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Tag Archives: Cape Town

Robben Island: Historical Home of Penguins, Lepers, and Nelson Mandela

We scheduled Robben Island for our last full day of Cape Town.  Our guidebook recommended booking well in advance, and when we arrived the first tickets available were two days later in the afternoon.

That morning we checked out the South Africa Museum.  It was hosting an exhibition of “Wildlife Photography of the Year,” which intrigued Tompaul.  The planetarium also looked groovy, but time was short and the stars were not aligned.

The SA Museum is mostly a Natural History Museum, with gently used animals, fossils, and a history of the peoples of South Africa.

Lemur that met its end as it got its height measured.

Lisa with the bones of a Blue Whale.  You could hear its cries throughout the whale atrium (I guess to teach young children what a whale sounds like if you had sonar?).

The Robben Island Museum is located in the V&A (Victoria & Albert) harbor.  The harbor is alive with activity.  The amazing architecture, historical sights, high-end eateries, street performers, and fair-like atmosphere make for a great summer’s day.

Our firstborn will be named Ferris.

This dude looks like he was made out of legos, but in fact it’s empty Coke Crates, presumably for the 2010 World Cup.

At 2:45 we boarded the ferry to Robben Island.  We had to go through security, where they scanned us for knives and other weapons.  Then everyone was equipped with a little paper bag (for the Easter Egg hunt?) and we took a choppy 30 minute ride across to the Island.

One of the first things one notices is how barren the island is.  The coast is surrounded by rocky outcroppings, presumably from the Lime Quarry, where Mandela and other prisoners suffered permanent eye damage.

Initially Robben Island was inhabited by indigenous peoples, who moved on to greener pastures.  In the 1700s Irish settlers came there to escape English rule.  In the 1800s it was used as a leper colony. Over 1000 lepers are buried here in the cemetery.

Later still it was used to house psychiatric patients, and in World War II it was used as a base to guard against a potential German attack (the cannons were completed right on schedule, in 1947).  In the 1960s the South African government began to use it to house political prisoners.

One of our collection of M*A*S*H signs.

Upon arrival we all loaded into buses for our tour.  Our guide was Mohammad, who waxed eloquent.  Apparently he is the guide of choice for dignitaries such as Obama and Mandela himself as he had worked in the freedom movement.

We look a bit wretched, but a super nice man took this for us.  Amazing how one can see the African coast but can’t get there. A form of torture in itself.

After our bus tour, we had a tour of the actual prison.  Our guide was the bus driver, who had been imprisoned on the island for 5 years for his involvement in the freedom movement.

The prisoners were segregated by race (no white prisioners were on Robben Island).  There were two groups of cells, the group cell and the solitary cell.

This is a group cell. Initially it held 15 people, but bunk beds bumped it to 30.  The good news is here you could have a W.C. at your disposal.

Here is our tour guide.  Most of his time was answering questions that people had.

Meals were also segregated.  Indians had better meals than “bantas” or blacks, and you could “earn” better meals.  Better meant a little more fat and sugar.  This lasted until all of the prisoners went on a hunger strike, and everyone got equal meals.

Here is the courtyard of the solitary confinement cells. The first window was Mandela’s cell.  The plants to the right were his garden where he hid his memoir until he was found out.

Mandela’s cell, with a recreation of his belongings.  In solitary confinement you had no access to a w.c. at night, so each prisoner was given a “package” to use that one emptied out the next morning.

After our tour we arrived back to the shore, amidst a beautiful sunset.  We walked the harbor, peeking in shops and looking at performers, soaking up the atmosphere.

We dined at Steers for old times sake, with memories of our August in Zambia, 2008.

Apparently M*A*S*H signs are popular in Africa.  Alas, the pic with Lisa got corrupted somehow.

The seals seemed weary as they were splayed out on the dock, so we decided to head home.  After all we had to leave at 3:45 in the morning to catch our flight.

Cape Town is definitely a place to return to again and again.  We look forward to coming back and exploring everything we missed!


The Best Day Ever

The Cape Town saga continues…

On Saturday we woke up and decided that today was a beach day.  So we ate a hearty breakfast of Lion Bar cereal and granola, packed a lunch and set off in search of adventure (via cab) to Fourth beach at Clifton Bay.  Tompaul decided to go on a walk, but only after making sure Lisa was settled into a “bed” (beach chair) and an umbrella.  Initially the beach was shrouded in mist, but after an hour (around 11am) this lifted.  Clifton Bay Beaches (First, Second, Third and Fourth) are separated by large rocks, but overall the beaches are nice and sandy for games, and the waves are excellent for body surfing.

Unfortunately the first tragedy of the day occurred (what’s the best day ever w/o some tragedy?).  Lisa fell asleep waiting for Tompaul to arrive, but Tompaul lost where Lisa was.  An hour passed and Lisa awoke with sunburned feet…so it goes. It’s the beach, right?  The water was frigid, as it is summer and the water is cooled by Antarctic currents from the south.  After lunch we decided to walk up along all of the beaches up to the lighthouse (about a 6-7 km walk).

This is a view from between First and Second Beach, looking back to Fourth Beach.

