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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Explorer Spotlight: Virginia Comella

Impressions of Vietnam & Cambodia

The Temples and Pagodas of Cambodia:

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Angkor Wat, our bucket-list destination is an impressive temple with its many towers and its extensive galleries with walls of bas relief’s honoring long-ago battles and celestial dancers reflecting both Hindu and Buddhist religions. Yet it was just one of many Cambodian temples and pagodas we visited. Six other temples of Angkor near Siem Reap are smaller and equally interesting. Ta Prohm, a temple overrun with massive tree roots reminded me of fake ruins on Disney’s Jungle Cruise, while Bantay Srei’s detailed and delicately carved bas reliefs, and carved monkey guards were captivating. The four faces of Buddha at the Bayon Temple were upstaged by two elephants with red blankets, saddles and passengers lumbering nearby.  Tickets to all are purchased at a many-windowed ticket office reminiscent of Disney World. The crowds, performances of musicians and dancers, and even a hot-air balloon reflected the Disneyfication of the real thing.

We were even more impressed by the beautiful Buddhist temples and pagodas in Phnom Penh and in villages along the Mekong River. The Silver Pagoda on the Royal Temple Grounds with its tiered dragon rooflines gilded with gold and silver, as well as the palace itself were impressive.  Stupas, elaborate carved towers for the cremated remains of the dead, were everywhere.  Especially impressive was the gold-gilded carvings on a stupa in front of a modern glass building.   Every village had its own pagoda with a Buddha facing the river.  The village pagodas also had a line of fruit/vegetable sculptures.

 

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Surprises:

 

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The biggest surprise was the vibrancy, friendliness and enthusiasm of the Cambodian people, especially the children, who were everywhere. A visit with elementary school children was a highlight. We demonstrated the diversity of English, with British, Aussie, Canadian and American accents from our fellow travelers and showed the children on maps and globes where we lived.  Many wanted to become Doctors.

 

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Motor scooters are the substitute for cars throughout both Viet Nam and Cambodia: many more than we see even in DeLand’s Bike Week rally.  They are ridden by women, men and whole families.  They carry buckets, baskets, and construction materials.  Sidewalks are scooter parking lots.  Most of the riders wear face masks, not to protect from pollution, but from sun, since white skin is a status symbol.

 

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French Heritage.
Throughout both Viet Nam and Cambodia, are reminders of  French  Indo-China rule: yellow buildings with red roofs, which include most public buildings such as schools, city halls, post offices, prisons [including the infamous Maison Central (Hanoi HIlton)] and Phnom Penh’s domed Central Market.  French baguettes, pastries, and cafes are other reminders of French rule.

 

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Explorer Spotlight: Jeffery Higgins

The best part of the trip for me from an activity perspective was the downhill mountain biking.  I always thought mountain biking was a technical thing – around rocks, over roots, through a stream – but this was totally different. Daredevil stuff in a beautiful setting.  The speed and the scenery were great.  If anyone thinks they have the guts, I highly recommend this activity in Ecuador or anywhere else.

I think our favorite location was Banos. There was a ton of stuff to do, and we could’ve easily spent another couple of days there without getting bored. Kind of a hippie, ski-village vibe without the snow.  Lots of outdoor activities, decent nightlife.  It’s obviously geared towards tourists without being tacky or “touristy.”  Still hidden off the radar, so easy to take in on a limited budget.

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Doing the sporting activities in a different country was interesting because of the risk element & because of the level of cultural immersion.  I’ve never felt so far from the US or what I considered “normal” life.  Plus, some of the activities were a little dangerous, and because of the language barrier (more on that later), the safety training was very different than you would get for similar activities in the US.  I know we talked about it before, but if anyone is going on this trip, they will enjoy themselves a lot more if they have at least a little experience with whitewater rafting, canyoning, or fairly intense hiking.  You don’t want to be a rookie at everything.

As far as advice for others looking at a trip to Ecuador, tourism seems pretty new to them.  As a result, things there are cheap (since the money-grab hasn’t started yet), there aren’t many opportunities to buy souvenirs (let alone the t-shirts or hats most Americans expect), and the language barrier is VERY real.  Even at a major hotel in the capital city, the desk clerks didn’t really speak English & were not very sympathetic if you didn’t speak Spanish.  I kind of liked this (after all, I want to know I’m in Ecuador, not feel like I’m in Epcot), but people should know what they’re getting into.

