Voyage South Africa—Robben Island, Peninsula & Boulder’s Beach

I woke up to muffled sounds of construction that welcomed me back to city-sleeping. Our room at Oxford House felt like a little apartment. It was nice to sleep in for the first time in days, and my New York brain was barely roused by the urban sounds outside. The only “plan” for today was a ferry trip to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was held as a prisoner. The boat ride was about 30 minutes each way plus a 1 ½ hour tour of the old prison. Once on land again, we moved through the island methodically and listened to stories from ex-political prisoners who were once kept there.


It was breezy and quiet except for the narration from our guides, who discussed the emotional impact of life in hazardous living quarters and crippling hard labor. Nelson Mandela was one of hundreds who worked in the limestone quarry, where the harsh reflective glare of the sun caused him permanent eye damage. Prisoners who were once professors would teach lessons to one another inside caves adjacent to the quarry during lunchtime, dubbing the island “The University”. Conversations took place in these same caves that would impact country policy after Nelson Mandela’s election.


Nelson Mandela started this pile of stones upon revisiting the island with fellow ex-prisoners, who added to it as a symbol of forgiveness and reconciliation



The next day, we joined a Lucky & Lost day tour of the Cape Town Peninsula and Boulder’s Beach. We started in the Bo-Kaap neighborhood, an old area of Cape Town home to hundreds of Muslim families, tasty Cape Malay food, and brightly painted houses. We stopped for a handful of fresh, warm koeksisters (twisted cake-pastry with honey icing) from Rose Corner Café before setting off.




The van drove south towards the coast as the ocean once again surrounded us. The peninsula is only 6000km from the South Pole, so the wind is crippling even on a sunny day. We took a short hike along the Cape of Good Hope, once called the Cape of Storms due to the fierceness of the wind (it was changed to avoid deterring visitors). Walking outside was enough to knock your sunglasses right off your head as you dodged rocks along a loosely marked cliff path.





The view was panoramic and sparkling if you could manage to keep your eyes from tearing too violently to see. We were warned that if we carried ANY food in our bags that a baboon WOULD steal it off our shoulders. A girl who took the tour some time back apparently ignored this advice and lost a Louis Vuitton purse to a baboon who disappeared into the bushes. A forgetful guide once also left the car window down and lost half the tour’s lunch to a crafty forager. No food…got it.


After parking for lunch, we went off to Boulder’s Beach to see the thousands of penguins who live along the shore. South African penguins have an evolutionary trait that allows them to manage life in a hot climate—their eyelids turn from pink to red when they’re overheated, signaling to them that they need to jump into the water. The beach was covered in them as tourists snapped photos and battled wind so intense that it sounded like an hurricane and made your hair look like you’d stuck your finger in an outlet.






Our tour concluded with a quick trip to Cape Town Winery for some sips and chatting before we were offered the option of being dropped off at Camps Bay for a beachside cocktail as the sun got low in the sky.



Truest blue I have ever seen


Later on, we ended at Beluga for dinner where we tore through plates of springbok with blackberry honey sauce and flakey kingklip with lemon and butter.



Once again, the streets were whisper quiet after dark and we got funny looks for standing outside to wait for our Uber. It’s easy to forget nighttime safety norms in South Africa when you leave a restaurant that’s loud and bursting with people, but only for a moment.

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