This post will serve as the final installation in the UIB Travels: South Africa series for now, as I am wrapping this series up with the final two of the ten things that I suggested you do when you make it to Cape town (click this link to read up on the first eight –> https://unicorninbrooklyn.com/2015/06/03/uib-travels-capetown-za/): visiting Robben Island & Touring the Western Cape. For now, I will focus on the latter.
Touring the western cape was a fun experience that included several stops along the way. The first stop that my awesome driver took my girlfriend and I to was to Hout’s Bay – an area situated on the Atlantic seaboard of the Cape Peninsula. Here at Hout’s Bay you will be able to patronize the makeshift shops set up by the vendors along the boardwalk. Local vendors sold hand crafted wooden goods, clothing, statues, masks, and other décor.
In addition to shopping, you can also partake in the fun one hour sea tour to Seal Island (which will run you about 200 Rands/ $15.61 USD).
We boarded the no-frills (no music or refreshments) catamaran style boat and enjoyed the warm sun while simultaneously taking in the sights as hundreds of seals sunbathed and frolicked in the ocean. In the short Instagram video below, you will notice some of the seals (please note: I misspoke. I stated there were thousands of seals when in fact there were only hundreds).
After leaving Hout’s Bay, we made our way over to the Ostrich Farm where we were able to see these big beautiful birds up close and personal. Due to time constraints we remained in the car and basically did a drive through to observe these beauties in their glory.
While driving towards the farm our driver talked about the surrounding area. We learned that it was here – on the Western Cape, that native Capetownians were displaced and relegated to as they were forced here during Apartheid by the Dutch. It was especially sad to see how far they were displaced (after spending most of my time in the city) because there was such a limited amount of vegetation that was able to sustain life here. As a result, it was hard for natives to grow and sell their crop, thus maintain their livelihood.
We drove through the farm (the drive lasted for about 30 minutes) then were off to see some of my favorite animals – penguins! Again, time was not on our side so we were unable to make it to Boulder Beach (a beach located in the Cape peninsula near Simon’s Town towards Cape Point where hundreds of penguins frolic along the shore). As a consulation, we visited one of the nearby parks and were able to walk along a trail where I saw the most adorable penguins (with razor sharp beaks) literally inches from me. They were SO adorable!
The final stop on the Western Cape tour was to the Cape of Good Hope – The Most South-Western Point of the African Continent.
Touring the Western Cape was interesting, fun, and educational. I recommend riding through the beautiful cape with a driver that is familiar with the history. Having an informal history lesson about all the places that I visited made the experience that much more enjoyable.
My last excursion in Capetown included one of my most anticipated visits – a visit to Robben Island.
Robben Island is an island in Table Bay that was once a prison (but is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and museum – http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/916) that housed several Freedom Fighters and Political Prisoners including one of their most famous, Nelson Mandela. I planned my excursion to Robben Island for a Sunday – a few days before I left South Africa – I saved this excursion for the tail end of my trip because I knew that it would be a rather emotional experience.
To prepare I purchased ferry tickets/admission tickets (at roughly 342R/$25 USD) a few days prior to the actual excursion (and would advise you to do the same as the tickets sell out days in advance) and arrived to the dock as they were boarding passengers on the boat to get to Robben Island.
You should be aware that there are two boats to and from Robben Island – one incredibly old and slow (pictured below) and a super modern and fast one. The slow boat (the one I took to the island) is a no frills ride that only has the basics – a restroom for passengers. It took about 2 hours to get to the island. However, the speedboat (which I took from Robben Island) is full of amenities – a bar, seating, and entertainment (music, a lively crew, and dancing). This ride was very quick and lasted for about 40 – 45 minutes.
When you arrive to the dock you don’t really have a choice as to which boat you’d like to take. You pretty much board the boat that the crew is putting passengers onto at the moment you arrive. Departing Robben Island is a different story. I lollygagged inside the gift shop and told one of the workers that I wanted to ride the speedboat back to the dock. With a quick smile and a “thank you my brother” he hooked me up. He let me know when the old boat was loaded and when the speedboat was loading so I could grab my friend and we could board accordingly. I would advise you to do the same – taking in the rustic feel of the old boat while heading to the island was cool and refreshing. You are able to stand outside and take in the scenery, talk to other tourists, take pictures, and enjoy the sun. Since I was in no particular rush to get to the island this made sense. In contrast, I wanted to rush back to the dock so I could engage in other excursions that I planned (namely paragliding) and make the most of the good weather. Because of this, riding the faster boat back made sense to me.
