This morning, I felt a bit like a guy that I saw at Kirstenbosch Gardens yesterday. He didn’t particularly want to be there so he was asking his friends,
“What are we supposed to do here?”
After a lengthy internal dialogue, I chose not to remain in my room alone curled up in the fetal position wrestling with that question, “What am I supposed to do here.” Instead, I headed down to the V&A Waterfront. There are more shops than you can imagine, plenty of places to eat, and locals singing and dancing for coins. It’s kind of like your local mall. Only it’s outside and situated between the harbor and Table Mountain. It is, by and large, the safest part of the city to enter alone (even without the ever-present Phillip). There are plenty of public safety officials who keep criminal activity down and tourists’ spirits up.
Speaking of crime, based on what I’ve seen, it’s really not too bad. In fact, this morning as I sat in the free shuttle from my hotel to the Waterfront, some guy gleefully left his Ferrari running with the keys in it as he went in for a quick breakfast. Wow!
After resisting the temptation, I stuck with the free shuttle. It took me to the launching point for the ferry to Robben Island. Robben Island was home to South Africa’s political prisoners during Apartheid. It’s a Cape Town “must see.” You might have heard of the island’s most famous former resident: Nelson Mandela.
Thanks to the strong and ever-present southeasterly wind that blows during the summer, the ferry ride was quite bumpy (a/k/a AWESOME!). In any event, there was a video playing that went into some history about the island. It would have been quite interesting to hear; however, the Africans behind me were quite loudly talking with one another in their click language, which, incidentally, was also quite interesting to hear. Things usually balance out.
As we pulled into the harbor, there must have been 10,000 cormorants resting on the breakers. It was a sight to see.
From the ferry, we were shuffled onto busses with phrases like “The Journey’s Never Long When Freedom’s the Destination” and “Driven by Freedom” painted on their sides. We were crammed into rows of three and four for an hour long bus tour. The busses shot out fumes each time they started and stopped. That would probably explain why the native penguin population has dwindled from Africa’s largest to just a few remaining birds.
The island does have an interesting history. Bartholomew Diaz used it as a pantry because he was afraid of the Khoikhoi poeple who lived on the mainland. Apparently, he’d rather eat penguins from Robben Island than have the Khoikhoi eat him. I can’t say that I blame him.
It was then used as a prison colony for the Portuguese and as a Leper Colony, too. Finally, it took on its most infamous role in the 1960s.
There are many stories. The one that struck me the most belonged to Robert Sobukwe. He was jailed for opposing a South African law that required certain citizens to carry papers that could be demanded at any moment. The South African government actually passed a law instructing the Prisons Department to detain Robert Sobukwe “until the other side of eternity.” That’s the only time a government has passed such a law.
Our guides were all former prisoners at Robben Island. It was truly jarring to hear our guide — a grandfatherly man named Jama — answer questions by saying “we” and “us” rather than “they.” Robben Island is a truly one-of-a-kind place that puts recent history into some very real perspective.
The Drill Down
It was also interesting talking to my fellow prison-goers. Inevitably the question comes, “Where are you from?” Everyone responds the same way. I like to call it, “the International Drill Down.” You answer broadly and then go as narrow as the other person would like you to.
“Between Charlotte and Raleigh.”
We then go through the same process for their home. Everyone does this. Nobody ever starts with their hometown. Even New Yorkers say, “New York” before admitting “Brooklyn.”
I think it all boils down to the fact that the person doing the asking wants to find out whether they’ve got an old college roommate who lives next door to some guy they randomly meet in Cape Town. I bet if I kept asking for narrower answers, I could get people’s street addresses with no problem. It’s all about the “drill down.”
Alex, Please Do Stop That. Won’t You?
After Robben Island, I grabbed lunch at the V&A Harbor. While I ate, a very prim-and-proper sounding British woman was struggling with her hellion of a grandson, Alex. I’m guessing the kid was about 10, but I’m not really good at determining the ages of children. Her monologue went about like this (although you’ll have to add your own British accent):
“Alex, just wait two minutes. Alex, please do be seated. You’re being the biggest baby, Alex. Really, you’re being quite inappropriate, Alex. Alex, that’s not how we eat.”
Alex never said one word. He only received instructions. It kept going for the whole of my meal.
At one point, I turned around and Alex was gone. He was probably off smoking drugs, stealing something, or terrorizing wild African beasts.
“Alex! You must get back here. Stop tempting the Great White Sharks in the harbor.”
The rest of my day was spent just wandering (I don’t know what happened to Grandma and Alex). At one point, I went into the aquarium, which was magnificent as far as aquariums go. I’m really not one to judge, though. It was my first aquarium.
I leave tomorrow, but not before hitting up a few more museums with . . . you guessed it . . . Phillip. Incidentally, he thinks my name is Jeff. At this point, I suppose we’ll just have to let that one go. Unless I can somehow use the drill down technique.