Spain Part 2 - Tom and Maria, Gibraltar
Trip Start Apr 11, 2006
90Trip End Ongoing
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After a few early mornings and sleepless nights we were not at our sparkling best as we set off at 7.30am to meet up with Tom and Maria. At 7.30am our Hotel was deserted except for a few cleaners and a bored looking Spanish security guard. The First Choice army of drones was nowhere to be found they must have been ironing their smiles and their purple shirts. It was early on a Sunday morning and the traffic was very light, this reduced the number of vehicles I could collide with. We whizzed down the highway and comfortably found the meeting point with a few minutes to spare. Tom, Maria and Hugo arrived a short time later and after a quick nappy change Hugo was ready to go to Gibraltar, his first International trip.
All I knew about Gibraltar was that it was a large Rock, it was in Spain and it was owned by the British. Exactly how it was owned by the British is a little unclear. One theory is that a group of English sailors landed there many centuries ago – they were probably looking for an English Pub that served Bangers and Mash – these sailors all had 'a plague' and a missionary kept them at Gibraltar. Eventually more English came and as part of a trade agreement England were able to sanction Gibraltar. Over the following years the English and Spanish were involved in several conflicts over the ownership of Gibraltar. As Gibraltar is English you need your passport to go there and then to return to Spain.
Unfortunately, there was once again a haze about and the haze seemed to be worse around Gibraltar. Our first glimpse of Gibraltar revealed a silhouette of a large shape coming out of the distant haze. I wish it was clear day and I am sure the sight of Gibraltar would have been very imposing indeed. The closer we got the clearer Gibraltar became, but it was certain that the days viewing pleasure would surely be impeded. The harbour around Gibraltar was very beautiful indeed and even the tankers and container ships only added to the spectacle. Gibraltar is an enormous mountain jutting out where the land ends. In fact it looks misplaced and resembles a wart on the end of a toe.
We then joined a long queue of cars entering Gibraltar. Going through both the Spanish and British Immigration all you simply do is hold your passport out of the car window. The Immigration officer simply waved you on. The Immigration Officer does do ‘spot checks’ on vehicles that have shady suspicious looking characters in it – he gave Di a second and third glance but waved us on regardless of how ‘shifty’ she looked.
I then saw a large commercial plane land between us and Gibraltar. We drove on and then found ourselves driving across the runway of an airport. When planes are not landing or taking off the runway substitutes as part of the road into Gibraltar. The runway is for tourists but it also services the large British army base stationed on Gibraltar. It is this army base and its very strategic position to Africa that causes the British government to hang on to ownership of Gibraltar.
We followed Tom through the township on Gibraltar and around many winding streets, until we started up the actual mountain. The road continued to wind around and once again I was reminded of a James Bond movie where Jimmy chased a truck down this road on foot and caught up by going straight down over the edge instead of winding around like the truck. I began to imagine I was James Bond chasing the criminal mastermind Tom up the winding road, reality struck literally when I went to change gears and struck the car door on the left instead of changing the gear on the right – well I had a moment didn’t I! Near the top there was an admission fee to be paid and at nearly $A100 for us and the car there better be more than a hazy view.
Parking is a major problem on the mountain as the streets are just so narrow. I parked 6 inches away from a drop of about 2 foot or so, I got out of the car and then a four wheel drive came along and could not pass. I moved the car over another inch or so, the four wheel drive still could not get past. I asked Tom to take over, if he went over the edge at least it is his car, I was going no closer. Tom expertly put the wheels half over the edge and half on the roadway, I don’t know how he did it but he did. With the side mirrors pushed in the four wheel drive just made it past. I then started to notice on nearly all the vehicles they had large scratches and dints on the side of their vehicles. It seems that with the narrow streets it is expected that you clip vehicles and having a scratch free vehicle is a long lost dream.
The first stop was a cave where the population of Gibraltar would hide during sieges by the neighboring Spanish when relationships between England and Spain became strained. It was also used extensively by the Allies throughout World War Two to store goods and munitions. Caves are always good to wander around and it was nice and cool in there. Maria gave us an unexpected Spanish serenade to test the acoustics of the cave; people are just full of hidden talents.
The trek up to the highest point on Gibraltar was submerged in cloud and the walk up there was not going to give us much of a view so we decided it was not worth the effort. If you come to Gibraltar make sure it is on a clear day. On a clear day you can see Morocco in Africa. It was a little disappointing to miss out on the view but the view we had was great none the less and the harbour and the bay looked very special. We decided to move on to another part of Gibraltar.
Unfortunately moving meant getting the car out of its parking space. The road was so narrow only one car at a time could manage the road. This meant if a car was coming up the road a car coming down had to wait and vice versa. We were facing upwards and needed to turn around and come downwards. A car going up passed us and Tom moved out to follow him, I then tagged along behind him. Remember the road is very steep. Thirty metres up the road two cars were coming down and they kept on coming, they just did not wait for us to pass. Fortunately there was one vacant car space where the five of us maneuvered like a Rubik’s Cube to pass each other. I watched the other two cars do the impossible and squeeze past and then it was my turn.
