Happy 2017 folks!
Zagan the motorhome’s facing down the Rock of Gibraltar, sat in the official aire in the leisure port of La Línea de la Concepción just across the border in Spain (N36.15613, W5.35729). It costs €12 a night to stay here, which isn’t cheap (we free-camped the last time we were here, and that area’s now off-limits), but it has a wonderful view across the runway to the rock, one of the most densely-populated areas on Earth. It’s the 2nd of January today. We arrived on 31 December, and fireworks have been going off sporadically much of the time we’ve been here, but for interludes between about 2am and 8am, some have been loud enough to shake our brains. Charlie’s sleep patterns have, as a result, seriously gone to pot as he sits staring into the distance wondering why the world’s started viciously exploding. It’s quietened down today, so he’s caught up a little on shut eye.
The run down here from Portugal was an easy one. Just before the bridge into Spain the Portuguese motorway goes non-toll, and most of the Spanish road from there to here was fast and free. It took about 4 hours to cruise across to Seville, which announced itself with a confusing mess of faded billboards crowding out the road, and then south to Jerez de la Frontera, and south-east to here. On a couple of occasions the road split itself into fast and slow lanes, as it steered itself upwards over low passes between the arid hills. The highlight of the drive, for me, was spotting a good-sized herd of goats being shepherded by a chap on a donkey and three tough-looking dogs. I love a good goat herd, although from experience, if viewed close up a decent clothes peg on the nose doesn’t go amiss.
Pulling in alongside Phil and Jules, we caught up on news from the past few days. Quiet for us, eventful for them. In one wild-camping spot a misunderstanding with a local motorhome over a beach-side parking space almost called for pistols at dawn. In a ‘secure’ parking spot elsewhere, Jules found herself having to fend off three would be bike-robbers as they attempted to pull their trusty steeds off the bike rack at 10pm. Their steeds, by the way, were both obtained for free, one of which being rescued from a skip, so they’re not exactly worth much. Clearly they were worth thieving by these muppets though, who continued to yank at them even after Jules had pulled open the rear blind and had gone eyeball to eyeball with the villains.
We saw New Year 2017 in with a yellow sticker Morrisons curry. The supermarket has a branch here in Gibraltar, and walking around it feels like you’ve teleported home. But for the fact an uncanny number of the staff have a Spanish accent (we spotted one of ’em later on, commuting back to Spain), you could be in your local branch, topping up on real ale, Branston Pickle, pork pies and brussel sprouts. How they get all the British food down here’s a mystery to me, logistics not being my strong point. Ju did find a chink in the armour though: they’d run out of sausages. The only ones we could find were frozen, so our freezer’s now rammed with Cumberlands, ready to be scoffed up against the Sahara.
As midnight arrived, announced on comically-bland Armed Forces Radio, we collectively stared over to Gibraltar. Nothing. We’d been expecting a firework display from the Grand Casemates Square where we’d seen a large stage being constructed during the day. Another minute passed, and a few bangers and rockets went off around us, as muttering commenced: “that’s a bit of a let down. The photo on the website showed some big ‘uns going off. Ah well.” And then. It started. KA-BLOODY-BOOM! The entire town’s sky went on fire, and stayed on fire for 2 entire hours, with hardly a gasp of silent breath the whole time. A den had been pre-fabricated for Charlie, but it wasn’t anywhere near enough for the poor chap. He’s not driven mad by the noise, but he clearly doesn’t like it as he sits staring in the direction of the latest eruption and panting. It took until gone 3am for the cacophony to die down. By this point I’d passed out on the sofa with Charlie (from tiredness I note: I’m on the wagon), and Ju had taken to reaching down from the bed and stroking him to calm him.
We didn’t know it but around the same time the border in Ceuta, the Spanish enclave in Morocco just to the south of us, was being violently attacked by hundreds upon hundreds of migrants desperate to get into that tiny, African corner of Europe. Today we took a walk (which I’m tempted to call a ‘hike’, since it took us flipping hours) across the rock, up the Mediterranean Steps to the south and across the monkey-strewn land at the top. From up there, legs aching, we could easily see the outline of Ceuta and the Moroccan mountains stretching off into the distance. Europe and Africa feel millimetres away, geographically, although we know from our time in Morocco and Tunisia, they’re a world apart. The ferry over will cost us about €180 return, a price those migrants might willingly pay many times over, if only they could.
I like Gibraltar, by the way. It’s not England, although it feels more English than England does at times, with its red phone boxes, chippies, pubs, red post boxes, ubiquitous armed forces plaques, UK-spec (but left hand drive) police cars and high street names. After passing through passport control and customs (laughably easy at the moment – I saw one lady on her way out holding her ID card upside down for inspection), you cross the runway and are then into a bit of a scruffy, high rise area where the most notable thing is the 75p a litre petrol. The nature of the place changes though the further you walk, it becomes less tourist-oriented, lower rise and gains a more genuine feel. As we strutted along I couldn’t help but be a little bewildered as elderly ladies greeted us: “Hello! Lovely morning, isn’t it?”
The Mediterranean Steps cost €0.50 each to climb, and are worth every penny. Bring sturdy shoes, a drink and a Mars Bar from town, and your camera to point at the nascent Med to the east. Huge boats failed to bob about on the sea, planted like rocks and all facing the same way towards Algeria over the horizon. We huffed our way up, half expecting to spot a macaque or two, but no, the monkeys had other ideas. They were all gathered around the spot the tour group mini-buses squeeze along further to the north, being hand-fed fruit by the drivers. Us tourists hammered away at them like the monkey paparazzi, which they more than took in their stride, sitting preening each other in the sunshine. As I legged it about, peering at the feet and eyes of these fascinating beasties, Ju stood off to one side, telling me later (to my green-eyed jealousy) that a couple of them had used her shoulder as a jumping-off point to leap onto a wall.
As I write this Ju’s taking an inventory of our food stash in here. We could be in Morocco for 3 months and although we’re aware of the fact Moroccans also need to eat, we also know the types of food available there are FAR TOO HEALTHY for our liking: all fresh fruit, vegetables and couscous. Looking down into the cupboard to my left, we’re not going to starve, but we’ll squeeze in a final European supermarket shop before we take to the Straight to ensure we’ve enough cake and biscuits to last us.
A few more photos from The Rock:
OK, signing off folks. Once again, happy 2017, we hope it smiles upon you and your loved ones. Cheers! Jay
P.S. If you’re after an interesting story about Gibraltar, check out the Algeciras Operation, a covert attempt by Argentina to use frogmen to sink a UK warship during the Falklands War. The plan sounds a little crazy, but the way the Spanish handled it when they foiled it is just as bizarre.