Go Directly To Jail


This blog entry about the events of Wednesday, March 03, 2004 was originally posted on March 04, 2004.

DAY 137:  After the seven-hour flight — which included a screening of Intolerable Cruelty, some of Disney’s The Haunted Mansion, some Super Nintendo and hardly any sleep with all the noise coming from the rowdy Argentine rugby team on board — I touched down in Cape Town, South Africa’s international airport, five time zones ahead of Buenos Aires (seven from New York City).  The weather was gray and rainy but I knew things would be looking up; for the first time ever in The Global Trip 2004, I was in an English-speaking country and didn’t have to think so hard before speaking.  However, little did I know that morning that I’d be in prison by that evening.

THE PASSPORT CONTROL LINE WAS PACKED, but there was no way around it.  While waiting, the line attendant told me to get my passport and return ticket ready — which was a problem because, planning to travel overland to Namibia out of South Africa, I didn’t exactly have one.  This requirement wasn’t unheard of; I needed one to get into Ecuador and one to get into Brazil.  Both these times, people warned me in advance so I could buy a refundable return ticket so I wouldn’t be surprised at the customs line upon entering — like I now was.  Looking ahead at people at the counter ahead of me, the passport officer stamped their passport and their outbound ticket.

When it was my turn, I explained my situation with the only thing I had:  a ticket from Windhoek, Namibia to Harare, Zimbabwe via Johannesburg.  The woman interrogated me with my further travel plans, but in the end, stamped what I had and let me on my way.

I TOOK A SHUTTLE BUS INTO TOWN with a couple of Argentine girls, a couple of Swedish guys and a couple from Austria.  Riding on the modern highway passed shantytowns and mountains, and through Cape Town’s modern city center, I arrived at The Backpack, one of the better budget accommodations in town for about $15 (US) — three times more than what I normally paid in South America, but still cheap for Cape Town.  I got a dorm bed in the secure complex with a bar/cafe, living room, swimming pool, kitchen, courtyard, laundry and internet.

There was a group of Americans checking in before me, taking up a lot of time.  Ingmar, the check-in guy of Dutch descent apologized for the delay.

“No problem, I have all day,” I told him.

“That’s a good attitude to have; you’re in South Africa now.”

SITTING AT THE BAR, I befriended Derek, an Englishman living in New Zealand on holiday who, like many others, had rented a car for his stay in South Africa.  He offered me a lift to the waterfront on his way to a museum.  I sat on the left side of the car, which rode on the left side of the road and was dropped off right by Victoria Wharf, an oceanfront pier and shopping/dining complex constructed in an old Dutch motif.  Cape Town was founded by the Dutch in 1634 and much of its influence is still evident in modern day, from the physical features in some of the people to the language Afrikaans, the South African language heavily derived from Dutch.  The African influence wasn’t eradicated though, and I heard it right away when I encountered an African acapella group singing and dancing for a crowd.  Hearing their spiritual melodies, it had really sunk in that South America was behind me and Africa had begun.

VICTORIA WHARF WAS THE EMBARKATION POINT for my first excursion on my first, and rainy day in Africa: Robben Island, the former concentration camp-like prison-turned-World Heritage Site and museum where political prisoners such as Nelson Mandela were once help captive during the racist age of apartheid.  The Robben Island Museum at the ferry station had exhibits about the turbulent era in history, with photographs, old anti-apartheid propaganda posters and touch screen video presentations.

A jet catamaran took me and about three dozen tourists to the site, about ten kilometers off shore through shark-infested waters — convenient for the former wardens when threatening the prisoners with no chance of escape.  Once on the island, we hopped on a bus where our tour guide Dan explained the stories of the different sites of interest. 

Robben Island has an intriguing past, from being a waiting station for early explorers, a leper colony, a criminal prison, a political prisoner prison (and sometimes simultaneously both) and a military base.  Dan told us the story of Robert Sobukwe, a political prisoner that was sentenced to four years in a small, fenced off house by himself without any privileges to talk to anyone — not even the guards.  It ultimately led him to throat problems and insanity.  Four years without talking, man — if only we could give that sentence to someone who deserves it, like Joan Rivers or Fran Drescher.

After a visit to the quarry, where prisoners were forced into hard manual labor, Dan asked, “Who wants to go to jail?”

Everyone replied positively.

“Before, people were forced into jail with handcuffs and now times have changed.  People will pay up to one hundred fifty rand to go.”

THE BUS BROUGHT US TO THE FORMER MAXIMUM SECURITY PRISON, where we were greeted by Pheneas Poho, a former prisoner-turned-tour guide who, now free, lived on the island in one of his former warden’s big houses.  The prison tour started in a big room where Pheneas was once held captive during his stay from 1985-1990.  He slammed the door dramatically and began his tour lecture.

Pheneas explained how when he arrived in 1985, conditions were much worse than when he was freed.  For example, in the beginning they had to sleep on hard cement floors and were only allowed to send out a letter once every two months.  With protests and hunger strikes, they managed to get the privilege to send out a letter once a month and even received bunk beds — they looked a lot like ones I had been in at backpacker hostels.

