Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Sunday, Gibraltar and the Barbary Apes
Sunday morning, we got up early, ate breakfast and headed west for the Rock of Gibraltar. The Rock is, of course, the massive peak guarding the entrance to the Mediterranean. Huge! This has been occupied by the Moors, the Spanish and now the British. Fascinating layers of history, and I should have bought a good guidebook before we went. I dislike not knowing just what it is I am seeing.
The drive was easy, the road well-marked. A national highway and all that. I did notice that that stretch of the coast looked exactly like ... old California. Rolling hills, oak trees, cattle. And new California too with wind farms and a refinery. No wonder the Spaniards took to our West Coast so readily. It really did look like home to the Andalusians.
Crossing into Gibraltar is ludicrously simple, you just follow the lanes of traffic marked Nothing To Declare. The gal at the border just looked to see we had passports in hand, not that they were ours or any of that. Then you drive across the runway of the airstrip. Turns out you can drive pretty much as high up the Rock as the cable cars go. A winter day with wind and rain, not too many tourists about. Parking wasn't too bad, but I think in summer it would be impossible. The roads are tiny and narrow with many blind spots. The shops are closed on Sunday, a good thing, because there's a lot of duty-free shopping for high-end goods.
We drove around, went to the southernmost point and tried to see Africa. We could seeing a looming dark mass, I guess that was it. Unless it was still Spain, which might have been what I was seeing. Hard to tell! The wind was so fierce, it shoved me around, nearly off my feet. There was an impressive Moorish structure and a lighthouse. Drove around some more, looked at the old military installations and the nifty houses and buildings. Then we drove to the cable car terminal, but the cars were closed due to high winds. There was an independent tour guy who had a little van, he rounded up a bunch of us and took us up to the major sights and sites. It was pricey, but worth it not to have to walk up in all that wind and damp. Although we had driven right up to where he stopped to buy us tickets. The Pillars of Hercules monument stands behind the ticket office, and there's a long story about Spanish silver dollars, aka pieces of eight, being impressed with the pillars, which gave Americans their dollar sign. America used Spanish dollars long before we minted our own.
Anyway, we saw the Cave of St. Michael, a natural cave which has been used since prehistoric times. Lots of drippy stone and wet. It was a hospital at one time, but now it is a music venue. Cool. Nest we stopped at the Ape's Den, the remanants of an old stucture at the top of the Spanish Stairs. This is where one of the troops of Babary Apes lives. There are six troops and they do not co-mingle. You aren't supposed to feed the apes, but our guide had treats and a stick to fend off the alpha male. Alpha was a big bully, naturally. The babies were adorable, but if you paid them attention, the asdoloscent male went, well, ape-shit. I held my arms our, hands clasped, as suggested, and sure enough, the ape hopped up for a photo op. They aren't dumb. The ape was tugging at Larry's pants leg, and suddenly climbed up onto his shoulder. I whirled around and shot a snap, but it didn't turned out well. Larry was near the guide, sure enough the ape reached over and snagged some extra treats. If you climb the short stairs at the Den, you can see the Med and the Atlantic at the same time. One is blue-grey and choppy, the other green and smoother.
Next we went to see the Great Siege Tunnels. These were blasted out facing the mainland by the British. I have no idea what the conflict was about, but I'm thinking the Brits were taking the Rock around then. I need my history book. There were mannequins in some of the enclosues, and one behind a door who would trigger on movement and shout, "Who goes there!" One nervous Brit on the tour kept warning me not to be frightened. Poor guy, everything frightened him, it was his first journey outside of England. He wouldn't even walk down to a pub in his own hometown! He was quite proud he'd made a day trip into Spain for a meal. Wow.
The guide showed us some other bits and pieces, then drove us into the middle of the Old Town. By now we were hungry and found a wonderful little restaurant called The Penny Farthing. I had calamares, with chips and veggies and a salad, but I wish I'd gone with the tandoori. Larry had lamb and couscous. We were sitting right where we could see over the counter into the kitchen. The cook was Morroccan and once a chef at a five-star hotel. He was delighted Larry had chosen the coucous, it was truly excellent. They did take Euros, but you have to tell them first so they can figure the bill. Gibtraltar uses English pounds.
I took a lot of pictures on the walk back to the car. Again, I need a history book! I also hit the tourist shop that was open, bought kitschy things, a fridge magnet with a lucky ape penny, a shot glass, postcards. Then the rain came pouring down and we decide it was time to head home. I wish I'd stopped on the Spanish side for a long shot photo of the Rock, there was no good place to stop on the way out.
Pictures: The Rock from halfway up, the Moorish palace (?), windy me, the map, I think I can see Africa, the Pillars of Hercules, Larry with my purse, Me and the Ape, Apeman, Ape, seige tunnels, the Penny Farthing, around Old Town, old gravestones set into the wall of the Tragfalga cemetery.
I have posted many more pictures on Facebook and provided links:
Tomorrow: Ronda and I wish we'd had a chance to stop and take pictures on the windy mountain roads!