Cape Town: Neighbour Goods Market and Robben Island

When I woke up on the 13th of November in Blouberg, it was raining and miserable.  An hour later, when I finally got out of bed, the rain had stopped, the sun was out, and it was turning into a gorgeous day.  We had planned ahead and knew that the Neighbour Goods Market, with its collection of delicious food and drink, would be held that day, and set the GPS to take us to the Old Biscuit Mill in Cape Town.

We were not disappointed.  The old converted warehouse held a veritable cornucopia of sights, smells and tastes from all over the world.  Imagine Granville Island Market, but 1/5 of the size, with ten times the people: the place was packed, hot, a bit stuffy and absolutely fantastic!  We looked around a couple of times, just marvelling at all the different kinds of olives, cheeses, breads, biltong, spreads, honeys, tapenades and food vendors’ wares.  We wrenched ourselves away from food central to take a brief tour of the fashion tent – and promptly spent a lot of money.  Lisa and I now have matching dresses in different colours (mine is navy blue, of course!), and I actually didn’t take mine off for the rest of the day, instead asking the very nice designer to put my clothes in the plastic bag instead.

Back in food heaven we stopped to grab a class of Cap Classique with pomegranate and managed to track down the purveyor of one of the most beautiful eggs benny I’ve ever had.  Lisa and I are both big fans of this dish, and this particular incarnation had a few things going for it.  For starters, it was not on an English muffin, but rather a potato pancake.  Then the traditional bacon, with a healthy portion of smoked salmon as well.  Add the poached egg, hollandaise sauce and some chives, and it was perfection on a plate.

We shared one, so next up was a falafel shwarma.  We had tested both the hummus and falafel on one of our previous rounds of sightseeing, so knew exactly where to go. A bit of tabouleh and some babaganoush and it was veggie’s delight.  By the time we were done stuffing our faces it was nearly 3pm, time for the market to close and time for us to go.

Back in Blouberg, we got ready for our big night out on the town.  Donovan, from J-Bay, lived in the area and we basically left him no choice but to braai for us.  We eventually ended up at his friend’s place, where I won the only game of poker we played, and then went to the strand to hit up Cubana, a popular bar/nightclub chain in SA.  It was a very fun, very late, night, and we had plans for the next day.

Our ferry from the Victoria and Albert Waterfront to Robben Island left at 11am; we made it just in time.  Unfortunately, there was no coffee on board (they did have beer, which was not at all appealing at this point) but after a short ferry ride we arrived at the island and were hustled onto our tour bus.  Our guide, Sedik, showed us around the island, and the tour included the telling of Robben Island’s storied past.  Most recently before it was used as a prison, it was a leper colony, and has always been thought of as a place to house and keep the unwanted of society.  Strangely enough, a few families lived and still live on the island, which has its own store, post office, church and school. 

Sedik took us to the quarry when Mandela and other political prisoners slaved for years.  Basically, they had to quarry rock, hammer it by hand into gravel, move the gravel by hand to another part of the island, and then eventually move it back.  There was also a small cave in the quarry, which was used as a toilet by the prisoners but also as a place of learning, Robben Island University.  There, learned political prisoners discussed and debated, and also taught less literate inmates.  Many of the prisoners earned their degrees during their time at Robben Island, and there was such a demand for learning that eventually the prison actually had to allow books to be brought in.

Sedik himself was actually a prisoner at Robben Island for two years.  He shared his story with us and is quite the motivational and inspirational speaker.  His own life has been forever changed by his history as a political prisoner, and he told us how he was fired from a few jobs when his employers found out about his past.  Eventually, he couldn’t find work, and he spoke with great reverence of his wife who worked steadily to put their children through first school and university.  When the prison was being converted into an attraction, some of his friends suggested that he become a guide.  He first balked at the idea, but then realized the opportunity it presented to not only earn a living, but to educate the world and share his own experience, and there he was.

He left us at the cell block, and another guide showed us Mandela’s cell and one of the mess halls, before the far too short tour was over and we had to get back on the ferry.  On the way back to the waterfront, we saw a pod of dolphins playing in the wake of the boat, and Table Mountain looked pretty incredible looming over the city.

We had lunch at the waterfront, where a sign post showed Vancouver as 16,912km away and then wandered around looking in the shops and buying postcards and souvenirs before heading back to the ranch for the night.

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