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As for the adventure aspect, G Adventures tells you just how physically challenging a trip will be.  Travelers will be wise to listen to them.  I think this trip rated a 4 out of 5 as far as how challenging it was & that was a very accurate rating.  In pretty much every activity there was a real risk of harm and people experiencing minor injuries (twisted ankles/knees, minor falls, blisters, cuts, bruises) throughout the trip.  In addition, because of the altitude & intensity, fitness should be taken into consideration.  You don’t need to be an Ironman triathlete, but you need to do more than walk the dog to get ready to make it through this trip.

 

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Explorer Spotlight: Patricia Bovio

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What made you interested in traveling to Hawaii as a family?

 

We’ve wanted to visit Hawaii for a while. We were also very attracted to what it has to offer and that there are so many different things to do like hiking, sight-seeing, nice beaches, etc.  We got the recommendation of doing a cruise and that was definitely the best option to see different islands without the hassle of traveling in between.

 

What was the best part of Hawaii?

 

We absolutely loved all the islands and what each had to offer. Our absolute winner was Hilo and the excursion to the Kilauea. Seeing the old lava flows and the volcano so close, made for an extraordinary experience that we will never forget. We really got to see Mother Nature in all its splendor.

 

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How would you describe traveling with your 2 year old to Hawaii?

 

Surprisingly it was not too bad (other than the long flights), we were also surprised to see many other families traveling with babies and young kids as well. Because we were doing so many things and constantly changing sceneries, Sophia was busy and entertained. We did not even have to go around everywhere with toys or other things, only plenty of drinks and a few snacks. All the tours we took were very patient and accommodating with us and the baby. The cruise was definitely the best way to go, since we wanted to see more places and did not have to worry about constantly packing and unpacking and the time that consumes. The only disadvantage was the limited space; next time we will definitely look into having a little bit more room.

 

Wanda’s Grand Voyage

Roseborough’s own Wanda Hamm talks about her Grand Voyage around the globe.

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How many days was your cruise?

111 Days. We left on January 4th this year and returned home on April 26th. It was round-trip from Ft. Lauderdale.

How many different ports of call did you go to?

There were 36 scheduled ports, but we missed two of them due to bad weather.
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Why did you decide to go on a grand voyage?

We decided to do the World Cruise to see as much of the world as we could without having to pack and unpack. The cruise ship was our moving hotel. Also, I don’t like to fly, so this was a perfect alternative.

What makes a Grand Voyage different from the other cruises you have gone on?

They roll out the red carpet on the World Cruise.  Holland has Gala Night with nice gifts such as luggage, Waterford Frames, Chocolates, World Cruise Logo Items, and Dinner with the Captain.  There are lots of parties for various occasions.  And the dining experience is above any other cruise I have been on.

What was your favorite experience from the cruise?

We loved all of the ports, but we especially loved Japan – the cities were extremely clean and the people were very friendly and helpful to us as visitors.  Oman was another favorite, we fell in love with the people. Kindness is very important to them.

Why should someone consider a grand voyage?

It is a trip of a life time and exceeds anything you could imagine.  The memories you create and bring back, you will cherish them forever.

Grady’s Travels

by Grady DiGiovanni

 

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Holland America & Overall Cruise Experience

The excitement that goes along with a cruise is contagious, the days before leaving all my friends and my family were so excited for me to be going out of the country for the first time! Since working at Roseborough lots of clients have asked me what cruising was like and before this I wasn’t able to answer the question, but now I can.

Thinking about being inclosed in a 100,000 ton vessel generally wouldn’t be someone’s idea of a good time, but with shows, pools and quiet hide aways to read a good book it quickly became mine. From getting to the port to leaving the port again seven days later i was immersed in a world of wealth and knowledge aboard Holland Americas Ms Eurodam. From the Lincoln Center Stage to the Pinnacle Grille I was treated to a level of service that I wasn’t used to. Everyone was so polite and knew the best way to get the job done and how to cater to their clientele.

Getting on the ship was a smoother process than I originally anticipated, once we got to the port we were swept in line and checked in in a matter of minutes; before heading onto the ship we were offered a kodak moment, then onto the ship to soak up the Fort Lauderdale sun on the Lido Deck before we departed out into the deep blue sea. Watching the coastline disappear behind us was a weird feeling, but once we were out in open water starting the night settling into our cabin those thoughts were far from the fore front. Speaking of cabins, they were so beautiful and nicer quality than I expected. I know we’ve all had bad hotel experiences and I had a thought in the back of my mind that what was waiting for me behind the door; not a spacious room with a nice shower and bath.

Nesting into our cabin, suitcases unpacked and under our beds I spent an hour sitting on our balcony staring up at the stars, watching other cruise ships pass in the night and enjoying the serene feeling of being at sea. Not rocking and rolling thanks to the ship’s stabilizers.

