A chilled start to the day and another tasty “continental” Andalucian breakfast. It was warm and sunny today. We had decided to visit Gibraltar today. It might be the obvious touristic thing to do but we reasoned that we would not really have a better opportunity to visit this quirky place than on this trip. We drove out of Tarifa and headed east, past Algeciras and on to La Linea, the Spanish town which lies at the other side of the “border”.
As we drove round Algeciras on the motorway, we got good views of the massive rock, “the Rock”, en profil. At La Linea we parked the Merc in an underground car park a short walking distance from the border. Lonely Planet warned against the Gibraltar traffic and we weren’t sure whether we could take the hire car out of Spain. There were other tourists doing the same. All looked like they were Brits. Crossing the border was a somewhat chaotic affair. Across the busy road, past a police checkpoint, past immigration (we were simply waved through) and then we were in Gibraltar, but we still had a bit of a way to go to the town centre. First we had to cross the runway – for the airport! The runway has been built “behind” the Rock, i.e. close to the landside and effectively cuts across the only road that leads in and out of Gibraltar.
We tried to figure out which bus to get into town but it was all rather chaotic and in the hurry we got on a hop-on/hop-off bus which we thought would let us jumpt off and on at the main points of interest. It slowly made its way into town. First we had to wait for the runway to be clear, which meant waiting for three Monarch flights to come and go, and then the bus made what seemed a rather circuitous tour of parts of Gibraltar, through densely packed streets. The whole place, the town at least, felt very tightly built up, with everything hemmed into a small space, and it reminded us of Hong Kong, or even more so of Singapore. There seemed to be no spare room anywhere. Lots of development was taking place, but on the whole the place felt rather grubby. Signs in English and familiar road traffic signs. This was neither Britain nor Spain but a different place of its own. It was hard to define but I was already glad that we had come here to see the place for ourselves.
After a meandering tour the bus stopped somewhere and everyone got off. We asked and then learned that we had to change and get a different bus to get to where we wanted to go, the cable car station. Advised by a local woman, we caught a number three bus, for free as all buses are free today for some reason (though not the hop-on/hop-off bus we had taken). We got to see a bit more of the town and got off at the cable car station and queued briefly to buy one-way tickets for the cable car and for the apes den on the rock. Gibraltar reminded us of Cape Town, with its high rock behind the city. The ride to the top was steep and quick, with views of the large natural harbour, at the opposite end of which lies Algeciras, opening up below us, and some obvious signs of the wealth here, such as the massive yachts in the marina.
The rock did look tall before we went up, especially the view “face on” as seen from the border crossing, but it was only now that we realised quite how high and sheer it really was! The book said 426 metres, but the dramatic ascent on the “sloping” side, and the even more dramatic sheer drops on the other, eastern, side made it appear taller. We got off at the top and entered the visitors centre. I had expected it not to be too flash and a bit on the tacky side – viz. Hong Kong, Cape Town, etc. – but this was a big disappointment. The concrete visitors centre which sat on top of the rock was dirty, poorly maintained, outdated, and generally a big sign of not being cared for. However, the views and dramatic impact of the place were still very impressive.
Wherever you looked there seemd to be the barbary apes, in all sizes, and they looked like they were up to all sorts of tricks. Signs warned tourists against touching the apes (they weren’t “monkeys”) and to be wary of loose items. We climbed to the viewing platform at the top, where you had the biggest impact of all. The platform sat perched right on top of the narrow ridge. On one side you looked down the green western side, which slopes “gradually” (by comparison), but on the other side there seemed to be noting below you but space, as the platform hung over the vertical drop. Off to the north you could see how the ridge continued up to the radar station at the far end.
We looked around for a while here and at the other viewing platforms and then went to the café where we had thought of spending some time to catch up on our diaries while sat here, high above everything, but the café was another big disappointment. The coffee machine was broken and the only things on offer were “fish and chips” and gluppy pasta bake. Instead we decided to carry on walking and started the descent along the road. There were lots of flies up here. It was good to walk along the road and paths that gradually led down along the western face. Outside it now reminded us of somewhere different again, of Malaysia. The plants looked different, more tropical and lush, and there was a mixture of scrubby thorny bushes along with vines and bromeliads and others. At the top there many more apes at various places, wherever people gathered, but along the path you tended not to see any. After a short walk we cam to St. Michael’s Cave, at a hairpin bend in the road. There was a shop and a café/bar here. The latter looked much more convivial, with lots of wood inside and a certain snugness, like a log cabin. There was a display hot stand on the counter with pies and sausage rolls, but fortunately there was also better food on offer and we each had a plate of tasty paella. Next we visited the caves. They weren’t massive, nothing like Aggtelek in Hungary or Han in Belgium, or even stunningly beautiful, but still worth a visit. We meandered around inside and sat for a few minutes in the seats in the “concert hall” inside the caves and listened to the music.
