One of the aspects that I embrace in travel is learning the dark history of a city or country. It’s one thing to read about in a book, see a documentary or visit a museum, but when you standing in the middle of it, you understand it.
Robben Island in Cape Town was where the political prisoners of the Apartheid were incarcerated. It’s a 30-minute boat ride from the harbor. Along the way, you might see some whales.
As you know, this where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 29 years of imprisonment. There are hundreds of other men who spent time there, and one of them will take you around on tour. Just that idea that my tour guide is telling me about his experience. They come back day after day to the place of their pain so that other can be educated.
If you remember my post when I was there, a couple felt the need to take selfie in front of Mandela’s cell. Side note: his cell moved around during his time. Last month, I walked around the 9/11 memorial and I see plenty of people with selfie sticks take selfies in front of the fountains. We’ve built ourselves a wonderful narcissistic society for ourselves.
Moving on. While on tour, looking at the desolate surroundings, you get a sense of the isolation and dis-attachment from the outside world. Besides your fellow prisoners, your only other company are the seagulls.
If the loneliness didn’t kill you, the food and disease will. The guide told of rampant food poisoning and lack of medical attention. Add in the manual labor of breaking rocks, you have hell on earth.
When I was taking photos, I made sure not to include other people, the gift shop or cafe. Yup, just like the Anne Frank House, there’s a gift shop. I wanted to capture the feeling of detachment from humanity.
For visitor tips, book well in advance for the boat ride and bus tour — at least 2-3 weeks. You always need to be accompanied by a guide. The whole trip is a 3-4 hour experience. Finally, don’t bother with the surrounding harbor space with the mall, eateries and dopey entertainment. It’s for the tourists.