Robben Island – Where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned

Robben Island

Robben Island prison

Robben Island prison

Robben Island is always towards the top of the list of things to do in Cape Town. Robben Island is most well-known for being the place where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years of his 27 years as a political prisoner. Incredibly, after so many years of imprisonment, he became South Africa’s President after the fall of Apartheid, the first black president in the county’s history. He became an icon of democracy and social justice, and he received over 250 awards including the Nobel Peace Prize. He is described as the Father of the Nation of South Africa.

Robben Island lies just off the coast of Cape Town, about a 45 minute boat ride. Because it is so popular, we purchased our tickets about five days in advance to ensure we had the chance to go. The departure point was just a five minute walk from our ship, so it was extremely convenient to walk there. Sadly, even though I am living on a ship, I still get very nervous about boat rides and the movements. Smaller boats are a whole different experience, and I certainly did not feel great as we headed to Robben Island, and even worse as we came back to Cape Point later that afternoon (somehow, through fresh air and concentration, all of my lunch remained with me).

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The tour of Robben Island is a structured guided tour. There were 5 of us that visited together, including Chika and three other Resident Directors. After arriving to the island, we jumped on a bus, which took us to the former maximum security prison, where Nelson Mandela was held. We were introduced to our guide, who was a political prisoner here for eight years in the 1980s. I wasn’t able to catch the guide’s name since our tour group was so large, but he took us through the prison. He showed us his prison cell, which was a group cell, meaning there were about 15 people in this same cell (this was used for prisoners who posed less of a “threat” to the government).

Our guide at Robben Island, a former political prisoner

Our guide at Robben Island, a former political prisoner

We were taken to where Nelson Mandela had planted his garden outside in this enclosed courtyard. We were then taken to Nelson Mandela’s actual jail cell, where he was imprisoned for so many years.

Nelson Mandela's prison cell at Robben Island

Nelson Mandela’s prison cell at Robben Island

Our guide giving a tour of his former cell

Our guide giving a tour of his former cell

After the formal tour of the prison, we were given a bus tour around Robben Island. While there were a few interesting stories about other prisoners and events, there wasn’t too much else to see. However, it was completely worth it to get to Robben Island!

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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District 6 – Government Destruction of a Community

District 6 – Government Destruction of a Community

The map of what District 6 used to look like.

The map of what District 6 used to look like.

Before visiting South Africa, I had never heard of District 6 nor known its importance in apartheid. When many people on the ship stressed the importance of visiting the District 6 museum, I knew I had to go to learn what it means. The simple way to describe what happened at District 6 is government sponsored forced removal of peaceful neighborhoods made up of people of color. In other words, the government destroyed neighborhoods and segregated all non-white races in order to try to eliminate their cultures and social structures. It didn’t just happen in District 6, but to over 40 communities around Cape Town and many, many more around South Africa.

The District 6 Museum is in a converted church which was left over from the destruction of the neighborhood. Religious sites like a few churches, a temple, and a mosque, were the only buildings left over, so it is fitting for this museum to be in an original church. While the museum is not large, it does have quite a bit of information to take in. When entering, one can pay 40 Rand (about $3) for a self-guided tour, or one can pay 55 Rand (about $4.50) for a tour guided by someone who was living in District 6 at the time of removals. Our guide was Mr. Brown (I didn’t catch his first name), who is half Malaysian and half Scottish. With his Malay features and darker skin tone, one would never guess he was half European. I mention this because it is relevant in how he was treated during Apartheid; if he had had lighter skin, he would’ve had more rights.

A sign from Apartheid.

A sign from Apartheid.

Mr. Brown lived in the heart of District 6. He described District 6 as being a peaceful mix of cultures, ethnicities, and religions. There were Indians, Persians, blacks, Muslims, Christians, Jews, and more. He described it to be a place where everyone respected the differences of others. They weren’t afraid of each other nor did they have any large conflicts due to religion or race. He described it to be this vibrant place, where neighbors helped each other out, people mingled in the streets, and where there was this positive energy with the mix of people living there. Even after Apartheid began in 1948, District 6 was thriving. In the 1960s, the government created a plan to remove the inhabitants of District 6 and over 40 other communities, and the people in these communities were forced to move to designated areas, usually further from cities and segregated by race. You can think of these designated areas as being similar to Native American reservations; government designated land that says you can’t live where you used to but you must move there. For most of those being moved in Cape Town, they were moved to the Cape Flats, miles away in the flatlands outside of Cape Town.

