The pilot announced that we were beginning our descent into Gibraltar and I could feel my excitement growing. This place has been on my bucket list for so long and I have always wanted to land on a runway where they close the road to allow the planes to land. I craned my neck to see out of the window from my aisle seat as we touched down. I wanted to see what the main road into Gibraltar looked liked when it was closed. I could not see the rock or anything else of Gibraltar at this stage but as soon as we touched down the engines were thrown into reverse so as not to overshoot this very short runway. The stairs were brought up to the front and rear doors. I love getting on and off planes from the tarmac and as I was in the middle of the plane I was one of the last off. I stood at the top of the stairs and stared at the rock. I knew it was big but wow! I had seen the rock years ago from the Strait of Gibraltar when I travelled to Morocco by ferry but that was such a dim memory now and this time it was really in my face. I breathed in the humid air and walked down the stairs, smiling broadly, hair promptly going into frizz mode. I stopped on the tarmac to take a quick picture of the rock.My hostel was on the Spanish side of the border so I had to walk through passport control. It was a breeze as the person on duty waved me through saying “bale, bale” – ok, ok without barely looking up. After settling in to the hostel, I went out to explore the town of La Linea de Conception, I walked by the seaside, past the beaches, past the marina and again towards the rock before heading into the old part of town to eat real tapas. Then in traditional Spanish style I went home for my afternoon siesta.
I ventured out again at about 6:30, the Spaniards were all taking their afternoon stroll up and down the main street in their Sunday finest. Many were sitting at cafes having coffee and cake. I realised at 6:30 it was afternoon tea for them. Dinner would not begin in earnest until after 9:00 or 10:00pm. As they walked and as they sat, they checked everyone out calling to friends and family. The teenagers gathered in the town square before splitting up and heading to quiet street corners in couples at dusk.
The old part of town in La Linea is very pretty, but it is a tired old town. Scars from the Global Financial Crisis are everywhere outside of the main three to four streets. Unfinished high-rises, blocks of empty land filled with weeds and rubbish, faded street signs and faded for sale signs are everywhere. There are signs of what was once expected to be vibrancy and growth that just withered on the GFC vine.
This morning I was awake early and decided to take another walk by the seaside to see the rock at dawn. It was still dark when I left the hostel at 7:30am. There were lots of people out walking dogs and making their way to work. As I approached the border into Gibraltar I could see hundreds of Spaniards walking, riding and scootering over to the British town to work for the day. I though about going in and having an English breakfast but remembered I didn’t have my passport with me so I would go over a bit later. I settled for a Spanish cafe con leche y tostado before topping up my Spanish SIM card.
When I went over at about 10:00am it was the same deal through passport control. Waved through no stamp in my passport. I could have had that English Breakfast. I walked along Sir Winston Churchill Avenue hoping that a plane would land and I would have to wait at the boom gates. No such luck, but it is fun to cross a wide but short runway.
Walking through the ancient ramparts into Gibraltar was like walking into a theme park. Except there are no rides and mainly old people. Old, overly tanned people. There were gift and souvenir shops but also a multitude of duty free alcohol, cigarette and perfume shops. The place was crowded and thumping with an energy very different from La Linea. Again, the top of the rock was shrouded in a huge blue, grey crowd that looked as if it would rain down on all of us in any given second. I caught the cable car up to the top. Once inside I realised it wasn’t only monkeys I didn’t like, I don’t actually like steep cable cars that much either. But it was preferable to the steep walk. We crowded in and made our way up as the cable car was blown around a bit by the winds. Once up, I alighted to the sight of some monkeys in the distance. Well, in fact they are not monkeys but rather macaque apes. Either way, I do not like monkeys or apes. Too vicious and too smart for more liking. You think I would be used to that having worked in politics.
I walked onto a viewing platform and let and a yelp when I was surprised by a monkey I had not seen. I caught it out of the corner of my eye at the last minute. Other tourist laughed. My friend Dave told me before I left Australia to “just ignore the monkeys and you’ll be fine”. That was one thing I was not going to do. I kept my eye on this one, watching its face I noticed it eyes focus on something and its leg muscles tense. I hurried quickly out of its way as it suddenly lunged and ran at another tourist. She moved faster than me. I took a quick visit to the cafe/souvenir shop to check out the fridge magnets. As I walked out the door and down the stairs to another viewing platform a monkey ran at me. I ran as fast as I could loudly ooh, ooh, ohhing. The monkey changed tack and went up the stairs to the shop. Sitting in front of the door, it proceeded to open the door and head inside. A little English boy was delighted. Not so later when another monkey ran at him.
Up on the rock the mist and cloud swirled around me. The light through the cloud on the Mediterranean glinted back through the fog. The stones and rocks were wet from the mist yet you could still hear the see crashing on the rocks 500 metres below. I had taken enough photos and been close enough to my fears to know it was time to go back down.
I was first in line at the cable car so got to stand at the front, facing down with the open window. Other tourists were slowly making their way in and the driver was about to close the door when all of a sudden a monkey jumped on the front of the car at the open window and scared me so much I screamed and started running to the back of the car, pushing the elderly French tourists out of my way. “Mon Dieu!”, they cried. I don’t know if they were calling to God because of the monkey or because of me barging past. The monkey stopped at the window, bared its teeth, seemed to smile and then went off in the other direction from which it came. Not before another tourist yelled to the driver “close the door”. Useless given the window was open.