29 July 2018

Touchdown of Mango Airlines flight JE 337 at Cape Town International Airport confirmed what a number of us had suspected all along; it must be Wednesday.

Any thoughts of a spot of sightseeing, however, were dismissed, at least temporarily, as Edgemead High School was providing the opposition for the next round of fixtures.  And it was there that we headed, straight from baggage reclaim.
The games began simultaneously, in the shadow of the iconic Table Mountain (well, actually they were in the shadow of some electricity pylons, but hey, it's still Cape Town.)
The girls' teams both lost narrowly in what proved to be hard fought encounters. It's fair to say they didn't really get the rub of the green and some contentious decisions didn't go our way.
The hockey turned out a bit like a Shakespearean romantic comedy (you know; boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy regains girl). From 2-0 up, we were pegged back to 2-2, before going on to win 4-2.  When their equaliser went in, we feared it might turn into a bit of a tragedy.  But Shakespearean heroes were always undone by lust, jealousy or ambition.  Not jet lag.
Thursday dawned to steady drizzle, dark clouds and poor visibility.  So naturally the strapline on the daily schedule read: 'Sightseeing'.  Still, undeterred, Godfrey fired up the coach in readiness for our first assignment; to complete the set of 'The Big Five', by visiting the residents of the Cheetah Outreach Centre in Somerset West, and the rescued lions at Drakenstein, near Stellenbosch.  By the time the last photo had been snapped and the final cuddly lion purchased, glorious afternoon sunshine had appeared once again.  We returned to the hotel via the fertile green valleys and vineyards of the Cape Winelands and through some of the most stunning scenery we have witnessed on the tour.
Cape Point (via a visit to the penguins at Boulders Beach) was the destination on Friday.  The most southerly latitude in Africa, where The Indian and Atlantic Oceans collide, is a notorious black spot for shipping, and a number of famous wrecks, including that of The Lusitania, have occurred in these treacherous waters.  But today the only activity we spotted in the still, blue ocean was provided by a pod of whales basking on the surface.
Our final round of fixtures took us to Langa, and a sense of perspective was brought to proceedings.  We toured the area on foot to get an idea of just how tough life can be for the inhabitants of South Africa's most long-established township.
The boys defeated the local hockey team 4-1, courtesy of a hat-trick from Max, and both girls' teams won; the under 16s leaving the winning goal until six seconds from time.  The matches were watched by scores of highly partisan, local youngsters, excitedly cheering for their team. Their exuberance and enthusiasm even extended to them clambering on to the bus with us at the end of the game, and they might even have made it back to our hotel had the headcount not exceeded the correct number.
So that concludes the fixture programme for the tour. We've enjoyed much success and had one or two results that didn't go our way. But I've always said there are few disappointments in the world that you cannot turn into a personal triumph if you have the iron will and the necessary skill.  Well alright, it wasn't me, it was actually Nelson Mandela, but we think along similar lines.
And speaking of the former president, our final excursion took us to Robben Island where he and a great many other political prisoners were sent during the dark days of apartheid.  We witnessed the cell he occupied during the eighteen years of his incarceration.  One could only imagine the great man's emotions as he emerged from the prison gates for the last time, one step closer to his long walk to freedom.
We leave in the morning.
It's been a remarkable and unforgettable trip; one that I know we will all cherish.  We've learned so much about this fascinating country and our experiences will live long in the memory.
Perhaps it really is true that travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer.

By Mr Stockdale

For more photos from the trip, please visit the Birkenhead School Facebook page.