When they were moved, they lost their communities that had been established over the years. Whereas they used lived in a community of beautiful homes with character, they now lived in standard plain homes that all looked the same. They had new neighbors after having the same neighbors for years and years. The church choir was split up to the point where they couldn’t perform any more. Those who played soccer could no longer play with those who they’ve played with their entire lives. Those who worked in Cape Town now had extended commutes. Whereas they used to walk to their jobs in fifteen minutes, they now had an hour and a half commute from their homes to the city and also had to pay bus fare to and from.

With all this, you can probably imagine the destruction of a close-knit community. It’s not just that they lost their homes, but they lost their way of living within the communities. They had to start from scratch to rebuild their communities and their lives, which were so intertwined with those in their immediate neighborhood.

It was very interesting to hear Mr. Brown’s stories and viewpoints. He loved his life in District 6, and he did not hide his disgust for towards the government and what they did to him and his community. He showed us maps and pictures of what District 6 used to look like. He showed us his house on the map and talked about his neighbors. He compared pictures of what District 6 looked like before the removal to what it looks like now. This vibrant community with colorful buildings and people is now largely grass with poorly maintained walkways. The government says that they are working on bringing people back to their community, but it seems like they are taking their sweet time in doing so. It can be difficult for someone to prove they lived in a place, and the government has promised to build new homes in this area, though they say the funding isn’t there to do so.

This is certainly a horrifying story of the South African government deliberately trying to destroy the lives of people of color. Sadly, this peaceful community with its unique culture was uprooted by the government and forced into segregated areas, which has caused Cape Town to still be one of the most segregated cities in the world. Hopefully, those who were impacted so negatively are paid back for the hardship the government has caused to them and their entire family trees.

The District 6 Museum.

The District 6 Museum.

District 6 Museum

District 6 Museum

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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Hiking Table Mountain

Hiking Table Mountain

Fog over Cape Town

Fog over Cape Town

Table Mountain is a huge part in what makes Cape Town what it is today. For someone from South Africa, it would be hard to imagine the city without this mountain towering over everything. There is rarely a time in Cape Town when one cannot see at least a small part of Table Mountain, the long mountain that separates the city center from the rest of the country.

After seeing the picture, you can probably imagine where it gets its name. The long, flat top of the mountain looks smooth enough to be a table. When I was trying to figure out what to do in Cape Town, there was a consistent answer from nearly everyone: if you visit Cape Town, you must climb Table Mountain. So I did!

I went with three others, all three staff members. Two of them work on the communications team (social media, photography & video, blogging, etc.), and the third works as the Lifelong Learner coordinator (LLLs are the non-students who are on the voyage, families and individuals who are onboard for the educational experience). The Lifelong Learner coordinator is on his third or fourth voyage, so it was fantastic spending the day with him to get his perspectives.

Hiking up Table Mountain

Hiking up Table Mountain

We woke up at sunrise for breakfast, and we were all discouraged to see that a thick cloud of fog had overtaken all visibility. Knowing that things always change, we grabbed and Uber and took it to the trail head of the mountain. As soon as we were out of the harbor, we were pleased to see that the rest of the city was nice and sunny; it was just the harbor that had the thick fog over it!

The hike up was stunning on this warm sunny day. We had views of the city almost the entire way up, and the steep climb was a challenge. To be in nature on the mountain and being so close to a major city was incredible. This is something that so many people desire, to have a mountain so accessible to hike but also have everything that a city offers.

It took us just under two hours to arrive at the top, where we were greeted with beautiful views in all directions. In the very far distance to the south, we could see Cape Point, Hout Bay, and other places I had visited by car the previous day. Looking over the opposite side, we were towering over Cape Town, Robben Island, the soccer stadium, and the bay.

On top of Table Mountain

On top of Table Mountain

Wanting to save our knees, we decided to take the cable car down to where we started. The open air cable car was horrifying and fun at the same time, and within 3 minutes, we were back to where we started.

Coming almost to the top of Table Mountain

Coming almost to the top of Table Mountain

Hiking up Table Mountain

Hiking up Table Mountain

Hiking up Table Mountain

Hiking up Table Mountain

View of Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain

View of Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain

Looking down on Cape Town's suburbs

Looking down on Cape Town’s suburbs

The cable car looking down from the top of Table Mountain

The cable car looking down from the top of Table Mountain

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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Day Trip to Cape Point & the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa)

Day Trip to Cape Point & the Cape of Good Hope

The Cape of Good Hope

The Cape of Good Hope

On our second full day in Cape Town, I decided to rent a car for the day with two other Resident Directors, Jess and Donald, in order to make a trip to visit Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. Jess and Donald are two of Chika’s coworkers, and they were in for having an adventure.

