I Left a Piece of My Heart in Africa: Part 2

Amanda Vallone

Robben Island

“A symbol of the triumph of the human spirit.” Robben Island is exactly that. The island is off Cape Town, South Africa. You can get there by visiting the VA waterfront and boarding a hydrofoil boat. The ride, as long as the newer hydrofoils are working, will take about 20 minutes in some rough waters. If you have a weak stomach, you’ll want to be cautious about this experience. When we went the fast hydrofoil was broken and in dry dock, so our boat ride took one hour in very rough waters. After the Seal experience and knowing we would be in the same waters, I chose to sit right outside in the open air of the boat. Even after it started raining, I held my seat, and boy was I happy. All of the inside seats were in a confined area, and with no windows to boot if you went in the belly of the boat. If you sat in the front covered section you could see out the front, but got little fresh air.

 

Upon our much-anticipated arrival onto Robben Island, our tour guide of the Island, Nakita, informed us, though rough and rocky, we got a truly authentic experience. The boat we’d taken over to the island was actually a prisoner transport boat in the past.

We began our tour of the island with Nakita by walking through the visitors section. This looked like a sad and lonely area to visit with loved ones and family members. We learned that the prisoners were able to receive 1 letter and 1 personal visit every 6 months. Talk about lonely.3

The island itself was known to have millions of penguins years and years ago. But then the people of the island ate them, and their numbers decreased rapidly. The island also was the first place where one ailed with leprosy would be sent, away from their family, isolated from others.

Along our journey we learned about many of the prisoners, including Nelson Mandela who most of us automatically associate with the island. One that really hit home with me was a man by the name of Robert Sobukwe. Politically, Sobukwe was strongly Africanist, believing that the future of South Africa should be in the hands of Black South Africans.  Robert was a lecturer at the university, family man, and a leader in the ANC followed by the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). His memberships within these organizations, nor his Africanist belief system, were not what got him entry into Robben Island. Rather his political power scared the government with opposing views.

In 1950’s, there was a law that made any black African man or woman carry a “pass book” with them at all times. These pass books were an internal passport designed to segregate the population, manage urbanization, and allocate migrant labor. This law, also known as “the natives law,” required black Africans to carry pass books when outside their homelands or designated areas. These black men and women of Africa could not walk a different route to work, go to a different neighborhood, or really go anywhere outside of their designated work/home combinations included within their passbook without good reason and being checked by the government.

Can you imagine not being able to leave your neighborhood or walk off the path to work for a day without being questioned and showing your passbook? Neither can I!

And Robert Sobukwe did not want to live this type of life either. So he did what any strong, powerful, and vocal person in leadership would do. He led an anti-pass campaign.

Sobukwe organized over 5000 marchers against the pass book law and in turn was arrested for incitement. But here’s the catch: Sobukwe was actually never sent to trial; he was never officially convicted. And he was kept in limbo for years so that the system did not have to call him a “prisoner” as he was awaiting trial.

Because of his in-limbo status, Sobukwe was kept in solitary confinement – his living quarters were separate from the main prison and he was allowed no contact with any other prisoners, nor to speak with the guards. He was, however, allowed access to books and civilian clothes because he was not technically a “prisoner.” But books and clothes did not make his time pleasant. The solidarity and lack of communication with people got him to the point that he told a woman named Helen Suzman that he was actually forgetting how to speak.

It is said that Sobukwe would look at the guards, pick up a fistful of dirt from the earth and let it fall back to the ground or in the wind to tell the guards, his black African brothers from the earth of Africa we all came, “You are the son from the soil of Africa.”

Over the course of his 10 years on Robben Island, he was never officially convicted. He was actually offered a job by the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People and the Montgomery Fellowship for Foreign Aid in the US. Sobukwe applied to leave the country with his family to take up the employment but was denied permission by the Minister of Justice. As we learned, it takes a pretty powerful person for the minister of Justice to vote against one single man. Robert was not even technically a prisoner, he was in limbo from a free man and a prisoner, he literally was not classified a prisoner.