Dining was a dream, the Lido Market had everything from just a sandwich to smoked salmon on toast. There were tons of options for every taste bud. We had the chance to experience two of the three exclusive restaurants on board which were an absolute dream. Pinnacle Grille was evey meat eaters paradise. The steak i had was so buttery and to die for. Tamarind was an asian fusion restaurant that had something for even the pickiest of eaters. I tested my more adventurous side and had some sushi, which wasn’t my cup of tea but everyone else loved it. 

There was an array of choices for nightlife. The Lincoln Center Stage has classical music, then right down the way was BillBoard’s live; any taste of music will be satisfied. There was a show every night on the mainstage ranging from a comedian to a play.

  

Grand Turk

  

Waking up and eating breakfast surrounded by blue water was a cool thing, but waking up and seeing a new island to explore was even better. The process of getting off the ship to Grand Turk was very easy, even with all the other passengers doing the same thing as me. Going down to the first deck we were all greeted with ship staff dressed in white waiting to get us off the ship as quick and painless as possible. Giving the attendant my ship key, I was off with a scan and a smile. The port of Grand Turk was underwhelming, some generic gift shops and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. Scoping out a few lounge chairs me and traveling companions set out towards the crystal blue water outstretched in front of us. Swimming so close to the ship was an experience we even saw some fish! When swimming no longer held our attention we were starting to think not booking an excursion was a bad idea until one of us had the bright idea to rent a golf cart from one of the locals outside the port walls.

I’m sure to someone who’s never been to Grand Turk the idea of renting a cart from a stranger is sketchy idea, and in the beginning it was; but once we were out on the island exploring things we know others on the ship wouldn’t get to see it was worth the $80. We were able to go down small dirt roads and see beaches that no one on those big tour buses were going too. The best thing we came across was an abandoned what would have been a beautiful beach front resort. Dilapidated cabanas and the concrete shell of what would have been a gorgeous pool sitting hauntingly back in the palms and the brush.

San Juan

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The day for me began late and watching the ship pull into port was very interesting. Seeing the wake behind us and another ship on our tail. Getting off the ship again was easy as pie, stepping right off the ship into the area surrounding the port; bombarded with fake purses and taxi’s vying for our attention to take us around the island. My companion couldn’t get far into the port due to mobility issues so I was set off by myself. I wandered around San Juan for a few hours, stepping into shops when I felt inclined but mostly trying to absorb the culture around me. Being the history buff i am I wanted to get into one of the old forts, which I did with forty five minutes to spare before they closed. I sat out on the top of one of the towers and just marveled at the ocean. How clear it was and that out there somewhere was the US and it sunk in that i was away from home.

After the fort was closed, I have an alcove attached to it that was still open to the public and just watched the sun set slowly into the ocean. Watching the locals prance around and try as best as I could to not look like a tourist and marvel at what they see everyday. Once the sun was gone I set my sights back to the port and mosied around the streets coming alive with local nightlife, since two of the four ships that were in port were gone already. With the ship in spitting distance and old San Juan behind me i stopped for a margarita and some nachos and this little shop that was situated right next to my ship, I was able to do my favorite past time, people watch, and enjoy my last few minutes in San Juan.

St Thomas

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Today, I was feeling under the weather. The sun and fresh air was just what I needed. Again like in San Juan I set out by myself to wander the island. First thing that caught my attention was a cable car ride up the mountain that lead to breathtaking views of the island and the ocean surrounding us. The island was bustling with local life just outside the port, crossing the street was interesting because they drove on the different side of the street from us. They had lots of the same shops as us, when I went into a Payless Shoes I even found a pair I was looking for back home but could never get them in my size!

Overall it was a beautiful friendly island and I can’t wait to go back to see the things I missed the first time around.

Half Moon Cay

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For this stop, we had to tender off the ship. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I was told we had to take another ship from our ship to get to the island it certainly wasn’t this. The boat we were ushered onto was a two story contraption. It was not scary or rickety like I imagined, but modern and an easy ride to the island. Getting of the tender boat we were ushered onto the private island with rows and rows of lounge chairs. We spent the day lounging in the sun until we were invited to BBQ on the island with some of the best burgers I’ve ever had!

Sitting in the sun slowly baking and taking in the last day of this wonderful vacation was bittersweet. The ship looming out in the distance a reminder that tomorrow we were being thrown back into the real world. Breathing in the island air one last time before boarding the tender back to the ship, I imprinted the picturesque scenery to my mind.

 


Grady DiGiovanni is the Adventure Assistant and a Travel Agent in the office at Roseborough Travel Agency. If you’d like to ask her more about her travels and experiences, please feel free to contact her.