A few months ago, Samer I decided to listen to Nelson Mandela’s autobiography A Long Walk to Freedom. Neither of us had read it before, so we thought it would be a good history of contemporary South Africa. It’s a great book. I recommend it to everyone, but it really resonated with for me on our tour of Robben Island.
If you’re planning on going to Robben Island, get your tickets before you arrive. Spencer bought the tickets 9 or 10 months in advance, so we were able to get a 9 AM ferry. It takes about 35 to 40 minutes to get to the island and you are quickly loaded onto a tour bus to be driven around the island. A lot of the tour follows Mandela’s narrative, but sometimes it talks about the island. There is a town on the island that the guards and their families lived on. I had never even considered that possibility. I have so resolutely labeled the guards as monsters, that it surprised me that they went home at night to have dinner and talk to their kids about school. I was surprised I had not considered that part of the island.
When the bus tour is over you are taken to the prison. Here, your guide is shifted from the standard tour guide, to a guide who is a former political prisoner on Robben Island. We were greeted by Derrick Grootboom and he walked us through the prison.
He spoke about the conditions, the fight for food, the back breaking labor, and the awfulness of the guards. At one one point he paused and reminded us that the fight was never against white people. He reminded us about the white allies and what they sacrificed, and the fight was always about fighting the injustice that consumed South Africa. Somewhere in Mandela’s book he mentions something to this effect when talking about Joe Slovo. I am paraphrasing but he says something like “I was lucky enough to fight for my people, Joe has the terrible responsibility of fighting his people.”
Robben Island is a wonderful and tough tour. Do it.
When we got back to mainland we took a taxi to table mountain. What is Table Mountain? It is a flat topped mountain that is the background of every good Cape Town photo you have ever seen. You take a cable car to the top and you walk around. There are many hikes up the mountain and around the mountain, but all we did was explore the top for an hour.
We each had a drink and a few snacks and took the free guided tour that the park service provides. The guide gives you a history and takes you on a small walk. It is a nice. We set out on our own and walked around for a few minutes. Table Mountain is quite scary. Every edge is a sheer cliff, and when a cloud moves in you can lose sight of the other people near you. Spencer and I were looking into this cloudy chasm and the clouds rushed away. We realized we were on the edge of the mountain looking straight down. It was terrifying and disorienting.
At the top of the mountain, there are a bunch of these tiny little animals known as a dassie. Technically, they are a rock hyrax. They are kind of cute, but then you realize they are probably just some type of rat.
We had dinner in a suburb of Cape Town called Camps Bay. We ate at a famous seafood place called the Codfather. It’s a good restaurant, the waitress takes you to the seafood counter and you pick out what fish you want. It’s served family style on a bed of rice and vegetables. It was all delicious and I cannot even remember all of the different types we had to eat. My one recommendation is to skip the large shellfish. They had langostinos that day. They were good, but probably the least interesting and the most expensive.