Sobukwe was released from prison in May 1969, but the government was still afraid of his power among his people. Sobukwe was banished to Kimberley, where he was joined by his family. He remained under twelve-hour house arrest and his banning order prohibited him from participating in any political activity. He was also denied a passport or a job until the day he died from lung complications.

What hit home the most to me was how much power the government had against this one man. One man who was never convicted of any crimes. He organized a march defending his own rights. But the government was scared of what he may say to other Black Africans to get them to rise up against their oppressors.

South Africa has changed dramatically since the 50’s, as I believe the whole world has. But the pass-law was abolished, the political prisoners were released, and South Africa has transformed into a loving country known as the rainbow nation, coined by former Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, in 1994 as his neat description for a very multi-cultural, multi-ethnic country.

Interesting things about Robben Island:

  • Robben Island was a maximum security prison. Those who went into maximum security were political prisoners.
    • Minimum security was for the people who were thieves, rapists, murderers… you know, those people who need less security… – whaaaat?
  • Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were kept busy by being put to work in the limestone quarry. The cave is where many of the prisoners, including Nelson Mandela himself, got bad eyesight from the bright lights and reflections of the limestone quarry.
  • There was no real need for the island’s limestone during the time of Mandela. Prisoners would break up the stone and carry it to one end of the quarry one day and then back the next — the work was really just to keep them busy.
  • While working the quarry, many of the prisoners learned to read. Even the guards would participate in the secret lessons sometimes. The rule of the quarry was “each one teach one.”
  • Once the political prisoners were all released and the prison was shut down, a national convention was held a few years later. Each of the prisoners were asked to come back to the prison and offer tours to visitors.
  • One of the former prisoners, and now guide and leader in the ANC, explained that the tour is not a museum to hatred. Visiting Robben Island should provide a lesson in reconciliation.
  • Over 1000 people were buried on Robben Island, most in unmarked graves.

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  • Nelson Mandela clearly describes his cell (which you see at the end of the tour) in his book, A Long Walk to Freedom. It really is quite cramped and nothing I would wish upon my worst enemy.

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  • There was a reunion at Robben Island. Many of the ex-political prisoners visited the island in which they were imprisoned for years. Many of these leaders reflected on their lives, planned for the future, and ended with a ceremony of the ex-prisoners picking up a rock from the quarry and placing it within a pile, one last time. To date, you see the pile of rocks they left there. And if you visit Johannesburg, as we did later in our trip, you will find rocks outside of Nelson Mandela’s home.

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Wine Lands… Wine Farms

Stellenbosch is a town in the Western Cape that feels like you are being transported to a small vineyard town in France or Italy. The views are simply spectacular! All of the little villas on the side of the street are B&B’s, with wineries in the background. While we were in Stellenbosch, we visited a local winery and spa that was amazing. The Close Wine Estate Winery & Spa was where we enjoyed a wine tasting and food pairing with all of the local delicacies. To be truthful, the food was quite as delectable as my favorites in Spain and France. I would even venture to say, since I am on a white wine kick right now anyway, South Africa has some of the best white wines I have ever had. Some of that love may be due to the amazing trip, but either way I can say visiting a winery and enjoying some wine while in South Africa is a MUST!

Fun & Interesting Tidbits:

  • Vineyards are called Wine Farms in South Africa.
  • In the early 1700’s, one of the world’s most famous wines was produced right from South Africa, so I’d say they’ve been doing this for a while.
  • Pinotage was one of the reds I was pleasantly surprised by. It is South Africa’s very own grape variety – a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. Pinotage was more dense and had notes of spices, chocolate, and even fruit flavors, including raspberry and blueberry.
  • Chenin Blanc is the most planted grape variety in South Africa. The wines hold peachy and floral undertones, but don’t let that make you think the wine is sweet; this white wine is slightly dry and quite refreshing.

