Robben Island to Table Mountain by Foot

As promised, Paul Kruger (the father) arranged a ride for us into the city.  We carpooled in with a lady who works at a hospital in Woodstock, a suburb of Cape Town.  Woodstock is one of my favorite areas of Cape Town (it is very similar to Brooklyn, New York) and is the place where we visited the Old Biscuit Mill yesterday.

Our chauffeur was kind enough to take us all the way to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront where we would be departing for our tour to Robben Island at 9:00am this morning.  Andrew and I both spent the past several weeks reading Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, and we wanted to make sure that we visited the important sights of the Apartheid era during our time in South Africa.

We arrived to the waterfront early enough to have some time to walk around explore the beautiful hotels, restaurants, and shops that dot the water’s edge.  By far, the waterfront is one of the most expensive areas I have visited in Cape Town.  I joked with Andrew about hoping that one day we would be able to visit Cape Town on a business trip and stay in one of the Posh hotels on the Waterfront.

The Cape Town Waterfront is home to a huge aquarium, Ferris wheel, harbor, fishing boats, 5-star hotels, and some of the best restaurants in the city.  I had a great time taking photos and walking with Andrew down the romantic boardwalk.  The Victoria and Albert Waterfront actually reminds me a lot of California.  In past conversations with Ryno and Kari they both agree that Cape Town and California are very similar.

When 9:00am rolled around, we boarded our ferry to Robben Island and began one of the most remarkable tours of our lives.  After a 30 minute ferry ride to the island, we boarded a bus with an amazing tour guide who told us about the past 500 years of the islands history (from the Dutch East India Trading company to World War II).  The stories he told were remarkable and if I were to relay them here on my blog I wouldn’t do them justice.  Please, just go to Cape Town and take the tour.

The second hour of the tour involved entering the Prison where the political prisoners such as Nelson Mandela were held during the Apartheid era.  We were guided through the prison by an ex-convict and political prisoner who was in the prison at the same time as Nelson Mandela.  He had been convicted of recruiting for the ANC military (the group led by Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisuru) and was sentenced to 15 years in prison on the island.  He showed us the room where he lived and explained what life was life taking cold showers in the winter, eating only corn porridge, and working all day in the limestone quarries.

After an hour with our guide, Spark, I didn’t know whether to cry about his past circumstances, or rejoice over his current freedom.  Visiting Robben Island is a dynamic experience that really gives you an idea of what people faced during the Apartheid era, as well as insight into what many people still face today.

After our tour finished and we returned to the mainland around 1:30pm, we decided to embark on one of the most popular activities in Cape Town, hiking Table Mountain.  As so many other individuals take the cable car up the mountain, or begin their hike from the cable car parking lot, Andrew and I decided to add a little challenge to our hike.  We decided to hike all the way from sea level (the Victoria and Albert Waterfront) to the top of Table Mountain.  Four hours, 2000 meters, and one giant raincloud later we made it.

The hike was beautiful.  We passed through old colonial streets, the Bo-Kaap area where the Cape Malay cuisine was born from Malaysian slaves who were brought over as agricultural workers by the Dutch, and huge mansions that dotted the hills surrounding Cape Town.  As we left the city and entered the Table Mountain National Park, we entered an area filled with beautiful trees from around the world and rock structures that are so unique I don’t even know how to describe them.

The first part of the hike was beautiful, and we actually felt ourselves getting hot from the sun.  As the sun went down behind table mountain we were given some brief moments of shade, which made the hike quite enjoyable.  Not until the last stretch, did we begin to wonder why we decided to embark on such a feat.  A giant rain cloud blew in, blocking our view of the summit and bringing bitter cold winds and humidity.

In Cape Town they call these clouds that blow in from the Antarctic the Cape Doctor, because they blow away all the pollution from the city.  If you want to live in a city with the cleanest air in the world, you will need to live in Cape Town.  Just be prepared to experience all four seasons in one day, as I mentioned earlier.

Although the cloud blew in and the last part of our hike was quite cold, we finally made it to the top and after waiting a few minutes for the “Cape Doctor” to leave we were able to see the beautiful view of the city through the misty clouds.  When I was on the top of Table Mountain I thought back to my experience hiking Kilimanjaro.  The days were often long and hard, but the moment we made it to the peak I realized that all the pain and tears (yes I did shed some tears) were worth it.

The feeling of sacrifice makes moments like standing on the top of a mountain worth it.  If we didn’t experience pain, how would we experience joy?  Our time on the top of Table Mountain was beautiful and again, another highlight from our trip.

The hike last longer than we thought, but we were still able to meet up with Ryno and Kari at the base of Table Mountain in time to watch the sunset from the top of signal hill.  They were kind enough to pack a picnic dinner for us to enjoy as we sat on the hill near the famous Lion’s Head climb and watch the beautiful sun set over the Atlantic Ocean.