Pheneas ended his briefing by saying that we were stuck on the island with him and that, “The only way to your freedom is to ask me questions.”  Having experienced the life of the prison firsthand, he was full of stories and wanted us to tap into them.  I wasn’t sure if he was trying to be funny — if so, his delivery sucked — but he was locked up for five years in that hell hole, who knew just how bitter he was?

Someone beat me to the question I had in my head:  “Why were you sent here?”

“I am from South Africa, and I love South Africa.  I had to help liberate it.  And for that, I was put in here.”

DESPITE THE LACK OF MANY QUESTIONS, the walking tour continued around the prison groundsPheneas continued his stories about the horrors of Robben Island’s prison days, including the time a man with a broken leg was still forced to work hard in the quarry — ultimately his leg was amputated.  Working in the quarry even without a broken leg was hard enough; the reflective glare of the limestone bouncing the intensity of the sun was so bright, it was the reason Nelson Mandela had to have eye surgery after his release.

Other stories spoke of the sadistic mindset of the prison wardens.  During the time when violent criminals were mixed in with the peaceful political prisoners, the wardens gave rewards to the criminals for beating up on the innocent.  In another story, two prisoners were forced to dug a big hole in the ground — only to have the warden bury them alive in it with their heads above ground so that the wardens could piss on their heads, forcing them to drink their urine.

FROM SECTOR B, we entered the building of jail cells for those in solitary confinement.  In Cell #5 remained a blanket, table and chamber pot — the actual items used by Nelson Mandela as part of his long 27-year imprisonment.  After everyone had their turn at a photo (picture above), Pheneas ended the tour down the hall — but not without asking again for questions that would ensure our freedom.

“I have a question,” I said, raising my hand.  “Did you have any interaction with Mandela when you were here?”  (Good question, huh?)

He said that although they were both in the prison at the same time, they were in different sectors and he didn’t meet the soon-to-be-next-president until February 11, 1990 when then newly-elected president FW de Klerk freed all imprisoned for their anti-apartheid political ideals.

Having earned my freedom out of Robben Island prison, I was released — only to have those who didn’t ask anything follow right behind me.

WALKING PAST THE PENGUINS that often shored on the island, I was back on the wavy catamaran ride bound for the mainland — many people got sick in seasick bags.  I wandered the waterfront area until I took a taxi back to Long Street, the main strip in the backpacker district full of clubs and bars, including Mama Africa — I assumed it was related to the backpacker bar of the same name that I had been to in Cusco, Peru.

The Backpack hostel’s bar/cafe was just as lively as any of the ones on Long Street and that’s where I hung out for the rest of the night with beers and a frikadel, the South African version of a hamburger with plenty of pepper mixed into the ground beef before grilling.  I played pool with Amy, Clair and Graham from England until — exhausted from jet lag — I went to sleep in my dorm bunk.

The bunk beds in my dorm reminded me of the ones I had seen in that big prison room on Robben Island and as I laid my head in my pillow, I was glad I was a free man, finally traveling in a new continent.

Next entry: Price Hike

Previous entry: Last Meals Before Africa

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Comments for “Go Directly To Jail”

  • AMAZING RACE FANS:  Recognize the photo above?  The clue was hidden in that box in Season Two.  Even before Pheneas pointed out that Cell #5 was Mandela’s, I knew it right away and was first to take a photo of it. 

    Who says reality TV can’t be educational?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/04  at  12:08 PM

  • yay! Penguins…. thanks for today’s history lesson….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/04  at  01:01 PM

  • t.v. is very educational.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/04  at  01:01 PM

  • The Trinidad Show on the Rock!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/04  at  01:04 PM

  • wow, i didn’t know pengins would travel to places like south africa. weird. isn’t it kind of too warm for them there?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/04  at  01:18 PM

  • woohoo! new adventures smile at first i fell into the trap and thought something happened to YOU! you’re always keeping us on our toes!
    have a good weekend everyone, it’s off to the mountains for me, neeraj, lynikins and JP!
    N smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/04  at  04:06 PM

  • Martha Stewart is going to JAIL, just like Robocrook!....

    “Martha Stewart….in jail…”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/04  at  04:29 PM

  • assalama lequa ,

    sharon, mahem hek mahem na lamma shehem.  mahuk huk kamma shem na…living my dream!!!!

    malehhek hek shetup

    macellosalaaam habeeb

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/04  at  05:06 PM

  • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… AMAZING RACE ROCKS!

    Does anyone know when the next season starts?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/04  at  06:43 PM

  • AMAZING RACE is the greatest…

    good question! when DOES it start up again? hopefully soon!

    (i’m jealous)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/04  at  10:37 PM

  • I posted in the other blog for william hung.  Are you really the infamous william hung from the american idol, the “she bangs” guy? congratulations on your fame. a word of advise, continue your engineering studies, there is more security in that.  Good luck to you..

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/04  at  11:14 PM

  • ...do not pass go, do not collect $200.

    You had me going there for a min.  Great writing.

