Cape Town Part 5: Markets & Robben Island

We returned to Cape Town from Hermanus early Thursday afternoon, which gave us enough time to hop on a minibus and hit up Greenmarket Square again. Well, kind of. We were starving, so grabbed a late and leisurely lunch near the market, and wrapped up right around 4:30, which is when stuff starts shutting down. We were still able to score some good wares, and decided if we felt inclined surely we’d have enough time to return after visiting Robben Island the next day (we’d booked spots on Friday’s 11 o’clock boat earlier in the week). Wanting to take advantage of having made the trip downtown, we decided to walk over and check out the castle we noticed was nearby on the map, and which had piqued our interest.

lion's head playing peek-a-boo

lion’s head playing peek-a-boo

this was actually at a street parallel to the full-on market. he's resizing a belt for marlon and i bought one of those bags

this was actually at a street parallel to the full-on market. he’s resizing a belt for marlon and i bought one of those bags.

st george's mall

a delightfully bizarre sculpture

a delightfully bizarre sculpture

our tour guide for part of the walk

our tour guide for part of the walk

'this way, guys!'

‘this way, guys!’

city hall

city hall

table mountain and city hall

table mountain and city hall

shadows

made it to the castle

made it to the castle

castle of good hope 2 goofy lion castle of good hope plaquesAlas, we’d missed the Castle of Good Hope‘s last tour of the day, but it was about time for us to be heading back anyway. At Pat’s suggestion we headed over to Koi at the Ambassador Hotel for a pre-dinner drink– he said it was one of the best places to watch the sunset. Alas again– all the seating near the windows was taken and we didn’t have a great view from the bar, but the walk to the restaurant was pretty and the cocktails were good.

sunset walk sunset boats sunset walk 2 sunset walk 3Then yes, on Friday we went to Robben Island, the infamous home of the prison where Nelson Mandela spent eighteen of his 27 years in prison. (I was to learn that the current president, Jacob Zuma, as well as Thabo Mbeki [who served between Mandela and Zuma] had been prisoners on Robben Island as well.)

It’s perhaps needless to say that the visit was both emotional and thought-provoking, and I thought it was an important part of our trip. Though they really do try to make the experience one that celebrates the strength and power of the human spirit (which it does), it was hard not to feel just very sorrowful at times when thinking of the things that were endured there. It was all made so much more real by the fact that the tour guides are past prisoners themselves– the narratives are all in the first person. “We were given this much food,” and “The guards would do these things to us,” you know? When I learned that this was the arrangement I found myself a little surprised; it seemed like there would be too many bad memories there for anyone to care to return. Our guide (who, like Mandela and many others, was sent to the Island as an alternative to the death penalty after being sold out by a double agent for running  arms to Angola after being trained in Germany, if I heard and remember his story correctly) explained that in reality, it was the best therapy he could have asked for. He, like all (or at least most) of the museum staff, resides on the island now.

robben island quote free nelson mandela poster

right, so as i said our tickets were for 'the 11 o'clock boat.' but... there were actually three boats that loaded up and left one at a time, so it was probably closer to noon by the time we got out of there. also, our boat looked like a pirate ship (and, naturally, was blasting south african deep house), which felt a bit whimsical for the circumstances, but hey.

right, so as i said our tickets were for ‘the 11 o’clock boat.’ but… there were actually three boats that loaded up and left one at a time, so it was probably closer to noon by the time we got out of there. also, our boat looked like a pirate ship (and, naturally, was blasting south african deep house), which felt a bit whimsical for the circumstances, but hey.

oh right, and being one who doesn't take kindly to lessons, in spite of having been horribly sunburnt three days previous, i neglected to put on or bring sunscreen, so i had to cover my sunburnt forehead with a pirate-y scarf, and got to spend the whole day feeling like a big dork.

oh right, and being one who doesn’t take kindly to lessons, in spite of having been horribly sunburnt three days previous, i neglected to put on or bring sunscreen, so i had to cover my sunburnt forehead with a pirate-y scarf, and got to spend the whole day looking and feeling like a big dork.

south african flag

table mountain, lion's head, and the stadium

table mountain, lion’s head, and the stadium

roger ang mar boat

robben island and cape town

robben island and cape town

though hermanus is one of the whale-watching capitals of the world, we didn't even bother looking into it when we were there because it's the wrong season. so imagine our surprise when the captain announced there were two southern right whales traveling just ahead of us!

though hermanus is one of the whale-watching capitals of the world, we didn’t even bother looking into it when we were there because it’s the wrong season. so imagine our surprise when the captain announced there were two southern right whales traveling just ahead of us!

robben island port

'robben' does mean 'seals' in afrikaans, after all

‘robben’ does mean ‘seals’ in afrikaans, after all

seagulls roof freedom cannot be manacled robben island entrance

prisoners used to have secret meetings as they worked in that cave, mining out the rock. and that pile was made by former prisoners when they returned to the island after the prison shut down. i think mandela laid the first stone?

prisoners used to have secret meetings as they worked in that cave, mining out the rock. and that pile was made by former prisoners when they returned to the island after the prison shut down.

robben island tree robben island tree lighthouse robben island cape town swirling water guard tower

welp, took this photo before he gave permission and felt i got lightly chastised.

robben island door

where zuma was kept

where zuma was kept

robben island recreation area

a sample identification document. hindi and colored prisoners had different (more favorable) conditions than black prisoners.

a sample identification document. indian and coloured prisoners had different (more favorable) conditions than black prisoners.

robben island view robben island building leaf graffiti

in one of the wards you could enter each cell, where a first-hand testament from a prisoner who occupied that cell was presented.

in one of the wards you could enter each cell, where a first-hand testament from a prisoner who occupied that cell was presented.

This one reads:

As political prisoners we were denied something that people took for  granted around the world: Access to newspapers. It is not that we wanted to buy them, necessarily. We didn’t mind picking up a newspaper that you read last weekend, just to try and keep ourselves abreast with what was happening in the world. But that was not allowed. I remember an International Red Cross Committee representative saying, ‘South Africa is mad. Even Palestinian prisoners are allowed newspapers.’ That should tell you how backward South Africa was.

I remember the terrible risks we sometimes took in our attempts to lay our hands on the news. Of course, it was a pleasure to fall ill and land up in a hospital in Cape Town; we knew that the day of our return we would be mobbed for news from outside.

It is not as if we usually got the chance to read a newspaper, or even a page of a newspaper, because we were at all times escorted by warders. But they could not close our eyes; they could not stop us from reading the headlines and snatching a few words. One had to make do with the headlines and fill in the rest, right or wrong. It was better than no news, and it brought us a lot of satisfaction.

mandela's cell

mandela’s cell

robben island lock stadiumWith the late start and a 45-minute boat ride each way, we didn’t end up getting back until after four; it took much longer than we were thinking and we were a little disappointed that we didn’t have time to make it back to the market as planned.  Our guidebook thankfully notified us that the indoor Pan African Market was open a bit later, so we decided to give that a try. We also had a very late lunch at the Timbuktu Café located within the market, where we were surrounded by old Reader’s Digests and serenaded by Billie Holiday’s “I’ll Be Seeing You” on vinyl (on repeat, as it were).

timbuktu cafe artwork pan african marketWe balanced out the somewhat somber day by having a fun-filled Friday night on Long Street. Danced and laughed a lot with Pat and his friends Zingy, Lesogo, and Manny.

back of the cab

with zingy and lesogo in the cab

boys at joburg

there was a less-blurry photo, but there’s so much joy in this one!