As we conversed about our lives, I couldn’t help but look across the ocean and picture my home and family.  In just two short days Andrew and I will board our plan for home (America) and will arrive home to our family and friends shortly after.  Our experiences in Africa have changed us and developed us into people who are better able to understand the world and it’s people, but we are ready to come home.  The transition is bittersweet and I will miss people like Ryno and Kari dearly, but knowing that our families are waiting for me across this big ocean is enough to pull mine and Andrew’s hearts back home.



(Below: Andrew’s post)
After finishing ‘The Long Walk to Freedom’ by Nelson Mandela I’d created in my imagination an image of the places he talks about. From his home and life as a lawyer to his time on Robben island, my imagination had recreated what I perceived his life to be like. I didn’t expect to visit one of the historical sites and see for myself what such a place would be like!

This morning Kylie and I got a lift from one of president Kruger’s friends to the seaport area where we would catch our ferry to Robben island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. 

We were very fortunate today and had great weather. If the weather gets bad, the ocean becomes choppy and tours are cancelled. In fact our German friends attempted to go and had their tour cancelled.

The weather was with us today and we were greeted by clear blue skies and a warm… Ish ocean breeze. As a result, the ferry ride was extremely smooth.

When we arrived on the island it was pretty busy. Many tourists from around the world had come for the same reason – to follow some of the rich history of South Africa. 

We loaded into a bus and began the tour. Robben island had its first prisoner during the 1600’s when village leaders were dropped on the island and left to survive. It even was home to a leper colony years and years ago.

As the tour began the guide asked how the boat ride was. Everyone responded positively and he immediately changed the mood of the vehicle by saying ‘good, the reason I ask is when prisoners arrived on Robben island, no matter the condition of the sea, there was always a feeling of remorse as they all knew they were going to prison. Very powerful thought.

While our tour explained the keeper colony, some of the shave trade history and so forth, one thing I found most interesting was that the island was also a place of learning. 

The political leaders who were imprisoned on the Ian’s took it upon themselves to educate their colleagues and as such, individuals who came to the island illiterate and unlearned, left with bachelor degrees in various fields (assisted by partnering universities off the island).

That to me was an incredible lesson on the resilience we each need to have in developing ourselves and increasing our knowledge. 

We learned a ton on the island and it’s hard to record it all. Information was shared between prisoners by hiding messages in the tennis balls and knocking them over the walls (once they were allowed tennis as recreation several years after Nelson Mandela’s arrival).

We learned about the lime quarry that the prisoners had to do hard labor in, and we learned of the many challenges they faced.

After the bus tour, we were allowed to enter the prison itself. The special part about this is we would tour the prison with a former political prisoner. 

Our guide, named Sparks, was imprisoned at Robben island for 7 years for being part of the ANC’s militant wing, ‘the spear of Africa’ (can’t remember the traditional name). He was imprisoned for having military training overseas, owning explosives and arms, and a number of other items necessary for a guerrilla movement.

He shared with us his experiences which ranged from the whips used to keep prisoners in line, to the cold winter nights in the prison (which had no windows, only open holes that let the cold air through). Kylie and I shivered at the thought of having only thin clothes to handle south Africa’s cool weather.

Punishment on the island often was a day without food and solitary confinement for 24 hours for even the smallest infraction.

Nelson Mandela we were told was never called by the guards by his name, but instead was called 466-64.

We moved through the prison to the actual cell Mandela was held which consisted of little more than a bucket for a bathroom, a bench. And a thin may for a bed. It was a humbling site, and I took it all in as I considered his contribution to society.

The most powerful moment though, was our guides comment at the end of the tour. He explained that he and many inmates now live on Robben island along with the guards who used to work there. Despite these guards probably having beaten or mistreated the inmates our guide said ‘We do not hate them. We are reconciled. We are now friends.’ Such powerful words given the context. 

Following our Robben island your we walked the road all prisoners walked to freedom. Again a good moment to ponder and think.

Once we arrived back in Cape Town, Kylie and I decided we had better hurry quickly to table Mountain so we could hike it before dark!

We began the walk from the sea port and after two hours of trudging through hilly city areas, we arrived at the base of the mountain.

Already we had claimed over 1000 meters in elevation, and we had another 2.5 hours (as everyone told us) ahead of us to the summit. We gathered our energy and enthusiasm and began our way up.

The hike was actually very pleasant and we made good time. However, just shy of the summit a huge cloud rolled in from the top of the mountain – the Cape Doctor (the wind) was at work today. As the cloud blanket drifted over Kylie and I we were chilled to the bone as we continued up.

A very pleasant and easy hike now was very cold and very wet. Neither of which Kylie or I like very much. 

Despite the bad weather we pushed forward to the summit, arriving after only 1.5 hours! I guess we still have a bit of Kilimanjaro legs in us after all!

While the clouds rolled in and out on the summit we snapped a few photos of the incredible view, relieved to be at the top. It was a lovely hike and we thoroughly enjoyed the climb.

Afterwards we met Ryno and Kari at the base of the mountain where we joined them for a picnic at signal hill as the sun was setting.

As I reflected on the events of the day, I’m so grateful for the wonderful, challenging experiences that arise. It’s in those challenges, like climbing a mountain we truly learn something about our character.

Anyways, a wonderful, great day!

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