Kirstenbosch Gardens and Robben Island
We slept in a little on our first day in Cape Town. My stomach, which never really feels great, was particularly rocky this morning. It would only calm down after three Pepto Bismol pills, which is extreme- even for me. But I was not going to let my stomach prevent me from enjoying my day, especially since we had to give up a half day in Cape Town yesterday due to the delayed flight.
The first thing Jon and I did was walk down to the clock tower on the waterfront in order to secure tickets to Robben Island. We were luckily able to get on the 3:00 tour that afternoon. Sometimes, during peak tourist season, the tickets are all sold out and you have to buy them several days in advance. We had some time on our hands before the tour and so we decided to spend it visiting Kirstenbosch Gardens. The gardens, a must-see while in Cape Town, are located on the eastern slope of Table Mountain. The gardens were founded in 1913 to preserve South African plant life and are currently a World Heritage Site. Once we disappeared around the side of the mountain in our taxi, the scenery began to change. Although we were very close to the city center, the mountain separating the two zones allow the gardens to be isolated from humanity and give visitors the sense that they are alone in nature. In fact, although Cape Town is quite large it feels small because the mountains separate all the different areas of the city into seemingly isolated neighborhoods.
Kirstenbosch Gardens cover quite a large area and have lots of really neat things to visit. We really enjoyed the Tree Canopy walk, as well as the sculpture garden. They even have a part of the gardens that has statues of dinosaurs amid the types of plant life that would have existed in that era. Kirstenbosch is on a hill, so we had to climb quite high to see some of the over 6000 native plants and birds, of which Proteas bushes, silver trees, and Erica flowers are the most numerous. We also stopped to photograph the large ibises and sugar birds that had really long scissor like tails that stood out as they hopped from bush to bush. As we continued to climb closer towards the mountain and away from the others at the gardens, I became quite overwhelmed with emotion. The sun was shining, the view of the city down below us, the fragrances from the flowers and the peacefulness all culminated in me breaking down sobbing for absolutely no reason. “What if I had never made it here?” I asked my husband who was incredulous as to why I was suddenly crying in the middle of all that beauty. He simply rubbed my back and told me “No more tears are necessary”, and luckily I snapped out of my state quickly.
We left the gardens and headed back to the Waterfront where we grabbed a quick lunch at one of the many cafes and then headed to board the ferry to Robben Island. Robben Island is famous for being the island prison that housed Nelson Mandela for over 18 years. The ferry ride over is about thirty minutes long and can be quite rough when the waves are choppy, as we discovered on the way home. Before Jon and I came to South Africa we watched a lot of movies like “Power of One”, “Cry Freedom”, and “Goodbye Bufana” and read a few books about apartheid such as “Kaffir Boy” so we would know more about the country´s history and be more informed before we saw all of these incredibly important sights. From 1947-1994, the white Afrikaaner government, who had created the system of racial classification known as apartheid, arrested all political prisoners and sent them to Robben Island so they couldn´t lead the people in an uprising against the government. Robben Island was the definition of an island prison. The tour consisted of us boarding old, white busses and being toured around the island visiting important sights like the church where they buried all the victims when the island was used as a leper colony. We also visited the limestone quarry where Mandela and other prisoners were forced to work. We tourists were not allowed to walk freely around the island so the only downside was being crammed in that bus, where it was difficult to take pictures.
When we reached the prison barracks we were allowed to get off the buses and were met by tour guides who were former political prisoners at Robben Island. This, for me, was the most interesting, because we got a very personal experience of what it would have been like to be imprisoned there, most of the time on trumped up, ridiculous charges. The conditions were not good, of course, but the prisoners (except for the leaders like Mandela) were allowed to interact with each other during football matches. It was a very humbling experience to be there and hear the stories. After we made the obligatory stop to peer into Mandela´s cell, I found it hard to believe that such a man could have encouraged a spirit of forgiveness in South Africa after how he had been treated for so many years.
The ferry ride back was… a little rough. Nothing like our experience on the boat to Providencia Island, but it was still very rocky. Jon and I had originally chosen to sit on the top of the boat to get photos of Cape Town from the sea. However, as the boat was leaving, one of the attendants seemed quite serious when he said, “If you stay up here you WILL get wet and regret it. There was weather up ahead,” he said. So Jon and I quickly made our way back downstairs but many people chose to stay up on the top deck. Bad decision! The waves were so rough that the captain blasted some Bob Marley and Queen so that we wouldn´t hear the boat slamming into the waves and be distracted from the subsequent spray that covered the entire boat. In fact, the ship attendants instead held a dance off in the aisles to keep our mind off the journey. It was a great atmosphere: I love South Africans. They are so friendly and so fun! Such a change from Santiago where we are never greeted while a smile from a stranger.
That night we had dinner at the waterfront again, this time with Krystle and Andrew. Krystle was Jon´s teaching partner for 2 years at Nido and moved here to be with her boyfriend. We had a great night with them. The food (an unusual combination of Indian and Chinese) was delicious and the wine went down smoothly. So smoothly, in fact, that we decided to go to a bar afterward and drink more. A not so smart decision since we didn´t get up the next morning till around 11:00. But it was worth it since Jon and I had a ton of fun and we don´t really ever go out anymore. Plus we slept enough the next morning in order to enjoy the rest of our day in Cape Town.