Nov. 28, 2010
Jackie Wu shares the adventures of the men's and women's tennis teams from South Africa. In the latest installment, the teams toured Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandela was a prisoner for 28 years.
The breakfast at this hotel is beyond amazing. When I first walked downstairs, I’ll admit that I was a little disappointed. All I saw was a spread of different cheeses and crackers, along with some fruit and bread. Then I was pointed in the direction of the restaurant, and I couldn’t help but drop open my mouth just a little bit. Think about the best hotel breakfast you’ve ever had. Got it? Okay, now imagine it about one thousand times better. Actually, make it about one hundred thousand times better. And no, I’m not exaggerating. I stood at the bar for a solid ten minutes just trying to decide what kind of freshly squeezed juice I wanted. (I settled on having three different ones, in case you were wondering.)
We finished breakfast and walked outside along the peer towards the ferry dock. We hopped on board and split up; some went to the upper deck while others stayed downstairs and went to the front of the boat. The ferry was headed towards Robben Island, the place where Mandela was held prisoner for 28 years. Along the way, seals were relaxing, penguins were chilling, and dolphins were swimming alongside the boat. Upon arrival, we took a shuttle to the entrance of the prison where our tour guide greeted us. (He was, in fact, a prisoner of Robben Island as well.)
As we walked through the different sections of the prison, he told us the history and old stories among those walls. The lowest class of prisoners was only allowed to have two visitors a year for thirty minutes. Letters were restricted to just a couple of times a year, and most incoming letters were never given to the prisoner in the same manner it was originally written. Due to censoring, there were times when prisoners got letters that only contained the address and a signature, the two pieces held together by tape. There were also forgeries of wives telling their husbands that they want a divorce because they can’t stay married to a man in prison. It was only after their release that they discovered they were all lies. It was mesmerizing to be able to witness what life was like for these prisoners.
Although life seemed grim and hopeless (especially with the beautiful city of Capetown visible right across the water), it was a place for some to grow. Robben Island served as a place to earn a university degree. Among the prisoners, there were lawyers, doctors, and professors. It became a place for education, with some prisoners teaching fellow inmates and even some wardens. As we passed by Mandela’s cell, it was hard to imagine how somehow could survive in those conditions for almost three decades and not come out with a hint of vengeance. I suppose that that’s what makes Mandela such a hero though, right?
The ferry trip back was a quick one, between Chelsea steering the boat for some time (how she managed to convince the captain into letting her take over the wheel is beyond me) and trying to spot more sea animals. As we approached Capetown, the World Cup soccer stadium, Table Mountain, and our hotel were all within clear view. Everyone took turns at standing at the front of the boat for pictures, all the while with the girls trying to tame their wind-blown hair long enough to take a picture Facebook-tag worthy.
It was, yet again, too windy to go to the top of Table Mountain in cable cars, but some chose to hike up Lion’s Head while others opted to go to the flea markets and shop for little souvenirs. After an afternoon of getting sunburnt and bargaining for great deals (if you ever need a bargainer, contact Aleke or Erica), we all got together for dinner, minus the coaches and Lori. We all raised our glasses and went around the table, toasting to what we were thankful for. Over food and drinks, we celebrated our last night in South Africa. Now all we’ve got left to do is play some tennis on African soil, pack, and head home!