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  • Writer's pictureTim and Lindsey

Doing Bird and Studying Bird - Day 394

A visit to Robben Island where many people had been imprisoned there, doing bird. And Studying Bird is what our friend's son does, who we met later. What a delightful young man.

We have achieved another 291 points on the Lonely Planet’s Top 500 List around the World. Table Mountain on Monday was a whopping 458 points! Our scores were from visiting Robben Island (Dutch for “seal”, as many live here, not that we saw any).

The island has been used as a prison for centuries, with the Dutch in the 17th Century holding political prisoners and royalty from their various colonies, including the Prince of Madura. He died there in 1754, and in 1969 the Moturu Kramat was built to commemorate him and is now a sacred site for Muslims.

In the early 1800s, Xhosa leader Makanda Nxele was given life imprisonment on the island by the British. He drowned trying to escape. The mid-1800s the island was used as a leper colony. One of our guides informed us that despite the genders being kept separate, babies were stillborn here.

It was from 1961 that the South African Government as part of the Apartheid system used the island for political prisoners and well as common criminals. These were put into the same prisons, to begin with, but then separated as the political prisoners were educating the criminals and giving them ideas! Of course, many of you will know that it is famous for incarcerating Nelson Mandela where he was held a prisoner for 18 of his 27 years behind bars. To date, two other former inmates of Robben Island have gone on to become President of South Africa: Kgalema Motlanthe and Jacob Zuma.

Our guide at the maximum security prison was Peter, who arrived as a political prisoner at the age of 18 and remained here for 18 years. It must be weird being a free man and showing people around where you were held captive for your formative years as a young man. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the best person for the job. We couldn’t hear him very well. He would shout the start of the sentence and then lower his voice so much that we had to strain to listen to him and the group was far too big. I felt for this lovely man.

The jail was very sparse. I think that the Robben-Island Museum, Cape Town could have made it far more sensory rich, with videos of previous inmates (which are on their website), examples of the food they ate, tools that the prisoners use for 8 hours of hard labour for 5 days a week at one of the three quarries etc. This place is significant to the recent history of South Africa. Freedom of voice, equality and respect of all people, learning from the past, yet moving forward from a place of peace and love is key for the future of this beautiful country.

After the tour, we walked back to the coach, and I started to chat with a lovely lady called Albertina. She originated from Zimbabwe and was in Cape Town for her nephew’s wedding. It turns out that she used to work in Homerton Hospital, Hackney, where both our sons were born and now works at Whipps Cross Hospital, where we often would visit Tim’s Dad when he was poorly, and she now lives in Chadwell Heath, which was where I lived in my early 20s! What a small world!

Back on the coach, we were driven around the small island of the 12km circumference, and our young tour guide pointed out places of interest such as the building where Robert Sobukwe, founder of the political party PAC was held in solitary confinement, separate from all other prisoners for six years. Sadly we only passed this building, it was a bit like being herded like cattle. Despite there being photos of his prison online, we didn’t have the opportunity to stop and see for ourselves.

We arrived back on the mainland a lot earlier than expected and in the evening were meeting our friend Sue’s son Kyle at the Blue Bird Garage Food and Goods Market in Muizenberg. As we got there early, we had a wander around the streets. We were intrigued to see quite a few mosaic fish on the walls of houses, some colourful, some just made from mirrors. Anything like this I have to research and I have discovered that Mosaic Muizenberg was part of a festival project and contribution to Cape Town World Design Capital in 2014.

A renowned mosaic artist and Muizenberg resident Sue Beattie from Muizaic Mosaic Studio was instrumental in this project with the aim to put Muizenberg on the map as a public art destination. What a great idea and I think that this has been achieved.

We got to the Blue Bird Garage Market inside a large, beautiful old postal plane hangar. First was a small room with designers selling various clothes and jewellery, a stall with secondhand books and then, as we approached the main room, a cacophony of smells reached our nostrils and colours of vibrant salads, sushi and smoothies were displayed on the wooden stalls in this eclectic, trendy place.

We found three seats at the end of a long bench and, after each finding our own choice of food, sat and chatted. What a delightful young man Kyle is. Sue, you must be so proud of him. He is fascinating to talk with, so enthusiastic about nature conservation and birding. This passion arose from his time in the Tuli block as a youngster, been given a book on birds and then competing with his family as to how many birds they could each see. He now sees this as life’s big competition. Kyle had just returned from Blyde Canyon in Mpumalanga where he was volunteering for 7 days with BirdLife South Africa. He is part of an annual survey team and was there spotting the illusive Taita Falcon. We could tell from the spark in his eyes that he was so thrilled to be able to see 16 of these incredible birds and even was able to film one feeding. There is something so special to spend time with a person who is passionate about a subject, whatever it may be, and to feel that energy, that aliveness within them.

In between asking about our trip, Kyle shared about being part of a project within UCT where for 3 months he was climbing trees to find 28-day old Black Sparrowhawk chicks. He carefully lowers them down in a net so that the scientists could tag and take various measurements as part of their studies. Kyle will be joining UCT in January to complete his honours degree in Biological Science, and with his passion, dedication and wonderfully friendly nature, we are sure he will do very well. It was an absolute pleasure meeting him, and we hope we will meet him again in the future one day.

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