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Dinner and Drumming

While in Cape Town, we decided to enjoy a themed dinner at GOLD, a dinner and drumming experience. This was described as a taste safari of foods that will transport you from Cape Town to Timbuktu.  We received about 15 tastings of very interesting foods. Each came with a description of the ingredients as well as the area of Africa it was derived from. Each of us got some paint on our face as a traditional décor. And every chair had a drum on it.

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When the performers came out they were energetic, charismatic, and informative. We all learned to play the drums as well as got an extraordinary show. This evening was so much fun! We all loved Dinner and Drumming, and were very happy to have gotten the opportunity to enjoy the experience.

Interesting Facts:

  • When you visit GOLD, the queen actually scatters 24 karat gold on each person. My husband, George, may or may not have tried to collect the remnants scattered on the table… hehe.
  • You will have the opportunity to dance with and be visited by the very tall, yet graceful Mali Puppets as they dance around your table accompanied by drummers, dancers and singers.

Is it handicap accessible? NO. Though, in all of the brochures GOLD is in fact considered handicap accessible, their definition of accessibility is quite different than mine and standards in the US. It simply means they have a handicap toilet… on the second floor. All of the dinner, drumming, and dancing takes place – you guessed it – on the second floor. And there are no elevators in this building. So, if you are looking to experience GOLD and are confined to a wheelchair, it will be difficult to say the least.

Now, when I asked if there was a lift or elevator the women of GOLD said no, we have strong men. And they were not joking! If visiting GOLD is on the top of your Live It list, just call ahead, they will literally make accommodations to carry a wheelchair up the two flights of stairs. Talk about customer service!

My experience: So I already mentioned my mom is in a wheelchair. She can walk, just not far, and certainly not up two flights of stairs. But my mom is also a determined explorer. So, what did my mom do? She slowly and with help climbed the two flights of stairs. With tears in all of our eyes, my mom made it to the top. She enjoyed the evening so much that she said to me, “Amanda, do not be upset that it was not handicap accessible. I am happy I climbed the stairs, and I would do it again for this experience.”

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Is it child friendly? Of course! What little kid doesn’t want to beat on a drum all night long and not get in trouble for it? Face painting to boot? A match made in heaven for the wee ones. My Aurora the Explorer absolutely LOVED this evening and experience.

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So as you can read, we fit a heck of a lot into our few days in Cape Town… but everyone was really looking forward to the next stop – Victoria Falls.

Read my next blog to learn about our lookout from the edge of the earth… literally.

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Keep your eyes open for more about the rest of the trip!

 

Want to learn more about traveling to Africa? Our travel professionals at Roseborough Travel would be happy to answer any questions you have and help you plan the perfect vacation! http://roseboroughtravel.com/

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I Left a Piece of My Heart in Africa: Part 1

— Amanda Vallone

 

On September 21, 2017, of group of 19, including my family, and myself departed Daytona Beach for our very own African Adventure. None of us knew what was in store. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I watched every movie, read every lonely planet blog and article, spoke with my Salute Africa Rep more times than was humanly possible, and (tried) reading as many books as I could about the culture, destination, and trip… But the fact was: none of our 20 extremely well-traveled explorers had ever stepped foot in Southern Africa. Kenya, yes; Egypt, sure; Asia, a dime a dozen; Europe, almost everyone. But this African Adventure was a first for us all… In so many ways.

We were picked up in style from Roseborough Travel via luxury limo bus to make our way to the Daytona airport so we could have a nice and smooth departure out of our nearby airport.

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I won’t sugar coat this part; our flight was cancelled due to engine failure. We were extremely happy they figured that out while we were still on the ground!2

We were re-accommodated on a later flight, but we missed our first day in Cape Town because of the delayed flight and missed connection (thank God for travel insurance and pre-nights).

After many hours of flying, we finally arrived in Cape Town, South Africa, to a very cosmopolitan airport, that in my opinion was more streamline and even more lovely than most we have here in the states (this was my first pleasant surprise). As soon as we grabbed our luggage and walked out the exit gates we saw James, our tour director for Cape Town (our next very pleasant surprise).