Car rentals in South Africa are very affordable. I made the car rental reservation with Thrifty, and we paid about $28 for a 2016ish Nissan 4-door. We arrived at 8AM to pick up the car, and, after some complications with the reservation being booked just 12 hours before, we were on our way around 9AM. In South Africa, like in England and Australia, cars drive on the left side of the road. The last time I had done this was in Australia in 2009, but I was ready for the challenge.

Not an advertisement, it's our rental car.

Not an advertisement, it’s our rental car.

Our plan for the day was to drive down south to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, two famous points along the southwest part of South Africa. These are important because they would’ve been the first points that merchants and sailors would have rounded as they came down from Europe and worked their way towards India. They are not quite the most southern points of Africa, but they aren’t far from it.

Immediately leaving Cape Town, the gorgeous scenery had already started. Beachside villages just over the hill from Cape Town led to smaller fishing villages further south. The scenic road along the coast gave us fantastic views of blue bays and white sandy beaches. It was surprisingly stunning.

Donald, Jess, and I rented a car for the day to explore the Western Cape

Donald, Jess, and I rented a car for the day to explore the Western Cape

We eventually cut across the peninsula to the east side to visit Boulder Beach, home to the only African penguins. In the early 1980s, there were just two mating couples at this beach. Today, there are over 2,000 penguins that inhabit this colony. As you can imagine, it has become a large tourist attraction as visitors want to see these unique penguins. There is a newly constructed boardwalk that takes visitors from the parking lot down to the penguins’ beach. The penguins were smaller, probably just two feet in height. It’s always fun to watch penguins act. Because they don’t have any predators outside of the water, they never evolved to be mobile on land. This makes them extreme awkward to watch. In water, they are great swimmers and propel themselves out of the water at times. We watched the penguins for a bit, snapping a few pictures, and then we continued heading south.

Penguins at Boulders Beach

Penguins at Boulders Beach

We arrived to the entrance of the national park of Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, and we met a long line of cars waiting to get in. From then on, it was about 5 miles to get down to the cape, where it was pretty barren land all the way there. We arrived at the parking lot, squeezed our car into a small space, and then started our hike. Immediately, we saw baboons walking around. These little animals are frightening to be around. We heard they can be aggressive, stealing food and even opening car doors by using the door handle. The first one we saw actually jumped up on top of a parked car and just sat there with its legs dangling over the side of the car.

Baboon!

Baboon!

It took about 45 minutes to make it to the top of Cape Point, where the old lighthouse is located. The view from this point is incredibly beautiful, with 360 degree views where you can see the peninsula we drove down, the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, the Cape of Good Hope (which is just down to the side of Cape Point), and many species of birds searching for food. We realized that down below, jutting out just a bit further to the south, was another walking area with some people exploring. We found the back way to get there and walked just a bit further out, where we saw the new light house. The new light house was built in 1911. While the old light house is on top of Cape Point, the new one is much lower. The old light house posed two problems: when it was foggy, it would be covered up, and its higher location caused sailors to think they could round the cape sooner, causing crashes. The new lower light house solved those issues for the most part.

Walking out to Cape Point

Walking out to Cape Point

In total, we spent a few hours at Cape Point, admiring the views at the almost furthest south point of Africa. We then started back towards Cape Point with one stop in mind, Kalky’s at Kalky Bay. I had been recommended Kalky’s by several people, including a local tour guide, for its fish and chip, supposedly the best in Cape Town. It was not a disappointment. The place is located right on the pier, just steps to where the fishing boats bring in their catch for the day. It has that nitty gritty feel that you would expect a hole-in-the-wall seafood place to have. Fried Hake was the type of fish they had for the day, so I had that with fries and calamari. I couldn’t have imagined a better meal to end our day exploring the peninsula!

Kalky's Fish & Chips, the best in the Western Cape!

Kalky’s Fish & Chips, the best in the Western Cape!

Cape Point, South Africa

Cape Point, South Africa

Baboon!

Baboon!

