European Escapades

Gibraltar Rocks

08

May

2010

just walk across this little runway to enter gibraltar
Just Walk Across This Little Runway to Enter Gibraltar.

I will have to admit to you that one place I was looking forward to seeing was Gibraltar. I remember from my childhood watching the 8mm cine films of my dad from his time in the navy and stories from my Nan of the place and because of this it has always held good memories. From the infamous Barbary apes and their antics, to the iconic views of the rock from the cruise ships in port as well as from mainland Spain. From the campsite we had a far trek to the bus stop on the outskirts of La Linea, but once there it was an easy ride directly into the centre of town where we could walk to the border and on into Gibraltar itself. When you do get to the city centre you can see a new development of shops and cafe restaurants along the route towards the Spanish border and you can understand how the town is trying to create a good impression for the tourist that must surely be coming the other way out of Gibraltar and onto the mainland.

Getting to Gibraltar itself proved more of a challenge than we expected as we visited the tourist office in La Linea to find out where the border was and then proceeded down the new shopping area and across the main road to the Gibraltar customs post. Having navigated the passport checking area and moved onto near nonexistent green and red channels, which were two sides of the same walk through. We had arrived in Gibraltar with the tourist info on one side of the exit and taxi tours on the other. With hindsight it was fortunate for us, that there were no taxis for an island tour there at the time we arrived and we had to move to the tourist office to obtain a simple map of Gibraltar, to guide us to the main shopping areas and town centre. Outside were bright red buses, the same I remember in London when I was a child. But rather than use their services, we decided to walk the short distance into town. That was where we hit our first problem, as we joined a rather large crowd waiting at a lowered barrier. Looking towards the road at all the cars, buses and motorcycles that were in the same predicament, we laughed to ourselves. Seems we had to cross a runway before finally arriving in Gibraltar and we had timed it perfectly, so that we would have to wait for an airplane to land before we were allowed to continue any further. So everyone waited and the tourists like us waited in anticipation for the aircraft’s landing, so we could take pictures of this unique event. Once the BA flight had finally landed the cars and motorbikes started their engines again and revved up waiting for the all clear.

up we go to see the barbary apes
Up We Go To See The Barbary Apes Of Gibraltar.

GREEN LIGHT, BARRIER UP and the’re offffff…..It felt as if a race had started, as every car and moped dashed across the previously deserted stretch of tarmac competing to be the first to the other side. It was the same story from the Gibraltar end, as masses of vehicles dashed towards us and the awaiting Spanish customs. If you have never been to Gibraltar this sight is worth the visit all on its own. But what was to astonish us was the transformation in going from the relative calm of La Linea to the bustling streets of Gibraltar. The contrast was staggering as the place was heaving with people, shops open welcoming customers, fish and chip shop signs offering the best fish and chips outside of the UK, bars and restaurants serving pints and many other overt signs telling us we were not in Spain. It was as if we had cross a magical line and entered wonderland. All prices in Pounds but we will accept Euros, duty free liquor and tobacco stores, it was endless. Where we seemed to have issues finding technology stores or DVD stores in Spain, there seemed to be one every hundred yards here, as each clambered for your business. We walked through this shopping Mecca and onto our first destination which was the cable car up to the top of the rock where the Barberry apes hang out.

the barbary apes seem to get the best view
The Barbary Apes Seem To Get The Best View Of Gibraltar.

The cable car is a simple affair and you have a few ticket options to choose from. Some include discounted access to some of the other attractions on the island. But as we were really there for the view and the apes we decided on the cheapest option available, which was a one way ticket to the top so that we could walk down the rock on a nice sunny afternoon enjoying the island views as we descended. I think this would have been a better choice if the pedestrian path down had been open, as we ended up having to navigate the very narrow road that wound its way to the top; but more on that later. The cable car itself could have been a more pleasant experience if we had managed to get a quieter ride up, however I conclude that is rarely possible. We ended up in the first available sardine can and slowly ascended the rock face above us. The higher we got the better the vista became as we could now see the entire town of Gibraltar below us and then the harbour and then the Spanish mainland and mountains beyond that. What more could you ask as you clambered out of the tin can onto the lookout platform straight into the eyesight of a small ape sitting on a wall in front of you? We moved away from the cable car area onto a small track that lead up to one of the highest points on the lookout, to get a view of the other side of the Island, the Straights and Morocco beyond that. Along the way we passed a small car atop which were some of the smaller barbary apes, playing some kind of game on the roof of the vehicle. It instantly brought back memories of the cine film of my childhood and the feelings of happiness were overwhelming as I thought to myself that I was at a place where both my father and grandmother had been themselves so many years before me. I wondered then, how it has changed, if at all in those long intervening years between our separate visits. Further up within the trees clinging to the side of the rock face were larger more mature apes, one of which was nursing her young offspring. It was a delight and everyone had cameras ready to take the perfect photo of their playful antics. One became intrigued with my dangly green strap on my back pack and used it as a climbing rope, looking for food or to get on my shoulder I’m not sure. But I am averse to having babies over my shoulder for certain reasons and the thought of having an ape sitting in that position with my back fully exposed was not that appealing either. Fortunately the young ape gave up pretty quickly and went off in search of easier fare I guess. It disappointing to see the amount of posters and warnings around the area about not feeding the apes, are totally ignored by a good number of people and it is something the taxi drivers and tour companies should obviously impress more on the tourists. I bring it up now, as we tried to take a lovely photo of an ape sitting on one of the walls with the pinnacle of the rock behind it, only to find he with a chocolate muffin in his hands. As we moved away from the outlook and down the path towards St Michaels cave we found many more examples of this poor behaviour as people were getting out of taxi’s with biscuits in hand and actively feeding the poor apes. I don’t know if they appreciate the harm this sugar fix does to them but they obviously have no thought or care about the apes, only their own self gratification. The apes in the habitation areas showed what they should actually be eating, as we happily watched a few of them munching on a pile of the fruits and vegetables that is provided for them daily.