Remember, I was driving a left hand drive manual car on a steep hill and had to move forward an inch at a time in a very confined space – HOW DO YOU THINK ME STRESS LEVEL WAS!!!!! I could smell the clutch starting to get hot, and every swear word known to mankind was going though my mind and inch by inch I crept past these two @#$#@#$ cars. I was nearly past the last car and just needed another inch or so and I was through. The other driver could see this and went to move forward a tiny bit, but stalled and jerked forward hitting the parked car – now I had plenty of room to get through. Once past them I had to turn around and go back down - @#$#@!! With the side mirrors still squashed in close and with no knuckleheads coming up the other way we made it down without any mishap – though the smell of burning clutch was very strong, I was hoping Tom never noticed it!!!
Gibraltar has a vast population of monkeys inhabiting it – real monkeys not the idiot people type and it was not long before we saw a group of them on the side of the road. Fortunately there were enough parking spaces for us to park comfortably. As with most mammals the older monkeys are slow and relaxed and the younger monkeys run riot. What the monkeys want though is food. One car pulled up and left its car window open within a second a young monkey was in the car and out again with a bag of crisps and a packet of biscuits and scurried off into the bush to enjoy his feast.
The monkeys would jump on cars and play with the car aerials. They would wrestle with each other and jump from one car to the next. The older monkeys seemed to be sitting by the side of the road shaking their heads at all the childish frivolity and tut tut tuting away!! The monkeys were fun and when we went to drive off several jumped on Tom’s car and put on a real hilarious show. Tom eventually drove off but the monkeys held on for as long as they could.
The next stop was a monastery, but it was packed with cars and parking was going to be a nightmare, thankfully Tom drove on. There was then a fort with underground passage ways. Again parking was a problem so we drove on and off the mountain into the township below. I was beginning to enjoy driving through these narrow streets and my speed crept up a bit, until a reality check of a car pulling out in front of me sent the foot on to the brake and the left hand into the car door. My left hand was beginning to hurt!!!!
We arrived in the town centre during siesta time. Siesta time is a hard concept for foreigners to comprehend. Though when you think about it, it is totally logical and a practice that could easily be adapted into the Australian way of life, particularly in summer. The principles of siesta are that you go to work/school/etc in the morning, you then have a huge lunch and when the hottest part of the day arrives you have a rest for a few hours. When the temperature starts to go down, normally after about three hours, you go back to work. This means that between about midday and 4pm many businesses are closed and then reopen until about 7pm – 8pm at night. The evening meal is then after 8pm and bed is about midnight. The effect that this has is so different to the English speaking world’s ‘normal’ way of life. Firstly, in the middle of the day Spain is empty, in the English world it is the busiest time of the day. Once darkness comes at night the English world tends to retreat to their homes and the streets are empty. In Spain after darkness everyone comes out and the streets are a hive of activity. There is definitely merit in the Spanish way. Even the kids adapt to this way of life and are never in bed by 7.30pm and generally get to bed about 11pm, yes even on a school day.
We eventually found our way to the town square and found a couple of restaurants still open. As we were now officially in England the temptation of a roast dinner with Yorkshire pudding was all too much for Tom and he lashed out on the works. We ate, chatted and then the sleepy feeling was descending on me and a siesta sounded ohh so nice!! But there is no rest for the wicked and soon we were departing. You could pay your meal with Euros but they gave you change in Gibraltar pounds. Yes, Gibraltar has its own currency, though they will take the real British pounds also. Jesse soon had another note to add to mounting collection of notes we had collected from various countries on our trip.
On the way out I wanted a plane to land or take off so I could get a photo, but no such luck we drove straight over the runway. With passports out we whizzed through both Immigration check points and we bid farewell to a lovely day in Gibraltar. We drove back up the coast to where Tom lives and went in for coffee and olives and other nibbles. On TV Manchester United unbelievably beat Tottenham Hotspurs 1 – 0, if ever Tottenham should have won it was this game – bloody ref!!
After the game we left the hospitality of Tom and Maria and I masterminded our journey back to Fuengirola, though I am sure the knuckle on my left hand was going to break soon if I had to drive any further. On arrival at the Hotel I thought I was walking past a cardboard cut out of a man wearing a purple shirt and smiling broadly until it spoke to me. I replied, ‘No thanks there is nothing you can do for me, all is well. No I will not be joining you for bingo and the talent night later this evening’.
We were all feeling run down and the old batteries needed recharging so we decided to have a couple of days by the side of the pool and at the beach over the coming days. We badly needed some R and R. Plus my left hand needed a rest before I did some serious damage.
Cop Jai my friends.