After a fairly wet and miserable start to our few days in Cape Town, we were relieved to see a ray of sunshine on the Friday that meant we could go over to Robben Island. The last 3 days’ trips had been cancelled due to high seas and bad storms, so our tour group was pretty packed with people eager to go and see the island. Unfortunately, at the minute the only way to visit the prison and the island is on one of these guided tours; normally we try to stay fairly out the way of such big groups! Anyway, the first part of the trip was a bit silly really, we were all herded onto a coach/bus and driven round the island, stopping at various points of interest; however, you cannot get off the bus to go and have a look and obviously you can only see the views if you are on the corresponding side of the bus!! This was a bit of a let down really, as there seemed to be quite a few places to see. Anyway, the best bit was to come so not all was lost!
Next, you split into small (ish!) groups and go with an ex-prisoner, who shows you round the prison. He recalls his experiences as a political prisoner there. Our guide was imprisoned in the late 60s for about 10 years. He was 19 years old and had been involved in student protests. Robben Island was a notoriously cruel prison and was only for black males. Criminal and political prisoners were held here, but were separated because of their ‘bad’ influences on each other. The older prisoners, including Nelson Mandela and other ‘leaders’ were also kept away from the younger, more troublesome prisoners.
The prison building has been left much like it was back in 1994 when the final prisoners were released. We were shown the cells, including that of Nelson Mandela and our own guide. Each prisoner was issued with a winter and summer uniform and a blanket/mat for their bed and very little else. Depending on what section the prisoner was sent to, the more or less benefits they received (eg, study time, letters in and out of prison, etc). We also were shown the quarries were the prisoners had to work.
When we docked back on the mainland, we had a little walk around the dock area – called the V and A Waterfront. This was full of nice restaurants and hotels. In better weather we’re sure this would have been a lovely spot to sit and have a drink overlooking the water.
Our next destination was Table Mountain, which incidentally our hostel had a fantastic view of!! The cable car to the top is pretty unusual; it has a rotating floor, so you get a 360° view on the way up!! James managed to get some great pictures on this journey, while I hid in the middle away from the windows!! The views from the top are amazing, you can see over the whole of the city and over to Robben Island, about 13km from the shore. There are a few short walks around the top of the mountain and, for the more hardy, a few routes down!! Obviously, we chose the cable car down as well!!!!
On our last night in the city, we met up with Maria and FC, friends from Shanghai, who took us round the bars of Long Street – thanks guys!! This was great fun, as we’re sure we wouldn’t have ventured this far on our own!
We finally headed down the Cape Peninsular, to Simon’s Town and nearby Boulders Beach to see the colony of African penguins that reside there. We saw lots of little fluffy baby penguins and some adolescent ones that were loosing their fluff and getting their proper black and white wetsuits! They were very cute!! Of course, we have lots of pictures of them too!!