When I posted on my Facebook page about the delayed flight, a friend commented that she wondered what new adventures I would have, and what interesting people I would meet. So, Marion and Laura, here is the rest of that story.
Robben Island is about 6 miles off the coast of South Africa; it is visible from Capetown as a low rise on the horizon. To get there, you have to take a ferry -- and you have to get your ticket pretty far in advance. When I arrived in Capetown on Monday afternoon, I expected that I would be able to get on one of the three tours on Tuesday, but they were all booked. My only alternative was Thursday morning, and hope that I would get back in time to make our flight at 2:30 PM. (We made it, but just by the skin of our teeth!)
It is a 45 minute ferry ride to the island, the water is a little rough, and you watch that little bump on the horizon getting bigger and bigger. Finally you start to see houses, and at last the pier comes into view. We disembarked and walked to busses but in the near distance was a gate that reminded me of the one over the entrance at Auchwitz in Germany. It didn't say Werk Macht Frei, instead it said We Serve With Pride.
|Glen, our interpreter|
They worked six days per week, and on the seventh they were confined to their cells for all but one hour when they were allowed in the courtyard between barracks buildings for exercise. What struck me was the bleakness of the surroundings. Tall wire fences, guard towers, unrelenting heat...
The cells were small and spare, and I wondered to myself how Mandela managed to do all the writing he did while in prison. Where did he get the paper, pencils, and how was he able to hide what he wrote from the guards. He buried what he wrote in the courtyard of his barracks according to the interpreter, but somehow others made copies of what he wrote and smuggled them out. This was fortunate, because at one point when construction was being done in the courtyard his buried stash was discovered and destroyed.
Our flight to the US was canceled because a snow and ice storm had closed JFK airport in New York. The airline put us up in a hotel for the night (thank you South African Airlines!!) and said we'd try again the next night, and that there were seats for all of us on the next night's plane. What to do with a whole day in Johannesburg? The concierge at the hotel suggested a tour of Jo'burg, and that sounded good to me! I expected a bus, or at least a van with a group of people, but I was wrong. At the appointed time, Lindy and her husband showed up in their car, and proceeded to take me on a private tour of Johannesburg. This was the opportunity of a lifetime -- to have four hours to talk with a native about what it's like to live there. She was very knowledgeable about local history, and we had quite a good conversation.
|Street corner in Soweto|
|One of the shanty towns in Soweto|
Inside are display cases full of memorabilia of Mandela's time in prison, and after his release.
Our next stop was at the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum. Hector Pieterson was the 12 year old boy who was killed at the beginning of the uprisings of 1976. His death helped ignite the fire that became a nationwide -- then a worldwide -- protest of the treatment of black citizens. The oral histories, news accounts, and photographs of that time in South African history were amazing to see, especially when you realize that those protests spread to the US as well.
|Lindy (and flat Owen)|
|The stadium where they played the 2010 World Cup of Soccer.|
From the Memorial, we drove to downtown Johannesburg and took an elevator to the top of the tallest building in Jo'burg. From that vantage point, you could see the entire city, which is huge! You could see the gold mining sector, the newer business district, and all the way to the suburbs.
After a memorable day, Lindy and her husband took me back to the hotel, where I grabbed my luggage, went to the airport, and 39 hours later, was finally home again. What a trip, what an experience, and what an opportunity to see a part of the world I really never expected to see! Would I go back again? Probably not, especially if I had to endure that flight. But the memories of this trip will last more than a lifetime.