Spain & Gibraltar | posted July 3, 2004

It was in Jerez that the kids began to realize they really were somewhere different. Walking the now dark and narrow cobblestoned streets at 10:30 pm to find somewhere to eat and not understanding a word that people were speaking caused a little bit of uncertainty in the under-20 (okay, under-40!) set. Sharon was most impressed when Ben & Emma pointed out that there was a bat sitting on the second step of the marble staircase in the hotel. We were definitely not in Canada any more!

The morning of the 28th of June saw us heading off with our backpacks actually on our backs for the first time as we pointed ourselves toward the bus depot in Jerez. A walk that was probably less than a kilometer felt more like the Manitoba Marathon! Conditioning is something we're obviously striving toward, rather than having attained at this stage in our journey. Bram vowed to wear only one change of clothing if that made a difference in the weight of our packs. (Sharon & Emma made no such promise!)
Ben, Sharon and Emma on the top of the Rock. Inside the mountain there are about 50 km of tunnels used by the British military.

A bus ride around the coast to La Linea de la Conceptión dropped us at the border of Gibraltar. We trekked across the border and hailed a cab, only to be caught in a traffic jam. How can a traffic jam possibly happen when there are only 30,000 residents and everything in the colony can actually be reached on foot? (It is only 6 square kilometres!) Apparently the British conquered the point in 1704, so it's the 300th anniversary this year, and we happened to arrive at the same time that Princess Anne was visiting. A brief history lesson from our taxi driver made it very evident that fierce patriotism could be brought to surface with some pretty innocuous questions.

We settled in the Cannon Hotel (hotel being a description that was very generous by North American standards) and found out that traveling as family of four meant that we would most often have to sleep in rooms that were equipped for three people. We're still puzzling how families travel together. Maybe they just never all stay in the same room.

Gibraltar is a quaint place lots of pedestrian corridors, scooters everywhere, and more police per capita than we've ever seen. It's probably best known for its cliffs (the Rock). Our trust Lonely Planet guide introduces Gibraltar:

"Looming like some great ship off Spain's most southerly coast, the British colony of Gibraltar is such a fascinating mix of curiousities that a visit here can hardly fail to interest even the most jaded traveler."
There are signs everywhere telling visitors not to feed the apes on the Rock in Gibraltar. Apparently some tourists can’t read.

"The mere sight of the Rock's awesome northeastern face is compelling. A vast limestone ridge that rises to 426m, with sheer cliffs on its northern and eastern sides, Gibraltar is 5 km long, and 1.6 km across at its widest point. To the ancient Greeks and Romans, Gibraltar was one of the two Pillars of Hercules, set up by the mythical hero to mark the edge of the known world."

The highlights of our full day in Gibraltar were the visit to the Upper Rock Nature Reserve and our dip in the Mediterranean Sea. We took the cable car up to the Nature Reserve. (Nothing is cheap in Gibraltar. For the four of us to just take the cable car up and no admission to the sites up there, ran in the order of $50 Cdn. Ouch!) Getting off the cable car, we were greeted by a couple of the Barbary Apes that live up there. They are the only wild primates living in Europe, and we certainly got up close and personal with them. It was a very different experience watching the apes without a fence between us and them.

The afternoon saw us taking the long way (three buses and a very scenic tour of Gibraltar) to find a beach from which we could actually dip our toes, and hopefully our hot bodies, into the Mediterranean Sea. We came to realize that our definition of beach is very different than that of many Brits. The first beach to which we were directed consisted of a large concrete sidewalk that faced the water. And sprawled all over the sidewalk were bathers with their umbrellas and coolers. Not a grain of sand in sight! Needless to say, Emma and Ben were quite confused. Where's the beach? Another bus took us to our final destination, a real beach with sand and seagulls. We all walked toward the water with good intent, but varying degrees of actual bathing success. Sharon, as usual, cooled off quite quickly once her ankles were wet, but did venture all the way to middle torso depth. Emma (as usual as well) tripped and did the full immersion deal at a depth of only 12 inches or so. After the incoming surf did a not-so-gentle wash up Emma's nose, she headed for the beach to sit with Mom and watch the boys jump the waves. Everyone did, however, do a ceremonial dip of their toes to begin the trek around this storied body of water.

The visit to Gibraltar finished as it had started, trekking across the border to La Linea de la Conceptión, and catching a bus to Algeciras, the port city from which most ferries depart to Morocco. Our next port of call? Off to Africa!