Thursday, July 9, 2009

This morning we got to sleep in, with an 8 a.m. departure from our hotel, which is conveniently located near the center of Cape Town and not far from the waterfront. We then drove up to the base of Table Mountain, which is a large, flat topped mountain at the southern end of Cape Town. To get to the top, which is at 1067 m above sea level, or about 3500 ft, we had to take a large gondola, the floor of which rotated to give everybody a chance to take in the amazing vistas. Below the gondola, we could see a hiking trail that people can also take to get to the top. That would be quite a hike!

From the top, we had a spectacular view of Cape Town and the surrounding area, including a peak to the west named Lion's Head and another to the east name Devil's Peak. We could even see well out into the Atlantic Ocean! There was also a small shop at the top where we could get postcards and mail them so that we could get a special Table Mountain postmark.

After walking around the top and taking in the views, we rode the cable car back down and drove to the Castle of Good Hope. This castle, originally built by the Dutch in the 1660's, is the oldest standing building in South Africa. When it was built, it was right on the ocean front, but is now over a mile from the ocean due to Cape Town growing through the centuries.

We explored the castle, then went to the waterfront for lunch. Sitting at the cafe looking out over the busy harbor of Cape Town seemed very contrary to what some of us would have expected from Africa. Cape Town, so far, has seemed much busier and more European of a city than Johannesburg was.

From the water front, which has been developed into quite a shopping area resembling Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, we took a boat ride out to Robben Island. Since the early Dutch settlements, this island, whose name in Dutch means Seal Isalnd, has gone through various uses, but at most times was a prison island of some kind. Nelson Mandela and many others who fought against Apartheid were imprisoned there during its more recent history. The prison was closed in the early 90's, and is now a museum and national park.

Sometimes the line for the toilets is just too long, and you can't wait!

We took a bus tour of the island where our guide pointed out the highlights and gave the history of the island. We also saw a few penguins, and many, many oversized rabbits. Our guide was absolutely amazing and quite a story teller. He's accompanied various dignitaries such as Nelson Mandela, Barrack Obama, and Bill Cosby around the island, and had many stories to tell. After the bus, we had a walking tour of the prison building itself, a very solemn place.

When our tour of the prison was complete, we took the boat back to the water front, where we had dinner and did some shopping. When we decided that we could not (or maybe should not is more appropriate) spend any more Rand, we caught a cab back to the hotel for the night.

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