Donald and Jess at Cape Point

Donald and Jess at Cape Point

Penguins at Boulders Beach

Penguins at Boulders Beach

The incredible views started as soon as we left Cape Town

The incredible views started as soon as we left Cape Town

Kalky's Fish & Chips

Kalky’s Fish & Chips

Kalky's Fish & Chips

Kalky’s Fish & Chips

Kalk's Bay

Kalk’s Bay

 

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa

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The journey from Ghana to South Africa was just as rough, if not worse, than crossing the English Channel. For three days, we had swells between 10-15 feet tall, which means that oftentimes the ship is going up and down 10-15 feet. While it seems my body was more prepared this time around, I still did get sick a few times, and I generally just did not feel great. The inclement weather delayed us by about 15 hours, which means that we lost one full day of our planned six in South Africa. However, ss always, we made it through the difficult part, and we arrived in one of the most anticipated ports of the trip, Cape Town, South Africa.

Arriving in Cape Town

It’s always fun to arrive to a new city by ship, but everyone was talking how arriving in Cape Town by ship is an entirely new experience because of the sheer beauty of the mountains around the city. Our arrival at 11PM meant we could mostly just see lights and the outline of mountains, which was still a great experience. After seeing us in, I went to bed knowing that the next morning was when I’d put my feet down in South Africa, a new country for me.

South Africa’s immigration was completely unprepared to get over 650 people processed into the country. Their office was set up in a building outside the terminal, and we were to line up outside the building to wait our turn through. They had just four people at immigration, and all were doing fingerprints along with the normal process. This meant that it took probably 2-3 minutes to process each of the 650 passengers, This added up to be quite the line of people waiting to get their stamps.

Because I woke up early and immediately got in line before 7AM, I was one of the first ones through who weren’t on a Semester at Sea organized trip. I immediately walked into the city center to explore, and I loved being the first one out so that it felt a bit like I was the only one discovering the city. When there are about 650 people getting off the ship to explore a place, typically you’ll see several of them around while touring. So I took advantage of this early start!

Cape Town

Cape Town's City Hall, taken from the Good Hope Castle

Cape Town’s City Hall, taken from the Good Hope CastleSouth Africa is nicknamed the “Rainbow Country”, due to the fact that the country is made of up people of many races and ethnicities. South Africa has 11 official languages and many more unofficial languages. The most spoken languages include Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans (essentially Dutch), and English. Zulu and Xhosa, both native languages in parts of South Africa, are the two most widely spoken languages in the country.

While Johannesberg is the country’s largest city, Cape Town is known as being a cultural capital. Cape Town is a developed and diverse city, an economic center of South Africa. It is located along the cost of the southwest part of South Africa, nearly as far south as you can get and still be in Africa. Several million people live in the metro area, but it happens to be one of the most segregated cities in the world due to Apartheid, discriminatory government policies that lasted from 1948 to the early 1990s.

Cape Town today has become a top destination to visit. There are world-class museums and botanical gardens, great foods, warm and welcoming people, beautiful architecture, and stunning nature. And it’s relatively inexpensive. To me, it has everything that I would want in a place to visit. Overall, it seems like everyone from the ship loved it, too.

Cape Town’s certainly has a large coffee shop culture. Everywhere I looked, it seemed like there was a chic café full of people. Because the coffee on the ship is mediocre at best, I took advantage of the high quality coffee in Cape Town. I think I drank more cappuccinos in these five days than I had in my entire life before. The currency in South Africa is the Rand, and the exchange rate is $1=13.67 Rand. I could get a cappuccino at a cheap place for 10 Rand ($0.73) or at a nice café for 28 Rand ($2). I never buy these in the US since they’re usually $4 and up, and that is too pricey for my frugal purpose.

Table Mountain is the geographical feature that is so famous in Cape Town. The wide, almost flat-topped mountain, towers over the city center. When in the city, there is rarely a moment when you cannot see Table Mountain. Just like in Denver how they use the Rocky Mountains to always know the direction of West, people from Cape Town use the position of Table Mountain, which lies to the south, for their navigation.

While I will write separate posts about museums and sites like District 6, hiking Table Mountain, and a trip to Cape Point, one cannot talk about Cape Town without talking about Nelson Mandela and Robben Island. South Africa’s revolutionary was held in prison for 27 years, including 18 years on Robben Island, a small island just off the coast of Cape Town. He was arrested in 1962, charged with inciting workers’ strikes and leaving the country illegally, he was not released until 1990. Incredibly, he became the President of South Africa in 1994. I’ll talk more about Mandela and Robben Island in a future post.

Sites around Cape Town

Company’s Gardens

The wooden arch which was just built to honor Desmond Tutu. On the right is the cathedral for which Tutu is the Archbishop.

The wooden arch which was just built to honor Desmond Tutu. On the right is the cathedral for which Tutu is the Archbishop.


