Glencairn, Robben Island, and Cape Town

Departing from Kruger National Park after two weeks of incredible animal sightings and fascinating fieldwork wasn’t too sad considering we will be returning for the last three weeks of the course. Our next destination was a three-hour drive and two-hour flight south, towards Cape Town. The town of Glencairn is positioned on the inside of the “hook” just outside of Cape Town. We arrived after the long day of travel, checked into a camp with three medium sized cabins, ate dinner, and fell asleep. The first morning, my running buddy Henry and I went out for a run on the coastal route, which contours the land as it meets the ocean. The air was crisp, salty, and it was windy, but the view, AH the view was spectacular! Tall hills with homes etched into the side of them on our right, and the Atlantic Ocean on our left, I’m surprised I didn’t trip while taking it all in. We ran for a few miles before reversing direction to return to camp. However, before heading back Henry and I decided to go for a swim in the ocean. Man was it cold! The waves broke hard which made swimming out a challenge, but the it was great fun. Just when I thought the morning couldn’t get any better, it did. Two puppies arrived on the beach and we chased them around for a good while. Finally and unfortunately, it was time to head back to camp for breakfast. Having no towel, we crossed the main road and ran up to our camp barefoot, as we didn’t want to get our sneakers wet. Returning at 7:30 AM, there was still a whole day ahead of us, yet it already felt like we had done so much. Classes resumed that day and a different set of academics had arrived to give instruction on a new subject, History and Culture of South Africa.

An important, and the most engaging component of our History and Culture course our visit to Robben Island. For those who may not know, Robben Island is where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for eighteen years. The day before our “field trip”, we were lectured on Mandela and his life history. The next morning, we departed the for the waterfront ferry terminal to Robben Island. Unfortunately, our ferry was delayed, however this just gave us an opportunity to enjoy a delicious lunch and walk around some of the shops. Once on the ferry, it was about a 40-minute, conversation laden, crossing to our destination. After arrival and disembarking, we boarded tour buses, and were greeted by our “singing” tour guide. She provided us with a background history of the Robben Island prison system and broke it up with ballades of African folk songs. She was very talented, but it wasn’t until our next tour guide greeted us, that I came to meet the real highlight of the day. The short, older gentlemen greeted us at the entrance to the prison where Nelson Mandela had spent almost two decades. We quickly learned that he, himself, had been interred on Robben Island as well. The tour began in empty cellblock, where our guide proceeded to tell us why he was imprisoned, for protesting the travesties of the government, and discussed his life on Robben Island. The lines on his face and scars on his hands gave evidence of a hard life, yet he spoke with a strong and commanding tone. Following his moving talk, words sticking to us like glue, we were brought to see Nelson Mandela’s cell. No different than any other holding cell, it was hard to think that such a giant of our time and a symbol hope for South Africans had spent so many years there.

Our ferry ride back was a little quieter. There wasn’t much conversation at all. I think many of us were processing what we had seen and heard. The struggles faced by those who had been unjustly prisoned for trying to make South Africa a country of less division and more equality were acts of bravery. Upon returning to the mainland, our group went out dinner on the pier. With a great view of the coast, many ordered seafood and I tried the fish that this part of the world is know for, Kingclip. It was delicious! Following the meal, we loaded into our vans for the return to camp. On the way back, as if our experience could not have encapsulated more of Cape Town culture, Table Mountain put on a beautiful display for us. To preface, Cape Town sits right at the based of Table Mountain which stands tall and proud above the city. As there is a significant difference in altitude, the weather at the top of the mountain can change rapidly. Called the “Blanket of Table Mountain” this weather phenomena consist of a large cloud sheath that forms as a result of rain showers at the summit. Like a sheet falling of a bed, this white, puffy “comforter” spilled of the top of the mountain and onto the city below as it has done for centuries. It is quite a site to see.

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