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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Cape Town & Robben Island (Nov 2nd)

If you want to visit Robben Island it is advisable to book your tickets a few days in advance if you can. You can either book by phone or in person at the ticket office on the V&A waterfront. We booked our tickets on Wednesday morning and the first available slot for us was Friday at 5pm. The 5pm tour is the last of the day and will get you back at the V&A Waterfront for around 8.30pm. Given the choice I would recommend taking an earlier tour unless you are there in the hotter months of the summer. November is late spring in South Africa and it gets dark around 7.30pm. It's also very chilly on Robben Island at that time in the evening. Whatever time you go take some warm clothes with you!

This morning we walked down to the V&A Waterfront again, had a wander around, a coffee and took the Cape Town hop on hop off sightseeing bus (R100 for 1 day, R180 for 2 days). The bus tour was very enjoyable and is a good way to get an overall view of the city and its history.


Photo from Cape Town bus tour

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The bus stops at the V&A Waterfront, Aquarium, various stops downtown including the District Six museum and the Jewish museum, Table Mountain Cable car, Camp's Bay and various other stops. We would have liked to stop at a few places, including the District Six museum, but we were a bit tight for time so just sat on the top deck of the bus for the full journey, listening to the commentary, enjoying the view and taking photos.


View of Camp's Bay, Cape Town
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We got off the bus at Sea Point, quite near to our guesthouse, had a late lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant then had an hour of relaxation before going back down to the Waterfront for our Robben Island tour.


Robben Island
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Robben Island was very interesting and is definitely well worth a visit for anyone going to Cape Town. The island is most famous for its maximum security prison which housed prisoners during the apartheid years, including Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned here for 18 of his 27 years in prison. Robben Island was also a leprosy colony between 1846 and 1941 and a milatary training facility during the second world war. It has been a museum since 1997.


The trip over to the Island, which is 12km away, takes around 30 minutes by catamaran. We were originally sitting downstairs and made the mistake of deciding to go on the top deck for some views. The views of Cape town were great, but it was so choppy and rough that we couldn't easily get back down the stairs again and spent most of the rest of the journey holding on to the railings for dear life.

Once on the island the first part of the tour was a bus tour around the island, showing us the different blocks of the prison, the wildlife (lots of penguins) and some views of the city. This part of the tour lasted around half an hour,


View of Cape Town from Robben Island
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The next part of the tour was the most interesting and was with an ex prisoner. We sat in one of the communal cells, with a few bunk beds at one end and listened to his stories of his time there as a political prisoner. The small cell that we were in originally housed up to 50 prisoners at a time and had only a couple of toilets and showers. After this we moved to a different prisoner block and saw the original prison cell of Nelson Mandela. In his time in prison the leaders were kept in a separate block from everyone else to prevent them influencing everyone else, but they managed to get round this by stuffing tennis balls with messages and "mistakenly" hitting them over to the other section during recreation time. This part of the tour lasted around an hour and we were given lots of opportunity to ask questions before taking the boat back to the mainland.


View of Cape Town from Robben Island
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In the evening we had dinner at a Belgian restuarant at the waterfront, which we had wisely booked this time, then it was back to the guesthouse to try and get a good night's sleep before getting up at 5,30am for our flight to Port Elizabeth.

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