Mallory Primm
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How to run a (Half) Marathon and Get a Private Tour of Robben Island without Even Trying

April 20, 2009 @ 6:26 AM | Permalink

Cape Town in beautiful. The coastline curves, loops back on itself, points, bends, and does its best to obscure your sense of direction. Majestic Table Mountain rises up behind the city – or is it in front – and keeps the encroaching urban areas in check with forbidding gorges and overwhelming inclines. And Cape Town is indeed the “Rainbow City”. The colorful slag of the coloured community rings out in thick accents from the beeping minibus taxis careening dangerously towards town. The clicks of Xhosa rattle off of the flicks of fingers braiding invisibly small brides outside the bus station. Afrikaans ankles, sturdy and sun burnt plod along the Waterfont. White-robed men streaming from the mosque stand out against the pastel pallet of rows of Bo-Kaap houses. And always the mountain stands watch over the city and the sea beyond.

We came to Cape Town to run the Two Oceans Marathon, billed as the most beautiful in the world. There are two options: a 56 kilometer ultra marathon that is indeed beautiful and does indeed offer views and salty air of two oceans and a 21 kilometer race which snakes through the suburbs, never seeing an ocean. I participated in the latter after months of not training. In fact, since signing up for the race I ran a total of two times, both for less than 40 minutes. As I had hoped, youth, arrogance and the need to use the bathroom pushed me to the end. I completed the race, despite the lack of bathrooms along the route. I am not a runner.
The museums of Cape Town were interesting: we saw huge gold earrings from West Africa at the Gold Museum and haunting ash portraits at the National Gallery; we learned about the snow sculptures in Hardin, China at the Jewish museum. We climbed Table Mountain, scrambling up rocky Skeleton Gorge, up ladders, and across the table which reminded me of a boardwalk through wetlands. We bargained for jewelry in the market, swam with penguins, kayaked with a seal and had Turkish coffee with an old woman. It was all very pleasant.

We also went to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela, Walter Sissou and other ANC leaders were incarcerated for almost two decades. Having just read Mandela’s autobiography, I was eager to see the places he had described in his book. Once on the island, tourists are supposed to proceed to buses for a 45 minute bus tour of the island where they are locked in close proximately to a babbling guide who talks more about how South Africans love Abba than about the island. After about 10 minutes by courage companion risked embarrassment and proceeded to disembark, just as the tour guide was explaining that in Mexico they speak Spanish and in Mozambique Portuguese. We began to walk back toward the prison on foot, when a white pick-up truck with “Agriculture” stenciled on the side stopped to ask what we were doing.

Before we new it, the driver of the truck, a brick layer and plaster worker who has lived on the island for over 11 years, was driving us through the bush on the island. We sailed past the airfield and snuck underground into the loading hold for ammunition for a World War I era gunship. We spotted reindeer as we rode down Lover’s Lane where wardens’ wives would come get their kicks with other wardens’ wives’ husbands. We saw the primary school which is still in use, the lime quarry where Nelson Mandela’s years of toil under the harsh reflection of sun against lime dried out his tear ducts and thousands of abalone shells strewn along the jagged coast and among the various ships’ wreckage.

Lastly, we walked through the prison and saw the cells where the political prisoners were held for their time on the island. Nelson Mandela is a tall man, and even I could not have lain down in the cells except for diagonally. It all seemed so surreal, a fresh coat of paint on the prison walls and a line of tourists all stopping at one cell, like all the others in the hall, to snap a photo of a woolen blanket on the ground. It seems ironic to pay tribute to the ANC, PAC and other political leaders as South Africa’s elections draw near. The ANC is still around, and will probably have its leader, Zuma, win the election just as it had Mandela before. But a cloud of haze hangs over the elections, the party and the man and more and more South African’s lament the political situation and the slow crumbling of a nation that stood so proud to hear Nelson Mandela’s speech when released from the island in the nineties.

My feet are tired and my clothes are dirty. My wallet’s lighter and I’m further from accomplishing my research goals. But I’ve seen Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain, more than 9,000 miles from home and for that I’m grateful.


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A good lesson for us all

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just wondering if you have published any results?

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