Tuesday, February 10, 2004


If ever in southern Spain, northern Morocco, or sailing the Mediterranean, I highly recommend a trip to Gibraltar.

It was rather bewildering to find this very British outpost after having been emersed in Spanish culture for over a week, but in a delightful way. After all, I did have a 12-year-old with me, and he finds it easier to explore another new culture when the primary language is English. The Royal Post, a pint of Bass, and fish and chips joints are easy to find.

The military history is everywhere, from the 10-pound notes with images of cannons pointing downwards, to a hike up the Rock itself, where remnants and ruins from various sieges can be found. The area is sufficiently small that you can tour the place in one or two days and come away with an excellent sense of the place.

I found an instant affinity for the Gibraltarians, thanks to a few hours spent with a cabbie who took us up the Rock and to the Barbary Apes. He couldn't contain his passionate devotion to the Crown and his distaste for the Spanish Government, who, in his estimation, was trying to slowly starve the 30,000 or so inhabitants of the peninsula away from England, to be assimilated into Spain.

The guidebooks told us that the dictator Franco sealed the border in 1968, leaving Gibraltarians unable to leave by car until 1984, when the border was re-opened. The cabbie told us plenty more, but Ame and I found our own example of Spain's passive-aggressive behavior: try to find Gibraltar by relying on the road signs, and you never will. There is not a single sign pointing the way to Gibraltar from any main roadway. If you do not know the names of the nearby towns and have the certainty of mind that you should turn towards them, you simply won't find Gibraltar. We passed the story on to the cabbie, and he gave us the smile-and-shrug that says, "see what I mean"? Item of interest.

It takes two minutes to be waved into Gibraltar. It takes 15 minutes to get back into Spain. American passport holders seem to get waived through quickly enough, but everybody else gets 100 questions. There were signs at the exit lines declaring this discrepancy in times in and out to be just another example of Spain's un-neighborly behavior. I couldn't agree more. Ame and I both wished, as we sat in the car, that we had purchased one of those Keep Gibraltar British t-shirts.

It is Gibraltar's tricentennial this year. Queen Elizabeth II was apparently invited to the celebrations but she declined, not wishing to insult the Spanish... at the cost of insulting her subjects! Knowing this, I guess I would rather have a Self-Determination for Gibraltar t-shirt.

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