The Dutch were the first Europeans to colonize what is now Cape Town. They originally used it as a “refreshment stop” for ships going from Europe to India. Eventually, they settled here and created the city of Cape Town. The Company’s Gardens were the original gardens the Dutch used to grow food for those passing through. It is still used as a garden for produce but also botanical gardens.

Bo-Kaap Neighborhood

Bo-Kaap neighborhood with its colorful buildings.

Bo-Kaap neighborhood with its colorful buildings.


This Muslim neighborhood, also known as Cape Malay, is famous for the colorful homes that climb up the hill along the city center. This unique area is inhabited by mostly Muslims, many of whose ancestors were brought to South Africa as slaves long ago. Several active mosques are in the area, and corner stores sell samosas with atcha sauce.

Parliament

South Africa's Parliament with a statue of Queen Victoria in front.

South Africa’s Parliament with a statue of Queen Victoria in front.


Whereas in the United States, we have our Legislative branch, our Executive branch, and Judicial branch all in the same city, South Africa has each of these branches in their own cities. Pretoria is the home of the Executive branch, Bloemfontein is the home of the Judicial branch, and Cape Town is the home of the Legislative branch, or Parliament.

Greenmarket Square

Greenmarket Square is the main market square. Whereas it used to be the home of a local market for many years, it is now solely vendors selling textiles and nick-knacks.

V&A Waterfront
Our ship was docked very close to the Victoria & Albert Waterfront, also known as the V&A Waterfront. This is a redeveloped port area with high end restaurants, a shopping mall, and a nice pedestrian walkway.

Castle of Good Hope, there was an Islamic Art festival going on.

Castle of Good Hope, there was an Islamic Art festival going on.

Castle of Good Hope, there was an Islamic Art festival going on.

Castle of Good Hope, there was an Islamic Art festival going on.

Castle of Good Hope. This was the Governor's personal swimming pool. the  fountain is original.

Castle of Good Hope. This was the Governor’s personal swimming pool. the fountain is original.

Where the President stays when he visits Cape Town.

Where the President stays when he visits Cape Town.

Broerwors - the South African sausage

Broerwors – the South African sausage

Broerwors - the South African sausage

Broerwors – the South African sausage

Desmond Tutu has sailed on Semester at Sea several times, but he was not able to join us because of health reasons. However, the day we arrived in South Africa, they dedicated an arch to him.

Desmond Tutu has sailed on Semester at Sea several times, but he was not able to join us because of health reasons. However, the day we arrived in South Africa, they dedicated an arch to him.

Bo-Kaap neighborhood.

Bo-Kaap neighborhood.

South Africa's Parliament with a statue of Queen Victoria in front.

South Africa’s Parliament with a statue of Queen Victoria in front.

They have taken down many statues of Cecil Rhodes. You can see they started to saw this one down by looking at his right ankle.

They have taken down many statues of Cecil Rhodes. You can see they started to saw this one down by looking at his right ankle.

Cecil Rhodes, of the Rhodes Scholar, is not very well liked in South Africa. He thought the British were superior to all others. If you weren't British, you were inferior.

Cecil Rhodes, of the Rhodes Scholar, is not very well liked in South Africa. He thought the British were superior to all others. If you weren’t British, you were inferior.

Bench outside of the government building, remnants of apartheid.

Bench outside of the government building, remnants of apartheid.

The wooden arch which was just built to honor Desmond Tutu. On the right is the cathedral for which Tutu is the Archbishop.

The wooden arch which was just built to honor Desmond Tutu. On the right is the cathedral for which Tutu is the Archbishop.

A bench outside the government building denoting "non-whites only". This is the building in which people of color had to pick up their identifications, essentially telling them how many rights they had.

A bench outside the government building denoting “non-whites only”. This is the building in which people of color had to pick up their identifications, essentially telling them how many rights they had.

In the Cape Malay neighborhood in Cape Town

In the Cape Malay neighborhood in Cape Town

Cape Malay in Cape Town

Cape Malay in Cape Town

The Crypt - the cathedral's crypt converted to a jazz club

The Crypt – the cathedral’s crypt converted to a jazz club

Braii (grilled meat) with rice, salad, and an incredible peanut butter sauce.

Braii (grilled meat) with rice, salad, and an incredible peanut butter sauce.

This guy jumped up to get a picture at the same time as me. We decided to take the picture together.

This guy jumped up to get a picture at the same time as me. We decided to take the picture together.

On the exterior of City Hall in Cape Town.

On the exterior of City Hall in Cape Town.

Cape Town's City Hall

Cape Town’s City Hall

More posts to come highlighting other places around Cape Town!

 

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

Share