Monday, October 19, 2015

Visit to Cape Town — Castle of Good Hope and Robben Island

Cape Town is a gorgeous place, dominated by the mountains that tower over the city: here are views of Lions Head from our hotel room window, and of Table Mountain from basically everywhere in downtown

On our first full day here (June 28, 2010) , we walked through downtown and visited the Castle of Good Hope, billed as the oldest colonial structure.  We were just in time for the changing of the guard

and toured the castle with some emphasis on the disciplinary system (torture until confession; see photo of ironic inscription and an inscription proclaiming innocence on prison doors).

After lunch, we hurried down to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront to catch a boat to Robben Island, where political prisoners were confined during the last thirty years of the apartheid regime.  The Robben Island museum had a temporary exhibition featuring the Makana Soccer Association about which I had been reading in More Than Just a Game  (see team uniforms in photo; book is highly recommended). 

From the boat we saw a whale breaching; the view back toward Cape Town was sublime

It really felt like the southern end of Africa (though we were planning to get down to the Cape of Good Hope another day).

We had a bus tour of the island, with a former prisoner as our guide.  We saw the limestone quarry where hard labor was performed (note Table Mountain looming in the distance behind);

the author of More Than Just a Game mentioned that the quarry was not on the tour he was given a few years ago, an omission that he criticized because, he said, in conversations with former prisoners it was clear that they had strong emotions attached to the quarry, as the place where the prisoners both spent much of their day, and survived the worst the regime could throw at them, and educated each other.  Our guide pointed to a cave in the quarry shown above where prisoners were required to relieve themselves - as he put it, the world's most photographed toilet.

Some penguins emerged near the road while we were driving

Then we went to the maximum security prison - see photo of the ironic sign posted by the apartheid regime above the entry, reminiscent of "arbeit macht frei." 

The prison tour was led by a different former prisoner, who showed us the identity cards for prisoners on the island,

Nelson Mandela's cell

and the exercise yard where Mandela kept his manuscript for "Long Walk to Freedom" hidden from the guards

It was cold and dark by the time we headed for the ferry back to Cape Town. 

We ended our day with a nice dinner at the Green Dolphin, a jazz club on the Victoria and Albert Waterfront where we watched Brazil clobbering Chile on a large screen (there are large screens for watching Cup games everywhere - someone must have made  a killing selling and installing wide screen TV's in the last few months).   As soon as the game ended, a local piano trio began playing; we stayed for most of a set before heading back to our hotel.

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