The very courteous, pleasant, informative, and yes, handsome, James brought us to our home for the next 3 nights, the Southern Sun Cullinan, a waterfront area hotel in Cape Town with free shuttle access to the VA waterfront.

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The hotel was our third and most amazing pleasant surprise of the evening. Yes, I looked at every photo online. I read all of the trip advisor reviews.  But this hotel is rated a 4* hotel, and when you are going to another country, 4* is a different standard than we as U.S. travelers are used to. There is a sliding scale of the rating standards. OMG, we pulled up to the Taj Mahal of hotels (okay, I might be exaggerating slightly…). After spending 2 days on airplanes, though, this did feel spectacular.

The Southern Sun Cullinan gets its name from the largest Diamond in the world. It was found in the diamond mines in Africa, and when the diamond cutter went to make his first cut he passed out from the stress. This diamond now sits in England on the crown jewels.

Table Mountain

Prominently overlooking the city of Cape Town, this 600 million year old flat-topped mountain is one that is not to be missed. With its own rich diversity of plant life distinct to the Cape alone, it is no wonder Table Mountain is one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of Nature.’ You can see Table Mountain from all over Cape Town, but you cannot truly say you have taken in all of its glory, or truly visited Cape Town for that matter, until you have stood on top.

So if the day is clear and you get out early enough in the morning, you must get to the top of Table Mountain. We had pre-arranged tickets thanks to Salute Africa and Roseborough, which cut our wait time down by over an hour and a half on that day. The short ride in the cable car was fun; it spun slowly so that no matter where you were standing you could see different views — and yes, we saw many mountain climbers making their way to the top (eeek!).

After reaching the top there was a nice coffee shop and a gift shop, plus a ton of area to walk around. From the top you could see so many beautiful sights including: Devil’s Peak to the east, Lion’s Head to the west, the dramatic backdrop of the city of Cape Town, Signal Hill, the City Bowl, and Table Bay Harbour. The highest point on Table Mountain is towards the eastern end and the views are simply fantastic.

Fun Fact: There are more indigenous plants on Table Mountain alone than in all of Great Britain.

And there were these little animals called the Dossie. They looked like a large rodent, but they’re actually the closest living relative to an elephant.

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If you’re a thrill-seeker but climbing up the mountain isn’t enough for you, maybe rappelling down the mountain is more your style? It’s actually abseiling off Table Mountain (backward rappelling) that you would be doing. And though no experience is necessary, it is not for the faint of heart. Our Adventurous Explorers looking to partake in this will have a helmet and be hooked to a cable with a harness and a pulley system as they take their 367 foot long controlled descent off of Table Mountain. Truth be told, I would totally do this (it’s my kind of crazy). But even to me it looked slightly unnerving. I mean it when I say, you really can’t say you’ve visited Cape Town until you’ve stood on top of Table Mountain, or abseiled to the bottom (and maybe left some of your breakfast there).

Is it wheelchair accessible? Yes! Workers took my mom in her wheelchair, as well as a few walking with canes, up an elevator ahead of the group so they would not need to stand in line.

Child friendly? YES! Especially if you dose your kid with hot cocoa like I did.

How to dress? You must wear clothes… hahaha. Okay, but seriously, Cape Town was fairly chilly and we felt it there at the top of the mountain — burr…

Hout Bay

Also known as ‘Wood Bay,’ Hout Bay is a town about a 30 minute drive from Cape Town, South Africa. At the southern tip of Africa, where two of the world’s greatest oceans converge, a total experience of land, sea and the rainbow culture of the Western Cape offer you the most exciting land based whale watching venues in the world! It is also generally referred to as the entire valley, and the boarding the Cape Peninsula. For the sake of this blog, I refer to Hout Bay as the general area or the entire Valley.

Chapman’s Peak Drive

The 30-minute scenic drive from Cape Town, known Chapman’s Peak Drive, is all about incredible scenery. It was most easily related to our amazing drives along Big Sur in California — by the way South Africa looks more like Hawaii and Northern California than any other destination we could relate it to.

