Friday, 24 October 2014

The Rock

We might wait a while for something of moment to happen in Gibraltar.  Banners for an international jazz festival promised a lot, but nothing plays so loudly in Gibraltar as the sound of commerce. And sirens.

The port of Gibraltar, from the cable car

A week is plenty long enough in this odd little place. The Atlantic beckons. We've done Sheppards chandlery to death, and the spare engine parts we ordered at the beginning of the week from the UK were delivered to the Yanmar dealer (Marine Maintenance) in three working days. Impressive. There's nothing holding us here now except for an inconveniently-timed (spring) tide for transiting the Straits - and our own lacklustre health. We're tired. It's strange, as if something in us has been ebbing out for the past 10 days too. We'll wait for our tide to come back in. You don't head out into the Atlantic when you're feeling off colour.

Europa Point, at the eastern entrance to Gibraltar Bay

Our friends Ed and Sue stayed six weeks in Gibraltar. We find ourselves asking why, how...Perhaps we're missing something. Perhaps we've been distracted by Main Street's dreariness. We're not Anglophiles, and nothing could persuade me that a pint of beer and fish and chips for dinner is food worth paying for. What I do find fascinating is eavesdropping. The men at the next table, with English public school accents, are debating local politics (the Spanish are still to be mistrusted). I hear people - Gibraltarians - speaking to each other in a tangle of Spanish and English, switching between languages mid-conversation, inserting English numerals into Spanish sentences. I wonder if there's a dialect?

Enki is parked at Queensway Quay marina, amongst the real estate

The Rock speaks for itself
The Rock speaks for itself. Its place in British history is long taken care of (probably enough that Lord Nelson's body, pickled in a wine barrel, was brought back here in 1805 after the Battle of Trafalgar, but there's obviously a long list of military reasons why The Rock is famous for more than just its cheeky monkeys). There's a wonderful digital reconstruction in the musty Gibraltar museum of a Neanderthal child's face, built up from one of the prehistorics skulls found in caves on the Rock. People were living here at the beginning of human history, but most of their traces are gone, along with most of the Moorish town. What remains are the British bastions, the civil and naval institutions, the garrisons, the defensive walls, the hardware of recent centuries of war, and of course, the modern port, expanding into Gibraltar bay and paid for by the sale of real estate, one imagines.

Window display, Gibraltar bookshop

Monkeys on the wall names for Charles V

So what if there's nothing much in the town to catch the eye or if, judging from its urban signage, Gibraltar is run along the lines of a boot camp (more 100 quid fines for civic misdemeanours than you can poke a stick at, and only two shades of shoe polish for sale at Morrisons, the only supermarket in town  - light tan and regimental black). The Brits who've shelled out for apartments here - there are masses of tower blocks built on reclaimed land in Gibraltar Bay - must love the climate. It's the last week in October, and at six o'clock in the evening, I'm sitting outside in shorts and a tee-shirt.

Approach to the Rock, from the east


The best part about Gibraltar from our point of view was our arrival. To see The Rock emerge on the horizon, and to know that you were seeing the northern entrance to the Mediterranean, the Pillars of Hercules (with Africa clearly visible on the southern side of the Straits) was truly exciting. We took the cable car to the top on a day when dense cloud was pouring over the ridge like water spilling out of guttering. The wind was cold, but we walked back down, past the apes and the caves and the castle, down the uneven Castle Steps through a part of town which reeks of smuggling. The road is long, but not half as long as it must have been when everything was hauled up by horses and pulleys. What a miserable life it must have been as a soldier posted on the Rock, defending Gibraltar. But worth it, history records.

The cable car takes you to the top of the Rock

Looking down on the dry docks

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