View of Table Mountain from Waterfront

Touching Trip to Robben Island and Climbing Table Mountain

Saturday: Waterfront and Robben Island

During my last stay I experienced a weekend of contrasts. On Saturday I went shopping at the Waterfront because I needed a present for our little grandson. You can find clothes for girls on every corner, so why is it so much harder to find something nice for little boys? Actually, I wanted to just drift through the city on a day without appointments, after the usual daily tour of the construction site 😉 but then, at the Clocktower, I had the idea to finally take the tour to Robben Island. I had never had the chance to do that before. I thought about it, asked – and lo and behold, there were still a few places available.

I had read so much about this tour, everything from crowded to very moving tours. It was a bit of both for me. Yes, I do not like participating in crowded activities at all. You wait in a long queue at the Nelson Mandela Gateway until you are allowed on the catamaran. Then it seems to take forever until things finally get going. After leaving the harbour, it became only a little rocky at first, but then the waves increased as the journey progressed, and some people complied with the request to raise their hands if they needed a sick bag. I kept my eyes fixed on the horizon and thankfully got by. Arriving at Robben Island harbour, we all walked over to the waiting buses and then I experienced the time spent in the smaller group as much more pleasant. Our guide, a former member of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), asked around which nationality we all belonged to and was actually able to establish a connection to the history of Robben Island for each of us. It was utilised early on as a convict colony, but it also served, for example, as an isolation camp for lepers, as a hospital for mentally ill people “lunatics”, as a military base during the Second World War and then again as a convict camp, this time mainly for those politically persecuted by the apartheid government, such as Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe. As our guide had met Mandela personally on several occasions, he was able to contribute many anecdotes and interesting stories about him.

After a drive around the island with a stop on the south side overlooking Table Mountain, we arrived at the prison where the political prisoners were held until 1991. At this point, the tour became very moving, because a former prisoner took over and described the cruel past to us from his personal point of view. He first showed us a cell for up to 36 prisoners and then the so-called B-section, where the 30 leaders of the anti-apartheid government who were imprisoned here had to live in tiny individual cells. They were only permitted to leave them twice a day for 30 minutes at a time in order to be able to move around a bit in the yard. Further communication had to take place through the small windows of the cells.

One can easily imagine how firm friendships developed during this time of isolation, which led to the later President Nelson Mandela appointing eleven of his former fellow prisoners to his government.

I am glad that I went on this tour, but I would have been more than happy to have Klaus by my side. It was not easy to cope and process what I had seen on my own.

Sunday: Hiking Table Mountain via Platteklip Gorge

Having looked from Robben Island onto Table Mountain on Saturday, the opposite took place on Sunday. I climbed Table Mountain. I chose the easy route today – Platteklip Gorge. I went up via Table Mountain Road, past the Lower Cableway Station, to the signpost indicating the way. You can easily recognise the spot because there is usually a small coffee truck there.

Now it is uphill. The small gorge through which you reach the plateau of Table Mountain is already clearly visible from below. More precisely, you arrive through the small gorge between the back and the top of the mountain. From there it is only a few minutes to the upper cableway station or about 30 minutes to the highest point, Maclear’s Beacon. Along the way, as always, I had pleasant conversations with people of different nationalities. You simply keep seeing each other again and again as you stand panting on the sidewalk and then take turns overtaking each other. Especially enjoyable today was meeting a group of four Swedish women and a woman from Singapore.

As we climbed higher, we could see Robben Island behind Signal Hill. It looked so close, nothing like the 40 minutes it had taken the catamaran yesterday from the Waterfront. After about 2 hours we had all made it, and we were at the top. Such a nice feeling. Unfortunately, I had made the absolute rookie mistake of not checking the cableway website in advance, because oops, it was not running “due to adverse weather conditions” today. Curiously, it was not particularly windy, and it was sunny, too. The restaurant was also closed. It was pleasantly empty with only the hikers on top, but I had brought nothing but my water bottle. From my last descent in September, I still remembered how my legs felt like jelly when my blood sugar was dropping. I had to slide down the steep parts more or less on my bottom. Was I about to face that challenge again? A nice young man from a German group gave me a muesli bar, which made me feel more confident. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!

When the cableway started up again shortly afterwards and the first cable car arrived, there was great excitement among the assembled hikers. The restaurant was also due to open as soon as the staff were due to arrive at the top with more cable cars. After enjoying the views all around as I always do and seeing that nothing was happening in the restaurant yet, I decided to head back down and thoroughly enjoyed the café latte served at the starting point of my hike.