Anyway, back to my ride TO Robben Island… I boarded the boat and immediately made my way to the bow (the front) of the boat because I was super excited and wanted to see the island the minute it came into view across the water. Although it was extremely frigid and breezy, it was sunny and I was in AFRICA going to see where Mandela himself spent 18 years (of his 27 years as a political prisoner) in captivity – temperature didn’t matter I was hopped up on adrenaline!
While on the bow I took in the sites, enjoyed the sun and snapped a few pictures of passengers as they anxiously awaited our arrival to the island. As I put my camera away I heard singing – an upbeat tune in a language foreign to me was being sung by a man (as he bopped his head from left to right) a few inches from me. I tapped him on the shoulder and asked him what he was singing and he proceeded to tell me. It was an old tune that he’d sung when he was a sailor many moons ago.
This impromptu question turned into an enjoyable conversation in which I learned many things about this man – his ancestry (he was from Germany – he thought I was from Africa because of my braids – that he so graciously complimented) and about his love of travel. We talked about our respective experiences in Jo’Burg and Capetown, our other travels, life in our respective hometowns, and about his children. Before departing from the boat he was extremely excited to introduce me to his lovely (but shy wife – opposites attract) and their other friends that smiled with glee – as if they were excited to meet a Black American woman. I took pictures with them and wished them a good tour and remainder of their trip. I enjoyed my conversation with this stranger as it made the two hour ride to Robben Island fly by.
Imagine my pride as I arrived and saw such resilient words plastered on the walls where my boat proceeded to dock – “Freedom cannot be manacled” – POWER!!! I felt exhilarated. I felt proud. I felt the energy of Mandela and all the other freedom fighters as soon as I arrived.
Upon arrival, we were broken up into small groups and placed on different buses. The bus ride – which featured a very funny and gregarious tour guide was dynamic! We drove around the grounds of Robben Island and received a thorough history lesson on the island – learning about various historical events that took place there as well as famous individuals that visited the prison. This bus ride lasted for about 40 minutes – then it was onto exploring the actual cells of the prison.
To my utter surprise and amazement, my tour guide (I cannot remember his name) was a political prisoner that served time with Mandela. I felt honored to be in the presence of such a fearless and heroic man.
While on the grounds, my tour group and I walked through various cell blocks and entered various larger cells to learn about the conditions of the prison and how the prisoners lived – how they ate, how they slept, their means of recreation, we saw Nelson Mandela’s garden (he was the only prisoner in the history of Robben Island to have his very own garden), and how they communicated (the prisoners put notes in small balls and bounced them in different recreational yards to keep in contact).
Here’s a pretty obvious tip for you – when you approach the cell block that housed Mandela’s cell (this is the last cell block on the tour) you will want to be on the BACK of the line – here’s why. Initially I was front and center behind the tour guide to catch pictures, but soon realized all the tourists behind me wanted to capture photos of the cell and use it as a photo op (take various pictures ifo the cell). I snapped a few pics of the cell then quickly moved away so that those behind me could take pictures. I waited for about 10 minutes – this was adequate time for the tourists to snap pictures then scurry off to follow the tour guide down the hallway into another room.
Due to the fact that my tour group was slightly ahead of another group there was a gap in visitors. I ceased this moment and took the environment in; I put my camera away and took EVERYTHING in. I focused on how small & confining the cell was, how hard the floor looked, and how little cushion the mat provided for Mandela’s body against the hard floor. I thought long and hard about how a man was imprisoned for so long for simply wanting equality and NOT backing down until him and his people received it. How dare I complain about trivial and meaningless things in my life? How dare I not be filled with extreme gratitude for the gift of freedom?
After this self-reflective pause and thorough observation of Mandela’s cell, I proceeded to capture pictures.
After the tour wrapped up my friend and I departed from the tour group to speak to our tour guide personally. He shared personal stories of his imprisonment (he was on Robben Island for more than eight years) as well as fond memories of Nelson Mandela. I wanted to spend the rest of the afternoon with him – talk over lunch and dinner, I couldn’t get enough! However, I was unable to because he had other tourists to guide him through the grounds. My friend and I spent so much time talking to him that we almost missed the bus to get back to the dock!
I bid him adieu (not without getting a picture) and shook his hand (while fighting the overwhelming urge to invade his personal space and hug him) and thanked him for an incredible tour and for sharing his past with me before running back back to the bus.
This was a highly emotional day – one that put things in perspective for me and one that I would recommend to all my friends and family. It’s not everyday that you get to walk the grounds of such great and fearless men, for that I was truly thankful and humbled.
That’s it…. I think I’ve pretty much summed up the highlights of my experiences in ZA. I’ve been local these days, but have something up my sleeve regarding an upcoming trip – stay tuned….
Until Next Time Friends!