Known as the “Chappies” to residents, Chapman’s Peak is the rocky coastal roadway overlooking Noordhoek and Hout Bay. It is also where we were able to see whales (humpbacks making their way with their young from Antarctica), boulders, seals, and baboons. And to our surprise Chapman’s Peak Drive also forms part of the route for the Cape Argus Cycle Tour and the Two Oceans Marathon. The winding cliff roads made our entire group think these people might be crazy, but who are we to judge?

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Seal Colony

When one thinks of Africa, she normally would think of the big 5 Game animals — specifically Lions, Rhinos and Elephants… But South Africa is home to many more species of quite amazing creatures. The South African Cape Fur Seals are the only species of seal to form permanent colonies in Africa. These Cape Fur Seals can be found in South Africa and Namibia.

We took a boat, the Nauticat, out into False Bay to see a colony of Fur Seals. There was at least 150 of them living on this big rock formation out there. The boat ride took about 30-45 minutes, and it was pretty rough and choppy.

I would highly recommend sitting outside and in the front of the boat — I know the front is not where one who gets seasick would normally sit, but this was where the best wind/breeze came from. Do NOT sit inside the boat, like my family did, unless you have a spectacularly strong stomach.

I sat in the back of the boat outside for most of the trip and had a nice ride, but once we arrived to the seals the front was so crowded that it was hard to capture the amazing pictures everyone else got. The seals were barking, jumping, going wild with anticipation (the probably though the tourists looked quite similar to them because we were all so excited, too). It almost seemed like they were putting on a show for us.

Boulder Beach

After a beautiful drive and quite full day, we made our way out to the next most unique animal, in my opinion, for South Africa. And it also just so happens to be one of my favorite animals — the PENGUIN!21

Boulder Beach is located off a picturesque drive in Simons Town, and is unique to an endangered land-based colony of African Penguins. This colony of cute little birds is one of only a few in the world, making the site famous to locals and international visitors.

There are only about 2100 penguins at Boulder Beach, which may seem like plenty for your one stop for the day, and it is quite enough in terms of a “tourist” hot spot to visit. But the sad yet harsh reality is that this colony of incredible animals was moved from the Vulnerable to the Endangered Species list for good reason. The beach was turned into an animal sanctuary in 1983 after seeing an 80% decrease in the population worldwide, which helped considerably for a while. The census of penguins had grown in 2005 to 3900, but then in 2011 decreased back down to 2100 birds. I am so thankful I had the opportunity to visit Boulder Beach and see these birds.

Fun facts about the beach & penguins:

Come one, Come all! – The beach itself is ideal for children as immense boulders shelter the cove from currents, wind and large waves. The Penguin walking area is also a great spot for the wee ones. Not only are you teaching your young about the beautiful birds of the world, but it really is just fun. I brought my very own mini-explorer Aurora, and she loved it!

Thou Shall Keep Thy Hands to Thyself! – Seriously, don’t touch or feed the penguins unless you want to be left with a nub. These birds may look cute and cuddly, but their beaks are as sharp as razors and if they feel threatened they have no qualms about nipping a finger or nose. And as mentioned earlier, you have 2100 of those beaks to compete with.

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Walkways, Parking, and Viewing – Within the park itself, the Boulders consists of 3 beaches, 1 penguin viewing area, and 3 boardwalks. The boardwalks were built to allow for safe and beak-injury-free viewing of these wonderful birds. There are specific viewing hours and limited parking, so depending on the season you go, be sure to arrive with sufficient time and the ability to search for parking. Parking is available at either end of the park, on Seaforth Rd and on Bellevue Rd.

