Monday, January 9, 2012

Robben Island

It was a beautiful day, the perfect kind of day to go to the beach or visit an island. Not just any island though – for the morning, Joseph had booked us a tour of Robben Island, which was used as a prison for political prisoners under the apartheid regime. Okay, so maybe hanging around the South African version of the Alcatraz not quite tropical island fantasy material, but it was definitely an enlightening trip.

I’ve been reading the novel Invictus (yes, it was made into a Hollywood movie starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon). It’s an inspiring story about how Nelson Mandela used an important rugby game to try to unite the country after apartheid. The first part of the novel is fascinating because it talks about how Mandela managed to get his political plan in place even from prison, including during the eighteen years he spent in Robben Island. So it was pretty interesting to get to see the actual place where some of this stuff happened.

To get to Robben Island, we took a “ferry”, although Joseph drily remarked that it was more of a dinghy.

Once we arrived, we got to see a lot of the sights around the island

before Robben Island held prisoners, it used to be a leper colony.

some of the dog kennels holding the guard dogs were bigger than the prisoners' cells.

the lime quarry where prisoners such as Nelson Mandela had to dig, in conditions so rough they frequently fell sick. Our guide tells us the quarry caused permanent damage to Mandela's tear ducts, making him unable to cry.

What was particularly interesting about this tour was that our tour guide was a former prisoner named Tumisani, who had been sentenced to thirteen years for high treason, and spent five and a half years in Robben Island. It sounds strange and possibly morbid to have guys that spent their worst years in the prison showing us around their bad memories, but I can tell you we all listened to everything he had to say.

our guide

tourists view Nelson Mandela's cell

view of the garden where Nelson Mandela hid his draft manuscripts of A Long Walk To Freedom, which he wrote while in prison.

photos of prisoners

One of us asked Tumisani why he would choose to go back to the prison and work as a tour guide as he and many other former prisoners did. Tumisani explained that when he was first released from Robben Island, at first he couldn’t speak to his family about what he had gone through. He would get flashbacks and would have to call someone to help him through it. Eventually though, he found that it was better to talk about it, and he explained to us that someone has to do it.

i'm not sure why there is a picture of santa in the prisoners' quarters.

The ferry/dinghy boat right back to Cape Town’s harbour was turbulent, as the ocean waters were quite turbulent, but I still managed to sleep right through it.

In the afternoon, we did my favourite outdoor activity: beach!

Clifton has four beaches. Number one seemed empty. Number two, according to our guide book, was for models and narcissists. Number three was popular with gay men, and number four was four families. Obviously I was going to beach number two.

Clifton Beach Number 2

As it turned out, our guide book did not lie. It was like there was some kind of unseen “No Ugly People” rule at beach number two. I was quite amazed at how absolutely beautiful everyone was on the beach, guys and girls. Even the teenagers were buff. It made me feel like I was inadequate and had to go to the gym, and those who know me know that normally I’m a self-worshipping narcissist with an ego as big as the sun and a tendency to kiss my own biceps.

yessss popsicles

maple leaf shaped sand castles

some beach performers donning santa hats

In the evening, our couple for the night was Sarah and her German boyfriend Till. The two of them met us at Galbi, a Korean fusion restaurant. You can guess who chose the venue.

I had been missing Korean food for a long, long, long time and was excited to be able to have some again once I got to the metropolis of Cape Town. Korean food is, after all, one of the healthiest diets out there. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed that it was more of a Korean fusion place, rather than the authentic grandma’s cooking hole-in-the-wall joint you’d find at Yonge and Finch, but honestly, it had been so long since I’d had Korean food that wasn’t made by me that I was still grateful. It was definitely my first time eating Korean food served by white people, cooked by black people.

banchan! galbi! ssamkyupsal! 반찬! 갈비! 삼겹살!

sojitos (soju + mojitos)

pouring soju drinks with both hands, as per Korean custom dictates.
mmm 소주.

kimchi chigae 김치 찌개

The kimchi wasn’t made with the traditional nappa cabbage, but I was surprisingly impressed by the spice level of the kimchi chigae. I took the leftovers back to the hotel and later on used the broth to make kimchi ramen noodles, which totally hit the spot for a New Years hangover. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I still have to tell you about New Years Eve.