A Little Slice of Britain?

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Europe » Gibraltar
March 25th 2015
Published: March 25th 2015
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I've now seen the Rock and can tell you why it's a big deal. Historically, this place would've been the ultimate vantage point for anyone coming from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, or vice versa. These days, it's a tax-free zone with a good sailing industry that allows for unique tourism. I use the word "unique" loosely, since it's really one of those destinations that every world traveler needs to visit and most British tourists to the south of Spain have visited multiple times.

Perhaps my favorite experience was with the monkeys - Barbary macaques that are the only monkeys living in the (semi) wild in Europe. They live along the upper reaches of the Rock, so you have to be determined to see them. Or you could just take a minibus up like I did. When I booked this tour over the internet back in January, I didn't remember adding this part of the package, so I was surprised when the tour guide said that it cost extra, and that only a few people had already paid for it. Imagine my surprise when I was one of them! I guess the company I used when I booked it didn't allow the tour without the trip to the top. My good luck.

Most of my bus contained British tourists, though there were some Americans and Canadians. The guy who drove the minibus to the top was named Phil, a retired Army fellow from Yorkshire, and he was a delight. Funny, entertaining, a bit disrespectful, and a favorite with the monkeys. We stopped halfway up the mountain to get a view of Africa and the port of Algeciras, and then we continued upwards. I am very glad not to have to drive on those roads - narrow, steep, and winding. One guy on the bus had to just look to the middle of the bus most of the time, too afraid to look out the window. Bless him. At the top, we saw St. Michael's caves, which were illuminated with various colors of lights while we were inside. We only had 20 minutes in there, and then most of us wanted to see the monkeys. We weren't allowed to bring food out of the bus, because they will pounce. On top of that, there were 2 rules with the monkeys: don't look them in the eye, and don't touch them. They can look and touch as much as they want, but not you. Kinda makes me wonder who's really on display there.

A couple of the women had a monkey jump on them at different times, and their reactions were priceless. These monkeys expected food, and they even jumped on top of buses and side mirrors with no thought of harm. A lady offered to get my picture with one of the monkeys, and as soon as I leaned back against the rail, the monkey put his hand on my shoulder. He didn't try and steal anything or bite me (which I've heard isn't uncommon), so we just stood there like bros. Then it was back down to the town.

The town was like any other highly-touristed area: lots of shops, eateries, and money changers. I wasn't that impressed, to be honest. I know why places like that exist, and I'm glad that they do, so that they can support the real stuff I want to see, like the Rock and the monkeys. We only had 2 hours to spend on our own after the tour, too, so maybe if I had had more time to explore, I would feel differently about it. I had fish and chips for lunch for the first time on this trip, and they were yummy. Then I wrote some postcards and mailed them. Lastly, I had to add to my collection of foreign coins, and I managed to get all of the coins except a 5p coin (Gibraltar mints their own coins and notes, which are at par with the English pound sterling).

I should say that the border crossing experience was fantastic going in - we had to flash our passports when the inspectors came on the bus, but the guys didn't really even look at them; coming out, though, was horrendous. We had to get off the bus, walk through some inside area where no one stopped us or looked at our passports, and then come out the other side into Spain. Where we waited. And waited. I got to talking with a retired English couple while we were waiting, and this was their 4th trip to Gibraltar. But they had never had to wait like this. We were out there for 50 minutes, waiting on the bus to get cleared or whatever. We never really found out why it took so long. But we were glad for the pleasant weather and the pleasant conversation.

One of the symbols I noted most today on our way to Gibraltar was that all (except for one) Spanish flag was flying at half staff, in memory of those who died in that plane crash yesterday. It was all they were talking about on the news last night. I guess it's the thing to do, even though there really wasn't much new to talk about, but they kept at it. I'd like to say thanks to all those people who checked in on me to make sure I wasn't on that flight. I will say that it has caused me to reconsider whether or not to fly anywhere else within Europe - frankly, I had looked at a land-and-sea-travel approach to this trip when I first started planning it, but intra-European flights are just so cheap. Now, I may rethink my itinerary and modes of transportation. I would be out about $900 if I don't fly anymore (except back to America), but vacation isn't worth dying for. It may be overreacting, but I think it might be the way I go from here on out.

Finally, I woke up this morning with a sore throat, so I'm going to take some allergy meds before I go to bed. I hope that clears it up quickly. I have had a pretty significant weather change from Britain, plus this room doesn't have any heating. Tomorrow, I'm going with the same tour company to Cordoba!

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