Does This Count as Visiting Britain?
09.08.2013 - 09.08.2013 82 °F
My first view of The Rock from the border...
Trouble at Gibraltar's Border?
In Barcelona, I was discussing the issues in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and the surrounding areas and how that will affect my travel plans with the hotel manager and he tipped me off that there may be trouble with Gibraltar too. That had me running to the web and then later buying a local newspaper. Spain was threatening to change their border crossing requirements; primarily by charging a large monetary fee for entry into Spain. There had recently been some severe vehicle backups at the border and promises of more. Luckily, I would be walking across the border when I got there and the fees --if they transpired—would be well after my planned visit. If you want to know more about Gibraltar and the relationship to Spain and the UK, check out the end of this blog.
Luckily, there were no signs of any discontent or border issues the day I went to Gibraltar, but there was something that delayed my arrival. I have just gone through the border control office and I am following the sidewalk that leads into town when suddenly a man steps out of a small booth and swings a gate across the sidewalk which prevents me from passing. Then he walks away to hurry on the folks walking toward us. What’s this about?
It takes me a minute or two before I see the sign on the booth and understand. Between the border control office and the town is the Gibraltar airstrip. Visitors have to walk across this long stretch of tarmac if they are not on a bus or driving. I just happened to arrive at the same time that a plane was due to land. When an airplane arrives, the guards on each side are responsible for clearing the landing of pedestrians!
Am I in England?
After the strange experience of entering via an airport runway, I reach the edge of town. A large apartment complex looms on the right and British flags are flying from most every window. Is it a holiday? Nope…it’s just a normal day in Gibraltar.
There’s a red double-decker bus…
The infamous red phone booths….
And the Royal Mail boxes...
Fish and Chip places abound…
...albeit some with a twist. In spite of claiming to be 'truly British', this one suggests we try their Filipino food! And I don't think that is how the British spell 'cheese'.
The street and business names tend to make a lot of references to the monarchy: Lord, King, Prince, Royal, etc.
Okay...so maybe that wasn't a good example. Here's a better one!
There are even friendly English bobbies….
I slip into a Marks and Spencer to ogle goodies. The freshly baked chocolate chip cookies are delish!
I pay for my purchases with pounds and pence (though the coins are uniquely Gibraltarian)……
Yet, I’m still speaking Spanish and no one even blinks. I leave the yummy treats of Marks and Spencer and exit back into the main street which is full of overweight, white people with mostly British accents in shorts and orthopedic sandals. It is a shopping frenzy. Apparently, everything is VAT free. Older people like to come here for the shopping and old-fashioned beach resorts; just like home, but with sun. Gibraltar’s military is no longer the main source of financial support—it is now online gambling, 'financial services' (there is currently a 'Corporate Tax Evasion' probe going on), shipping and tourism.
The Rock and the Barbary Apes
I need to escape the shopping hoards. I wander down the street and head to the cable car that will take me to the top of The Rock. When we reach the top, there is a counter with a free audio-guide. No one seems to realize they are free as I only see two or three other people using them the whole time I am visiting. That’s too bad, because it is one of the best guides I have ever used. It not only explains what I am seeing from each viewpoint level, but also some fascinating history of Gibraltar. There are even some funny entertaining stories and Beetle’s music (John and Yoko were married in Gibraltar). Later, I will go to the local museum to learn more about Gibraltar’s history, but right now I have more than enough entertainment with the famous Barbary Apes (though they are actually Macaques). Many of them have babies and they are a joy to watch.
I tried to get my first glimpse of Africa where I would be heading the next day, but to no avail. There was too much mist/fog in that direction..and soon it was rolling in from all sides.
It was time to leave when I had to go to the bathroom and discovered...
Which made this sign for the gent's bathroom very realistic...!
A Brief Summary of Gibraltar (for those that want to know more....)
Gibraltar isn't much, but it is a strategic location at the entrance of the Mediterranean which has been used over the years by many groups. It is identified as one of the Pillars of Hercules and is the last known location by the Neanderthals. After that came the Phoenicians, Carthaginians. Romans, Vandals, Moors and then the Spanish in 1704. Unfortunately, the Spanish lost it to the Anglo-Dutch (on behalf of Austria) who later gave it to the British in perpetuity in 1713. The Spanish have been wanting it back ever since.
Gibraltar is considered a British Overseas Territory. The official language is English, but Spanish or Llanto is commonly spoken which is why I was able to speak Spanish without even thinking about it while I was there. It isn't very large-- only 2.6 square miles (or 6.7 square kilometers) and the town at the base of The Rock is less than 30,000 people. The border of so much contention is only .75 miles long, but it is a constant reminder that taunts the Spanish. They claim the territory and have tried many tactics for control including closing the border in 1969 (it didn't re-open until 1985). However, the Gibraltarians have voted and rejected Spanish sovereignty twice, in 1967 and again in 2002. It remains under the British, but Gibraltarians want it all-- they want self-governance with the advantages of English citizenship and that's what they have. With full British citizenship they govern themselves, but let Britain handle their defense, foreign relations and a few other things. But as you can see from my photos-- they are more British than the British...and yet they are not.
In the meantime, the land/border disputes have now extended to the surrounding seas: there is a proposal by the Brits to take a stand against Spain and enact new laws on the British waters around the territory.