Robben Island adventure

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Day 43: Capetown (20 October 2009)

We had a bit of a lie-in this morning which was nice and managed to secure ourselves two tickets to Robben Island for later in the afternoon. We got up, showered and had that lovely breakfast (the one we tried to have yesterday) downstairs in the restaurant. Muesli cereal, yogurt, guava juice, eggs, toast, fruit and tea/coffee…it was great. We packed our bags as we were told this morning that the hotel for our next tour had changed so we had to check out of our friendly Saasveld Lodge today and we had to do it before the afternoon. So, we packed our bags and left them in that conference room again and headed out to one of the markets for a wander and to purchase some African artwork. Well, we went back to this women’s market that we had seen art that we really liked but unfortunately couldn’t make up our minds about which piece we should get. We met Max, one of the owners of that kiosk and he said that he knew what we were looking for and where we could find some more. Yes, it did seem a little dodgy but we thought since we were only following him up a few blocks it would be alright, and don’t worry, it was. He took us to another market that we would never have found and introduced us to his mom who worked another area with a lot of beautiful African bowls (all of which I wanted to buy). We went over to another table with him and he was right-we found just what we were looking for. And to think, he brought us here even though he made no commission from the transaction and truly just wanted to make us happy; so of course we gave him something for his trouble and said thank you and were on our way to the waterfront to catch our tour to Robben Island.

We got on a ferry at the Nelson Mandela terminal, watched a short video and arrived about 25 minutes later. We were asked to hop onto busses for the beginning of the tour around the island and then the second part would be in the prison itself with a guided tour by an actual former political prisoner. The bus part took us around the entire island and described the history of this island that was originally designed to be a lepper colony and during Apartheid was used to house political prisoners of the anti-apartheid movement, such as Nelson Mandela. We saw the buildings of people like Robert Sebukwe who helped to start the anti-government movement and unfortunately died in that prison never seeing his goal reached. The bus tour took about 45 minutes and then we were dropped off and laughed at since we actually paid money to be sent to prison…Hahaha! We then met Glen (a former political prisoner who was there later than Nelson Mandela and whose sentence was cut short at the official end of apartheid) who had actually returned to Robben Island after he was released to live as one of the 100 people who live on Robben Island and remains there today with his wife and three children. We followed him through the prison as he told us about life there and what the prisoners had to do. We saw earlier the lime quarry that Nelson Mandela and other leaders were forced to work in all day long. There was one small cave there that was used for shade, learning, teaching and unfortunately the bathroom as they were never allowed to leave the quarry all day. Mandela had to have eye surgery when he was finally released and they say that even still today when you take pictures of him you are asked not to use a flash as it bothers his eyes. Glen showed us Mandela’s garden that he kept and shared about how he called the prison a university as there was always discussion going on inside. We learned how they got their news, who was allowed to even meet with a priest and how through hollowed out heels in shoes and sliced pages in photo albums-Mandela’s manuscript, The Long Walk Home, that he had hidden in his garden was eventually smuggled out of the prison piece by piece.

We thanked Glen when our tour was finished, stopped by the boardwalk to see more African penguins and went back to the ferry for our return trip to the mainland. Now you think the adventure of the day is over, right, well, you would be mistaken! It was just beginning! We went back to the hotel to collect our luggage and go to the Tulip Inn that we were told. We had gotten a taxi at the waterfront and were on the meter but the driver said he would take us to the hotel and wait for our luggage and then take us to the second one. Great we thought, right? Wrong! When we got there we were told we were moved to the Lady Hamilton (which of course was totally walking distance from the first hotel we were at-but whatever) and so we went there! Finally we had reached the right spot…right, think we’re done yet…nope! We went to the desk to check the day sheet and it had only a 13 day trip on it and we were booked on the 20 day one and our names were on that one. So, after a mild freak out and a quick call to the GAP Adventures office who told us that they only put the 13 day day sheet up now as there are some people going only for 13 days but yes we were at the right hotel and they had us on the right trip-we were finally situated and were ready to go downstairs to meet Paul Roos (that’s who the paper said was the tour manager) in about 15 minutes.

Well, now we were set. We met Paul, our South African tour manager who spoke English as a second language only to Africanz and was older than most of our tour leaders before this. We met the other people scheduled for the tour and this time it seems that there are only a few young people and many retirees or older people but we’ll manage of course! There’s Daniel and David, a couple from Los Angeles and Paul and Juan Carlos a couple from San Francisco, Marietta and Ray from Oregon, Dawn from North Carolina, Wyn from London, two Swiss girls, a German guy, a woman from California and a guy from Greece. We finished our meeting and had the buffet dinner at the hotel-well, some of us did anyway while some others went out into town. We ended dinner and went upstairs to blog a bit and get ready for tomorrow as we officially start the first of our tours in Southern Africa. I’m already envious of the people headed all the way to Mozambique-I do really love this traveling and wish there was a way that it would never end! Tomorrow: Lambert’s Bay!

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