The sun was shining and we were going on a day visit to Britain; Gibraltar to be precise! Gibraltar is the 14th country we'll explore on our 5 year tour. We made fast progress along the urban corridor that inhabited this stretch of Spain's southern shore. Doing the rat run along the dual carriageway, interspersed frequently by glorietas (roundabouts) we passed by luxury apartments clustered together in white and peach, palms and sculpted citrus trees and signs for Costa del Golf.
The distinctive landmass grew larger each time we glimpsed it and we started to see GBZ number plates. Approaching the low flat land linking Gibraltar to Spain, we were funneled into lanes leading to the border. It was slow going but we waited in line with other visitors and Gibraltarians. When at a standstill we watched the driver ahead of us passing money to a man wearing a high-vis vest. By the time he reached our window Vicky had removed the passport wallet and her phone from the dashboard. 'You going to Gibraltar? You drive?' he asked. 'Yes' we replied, '20 Euros', 'What!?!' At our incredulous response (and possibly the sight of the dashcam filming him) the chancer made a hasty retreat, on to the next naive looking visitor! After crawling by two people begging with boards written in English we drove across the flat expanse of Gibraltar airport's runways and on to passport control. Lanes for vehicles with and without customs formalities merged into one; what a nightmare it must be for residents on the daily commute! Passports checked, we were pulled over and asked about the van's height and about the canoe. 'Is it for personal use? Are you just coming for the day? No engine?' They spoke to us in acceneted English and were keen to convey that camping was not allowed anywhere in Gibraltar, but did so in a friendly manner, telling us we could park anywhere and wishing us a good visit.
As we drove around the narrow, shore hugging road, there was a high concentration of houses. All signs were written in English, although speed limits were still in kmph not mph and we were driving on the right. Another reminder of home came as we entered the Dudley Ward Way tunnel. It was two way but its low sides required us to drive in the middle, so we were thankfull it wasn't busy.
It was easy to find a spot in the large car park at Europa Point and easy to catch the number 2 bus into Gibraltar city. Prices were displayed in both pounds and euros but we'd decided to have a 'British Day' so excitedly paid in the former. Will even got an over 60's discount! Now that we were formally in Britain, we weren't rankled by hearing English spoken and seeing it written, as we had been in Malága. Walking through town Vicky got a little over enthusiastic, snapping photos of red post boxes, British looking litter bins, Union Flags advertising today's British newspapers and British fish and chips. We chose The Royal Calpe pub for ours, washed down with a pint (yes, pint) of London Pride. All these things may seem very trivial and normal to those reading back in the UK, but having spent so much time away over the last 21 months, to have so many things that remind us of home, so far from England, was a novelty we enjoyed for the day. We'd probably have quite a different point of view if we were visiting as part of a 1 week holiday.
After spending a little time pointing out highstreet shops such as Marks and Spencers, Debenhams, Early Learning Centre and Specsavers, we dodged the taxi drivers offering us lifts and took the cable car to the top station (there was no way we could have climbed up after those fish and chips!). The lift operator was friendly, pointing out the Spanish enclave in Africa as we rose up the steep hill to 412m and into the nature reserve. He explained that out of the 300 wild Barbary Macaques who occupy the upper rock, some could be cheeky, riding on taxis and hanging out in the busier tourist spots in hope of being fed, despite the authorities providing enough food for them everyday.
Exiting the cable car into the Upper Rock Nature Reserve, we encountered these cheeky monkeys almost straight away. It was captivating to see them at such close quarters and reassuring that they appeared relaxed around us. Many were sedentary, sitting quietly on a wall or the road (Vicky nearly tripped over one she hadn't noticed!). Others were more interested in preening one another and the babies enjoyed wrestling and plucking bunches of yellow wood sorrel for a munch. We'd been told not to touch them and respected this, but looked on disapprovingly as other tourists made grabs for the babies as they posed for a photo.
When we did manage to peal our eyes away from these amazing primates, the views were stunning. Below us the city hugged the lowland bordering the Straights of Gibraltar. Mainland Spain was on one side and Africa seemed so close on the other! It was exciting to see, but even more thrilling to think that we planned to be over there in Morocco in Martha Motorhome in two year's time!
Huge steel cargo ships coalesced at the pinch point where the Atlantic met the Mediterranean, some of them moored, others set on their course. Consulting the map we began to make our way towards the Sky Walk; a glass platform erected on the far side of the steep cliff. Standing on it, we could see the ground falling away under our feet to the intensely azure sea 400m below. It was a good experience but busy, so we continued along a quieter path which afforded us views back over the jagged ridge of Gibraltar Rock. From then onwards there were few people, although we were occasionally passed by taxis that clustered around attractions such as St Michael's Cave and the Ape's Den half way down.
The day was hot and we were keen to get back to Poppy, but the descent seemed to take a long time, especially so because of the poor signage. Reaching the city we soon found a bus stop for the number 2 and were on our way. It was interesting listening to the local Llanito being spoken. A mix of English, Spanish Genoese and some Portuguese, people would flip between this and pure English or Spanish.
Thanks to the way we'd ventilated the van and raised its reflective blinds it had remained comfortable for Poppy and Vicky took her out while Will bought ice creams from the seller parked nearby. To end our time in Gibraltar we spent 20 minutes looking out at views of Africa and Spain from the (very windy) viewpoints at Europa Point.
As we drove back through the tunnel and over the airstrip we reflected on what a good day we'd had in Gibraltar. It had been a little busy, but we'd enjoyed the novelty of spending our pounds, eating fish and chips and drinking a British pint. The Barbery Macaques had been spellbinding and the views of the rock itself and of the intercontinental straights were incredible.Read more