, pulled out the map and figured out we were in the wrong area. Our second try was more successful and we found the hotel, checked in and booked a taxi to take us to the waterfront (easier since we didn't know where we were going, didn't know if we'd find parking and as I said, were running late.)

And lucky too because there didn't seem to be much parking, and unbeknownst to us, we needed to be there 30 minutes in advance to line up for the ferry ... no lunch for us.

It was well worth the hassle and the stomach growling, however, as it turned out to be an interesting tour. Robben Island was the location of a political prison and one of the locations Nelson Mandela was kept. We took the ferry to the island, then the narrated bus tour (about an hour) and then a narrated walking tour of the prison itself, which was all part of the ticket price. Quite interesting to hear the stories (both tour guides were former prisoners and one met Mandela on two occasions).  Here are a few pics from the tour.

A view of Cape Town from Robben Island
The limestone quarry the prisoners were forced to work every day. Most have permanent eye damage from the sun glare as they weren't allowed sun glasses. The little cave you see is where the educated prisoners would teach the others to read and write before the prison allowed inmates to take university courses.
hallway inside the prison
courtyard for exercise - there's another on the other side of the far wall and prisoners would send messages back and forth inside a tennis ball they would throw back and forth over the wall.
Nelson Mandela's cell. Early on, they didn't even have the blanket, table or stool you see in here now. His efforts improved the conditions of the prison greatly through amenities and the access to education. Many prisoners left with 2 or 3 university degrees!

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