    I’m excited that you’ve moved onto Africa, I think I was starting to get bored of S. America too.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/05  at  12:32 AM

  • Oh man - I haven’t read the blog for over a month (Sorry Erik - I was kidnapped by Orcs.). Now just imagine my surprise find out that E-rock has been thrown into The Big House.
    Yup - you fooled me too, even though that first picture is obviously from the OUTSIDE of a cel. I thought you were held at the local police station for some bogus immigration charge.
    I gotta go read the last 20 days or so - then I’m back to a daily schedule, promise!

    Posted by dunlavey  on  03/05  at  01:03 AM

  • ERIK!
    Just caught up on the last 30 or so days of entries - lets hear it for insomnia!

    Biggest highlights:

    The Pantanal tour guide wrestling a puma with his bare hands.

    You accidentally ordering the chicken hearts - and liking them.

    Getting your head smashed open by a metal sign. “Dude! Fangoria will give me 25 bucks for this shot!” I would say that this along with your Man-O-War sting, Extreme Dishwashing and other injuries now officially quallifies you as “accident prone”.

    The quatis attack at the falls. You could have taken him. Wuss.

    Hang gliding off a mountain. HO-LEE SHIT.

    General drunken rowdiness at carnaval - I’m surprised there wasn’t a dreaded “Red Devil Incident”.

    You and Ms. Croft entering the samba competition - and winning! Awesome!

    But the number one highlight highlight has to be?

    Terrance’s sage advice of “follow your heart” (I barely know Terrance, but well enough to know how funny it would be to hear him say that.)

    Not much going on here in Dunlaveyland - threw a surprise party for Liza’s 30th b-day, went to Vegas for a long weekend, doing some freelance work for Disney - not much else. You’re really living the dream for all of us. Back here all our days here feel the same - nothing special, just getting by. But YOU - you magnificent bastard - get to live the motherload of all adventures every single day of your life. I mean, every day for you - the exciting days, the boring days, the frustrating setbacks and the big triumphs - is totally different and *distinct* and you’ll remember each and every one for the rest of your life. And thanks to your inhuman efforts to keep this truly excellent blog going - we will too.

    Jeez - see what you made me do - I got all sentimental and now I’ve totally blown my rep. Damn you Trinidad!!!

    It’s 4am and I’m spent. Later.

    PS - Just out of curiosity - did you send me a postcard from the Galapagos? If you didn’t no hard feelings - but if you did it still hasn’t shown up!

    Posted by dunlavey  on  03/05  at  05:36 AM

  • MOM - It’s not William Hung…Look at the email!  - It’s just wheat playing around as usual!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/05  at  08:34 AM

  • CNN reports…

    “About 11 percent of Internet users report visiting blogs written by others. Most often, they were for blogs written by friends. But blog readers are more likely to go to journals kept by strangers rather than by family members. “

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/05  at  09:25 AM

  • no, ur son is wrong.  i am the real william hung.  she bangs she bangs! can i come to community gathering and perform???  i know i’m better than that kid who keeps saying, “may the LOORD be with u”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/05  at  09:49 PM

  • LOL!!!!  WHEAT!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/05  at  11:26 PM

  • DUNLAVEY:  Hey!  Glad you’re back into the nerddom known as this Blog…  I always intended on sending you postcards, but you never emailed me your postal address…  Send that to me and you’ll get a SPECIAL postcard (for your special comment)—right after I dive with great white sharks and/or ride an ostrich (assuming I survive either.)

    LIZA:  Happy belated 30th!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/06  at  05:22 AM

  • ALICE:  Penguins go whereever they damn well want…  It’s the tuxedo that gets them in.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/06  at  05:26 AM

  • Special postcard? Do you mean “Tonight on a very special Blossom” special or “i ride the short bus to school” special?

    Posted by dunlavey  on  03/07  at  04:48 AM

  • DUNLAVEY:  Actually, it’s more like “Tonight on a very specil Degrassi: The Next Generation”...

    Email me to my Yahoo address… I am trying to phase out my other one…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/07  at  10:37 AM

  • =) looks like i need to get myself a tux. though i would look kind of silly going backstage of ozzfest in a tux.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/07  at  12:04 PM

  • How come the penguins can escape the jail without getting eaten by the sharks?

    Posted by Warren  on  03/08  at  11:16 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.

Next entry:
Price Hike

Previous entry:
Last Meals Before Africa


Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

NIZ: acronym for "No Internet Zone"; a place where there is little to no Internet access, thus preventing dispatches from being posted.

SBR: acronym for "Silent Blog Reader"; a person who has regularly followed The Global Trip blog for years without ever commenting or making his/her presence known to the rest of the reading community. (Breaking this silence by commenting is encouraged.)

Stupid o'clock: any time of the early morning that you have to wake up to catch a train, bus, plane, or tour. Usually any time before 6 a.m. is automatically “stupid o’clock.”

The Trinidad Show: a nickname of The Global Trip blog, used particularly by travelers that have been written about, who are self-aware that they have become "characters" in a long-running story — like characters in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

WHMMR: acronym for "Western Hemisphere Monday Morning Rush"; an unofficial deadline to get new content up by a Monday morning, in time for readers in the western hemisphere (i.e. the majority North American audience) heading back to their computers.

1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.

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The views and opinions written on The Global Trip blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official views and opinions of the any affiliated publications.
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