September 15, 2005

South Africa FlagWe timed our sleeping on the airplane to cancel out the jet lag, but not perfectly. Birds screeching raucously outside our window woke us up at about 4:30 am, but we managed to fall back asleep again. Then we got up for breakfast at 8 am. The breakfast provided by Drifters Inn was a buffet with a choice of cereal, eggs, meat, breads, lots of fruit, tea and coffee. During breakfast we met André and Diane from Montreal, who were also going on the same tour as us. We talked for a while then headed back to our room to get ready for our walk.

By shortly after 9 am we were on our way out the door. In daylight we could see that our hotel was only a few steps from the road along the ocean shoreline. The screeching birds turned out to be Hartlaub’s Gulls, which were everywhere along the coast.

We had decided to walk to the Victoria and Alfred waterfront, where (weather permitting) we were planning to go on the Robben Island tour. The seawall walk is very nice, following the Atlantic Ocean with several beaches along the way. Last night’s rain had not yet given up, and from time to time as we walked along we were hit by a few showers. However they ran out of steam by 10 am and the clouds began to clear up.

Arriving at the Victoria and Alfred waterfront, which is what’s left of the old working harbour updated with tourist shops and restaurants and upscale mall, we went into the mall to check out the stores. We found a candy shop, so we bought some Fizz Pops for Rosemary’s chiropractor. Then we bought two postcards, one for Rosemary’s hairdresser and the other for a Hungarian man who had asked us (via the Thorn Tree internet forum) to send him a postcard from Cape Town. We also found an internet place, so we sent (at 1 rand per minute!) a quick e-mail home saying we had arrived safely.

By now the weather was rapidly improving, so we decided to do Robben Island today. We booked tickets for the 1 pm tour (R150 each), which gave us nearly an hour. We weren’t too hungry so we decided on a nearby restaurant that served a scone and tea for R16.

The Robben Island tour started with a half-hour catamaran ride to the island, followed by a 45-minute guided bus tour. Here we were told about the history of the island and its life as a dumping ground for lepers, lunatics, and finally political prisoners. The bus tour took us to several locations on the island, including the limestone quarry, where the prisoners worked with picks and shovels. Our guide explained that at lunchtime, unbeknownst to the guards, the prisoners would run a school. They would get together in the back of the tunnel that was used as a toilet and discuss the various subjects. The guards couldn’t understand why the men wanted to be in this stinky tunnel, but allowed them to be there as lunch was free time for the men.

After that we had a 45-minute walking tour of the prison itself, guided by a former political prisoner named Benjamin, who had been convicted of treason. We saw the cell that Nelson Mandela occupied, and several other areas of the prison.

There was quite a colony of birds on the island, including guinea fowl, egrets, Sacred Ibis, and our favourite the African Penguin. At the end of the tour we had 15 minutes of free time, so we hurried along the boardwalk to the blind. Right there on the beach we could see a couple of hundred of those penguins, including a few baby penguins. And further along the boardwalk we found a few still in their nesting burrows among the bushes.

Back at the dock we boarded the catamaran for the return journey. This took a little longer, as we had to wait for a ship leaving the harbour, and by the time we were back the afternoon was nearly finished. The walk back to the Inn was quite lovely, as by now the sun was shining and we could see the top of Table Mountain. We walked up to Main Road to check out the restaurants there, then arrived back to the Inn, only to find out we couldn’t get back in because we had not been told the code to open the security gate. Nobody was answering the buzzer, either, so we walked back up to Main Road to see if we could find the Quebecois couple we had met earlier. No luck, so we returned to the Inn and lo and behold, there they were. They told us the code and in we went.

By now it was 6 pm, so we put away our stuff and headed back to Main Road again. We found the Jewish restaurant, Avron’s Place, and decided it looked good. Although it was a bit disconcerting to have locked bars on the door! Everybody there seemed to know everybody else and there were men wearing yarmulkes. We were probably the only non-Jews in the place. Paul had Malay lamb curry and Rosemary had a chicken strip salad, which were both very good and cost only R103.

Walking back the few blocks to the Inn was safe, as far as we could tell, even though it was dark. Back at the Inn we went and sat in the lounge and wrote our journals. We watched the South African version of The Apprentice on TV as well. Bedtime was about 11 pm.

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