British Soil So Soon

31 May 2011

Fuengirola to La Linea, España to Gibraltar

I’m sitting in the reception, again, talking to the German, again, hearing some more stories of how strange someone is… again. This time it’s all about him feeling superior over Dominic the Thai and how he ‘copies everything about me – he just wants to be me, like what the f###?!’. I’ve got time to kill so I listen for some ludicrous amount of time to this guy talking about Dominic, his girlfriends and his chest hair.

Planned to meet Olivia before I leave, which is again easy to organise. Why is it with some people you can organise to meet so easily, and with others it’s difficult? Meet and organise to go to Gibraltar there and then at the bus station of which I’ll talk about a bit later on.

We hang out, and say our goodbyes. It’s a shame that saying goodbye gets easier with every one, and this one is the’well, if I do see you again, then…’ variety. Not that it doesn’t suck saying goodbye, it’s just another thing that’s become normal. It all means I’ve missed the bus to La Linea by five minutes – something I entirely blame, like everything else, on meeting the Swede… So now I’ve got even more hours to kill in the first real, proper heat I’ve felt since Australia. Stare blankly at the’station’ which isn’t really a station at all, it’s just a tiny plaza where buses can stop on the side. The people here sit in such a memorable way; they’re going a long distance (Spain being a big country), it’s warm and they happily lean back on the steps. They could catch the bus tomorrow, but what does it matter to them?

Now to where I’m actually going: it’s La Linea, which I find by looking at my ticket translates to’The Line’. Why? La Linea lies on the border of the UK (Gibraltar) and Spain. Gibraltar is a colony of the UK, but it’s actually in the mainland of Spain, hiding away right at the very bottom, spitting distance of Africa. So, the channel between Africa and Europe is appropriately named’Strait of Gibraltar’. And… yes that’s probably enough!

I have no idea how to get from Spain into Gibraltar.

Then I realise I’ve got no idea which bus I’m actually catching, and neither do many others, so every time a bus pulls in, we’ve got to frantically run to see the poorly handwritten destination signs on the bus. My bus was due thirty minutes ago now, and the buses don’t bother stopping at the’station’ anymore, and just stop in the lanes of the road. Finally see my bus and risk my sweat covered body past traffic to board the bus.

After I board, I find all breeds of life, so it’s tricky to choose who to sit next to.

There’s a spectacular coastal road journey to follow. We are carried through the length of the costa and see all the stereotypical orange and red and white and everything in-between villas/houses dotting the seemingly vast landscape. This is one of those great things about travelling: you don’t have to imagine the stereotypes or cliches anymore, because they’re often right there staring at you. Gives it all a bit of a dream-like air.

Later I wonder whether I am actually dreaming, as a thick, distinct plume of smoke rises over the horizon, getting bigger with each kilometre we near La Linea. Is this a normal thing? Military action at the border? I imagine Gibraltar to be a unique place, so I suspend my disbelief briefly, until Gibralatar’s famous’Rock’ comes into view.

I decide it’s not normal even for Gibraltar, but minutes later the bus comes to a halt at the station. I only assume this is the last stop so hop off and walk into the large room that is the station. There’s about four people without any morsel of information anywhere about how to get to British soil. Completely used to this now, I just wonder aimlessly around the terrible impoverished town that I discover is La Linea until I see the Rock poking up from the tall buildings around me, and just walk towards it blindly. It works.

It really is a very strange state of affairs. And then I look to my right and see the smoke, and it becomes even more like’what the f### is this place?!’

I watch the border control to see what the procedure is. People by the dozen just stride right through, flashing their EU IDs or passports. This border control guy in the booth must have the sorest arse, but strongest neck in the border control sector as all he does is nod, non-stop.

Regardless, I’ve got to say I feel a bit proud being nodded at with my British passport held up, striding freely onto UK territory.

Ok. I’m in.

There’s a huge pedestrian crossing light, also styled like in the UK, may I add, but I don’t know what it’s for. Until of course, I’m walking over an RAF airstrip into what is esentially another country.

And to get into town centre, I walk down an alleyway and through a fortification into a large public square of the same texture as The Rock, with’Casemates’ on every second building. I deduce I’m in Casemates square, which helps to get directions to Gibraltar’s one and only hostel. It’s probably the most’hostel-y’ hostel I’ve ever stayed in, leaf-covered terrace and unpretentious overall. Smoke still arcs over The Rock.

There’s only three others in the whole place… All so, so, so English. Before too long we’re all out to go investigate the big smoke.

We walk past the police blocking the roads to as close as we can get and hop up on a decrepit wall.

‘It’s the most interesting thing that’s happened in Gibraltar in at least two years!’ I’m told by British Simon.

End what’s left of daylight in Gaucho, a bar, to have our’couple of beers’, but we’ve just ordered two buckets of Heineken beers.

We, by the way, is Laura, Aiden (tall) and Simon (short).

A big mistake of mine is that I haven’t been taking photos of people just out of bad habit, so it’s a welcome break to just take a photo of people for the sake of people. Yet, it wasn’t me who took the photos!

We’ve emptied the buckets and have headed over to another bar, where we’re chatted up (I say we, but she’s staring at me and calling me beautiful) by a 45 year old behind clouds of smoke; in Gibraltar you’re still allowed to smoke indoors which doesn’t seem like a big deal until you’re there. Aiden and Laura, the couple, are arguing about Aiden’s’fruity’ habit (poker machines), but it doesn’t stop him from losing ten Gibraltarian pounds anyway. Short Simon is craving a kebab so much that he leaves us altogether, and soon after Lauren retires, leaving Aiden and I to go to Gibraltar’s only club.

We arrive and the place is as empty as you can imagine a nightclub of a country of 30 000 would be on a Wednesday night – not a single soul. Chat with Aiden about English national pride and electrician of all things. We somehow bump into the receptionist of the hostel, but leave soon after for one of Gibraltar’s main attractions: the casinos.

Apparently there’s something with Gibraltar being able to set its own gambling taxes, so it’s a highly profitable gig. Arriving is somewhat astonishing because it’s a huge litup structure that overlooks the large harbour. Entering, though, is not; the number of gambling machines down here outnumber every person on this level I can see, three, by one hundred to one at least. Aiden assures me it’ll be fun upstairs, so up the bright blue stairs we go. My eyes drudgingly sweep the level, and find there are four people playing roulette and two at the bar. I don’t really know how I got talked into it but I’ve gotten my credit card out and am paying for two shots of vodka whilst Aiden’s putting his last remaining pound on roulette. He lost it, but I lose out as well; I don’t know what I’m doing here and this idiot just makes it all the more confusing.

Something tells me I’m in a UK colony…