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Wheelchair Accessible – Yes, kind of. So you will see that I often, especially on this trip, talk about wheelchairs or special needs. Though I in no way use a wheelchair or accommodation, my mom who travels with me quite often has been in a wheelchair since I was four years old. She can walk a little, but not long distances. So this is important for this area. Wheelchairs – YES! All the viewing areas have ramps and are on boardwalks so it is wheelchair accessible. Just be careful to park in the regular lot. There are regular parking lots, and then there is alternative parking pretty far out. If you go park further away, you will be directed down a beautiful walking path covered in sand. Anyone who has pushed a wheelchair before knows it is not easy to push one through sand (remember you are on a beach). So, as long as you park in the regular lots- you are golden!

Who are you calling a Jackass?!? The aquatic birds were formerly called Jackass Penguins due to their donkey-like braying. You have the biggest chance of really “getting this” noise and experience from March–May.

Cape of Good Hope

Known as one point with one million points of view, and home to the famous sign most people who visit South Africa get their photo in front of showing “furthest point South West,” Cape of Good Hope. Cape Point is in the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve within Table Mountain National Park. Cape Point is a narrow stretch of land that encompasses beautiful valleys, beaches, plant life, and over 250 bird species.  This really was an amazing stop for the day.

As we entered the nature reserve, we were greeted with troops of baboons lining the roadway. This was our first experience seeing so many all at once — they later turned into sightings for us like Sandhill Cranes in Central Florida, or even alligator sightings here or deer sightings up north (pretty common, yet still pretty freaking cool).

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Things to see:

Lighthouse – In 1859, the lighthouse was put at the highest peak above sea level to help protect the sailors coming into the bay.  By day, it was a navigational landmark and by night, and in fog, it was a menace plagued by violent storms and dangerous rocks that over the centuries littered shipwrecks around the coastline. The lighthouse still stands there today, and you can visit it to look out on the coast of South Africa.

What the Funicular? – We took an exhilarating ride on the Flying Dutchman, a funicular that departs the bottom of the mountain every three minutes. The Flying Dutchman Funicular is believed to be the only commercial funicular of its type in Africa, and takes its name from the local legend of the Flying Dutchman ghost ship. So what is it? It is like a tram ride, but rather than being suspended from above, this cart is run on a rail system. It’s pretty cool and it saves you from going up the many steep steps and through the endemic fynbos (meaning fine bush) on the hike to the top.

Wheelchair accessible? YES! Mom got onto the flying Dutchman in her wheelchair and I had a few others with canes or walkers that were accommodated with seats. 40 people can fit into this trolley-type car, and it is totally worth the ride.

Also Known As: In 1488 Bartolomeu Dias named the shipwrecked point, ‘Cape of Storms’. The ‘Point’ was treated with respect by sailors for centuries.

All these views, now I’m hungry! – No need to worry, you do not have far to go — the Two Oceans Restaurant is where we had lunch for the day, and it was incredible! We of course had group reservations and our meal was included in the tour — Thank you Salute Africa for recommending this! I got the fish, of course! And it was superb. Also, the wine, produced right in South Africa, was not only quite tasty, but extremely affordable. A glass was about $3 — HELLO! The Wine-o in me rejoices! Two Oceans even made a special kid’s meal for Aurora the Explorer. Oh, the views weren’t too shabby either. The whole back side of the restaurant overlooks the bay and is ceiling to floor glass, giving patrons the most spectacular views. The restaurant is as famous for its seafood as it is for its views, including a superb wooden deck that looks out onto one of the most stunning ocean views in South Africa.

 

Stay tuned for more!

 

Want to learn more about traveling to Africa? Our travel professionals at Roseborough Travel would be happy to answer any questions you have and help you plan the perfect vacation! http://roseboroughtravel.com/

Adventures through Australia & New Zealand, Africa, Italy, or Germany

Collette Tours representative Wald was just in the office this weekend to present some exciting adventures throughout the WORLD!!!

We have all decided we want to visit Africa, experience the Serengeti- migration of animals, safaris, aborigines, beauty and awe of Mt. Kilimanjaro…  LETS GO!!!

Only until MONDAY 11/8/2010 you can get $50 off any land tour through Collette and $200 off Australia and New Zealand if booked by MONDAY!!!