Getting to Gibraltar from Tarifa at an hour of the day which allows adequate time for exploration of ‘The Rock’ requires two buses: Tarifa to Algeciras; Algeciras to La Linea. Once in La Linea, you have to pass through border control – passport necessary but a bit of a charade really – and suddenly you are in British territory, starting with a walk across the runway (they put boom gates down when planes come in to land).
It was such an odd feeling being there. My grandmother spoke of stopping in Gibraltar on her way to Venice to marry my grandfather during WW1. The vista of the sheer drop, probably the most instantly recognisable image of ‘The Rock’. Red telephone boxes. British bobbies. The Union Jack – draped everywhere. Pie and chips and mushy peas. Warm beer. Streets with names straight out of English history. Winston Churchill Avenue was packed with duty free shoppers over from Spain doing their Christmas shopping and a load of tourists from a cruise ship moored in the harbour. The English accents sounded so awfully English in contrast to the Spanish accents to which I have become accustomed these past weeks.
The cable car provided a quick ride to the uppermost accessible part of the island. The docking area is filled with notices warning you that the Barbary apes are wild animals, don’t touch them, don’t feed them and put away any plastic bags because they associate them with food and will grab them. What did people immediately do upon emerging from the dock? Go up close to the apes and pose. The animals were indifferent to the attention.
The views are spectacular. You can see the Mediterranean stretching away into the distance, blurring with the horizon and dotted with scores of freight ships. Across the Strait lies Morroco – Cueta was also visible; and behind rolled the mountains of Spain.
The Rock is riddled with tunnels that are an integral part of the fascinating history of the place. Strategic openings in the rock wall provided magnificent vantage points for cannon to blast away at enemy ships. The display is very effective, and the tunnels are labyrinthine. Many are closed because of the more urgent blasting style used during WWll which created a lot of fractures. Needless to say, the views from every gun emplacement were impressive, and enabled The Rock to be impregnable to this day.
The descent to Winston Churchill Avenue is steep all the way, with narrow roads zigzagging across the landscape until you reach the built up area, after which roads continue to zigzag their way down the hill, occasionally supplemented with flights of stairs. The buildings reflect English origins.
Going to Gibraltar was a timely reminder that Great Britain does not work on Spanish lunch hours. Trying to get a hot meal at 3.00 pm was almost impossible – everywhere was closing – but found the Lord Nelson, a bar located in a bunker just off the main square, decorated in a nautical theme. Pot pie, chips, peas and gravy and a pint of Caffrey’s served by a Londoner whose accent was a thick as the mushy peas provided ample sustenance for the return trip to Tarifa.