I always put some really peculiar things on my travel bucket list. One of the first things that crawled its way onto it was visiting Gibraltar to get the shortest ferry across the Mediterranean sea to Morocco – what a perfect little mix of British, European and Arabian culture. Plus, you know, Gibraltar is full of monkeys. And history.
But then something surprising happened.
What I didn’t expect was to fall in love with Gibraltar.
Here you have somewhere quintessentially British, with a European twist – and much better weather. It uses the pound – in fact, it has its own spin-off of the British pound, but they are essentially the same. They speak English. The whole place is steeped in British war history. Spain can argue all they like that Gibraltar should rightly belong to them, but Gibraltarians have voted consistently against joining them and are firmly on the British side. (sound familiar, Falklands?)
But it’s a tiny peninsula protruding from Spain, and I only planned to use it as a base. We even stayed across the border in Spain’s closest town, La Linea.
Instead, I was bowled over by the charm of the main town square, loved the fact you had to cross the runway to get into Spain and no one really paid attention to your passports, and as for the famous rock itself – well, the view speaks for itself.
Our first experience of Gibraltar, apart from flying around the rock to land (which is awesome, by the way) was crossing the runway. The runway a) was built purposely out over the sea because the land isn’t wide enough, and b) is also a main road. Let me re-iterate that. Traffic. Drives. Across. The runway. Cars – and pedestrians – have to STOP at a barrier to let a plane cross the path at breakneck speed.
Let’s face it. One of the coolest airports in the world.
Also one of the windiest.
The second thing we did, after casually checking in to our hotel in a different country, was go on a dolphin watching tour.
THIS WAS AMAZING, and I totally recommend it if you visit Gibraltar! At one point, we were surrounded by five or six dolphins. You can go further out to sea and spot whales too, which in hindsight would have been awesome, but this was great anyway! The tour was with Dolphin Adventures and I remember them being amazingly personalised because we turned up and they knew our names before we’d even spoken.
The next day would be our grand adventure to Morocco. The weather was glorious, and we made our way to nearby Algeciras to catch the ferry over. Instead, we were approached by a man offering us a tour of Tangier and we’d get another bus to a town a little further away, Tarifa, to catch the ferry instead. In the end, we agreed that this would be a good way to experience a little bit of Morocco in such a short space of time.
We got to Tarifa smoothly after a pretty cool bus ride (that’s Africa you can see in the background), but then there was no information on our ferry. Had we been scammed?
Eventually, more people turned up for the same tour that we were on, and we got chatting to two girls, deciding that if the tour didn’t happen, we’d just go across ourselves.
Finally, someone appeared who we didn’t recognise, who ushered us on to the ferry and we were on our way from the most southernmost point in Europe to the most northernmost point in Morocco (not quite Africa!).
Goodbye Spain… hello Morocco!
In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best tour we could have taken, but equally we saw and experienced much more than we would have done had we tried to go alone, so I’m glad we did it.
We were shown around the old medina, went to an obligatory rug shop (a guy outside was trying to sell me jewellery for most of the walk there, and when we emerged again ten minutes later, he was still there waiting for me!!! Moroccans are hard sells), had a couscous-filled lunch at a lovely little place with a band playing, and then went for a drive to see the edge of the Mediterranean Sea – where it meets the Atlantic.
Here, we got to ride camels in an unsavoury fashion. 20-year-old me jumped at the chance, but even back then I felt sad that I did. While I completely and utterly do not condone riding elephants, I am admittedly a little more ignorant on the ethics of camel riding, though it is such a part of the culture that camel trekking is something I wouldn’t turn my nose up at (please feel free to convince me otherwise, I haven’t done any research because it’s not something I am yet to look at doing).
This, though? This was a money-grabbing exploit at the side of the road. There was a baby camel tied up and clearly not happy, and I could tell the adults were there for one purpose and not treated otherwise. The camels were led around in a circle while the tourists laughed on their backs. This wasn’t an experience; it was a tourist trap at the expense of the camels.
Other than this, it WAS a really good day. Our guide was a lovely older gentleman who gave us advice to avoid the child pickpocketers, and he was always happy to answer questions. I couldn’t tell you now which tour this was, but they were opposite the ferry terminal in Algeciras.
The following day was our third and final full day in Gibraltar, so we needed to get up the famous Gibraltar rock. Unfortunately, today’s weather was not so glorious. In fact, by the time we reached the top in the cable car, it was raining and we had to take refuge in a café.
This was not before I had an attempted mugging by an ape.
It was kind of my fault. In my haste to get my camera out, I had left my handbag dangerously open; before I knew it, the opportunistic monkey (sorry, ape) started rifling through it, and hissed at me when I tried to take it back to close it. This led to a scrabbling of hands and a VERY angry ape.
Ash, standing there with my camera pointed at us, decided NOT to take a picture of this moment, which I am most upset about. I think a picture of a fight with a monkey would go down as one of those moments perfectly captured… right?!
Okay, so maybe it was best that he intervened and helped me get my bag back.
Anyway, here’s the resulting picture of me with the ape. He looks soooo happy with me.
(I assume my hair was the result of the wind and not being grabbed by the ape, but I’m not 100% sure! It was a bit of a blur!)
The rain held off for a while, and we walked to St. Michael’s cave, as well as the WW2 tunnels. There are tunnels which run deeper within the rock (32 miles of them, in fact) where few get to visit, though I’d love to go in! This rock is steeped in history – there are rumours that there are still tanks and even war planes in there – as it was used as a huge secret military base. Where better to hide than in a massive rock overlooking the Mediterranean and Spain?
We also saw many, many more monkeys (look at this super cute family portrait!!!!), and when it came to walking back down the Rock, I somehow managed to get us lost in a closed-off Ministry Of Defence area! Oh, Clazz.
On our last morning, we headed down to the very bottom of Gibraltar, Europa Point, to see Our Lady Of Peace and the uninterrupted views of Morocco across the sea, and basked in the town centre before we had to head back to the colder British territory of England.
There is much more to do in Gibraltar. For such a tiny place, it’s packed with activities from diving to the whale watching tours already mentioned, to more sights and history inside the rock. It’s a hugely overlooked destination, yet everyone I know who has been there (about… two people) has loved it.
Is this somewhere YOU’D be interested in visiting?