Monday, July 25, 2011

Experiences of a lifetime

If you want to connect with a person, you have to appreciate and respect their history. This goes for individuals and nations alike. It is not enough to travel to a place and see beautiful sites, eat wonderful food, and take home a souvenir, if you want to experience the culture you must step away from your own opinions and listen as they tell you of their own trials and sacrifices.
On Saturday, 16 July, I had the exceptional opportunity to visit Robben Island. This small island, just outside of Table Bay, is the location of a maximum security prison which housed political prisoners during Apartheid. It is where Nelson Mandela spent eighteen years of his life. And where many others who combated racial segregation spent the majority of their adult life.

Cell Seven - Nelson Mandela. 46664.
 And there I was. A young American, eighty-six hundred miles from home, sharing the experience with a South African who had never been to the island before. I tried to not think of blame, but instead I was intrigued by how any man could spend so much time in such conditions and not lose his sanity. It was very unique for me to just sit next to my friend and feel the range of emotions that came with this place. Perhaps a hint of shame for be associated with the group "responsible" but also a great deal of respect and admiration for the individuals who found the courage to hold on to their beliefs when everyone was against them.  No matter what your political beliefs may be you have to recognize that these men performed an incredible feat.

Up to sixty men would share this one room and a bathroom with only three showers.
 It was interesting for me to see some similarities between my own country and a country that is geographically so different. I kept coming back to my belief that we are all the same no matter what our country, color, or opinion. I challenge you to find any country in the world who has not struggled in some way, who's government has not made wrong decisions, or who's people who have not, on occasion, tried to suppress another group.

Robben Island has a diverse history that goes far beyond the prison itself. It was also home to a leper colony and utilized as a military base. It also has an incredible population of birds (about 132 different species) along with a variety of introduced plants.

Once our tour was complete, we returned to the mainland and enjoyed a late lunch at the waterfront. Then we headed up to Table Mountain, arriving on the top around 16:30. This was perfect timing because we were able to walk around and explore a little of the mountain before sitting at watching the sunset over the beautiful Atlantic swells. When we heard the bell signaling the last cable car we decided that it might be a better idea to hurry over and join the queue instead of getting stuck to walk down the mountain in the dark. Without a light. Or (in my case) a proper jacket. The good news is that we did not get left behind and were able to watch the last rays of the spectacular setting sun as we walked to the car.

I couldn't help but feel like I was on top of the world!

A beautiful end to a spectacular day!

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