Road Trip to Gibraltar

It was a very pleasant day. I spent the morning puttering around, writing, then exploring Vejer. I stumbled across an Internet place and checked email, although the urgency has gone out of that. I found a little watering hole and, after watching as three people helped a woman negotiate her small car around and extremely tight corner (a forty-three point turn, I believe), I settled in and had a small beer and worked for a bit on Elephants of Doom. Overall, not a bad use of a morning and early afternoon.

I didn’t spend as much time at that bar as I would have liked; this day I had an actual schedule. At 13 o’clock I met with Cassius and his acquaintance Gabriel. Through the grapevine these two had stumbled on an opportunity to visit a guy in Gibraltar (map) and pitch a Web project for the government there. Gabriel is English but lives in a village near here, and has a car. At the appointed hour we hiked to his car, piled in, and headed out. We rolled past hundreds of giant wind turbines (“The same environmentalists who wanted them now want them to be taken down. They are chopping up birds, especially raptors.”) and windswept beaches (“This town is famous for its kite surfing, but the wind will drive you crazy. It is the only village in Spain with its own nut-house.”) and finally the rock came into view, with ships clustered around it, including a large cruise ship at dock.

Gibraltar from our lunch table We parked near the border and found a place to grab a lunch. It was a nice little tapas bar with all kinds of fresh seafood. We ordered too many things, and it seemed the guy was waiting for us to finish each one before starting to prepare the next thing. Each item was delicious. The bread was straight out of the oven, the octopus tender and succulent, the white fish of some sort light and tasty, and so on. The meal stretched out, which wasn’t a problem except that Cassius and Gabriel had an appointment. Finally it came time to leave, and Cassius went to settle up the tab. The conversation, he reports, went something like:

“We’d like to pay now.”
“You have to finish chewing first.”
“We’d like to pay now.”
“You have to finish chewing first.”

Apparently we were not allowed to continue nibbling after payment was made. Or something like that. Finally we were given a number, higher than expected but then again the portions had been bigger than expected, and payment became problematic. They wanted as close to exact change as possible, and that turned out to be a challenge for us. Finally pooling all our small change together we hit the right number and were free to go.

We crossed the border (where only a cursory glance at the cover of our passports was required) and we were in the United Kingdom. We took a taxi to where their meeting was to take place, selected a pub to meet at afterward, and I headed off to explore the town.

Gibraltar is small, but on the not-cliff side of the rock people are packed into the town area, leaving the flatter areas for industry. I ambled downhill and found the Road of Commerce. This road is the reason the cruise ship stops here, not the spectacular scenery farther up the hillside. The town is a massive duty-free shop, and this road is the center. Closed to vehicles, it was thronged with tourists, popping from shop to shop, loading up on booze and electronics. Tourists and schoolgirls. School must have just let out, because there were schoolgirls everywhere, in their modest maroon skirts and white tops, traveling in gaggles, laughing about whatever it is schoolgirls laugh about.

I grew tired of this press of humanity and turned uphill. Quickly I was in a somewhat run-down residential area. For all the money moving around down below, not much of it seemed to be making its way up to these apartment buildings. The streets were narrow and connected by staircases, and I began to doubt my ability to find the designated pub in time. I decided I’d best turn my wandering in that direction, although often I had little control over which direction I went. Several times I had to negotiate with cars in the narrow streets. I found the right pub, convinced myself it wasn’t the right pub, went down to the avenue of shameless commerce (less crowded now), found landmarks, and went back to the right pub. I had just sat down with a John Smith Bitter (ahhh… bitter) when the others showed up. Naturally they had to have a beer also, then we all headed out to explore.

Macaque in regal pose It was generally agreed that up (into the steeper parts of the rock, which was a park) was better than down. Eventually we did a fairly long hike up and around, affording us spectacular views of shipping and industry. Up had definitely been the right choice. There is a network of caves up there, but they were closed. (Gibraltar eschews the siesta and things close at 5pm. What utter barbarians.) On the way back down we met some macaques, the only wild monkeys in Europe. They are wild only in the sense that they can sleep wherever they like. The sun was getting lower, and the monkeys were hanging out on the outskirts of town, waiting for the right moment to descend for an evening of foraging. I imagine it would be right tricky to keep a monkey out of your trash bin. As we walked on, we turned to see a macaque following about 50 feet behind us, and two more following behind that one, evenly spaced, like a platoon of soldiers moving into dangerous territory.

I got some very, very close pictures; we’ll see how they turn out. We returned to the border on foot, which involves crossing the runway at the Gibraltar airport. When we got there the red don’t walk man was on and the gate was closed. We had to wait for a British Airways jet to taxi and take off before we were allowed to cross.

Finally we got back to the car and I, for one, was glad to be off my feet for the journey home.