Cape Town has a lovely sidewalk system going along beach road, then you can transfer onto the 5km walkway which ends at the lighthouse.  The beaches become more rocky as you move toward the light house.  Clifton Beaches seem to mainly attract European tourists, as they have hotels attached, but there are many beaches to choose from.

A view from the sidewalk.  You can see Clifton Beach in the distance.

Rocky shore, as viewed from the sidewalk.  There were many fisherman dotting the coast.

We walked through some pretty posh hotel areas, with resturants, fancy condos, Bentleys and pharmacies.  Then we approached an area that had more of a “city park” feel.  Amazingly they had plenty of rubbish bins.

Nice view of the hotels dotting the coast.

The more “local” beaches were rocky some with big rocks to lay out on, and some areas were more pebbly.  Many of these beaches had pools constructed that would fill up daily with ocean water, but were calm enough to swim, float or take the kids in.

You can see one of these “pools” to the far right.  It was more of a kiddie pool.

This is the “municipal pool” that is overlooking the sea.  It is more traditional, and packed on this hot, hot, HOT day (the high was 40 C).

Speaking of hot, we saw a 7-11 and decided to stop in.  Granted this was a “fake” 7-11 as no slurpees were in sight.  We did buy much refreshment in the form of water and a grape juice spritzer.

Here are two boys standing on the wall of a pool, enjoying the waves filling the pool.

Then the second tragedy of the day occured (again what is a perfect day w/o a few tragedies).  We were almost at the lighthouse (our goal) when I was distracted by a beautiful wedding.  It was quite the large party.


We took a turn in the side walk, but the sidewalk had a part missing. Lisa’s Birk became caught and she tripped.  But she was wearing the backpack.  Let’s all revisit our days in middle school when tripping w/ a back pack.  It flies over your head and you just can’t regain your balance.  Lisa plunged face-first into the pavement (praying “God please don’t let me break my nose!).  The damage wasn’t bad (as she was protected by her sunglasses).  A scraped knee, shoulder, chin, lip, nose and eye.  Not too shabby.   

The offending sidewalk (see how a strip is missing?)                                      A bit of damage (look my travel bracelet!)

So we took a cab back to the hostel.  After a quick shower and change of clothes we ventured back out into the Company Gardens. These garden’s were planted in the 1650’s by the original settlers to grow fruit and vegetables.  It is an amazing, shady place to chill on a hot day.

This is an original plant.  It is the Saffron Pear, and is believed to have come from Holland.  It was thought to have died many years ago as the trunk fell over but these stems arose as “suckers”.  The tree is too heavy to stand so major surgery has been performed on the tree.  They hollowed out the trunks (see center stem) and have multiple props, keeping the tree up (on the right).

Wedding No 2.

Extreme, wonderful, delicious shade.

Well that almost brings us to the end of the perfect day.  We saw a South African movie that evening…but that is more tomorrow.

A table (mountain) set for two

Thursday, Jan. 6 was the day of the long slog. Cardiff stayed wet and cold, then we took the 1:55 train to London, transferred at Paddington (paying due homage to the bear), and got a neighbor to let us into our friends’ flat in West Ealing. Then on to Heathrow, where we abandoned a bulky sweater because a) it made our luggage overweight and b) we wouldn’t be needing it in Cape Town.

In Heathrow we made one of the best purchases of our trip: an (approximately $9) Insight Guide to Cape Town. Our flight finally took off a little after 10 p.m., and 11.5 hours, two meals, a few movies and tv shows and a couple hours of sleep, we arrived in Cape Town. Stepping off the plane into the warm South African sun, we soaked in the summery goodness. “Welcome to Cape Town, your home away from home,” our taxi driver told us on the way into the city, and we soon realized he was right.

We settled into our new abode, the Zebra Crossing Lodge, recommended to us by our good friends Heather and Don Koons.  After a shower and fresh clothes we were two new people ready to explore the wide world around us.  The Zebra Lodge is perfectly situated.  In a quick jaunt one can reach Woolies (aka Woolworth’s grocery store), Nando’s, Pizza, and other good restaurants, an internet cafe, and even a movie theater.

A cab was ordered (it was unusually hot) and we arrived at the cable car station. The soft serve ice cream was looking inviting, so Tompaul indulged in a caramel and Lisa “cool lemon.” The cable car fee was almost as steep as the mountainside, but we would have no regrets. The car, redesigned and installed by the Swiss in 1997, holds 64 people plus driver and is a perfect circle. The floor rotates 360 degrees as it travels, so everyone gets a full panoramic view. Tanks of water hidden in the bottom stabilize it in the event of high winds–as this oft-seen sign describes.

The view from the top? Stunning. Awe-inspiring. Beyond gorgeous. Unique plants and animals (though we never spotted the hyrax, or dassie, small furry creatures). Turn one way and you’ll see the beaches. Another, the city spread out below. Another, the regal Lion’s Head. Another, the Twelve Apostles. Another, the fabled “tablecloth” of mist. Beautiful and unique flowers and birds. These photos hardly do it justice.

The flora and fauna of Table Mountain was unique and amazing.  We spent about 2 hours hiking around, but unbeknownst to us there is a 2-4 hour hike one can take.  Next time (yes NEXT TIME) we are going to pack a lunch and see the other end.