guard duty at the convent
Guard Duty At The Convent.

As we walked down the path it had obviously turned into a road at some point, with a large queue of taxi cabs lined up in a row trying to get their passengers as far up the rock as possible. Although I don’t know how one would turn a taxi around at the top as we could see no real turning places up there. What we do know is that it made for a more difficult descent down the path, as we constantly weaved our way between taxi doors and ignorant passengers, clambering out like bloated walrus, blocking any chance for a casual walker to progress. At St Michaels cave the situation got worse as the road widened, because the possibility of coach access reared its head and we encountered even more crowds of people and an officer trying to direct and organise the traffic. Finally getting away from the crowds and queued traffic we reached what was the pedestrian pathway down to town only to find one took up to the complete other end of the Island and the other was closed. It seems we were forced into using the roadway all the way down. Although the walk down is very pleasant and the view spectacular you have to be aware of cars as they move past sometimes at a less than reasonable speed. We passed a lime works on the way down and the overpriced Moors fortress, someone should tell them about Alhambra, before hitting the outskirts of the main town and walking down some wide open steps directly back to the shopping area. With all this fun for the day and noon well and truly gone, we decided that it was time for some lunch. I think I had decided on an afternoon lunch spot already and this was called the ‘Angry Friar’ as it served a reasonable approximation of a beer. I’m sorry; I have been in Spain that is devoid of any beer for so long now and with the only thing available being tasteless fizzy pop, I cracked and partook in a pint or two of Tetley’s Bitter. Not my most notable of actions, but I was getting desperate and it was all they had on offer. But with a good steak and chips, Frances had the Tuna salad, and a bottle of reasonable red wine, it went down very well. The Angry Friar is just next to the convent, where you can watch the soldiers in full uniform stand guard and polish the cannons for the afternoon. A nice little spot for lunch we thought, but typical pub grub all the same. With the meal finished it was time to walk back through the town and buy a few items such as a DVD and some sandals (Don’t tell UNIX John, Please!!!) before walking back across the border and a well deserved taxi back to the campsite to check on how Missy Moo’s day outside or under the campervan had been…

this little island has an identity and special character all of its own
This Little Island Has An Identity and Special Character All Of Its Own.

I think this was one of the most memorable days we have had in our travels so far and would if we could find a better located campsite to stay, definitely go back there again for another visit. Would we take a taxi tour? I would have to say probably not, after seeing the taxi tours on our walk through Gibraltar, although it would be a way to get to see the south side of the island close up and also the beach which we only viewed from above. Would I get a bus from the customs area? Maybe just for the fun of it although the walk into town is not very strenuous. Would I drive over in a car or Van? Definitely not, the traffic jams we encountered were the first we have seen in all of our long three months of travel and the hassle to get across the border by car just doesn’t seem worth it. Should Gibraltar ever become part of Spain? In my opinion that’s another no, as soon as you walk across that border you know you are not in Spain and if it did ever revert, I fear it would lose a special quality it has by being what it is. It’s may try to convince you it’s part of UK with its fish and chip shops and English breakfasts etc, but underneath this little island has an identity and special character all of its own and it should stay that way…

This entry was posted on Saturday, May 8th, 2010 at 5:48 pm and is filed under Travel Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Gibraltar Rocks”

  1. TeamSlinky Says:

    June 3rd, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    For a few years now I’ve wanted to go to Gibralter and this article just makes me want to do it even more now. The pictures of the Barbary Ape’s are amazing, if i dont mind saying so myself.

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