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.

11 thoughts on “Road Trip to Gibraltar

  1. Heya Jer!

    Nice day was had by all. But I gotta admit I was more worried about getting the contract than enjoying the sights. That and the tacky — as in kitch and sticky — experience that is Gibraltar. Yesterday I described it as a cross of Birmingham and Calcutta. OK that was for effect but there’s something otherworldy about the place.

    BTW – it was good to meet you Jer – hope to keep in touch.

    [As for the octopus — uh-huh — it sure was tender. The secret is in freezing the beast for at least a couple of days before it’s cooked. I’ve got two in the ice-box that’ll be served up in the next day or so … «Pulpo a la Gallega»; octopuss with cayene pepper and olive oil is my favourite ServingSuggestion™]

  2. As a Gibraltarian I am saddened by the narrow mindedness of the writer of the article.
    It is regreattble that the writer hasd made judgement on Gibraltar by spending a matter of hours, and guided by an obvious tourist.
    Such a shame that you did not get to see the sights etc, normal hours of work locally are 9-5:30pm. It is obvious that the writer’s ignorance on Gibraltar caused him to have lunch in Spain (and probably ordered the woefully crap san Miguel or Cruzcampo, because it has just a tad nore alcohol), and got in too late, that’s the writers problem and not a case of barbarians (as you quaintly put it)!!
    Now with regard to your comparison of Gibraltar with Calcutta and Birmingham, I would like to offer some insight to the writer. If you don’t take the time to explore, your judgement is as useful as visiting Shepherd’s Bush, Old Street, Shoreditch, even Walthamstow soley, and providing a general judgement on London!!
    Gibraltar is a model for social and racial interaction for the world. It is a small but very busy and lively place, full of friendly and courteous people willing to help or offer their assistance. We are bi-lingual and make sure we continue that because it gives us our unique identity.
    Where else do you see Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Asians, Carribeans, Brits, Spaniards all sharing a town and getting on, without no racial prejudice or segregation? Why do so many people pack up from UK and head down south, be it Spain or Gib? Crime is virtually insignificant (although it is the 21st century), and it is a great plavce to raise kids without living in fear. Culturally and historically, it possesses enourmous treasures and although the writer makes no reference to it because he did’nt get there, Gib is about 3miles long, but has over 30miles in caves and tunnels. Those sights are tremendous.
    Next time, make sure you plan your trip properly, get a good guide, forget the pulpo and San Miguel and head into Gib eartly morning. You will not be disappointed. Regrettably, the writer wasted his time.
    Then he has the audacity to write that people in Gibraltar are barbarians!! In Gibraltar kids don;t get stabbed outside or in schools, children and grannies don’t get raped by 15yr olds, 13 yr olds don’t shoot people at random. Kids don’t joyride and kill bystanders, people don’t get robbed at gunpoint for a mobile phone and certainly, people don’t go out drinking all day in the sun, act like a jackass, cause trouble and wind up either in a police cell or barfing in someone’s garden. You calling us barbarians? You’re having a laugh, bugger off back to blighty and leave Gibraltar to culturally appreciative people.
    You’ll probably enjoy Torremolinos, Ibiza, Tenerife or Mallorca. Plenty of cheap beer, sun and Brits to get jolly with.

  3. Dang, and I thought I’d liked the place.

    You’ll never read this, I expect, but if you’re not going to be able to handle being called a barbarian because you don’t take a siesta, then I think you have a lot of other issues to deal with. Siesta. Barbarian. Do you see what’s going on? Some would call it irony, but I think hyperbole is more accurate. Surely one of the two languages spoken there has it.

    Calcutta? Birmingham? Perhaps you do know more about literary devices than I do, to find those references in my piece. My only guess is that you thought “somewhat run-down residential area” referred to crime-ridden slums, and that your literal-mindedness with regards to barbarity was completely forgotten when I described one of the neighborhoods I walked through. Did I say that I was afraid, walking alone? Did I mention crime, or poverty, or intolerance? No. Of course, if you were trying to be insulted, then perhaps your selective interpretation makes sense.

    You did a good job finding the race riots and heavy drinking between the lines of my narrative as well. I never even noticed them while I was there, but you managed to ferret them out and be offended by them.

    For what it’s worth, I could never imagine enjoying all those other places famous for being filled with drunken brits. Any time you put three adult male brits together in a foreign land and give them alcohol, you’re risking trouble.

    I hope your rant made you feel better, though I suspect it didn’t.

  4. Jerry,
    I will read and reply, because I care.
    I must have misinterpreted you and having read back you are right, the calcutta brum thingy is not in your piece, its one of the comments. I am just very proud of where I live and who I am, I was not offended by your comments, I just thought you had been unfair to the place. Having lived in several other places in the world, especially the UK, I consider Gib to be one of the easiest places to live and work in.
    If you are ever back here, take the time and you’ll like the place even more.
    I did’nt mean to be offensive, my misinterpretation of your piece added to the comments posted, rubbed me up the wrong way.
    (By the way, I only discovered this piece whilst searching for some other info. I have’nt even been to your homepage yet etc. I will now).
    All the best

  5. Gib Man, the only answer is to agree that if either of us find ourselves on the other’s home turf, a tour is in order. Drop me a line if you’re in Prague and I’ll sure as heck be hitting you up for guidance if I find myself back on your rock.

    I’m not sure what comments you’re referring to, they’re not on this site, but if somewhere else someone has raised this piece as an example of anti-gibraltarianism (spelling checker surprisingly tolerant of that last word), I would appreciate you posting there that they are nuts and need to get a life, or at least read the text. [edited to add: note correction below]

    Your passion for your home turf is understandable, and I look forward to seeing more of a very interesting corner of the world.

    Unless your last name is Coppola, and even that’s OK unless your first name is Christopher. Then, we have a problem.

  6. So there is. Considering how much that commenter also liked Gibraltar, I had skimmed over his post with the reference to something he had said the day before but then immediately said was just for effect. But there it is, plain as day, and likely unfair.

    To be honest, I have no idea what a cross between Birmingham and Calcutta would be like, but I have to agree it doesn’t sound good. With any luck I’ll never be in Birmingham, so I’ll never find out.

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