a view into the sordid life i lead

Monday, February 28, 2005

Robben Island - part 2

The tour at RI comes in two parts - the first is an hour (or slightly less) drive in a large bus around the different parts of the island with a tour guide explaining what everything is. The second is a tour through the inside of the facilities - i.e., a walk through the cellblocks. The former is mostly informational, and there are a couple of gut-wrenching moments when you're told what the working conditions were, and what kind of treatment some of the inmates received.

The touristy high point is the limestone quarry where the political prisoners worked year-round.

Limestone is pretty white, and the African sun is not something to be trifled with. Basically it's blinding to work without eye-protection, and brutalizes the body due to heat and drying. It's also the point where apparently a lot of the political education took place. There's a small cave that the prisoners would rest in - toilet, lunch, etc. - and this became "Robben Island University", where the prisoners surreptitiously educated each other. There's a pilo of rocks at the entrance to the quarry. During a reunion that Mandela and a bunch of other ex-political-prisoners had on the Island, they all visited the quarry. After a few minutes Mandela split from the crowd picked up a rock from the grounds and placed it at the mouth of the quarry. Touched by the act, all the other prisoners also did the same, and that's how the pile has come to be. The tour-guides like to point all this out, and it's where the kleenex needs to be passed out, and the violins need to kick in. Yeah I'm a cynic, but hey I welled up too!

Every so often you hit a tour-guide that you feel is just outstanding and you want to go hug them. This guy was not it! Outside of his tear-jerker moments (which I think are probably common to all the guys that work on RI), he was about as obnoxious as you could get. Cocky, arrogant, and borderline rude. Best of all, at the end of the trip he suggested that we could tip him if we felt like it. A lot of the bus handed him R10 notes (about $1.75). I, being the one to hold by principles, did not. Showed him!


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