The Rock of Gibraltar. A landmark that most Americans recognize from a Prudential Insurance sign. For us it was all about the monkeys. It didn’t start out that way. After spending a week in Spain and Portugal it seemed like it would be fun to be in a British territory with people speaking english at the bottom of Spain. It didn’t exactly turn out that way…
One of the first things we learned about Gibraltar is that the english they speak there is unlike english spoken anywhere else. The word gibberish comes from Gibraltar. I’m sure that not everyone in Gibraltar speaks gibberish but we gad a very hard time translating what we were hearing into American english. Apparently the confusion was mutual. There were a lot of “what’s” on both sides of the conversation.
Gibraltar is an important defensive position guarding the Strait of Gibraltar. The Strait is a small corridor that connects the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. It is only about 9 miles across and separates Europe from Africa.
Gibraltar itself has been successfully and unsuccessfully attacked and taken over since about 950BC. Everybody wanted to control the Strait. Today Gibraltar is a British territory that Spain still wants to claim. Every once in a while the Spain side decides to make it difficult for vehicles trying to cross the border. They will do random vehicle searches causing delays, sometimes for hours. For this and other reasons,such as lack of parking, and small roads, it is often recommended to park in Spain and walk across the border. Gibraltar is only about 2.5 miles across so a car is really not necessary. The border crossing is interesting to say the least. You have to walk across the only airport runway for planes taking off from and landing in Gibraltar.
One of the first things we did in Gibraltar is go into a sports pub and ordered traditional fish and chips. I have to say that this was probably the worst meal we’ve had anywhere in Europe. The fish was soggy and kind of rubbery and the fries looked like they had been sitting in a bucket of grease for hours. Not the healthiest thing to order but this was pretty much inedible so my guess was that it wouldn’t kill us. The lager on draft on the other hand was awesome! Who says you can’t live on beer alone? At least for one afternoon.
We had done quite a bit of research and discovered that Gibraltar is one of the most densely populated places in the world. The population is about 35,000 and works out to be about 5,000 people per square kilometer. Gibraltar is also a calling port for many different cruise lines. One or two of the larger ships in port at the same time can add another 5 to 10 thousand bodies to an already crowded city. We found a site that charted when cruise ships would be in port and actually found a day with no ships coming in. This can make a huge difference in how you are able to experience Gibraltar. One of the main ways to get to the top of the Rock is by cable car, we had about a 20 minute wait for the ride up. When the big ships come in, that wait can be upwards of two hours. The shops in Gibraltar are full of unique items and cute, British themed souvenirs.They are also tiny and often have only one person working there. I can’t imagine trying to navigate these shops with 10 thousand more people in town. Gibraltar is crowded. This is why I always tell people when they ask me about travel planning to “do your research”. It’s fun to learn about the places you want to visit and it can make your trip a lot more enjoyable.
Now, back to the monkeys!
Tradition has it that British rule over the Rock would end if the apes disappeared. In Churchill’s mind, this would not even be risked. He ordered that the ape population should not be less than 24 and the governor should see to it that it stayed that way. The Barbary Apes did their duty for crown and country and now the population is not less than 160. Like I said “Gibraltar is crowded”. The apes are protected, you are not allowed to chase or harass the monkeys, even if they steal your $2,000 camera. They are very practiced at unzipping a backpack, we saw an adult ape break into a backpack, steal and open a bag of chips all in about 10 seconds.
Our backpacks had locks on them. The locks might be why we each had a monkey on our backs. Mine left after a few break in attempts but Stefan’s monkey was very fond of him. She decided to hang out for awhile, grooming his hair, laying her head down, not in any hurry at all to rejoin her friends. They have formed two distinct groups on the Rock and stay pretty much in their territory. When we started to hike down to the town she finally jumped off. I think the Barbary Apes were probably the highlight of Stefan’s trip, I liked them too!
On the way down we saw more apes waiting for the bus. They literally sit on a wall and when the tour buses pass, they jump on and ride up to the top. The people on the buses seem to love this. One passenger however, stepped off the bus and a baby ape jumped on her shoulder. She started screaming and swatting at the monkey. The bus driver was trying to calm her down. The baby monkey’s mom was not looking too happy. The baby finally jumped off and the lady got right back on the bus! Again, do your research! Know ahead of time that a monkey might want to ride around on your shoulders for awhile if you come visiting their neighborhood.
We got lost hiking down the Rock. I have no idea how , but we ended up in somebody’s backyard. We managed to find the path again and made it back down to the town. We ate dinner at an Italian restaurant in Gibraltar before heading back to our hotel in Spain. The seafood there was delicious and more than made up for the fish and chips earlier.