On top of the Rock

Jueves, Day 4 - Day Trip to Gibraltar

Marbella is a mere two hour drive along the Mediterranean from one of the outcrops of the Iberian Peninsula nearest to Africa - Gibraltar. You'll notice we didn't say one of the outcrops of Spain nearest to Africa. That's because Gibraltar - all two square miles of it - has been in British hands since the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1714. Believe us when we say that Spain isn't exactly happy about that fact - the outgoing lines at customs are deliberately slow, and from 1969 through 1985, Spain wouldn't allow passage over the border at all. The only ingress and egress was by boat, or via a World War II-era airstrip, built by dropping more than a million tons of limestone into water jutting out of the isthmus. We (and everyone else who ever enters Gibraltar via Spain) actually had to drive across the active runway to get to the rest of the town. We joked that the traffic signals on either end of the runway - which tell drivers to stop so that a plane can land - are probably the most obeyed stop lights in all the civilized world.

One of the most interesting things about Gibraltar is that while it is definitely British, it is also quite Spanish. Gibraltar has its own currency - the Gibraltan pound - but the GB is equivalent to the British Pound Sterling, and you are just as likely to see prices listed in Spanish Pesetas or even U.S. Dollars as in Pounds. The people of Gibraltar switch from Queen's English to Andalusian Spanish at the drop of a hat. We found this most disconcerting at a Gibraltan book store, where we had stopped to purchase some more reading material in English. After waiting on us in perfectly British English, the little old lady shopkeeper answered the phone, again in English. The person on the other end apparently spoke Spanish, though, because the next thing out of the shopkeeper's mouth was a torrent of equally perfect Spanish. We experienced the reverse effect when we stopped at a gas station operated by a Spanish woman and her teenage sons. We asked the sons for directions in our tourist Spanish, and they went in to get Mom. Mom and sons conversed in Spanish, then Mom came out and gave us directions in British English, even sending us on our way with a proper "Cheerio!" Very strange. Being from the U.S., I guess we expect Spanish-speakers speaking English to have a Spanish accent, not a British one!

Anyway, we walked through the center shopping area, with its British pubs and dozens of English stores, and worked our way to the cable cars that take you to the top of the Rock. The Rock of Gibraltar is almost always referred to as just the Rock, and it's easy to see why - it rises out of the ocean to a majestic 1,398 feet, and really dominates the landscape for miles around. (It also looks suspiciously like the Prudential insurance "get a piece of the rock" Rock....hmmmmm). We were able to see it from the road on our way there. From the top of the Rock, we got our only picture of the two of us together from the entire trip. The amazing thing about Gibraltar is that it is a mere 15 miles from Africa, at the point where Europe and Africa come closest to touching. As Mike noted, being there you can almost picture the Atlantic Ocean bursting through and flooding the Mediterranean basin. In this picture, Africa is off in the distance and more of Spain is to the right. Here's another one - this time with Dineen in it to prove we were there!

From the top of the Rock, we walked half way down to the see the famous Gibraltar apes (really tailless monkeys, probably brought over by the Moors at some point). The British tradition is that Gibraltar will stay British so long as the monkeys survive, and so Winston Churchill had the Apes' Den built to help ensure their safety. They are overfed by tourists (despite signs entreating tourists not to feed the apes!) and fairly tame as a result. The biggest problem is that they are so tame, the will climb right on you (and steal your bag or glasses if you're not careful!). We also visited St. Michael's cave, which was a hospital at one point, and now is used as a concert hall. There were no concerts while we were there, but they were piping in classical music - and when we were there, at almost exactly 3 p.m., they were playing Pachebel's canon (which, you may recall, was playing at our wedding at almost exactly 3.p.m). We don't have any pictures of the cheesy moment that resulted, however.

After taking the cable car back down the rock, we walked to Europa Point, the southern-most tip of Gibraltar, to get as close as possible to Africa without actually getting our feet wet. Most people don't bother to go out that far, and it's a shame, because they miss out on seeing the beautiful Mosque abutting the Rock.

- Day Five -