It was like beating our heads against a brick wall. Or, in this case, a plexiglass ticket booth. Travelling in Spain’s larger cities is easy enough. English is everywhere and as long as you know a few Spanish words people will do their best to help you. But not
this smug prick this fine gentleman in a uniform inside the ticket booth at the Estacion de Autobuses in Malaga, across the street from the Maria Zambrono train station. I was asking, por favor, for “dos billete de autobus to Gibraltar”. While I couldn’t understand his reply, it was clear he wasn’t interested in selling us tickets to Gibraltar. So, like most idiots would do, I repeated myself, slower and louder. This was the point I felt like banging my head against the plexiglass enclosure. Overhearing me, a nice English girl stepped in and asked the attendant in perfect Spanish for dos billete de autobus to Gibraltar. I’m fairly certain that’s what I had said. It turns out there is no bus to Gibraltar. Rather, it goes to the La Linea de la Concepcion, right on the Gibraltar border. The attendant was messing with me on a technicality. But it’s part of the joy of traveling.
6 am the next day we hop the bus to La Linea. The trip takes you along Costa del Sol, featuring incredible views of the Mediterranean. In a private vehicle, the trip would take a couple of hours. But the bus stops frequently along the way in Marbella, Estepona and other towns. The trip takes probably 4 hours. At this early time of day, the long stretch of postcard beaches is vacant. Soon enough we see The Rock in the distance and it’s every bit as impressive as you might have imagined. A Pillar of Hercules, at the mouth of the Mediterranean.
Gibraltar and its airport. The green strip along the airport marks the border with Spain. (Picture was taken from the internet).
The La Linea bus terminal is 3 blocks from the border. There were dozens of us walking across. Interestingly, once in Gibraltar on Winston Churchill Avenue, you trek across runway 3 of the Gibraltar International Airport (look both ways!). We had a vague idea where to find The Rock Hotel, our home for the night. We walked there, saving ourselves what was probably an overpriced cab fare. Heck, it’s probably only 4 km from the border. As we hiked, we realized that unless you are circling Gibraltar, you are either going up or down The Rock. Maybe we should have taken a taxi.
After what seemed an interminable hour or two of hiking generally uphill in sweltering heat, we were at the door of The Rock Hotel, our legs ready to give out from underneath us. Adding insult to injury, there were still a lot of steps to climb to the front door. Once inside, several more steps lead to the reception area. We are checking into one of the fancier hotels in Gibraltar – certainly, the most famous – and I am soaked. My eyes are stinging from the sweat coming off my forehead. But the view from our room (thankful for the elevator to the third floor!) is breathtaking. At our feet, the Bay of Gibraltar sparkles in the sunshine. A dozen or so oil tankers dot the bay. Algeciras and Spain directly across from us. To the left, 14 km away on the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar is Jebel Musa in Africa, the southern Pillar of Hercules (Although some say the southern Pillar is Monte Hacho in Ceute). With the Rock behind us, we have a perfect 180-degree view.
Across the Strait of Gibraltar is Jebel Musa in Africa, the southern Pillar of Hercules.
A cold shower and a bit of rest, and we are good to go exploring. At the front desk, a passage can be arranged by ferry to Morocco, which is certainly an idea we have in the backs of our minds. The idea of putting our feet on the African continent is very attractive. For now, though, it’s midday and our first stop is the top of The Rock. From our room, we can see the cable car that would take us there. We hike down a couple of blocks, only to go back up the Rock, fifteen of us crammed into a car heading 1400 feet upward to the Gibraltar Nature Reserve.
Sign on our balcony at The Rock Hotel.
We are dropped off at an overpriced gift shop. Outside the door, the two top attractions of Gibraltar made themselves known: the breathtaking 360-degree view and the Barbary Macaques. The apes have resided here several hundred years, but with large numbers of tourists visiting daily, they have been tamed. In fact, the first one we see is eating potato chips out of the bag. They’ve become bold enough to climb onto your head. Bold enough to wander the city below searching for food and excitement, resulting in a vehicle and building damage, among other things. There are several families of Macaques, totaling maybe 250. We are told repeatedly – starting with our hotel room reading material – to not feed the apes. But as in so many other tourist-heavy areas, tourists seem to think they’re above the law. Staff on the rock feed the apes fruit and food scraps creating photo ops as the animals gather to eat. Sadly, we saw one employee shooing an ape with a broom and smacked him hard enough to make him squeal. It was upsetting.
Tourists bring perks to the resident Macaques on Gibraltar.
Feeding the baby. Although they occasionally fall to their death, fear of heights is not an issue with the Gibraltar Macaques.
We hiked all afternoon along the Rock’s spine making ape friends. There are trails to discover and various abandoned buildings. Underneath us, the Rock is riddled like Swiss cheese with tunnels built during Gibraltar’s turbulent past. The military has a strong presence. I wish we would have been more familiar with the history of the area. All we knew at the time was that there are apes here, John married Yoko “in Gibraltar near Spain” in 1969, and several hundred years ago there was a power struggle between Christians and Moors.
Later we loitered aimlessly along the old city’s narrow streets. Snacking and drinking unhurriedly on an outdoor terrace was bliss on this beautiful summer night. Eventually, we had to tackle the huge uphill hike back to the hotel. As we climbed above the city, the twinkling lights below really made this a beautiful walk. I almost forgot we were going uphill.
The Bay of Gibraltar, from our hotel balcony looking towards Spain.
Thankfully, when it came time to leave, the walk to the Estacion de Autobuses in Spain from the hotel was downhill. All the way.
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Dianne & Mike