My nine-day stay in South Africa, primarily in the Cape Town area, was packed with amazing must-do, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

Robben Island is where Nelson Mandela, or Madiba as he was referred to in his native tongue, was held as a political prisoner for 18 of the 27 years of his incarceration before the fall of apartheid.  From 1961 until its closure in 1991, the South African government maintained Robben Island as a maximum security prison for political prisoners. It had also served as a leper colony in the 1800s and early 1900s.

Robben Island, robben being Dutch for seal, is located in Table Bay seven or eight kilometers west of Cape Town.  Visiting Robben Island requires taking a tour.  Tours depart at scheduled times three times per day from Cape Town’s Victoria & Alfred waterfront.  Tours last about 3.5 hours.

The ferry to Robben Island at Victoria & Alfred Wharf
Robben Island ferries are often crowded. Buy tickets in advance.
After a 25 minute cruise passengers alight on Robben Island.

Arriving on Robben Island, tourists transfer to buses for a tour of some of the sights outside of the prison.

Though Robben Island is no longer populated by numerous fur seals its shoreline remains picturesque.  In the background, Table Mountain towers over Cape Town.
The house where Robert Sobukwe was kept in solitary confinement, cutoff from all contact with other prisoners.
The location where prisoners were brought every day to break rocks. The cave (left) was the only protection from the sun.  When a former prisoner returns, he places one stone on the pile (center).

After a bus tour of sights outside the prison, tourists disembark to enter the prison. Only former prisoners may serve as guides inside the prison.

Our guide, now 63,  was a young man when he was sentenced to hard labor on Robben Island.  He knew Madiba.
A communal cell that accommodated up to 60 prisoners. The mats are beds.  None of the cells are heated, and at 34 degrees south latitude winters are cold.
A prisoner ID card
Hall in the cell block where Madiba and other were held in solitary confinement.
The cell for prisoner 46664, Madiba, the 466th prisoner to arrive on Robben Island in 1964.   Prisoners were only referred to by a number.  The bucket is the toilet.
Hall in Madiba’s cell block.
Prisoners were allowed one 30-minute visit per year and could write and receive one letter per year.  Outgoing and incoming mail was heavily censored.
Guard tower at the prison entrance

The lesson of Robben Island is displayed on the mural at the dock:  “Freedom Cannot be Manacled.”

The dock on Robben Island.

The return trip on the ferry provides excellent views of Table Mountain and the Cape Town waterfront.  20170603_044242_resized

Climbing Table Mountain was my next adventure in Cape Town and will be covered in the following post.