Our arrival in Cape Town was…a little delayed. M and I had flown out to South Africa celebrate Christmas with his family, and with it being my first visit we were planning to see as much as we could of the country as we possibly could – cue a jam-packed schedule. What we hadn’t anticipated was British Airways getting in the way with a broken engine on our plane… I mean really, is the engine that essential?
So, after a 4 and a half hour delay we finally rocked up at our glorious Air BnB, right in the heart of Cape Town. Add food, a couple of very long showers and one mammoth sleep, and we were finally ready to get exploring. M’s sister arrived to meet us and first up, we had pre-booked tickets for Robin Island where Nelson Mandela and so many others were imprisoned in such horrible conditions for so many years.
The boat trip out there was entertaining to say the least. They’d overbooked the tickets, meaning we wouldn’t all fit on the usual ferryboat. Instead, the three of us joined a handful of others on what could only be described as a small party boat – think white leather seats, a bar, ceiling spot lights and you kinda get the idea. It even had people vomiting downstairs to complete the picture (only for the crew to cry “not on the leather seats!” as they rushed over with sick bags). An interesting journey that’s for sure.
And so, in blazing hot sunshine, we arrived on Robin Island.
If you visit Robin Island you’ll find that your experience will be very structured and you’ll end up following the preset route with your fellow tourists – when you consider how many visitors there are and what a tumultuous history the island has, this is hardly surprising.
Our visit started with a bus tour around the island. I was surprised to discover that there is a small village on the island where the staff and their families live, which continues to be occupied to this day. Once upon a time there was even a little school, the children now take the boat to the mainland and I am told that they are considered to be the luckiest kids in South Africa as when the wind is too strong they get to stay home!
We stopped off at one of the many picture frames to be found around Cape Town for the most irresistible of photo opportunities…
I mean, what better view to make you feel like you’ve well and truly arrived in South Africa than looking out across the sea into Cape Town?
Next, we visited the quarry where political prisoners were subjected to hard manual labour. It was in this same quarry that many of them would manage to gather together to discuss politics and their plans without the guards watching. How? In the one place the guards couldn’t see them and wouldn’t go into – their toilet area.
It was then that our bus tour came to an end as we arrived at the prison buildings themselves. Here, another guide took us round a selection of the cells, including Mandela’s. Our group was too large for me to take any decent photos but perhaps that is a blessing in disguise, as I really believe this is the kind of place that you have to see and feel for yourself. The stories that our guide recounted were not sugar-coated in any way – stories of racial divide even in prison, of blacks being given thinner clothing than others, of cold cold winters, guards throwing food into cells as though they were feeding dogs, and again blacks being fed cheaper, more basic food than their fellow prisoners. It’s so hard to fathom still that this really wasn’t that long ago…
And so we returned to Cape Town, this time on a normal ferryboat I’m sorry to report, ready to search the Victoria & Albert Waterfront for dinner and continue our adventure.