Gibraltar; St. Michael's Cave; In which I am pissed upon; Siege tunnels; Europa Point; Adieu à Emilie; Football bedlam

It being our last day together, Emilie decided to buy us all breakfast at a café near the hotel. It had been a long time since we’d had a proper breakfast, so we lingered over it and didn’t arrive in Gibraltar until noon. Border formalities were just as much a breeze as they had been the day before. We went down to the tourist office and debated the option of taking one of the guided taxi tours we’d seen advertised. The price seemed a bit steep, but a guy named Xander overheard us and proposed we go in on it together, and with 4 people the price dropped to €25 each, of which €12.50 was admission to the nature reserve on top of the Rock. This seemed like a decent price, given that we were very short of time - Emilie’s bus was at 7pm.

No sooner had we made the decision and walked out into the square again than a taxi driver approached us. A native Gibraltarian, Alfie spoke in the rapid-fire Gib accent that sounds like South London to me. Emilie didn’t have an issue with his accent but we had to ask him to slow way down - I missed a lot of what he said myself. He was a bit of an odd duck, but nice enough.

The first stop was an observation point over the Strait of Gibraltar. It was a fine day and the view was magnificent. Second stop was St. Michael’s Cave, a massive two-level cavern system inside the Rock. I always prefer wild caves, and this one had had the floor levelled, staircases and lights installed, and such, but it was still magnificent. Flowstone and dripstone hung from the ceiling in curtains and spiky waves, and the ceiling was very high. I don’t think it’s an active cave system any longer - there was very little moisture and no sound of drips from anywhere. It was very odd to be in a dry cave. The acoustics were incredible, though. The cave also doubles as a concert hall, and I’d have loved to hear something choral performed there, it must be amazing.

Third stop was the Apes’ Den to see Gibraltar’s population of Barbary Apes. They’re ridiculously tame with tourists, though judging from the number of scars and torn noses, they fight between themselves viciously. Barbary Apes are quite big and chunky, about the size of a small dog and weighing maybe eight or ten kilos. The drivers entice them onto tourists’ heads with nuts. I got some good photos of Sheryl and Milie with ape hats, but when it came to my turn the damn monkey pissed all over me. To steal a phrase from Armin, God hates me. I wiped off as best I could and the driver sprayed me with some sort of deoderant, but I reeked of monkey piss for the rest of the day. I haven’t decided if the ape did it on purpose or not.

The last stop on the tour were the Siege Tunnels, dug in the 18th century during one of the interminable conflicts with Spain. They’re hewn out of the solid Rock at a few hundred meters altitude and housed cannon emplacements. Presumably this gave them an invulnerable vantage point from which to shoot at the Spanish. I’m not particularly interested in military history, so I don’t know much about the fighting, but the tunnels were quite neat. Each window that the cannons fired from was equipped with leather curtains to prevent sparks blowing back into the tunnels and igniting the gunpowder stores.

The driver dropped us off at the Moorish Fort, which is exactly what it sounds like - a tower of Moorish style and vintage halfway up the Rock overlooking the town. It was small and not particularly interesting, though the views were good and we found a tunnel that unfortunately led nowhere. We walked down into the town to a pub and had lunch together, and I took the opportunity to wash in the pub’s bathroom and rinse out my shirt. It didn’t get rid of the smell, but it made it a bit more tolerable.

After lunch we caught the bus to the very tip of the peninsula, Europa Point. Emilie had wanted to see the stubby red-and-white-striped lighthouse there, and to have her picture taken with both Spain and Africa in the background. There was a nice mosque there, and a high cliff, and a cool abandoned building that someone had been squatting in. Pretty nice digs, too - I briefly considered moving in myself. The weather was fine and we could have stayed there all day, but time was short so we caught the next bus back to the Spanish border, or “frontier” as they call it in Gib, in a delightful bit of post-Imperial snobbery.

There was a little time left and so we headed to the beach, the last item on Emilie’s checklist for the day, where she and Sheryl had a quick swim, and then Milie and I left Sheryl on the beach and headed back to the hotel - she to pack and I to wash off monkey pee. Halfway there I realized I’d forgotten the room key and had to run back to the beach, where I discovered it had been in my pocket all along. Sheryl called me an idiot, I agreed and ran back. You can imagine, gentle readers, what I smelled like when I finally got there.

All packed and showered, Milie and I met Sheryl and we went looking for food - not an easy task on a Sunday evening. All the supermarkets were closed and there were no restaurants open near the bus station, either. Finally we had to settle for kebabs, which disgust me and upset my digestion for days, but which I was hungry enough to (mostly) choke down this time. Tearful goodbyes accomplished, Emilie rode away, probably feeling like she’d barely escaped with her life. Little does she know that she hasn’t seen the last of me, though.

Milie was very disappointed to be missing the final match of the Euro 2008 football tournament, in which Spain faced off against Germany for the championship. She was on the bus when the match ended with Spain victorious. We, to our chagrin, were not, and the streets erupted into the kind of honking, screeching, flag-waving, whistle-blowing chaos and bedlam that I’m far too familiar with from too many World Cup celebrations back home. I tried to get into the spirit of the thing and took a few pictures, but we soon had to go back to the hotel, where we waited a bit for the noise to die down, and then put in our earplugs and tried to sleep.


One Comment on this Dispatch:

August 6th, 2008

Oh Chris, there’s that bad luck again. :P
My gran says hi and sends her best wishes to you both. She asks about you guys every time I talk to her.

¬ Nicola
August 10th, 2008

And our best to her as well. I have a note to myself to write her soon, too.

¬ Chris
Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
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