The Rock

1 June 2011

Gibraltar

In the old days of school camps, you’d all usually wake up at the same time, all talking and laughing in your beds. Today, we all woke up at the same time, but with hangovers. Oh the innocence we once had.

Despite this, I remember deciding to go up The Rock of Gibraltar today, which means some of us actually have to get out of bed. This mystical ‘rock’ is just a large rocky headland that sticks up right out of the town. Given its size, the brave two deciding to go today rejuvenate with a Full English Breakfast, which is welcome especially for me as my breakfasts have consisted of either sugary jam on toast or sweet, nutritious air. Well worth the big breakfast, because this headland doesn’t look readily walkable at all, especially with these shoes with holes in them.

We start through the botanical gardens at the bottom of The Rock, which makes sense because I learn that English Simon is an environmental scientist. He keeps commenting on the nice layout of the garden like an… older person.

Walking up, we’re both sweating like crazy, but next to me I hear puffing and panting like we’re scaling a cliff. We stop, and he gets out his cigarette – how on earth is this going to help him ascend this thing? This pattern repeats itself all the way until we get to some sort of gate, where we actually have to pay 50 pence to walk up this mountain. Quickly forget, as the view from up here is really something, as we wind our way up The Rock.

English Simon explains to me what Gibraltar is all about: it’s just one town of 30 000 that the UK has held on to purely for military purposes; it controls entry into the Mediterranean Sea, thus Europe, by overlooking what we overlook right now, The Strait of Gibraltar. There was a referendum just two years ago for Spanish governmental influence in Gibraltar, in which the Gibraltarians overwhelmingly voted'no’. To the south you can see a whole other continent – Africa – with Morocco, and turning right you see Spain. I can’t think that there’s any other place like it.

Some way up we spot one of the infamous Barbican apes (though they’re actually monkeys) of Gibraltar. The only other place they exist is in Morocco.

They’re renowned to steal things, jump around and generally be mischievous. High up on The Rock we discover this, when an unknowing tourist’s camera bag is eyed by a monkey, as soon as he turns, the monkey jumps up, reaching like an agile toddler and tugs on the bag. Three other monkeys join in knowingly.‘Hey! Hey!!’ Everybody just laughs, but I think he actually needs help. Either way there’s no more time for this monkey business because we’ve still got a way to go.

The top, at last. Well, Simon says (pfff… don’t laugh) we’re close now. We take a random turn left onto a tiny path, feet get punished as rocks go through footwear, and for the first time in a long time, look down onto something.

I can’t imagine what the view would be like without the clouds. Well, I can, when I climb up to a place where there is a vertical drop down into the Med.

In my leg-shaking fear and wonder, I don’t notice a bird swooping down on me until it lets out a huge squawk. I duck, putting my head close to the rock ledge that’s keeping me from falling, then realise I can almost die this way anyway, and nearly tumble down the steep rocky slope, head covered, bird swooping.

Recovering from that, we keep walking along the spine of the Rock, passing all the military fortifications along the way. There’s also a prison and a mental health care facility up here.

We traverse even longer until we get to the first Barbican ape 'encampment’ where the families live here in groups. They sit around as a family. The parents hug, the children play and whenever there’s trouble with the child, the mother takes her offspring away – just so civilised and human.

It’s from here that we start the descent – not without more and more encounters with relatives, of course.

We discover that we walked the long way up, because we find stairs that are real straight-talkers, no bull about them; they go straight down. I think they’re really cool, but perhaps that’s because I’m almost 10" taller than my nervous mountaineering counterpart.

A leisurely walk down that took no time at all.

I’m sitting outside Subway, stuffing myself with what is just a socially acceptable kebab. I’ve lost about 6KGs now, so today is the day I start putting what I can back on for health reasons, because I must be underweight by now. I’m looking up at The Rock from my chair in Casemates Square, and can’t help but think that the past few hours were a true highlight; a challenge, rewarded with so much to take in your head nearly pops just looking back at it.

I didn’t know there were any more places in the world that are like Gibraltar. It’s just a headland… controlling the only entry into Europe from the West, owned by a small European island (but doesn’t think it’s small), walk through the border and you get one-of-a-kind views. It is just a headland – oh and it’s got bloody monkeys on it too. What a funny place.

July 25th, 2011 11:35pm

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