Robben Island Museum Memorial Run

Whilst up in Umhlanga on our usual two week breakaway I saw an advert for the Robben Island Museum Memorial Run and without hesitation entered there and then.  I posted the advert on our girls WhatsApp group and sure enough before long we had (mostly) entered and looking forward to our overseas run.

I admit to not being a water fan and take my hat off to those who swim on a regular basis.  Each morning I admire the Moxy Tribe who congregate at Eden on the Bay for a dip in our ocean.  Kitted out in their goggles and swimming caps they wade into the water without a second thought filled with extreme confidence.  The kinda confidence that I just don’t have.  So I’m going to label myself as a land mammal – and no NOT an elephant!!  A female land tar running mammal.  Let’s leave it right there!

Once the logistics had been sorted such as transport and I must thank our Susan Rheeder for managing this, it was all systems go.  We met at the Total Garage in Blouberg and divided ourselves between three cars.  We travelled in convoy and again thanks to Sue who had arranged underground parking just short of where we needed to be.  It was an easy walk from where we’d parked through to the Nelson Mandela Gateway for the departure to Robben Island.

We had all received notification with regards to which ferry one would be embarking on and as luck would have it, we were all on ferry FOUR.  Janine and Sofia had downed a couple of motion sickness tablets in anticipation of rough seas, but Amanda had quelled our jitters having assured us a calm crossing.  We all trust Amanda explicitly as she has indeed crossed the ocean many a time even sailing from Cape Town to America!  After coffee, loo breaks and lots of chatter we were called to board the Sea Princess.  I checked with one of the skippers and asked where the best spot would be for a calm crossing.  He indicated that it would be just in front of the bar as one entered the ferry.  And there it was, a seat with my name on it.  There was a fellow traveler who was on for a chat and after explaining to him that I made a rubbish companion he upped and left.  So left to my own devices I chose a crossword instead and listened to peals of laughter from the upstairs deck where my fellow runners had chosen to sit.  Thirty five minutes on the water.  For me, more than long enough but I have to admit it wasn’t all bad.  Amanda’s prediction was true to word and we docked without further ado.

We had about fifteen minutes before our race started.  Time enough for the loo – again – and to be able to ditch one’s backpack on our way to the start line.  It was all very relaxed indeed.  After loads of photo’s being taken and listening to a short chat from the grandson of a previous inmate, the hooter signalled it was time to go.  And so we did.  But by now it was 09h00 and getting warmer by the minute.  I have to say and I cannot stress this enough, it was probably one of the most pleasant routes I’ve ever had the pleasure of running.  Almost like going back in time?  Our route not only included that of the coast which was super welcome offering a very slight breeze but that of the history of the Island.  The condition of the Island could do with a bit of a tidy up but the sights soon outweighed this.  I stopped for a moment at The Kramat which is a Muslim shrine to the West of the maximum security prison, and it signifies the relationship between Islam and Robben Island.  Robben Island used to be an important military base and there’s evidence of this still to this day with remaining relics.  The Church of the Good Shepherd (generally known as the Lepers’ Church) was built by the lepers themselves in 1895 to the designs of the distinguished architect Sir Herbert Baker. The money for the church came from the Rev. W.V. Watkins. The stone was quarried on the island.

It was an Anglican church, and only to be used by men and was not provided with pews. It had no pews, because lepers could only stand or lie.

A general infirmary was established on Robben Island in 1846 to receive the chronically sick, insane and lepers and relieve pressure on mainland hospitals. There was over 1 000 lepers on the island at some point. The lepers were all moved to Pretoria in 1930. In 1931 all leper buildings, with the exception of the Church of the Good Shepherd, were burned and demolished.  The graves surrounding the Church of the Good Shepherd are those of lepers who died on the island.

The Power Plant – Robben Island had no electrical power apart from the small generator operated by the light house keeper, Mr Auret. In late 1940, early 1941 a temporary generator was used by the builders. In mid 1941 Anderson visited the Island to arrange for additions to the temporary electrical system used by the builders. He also disguised the temporary building as a corrugated iron shack, which would house two Paxman Ricardo‟s until the main building was built in 1943. The contractor running the temporary generator at the time had connected some street lights in the village on Church Street. A faulty light switch on one of the poles had the effect of providing shocks to anyone touching the old steel telephone poles.

There is just SO much history on this Island.  And to think that we actually had the opportunity of walking/running around here taking it all in at our leisure.  One could quite easily have spent the day strolling around . . . . .if that were allowed. 

But back to the race.  If one could call it that?  As time went on it got hotter and hotter and we were warned up front that there would be no water tables.  The only liquid available was the water bottle given at the beginning of the race and/or the water one carried in a running belt.  I found the route to be a bit shorter than the advertised 10km so once I’d crossed the finish line I kept on going to reach my ten.

Handing in the water bottle whether full, empty or half full secured a medal.  A medal which I shall treasure for ever and ever.  Piles of snack bags were at the ready and came in very handy indeed.  Crisps, coke, breakfast bar and health snacks all in one.  Very nice indeed.  A super large gazebo had been erected at the finish line offering shade, shade and yet  more very welcome shade.  Gee it was HOT!!  Drinks were free and gratis.  Yup no charge for tea and/or coffee.  And my absolute favourite, ice creams were being handed out.  That really made my day as I love a good ice cream!!

Once we were all in and gathered on the common, we heard that when one was ready to return and there was room available on the ferry, there was no set time limit to leave Robben Island.  So we upped our pace a little, grabbed our backpacks from the tent and it was off to the Sea Princess.

But by now and it being midday I felt a little more confident having crossed the water earlier, run my 10km, had a coke and eaten the all important ice cream.  I decided to sit outside on the allocated cushions at the rear of the ferry.  Great to start with.  Little motion on the ocean until about ten minutes in.  Oh my goodness.  The sea horses were out and about, the waves were doing their thing, the sea spray was making it’s presence known and I was starting to feel a little more than more nervous!

I had Sofia on my left and Christa on my right.  I have probably scared Sofia’s leg for life.  I grabbed hold of her leg with one almighty grasp, hoping of course that this would soften the waves.  It didn’t work.  Not one bit.  On my right side, I had the kind and patient Christa who enveloped me in her maternal hug of putting her arm around me whispering prayers of comfort to a very stressed out me!

I did however, with the rest of the crew spot a whale.  Now that was pretty wonderful.  I had last spotted whales and dolphins in the waters of Monterey Bay whilst travelling up to San Francisco.  So beautiful to see these huge mammals in their natural habitat. 

On the ferry there was loads of laughter, chatting more photo’s being taken, time comparisons talked about, and so much more.  But like most things it seemed to be over just as quickly as it started.

This is a day I’ll remember with great fondness for a long long time to come.  Thank you Sue for arranging the transport/parking.   Thank you Christa for my hugs.  Thank you to the organisers Western Province Athletics.  You did one fine job there.  It was nothing less than fantastic.  Please do it again next year!!