After St. Michael’s Cave we continued to follow the path, enjoying the walk, and at the northern end we stopped to visit the siege tunnels. These had been dug in the eighteenth century and their place in history has something to do with the War of the Spanish Succession … best look it up on wikipedia! At any rate, there was a siege here, the British besieged in/on the rock by the Spanish. The tunnels went deep inside, along the northern and eastern side. Inside there were gun emplacements. How they got these heavy things up here … ah, reminds me: the thick heavy rungs we saw in the road served for that purpose, for hauling the guns up the hill. There were puppets in period costume dotted in various places. We came back out of the tunnels and tried to remember some of the incredible statistics that had been mentioned. Ah, another thing – earlier on, there had been a story of a shepherd who had led a Spanish expedition to surprise the rock’s defenders by climbing up the easter – sheer! – side, an incredible feat. Back outside we continued our walk and stopped to visit the Siege Exhibition, which consisted of a few ruined old buildings with some puppets and sound effects and information panels which described the conditions on the rock during the siege. Further on again, back at the northern end, we came to the Moorish Tower. Before this we had passed some of the entrances to the houses that were dotted here and there on this side of the rock. They looked like little isolated cottages where retired majors would tend their gardens, roses, cacti (along the road) and look after birds. More memories of Malaysia, Bukt Fraser and so on. The Moorish Tower was the last of the sights on our way down. A solid squat heavy building, built to withstand besiegers and provide a place of hiding as a last resort, to wait until the reinforcements came. We went inside and climbed to the top. This was from an earlier period in Gibraltar’s history than we had so far learned about.
From here the road now led into the upper parts of town, with apartment blocks and generally feeling a little grubby. We followed the steps which led down into the centre of town, through the densely built up parts, and we stopped at a small pub, The Aragon, to have a Fanta Limón, and I took the opportunity to change some money for Gibraltar notes and coins. My Scottish notes weren’t very welcome! In the centre of town we now followed the main street, with its British stores – Next, M&S and so on – and some pretty balconies and houses. Further along the shops were more touristic, with cuddly apes and more. We decided to catch a bus to head for Europa Point, at the end of the peninsula, where we thought there was some monument to indicate the Pillars of Hercules. Just beyond the old city gates we waited for a while for the next bus, plagued by little flies, but a local woman said we would be better off walking to the next stop (the cable-car station) as all tourists would get off there (and easier for us to get on). We walked the couple of streets and waited for the bus opposite the ageing Queens Hotel. We didn’t have to wait for long and after a few stops we were the only passengers along with a few other tourists. We passed the large mosque at the far end of the peninsula, and got off at the last stop. There was nothing to here though, just some barren grounds, an abandoned café, a round square, and a few teenagers with souped up cars. Fortunately we didn’t have to wait very long for the next bus, and we returned all the way to the airport, where we got off.
Before re-crossing the border we made another pitstop in the small airport, had a drink and sausage roll while sat in the lounge on the upper floor, in the open air, so we could look at the Easyjet flight boarding not far from us, and wrote postcards which we posted just outside and then walked back into Spain and La Linea. We were pretty knackered from all the walking and headed straight back to Tarifa from here. Back in Tarifa it was no surprise that there was something else going on at the church again. We climbed the steep steps up to our floor and showered and freshened up before going out for dinner. We had thought of the place round the back of the hotel but it was full, and instead we went for the restaurant across from the church, which was a good choice. Convivial inside, with a mixture of tourists and locals dining. We had a good meal, tried an unusual type of fish, not sure what it was. Lots of olive oil in the cooking! Back at our hotel a birthday party was in full swing, and pretty loud too, but we were so tired that we both nodded off promptly!