The Sun Never Sets On The British Empire...

Trip Start Aug 30, 2006
Trip End Jun 11, 2007

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Flag of Gibraltar  ,
Monday, November 6, 2006

For such a small country, the surreal and mostly quite beautiful Gibraltar sure made an imprint in our memory. First of all, it took us forever to get there. A bus to Algeciras, the Spanish port town on the other side of the bay. Then a bus to La Linea, the smaller town literally next to the country. Finally, the border crossing, where people simply walked back and forth.

We should have known it would be bad when we crossed the border. After making the five minute walk from the bus station in Spain, with the rock looming in front of us, the guards simply waved us through. Now, I ask you, who bothers to make the trip to Gibraltar if they don't want to get their passport stamped with that magic "GBZ"? But they were naive to these concerns in Gibraltar. We found ourselves on Winston Churchill Avenue, which was pretty weird because after a block or so, we came to the airport. But this was no ordinary airport. It was just an airstrip that intersected the avenue at a right angle, and there was a friendly sign that warned something to the effect of, YOU ARE NOW CROSSING A LIVE AIRFIELD, SO PLEASE WALK FAST! This certainly set us on edge for the 100 or so yards that constituted crossing the runway...luckily the airport is used rather sparingly. Once in town, it continued to be just plain weird. For those of you who have seen Season 3 of Arrested Development, it reminded me a lot of Wee Britain...just really British, only surrounded by things that are decidedly NOT British. Mostly British people, food, signage, and the like. Bobbies walking around (though not many of them). Construction of high rise apartments everywhere.

And there were none of the famous Gibraltar monkeys, as they hung out higher up on the rock, which looks like a piece of cake that has been turned on its side. I only saw one monkey, but he wasn't doing anything, only counting money. What there were, were a lot of fat, friendly cats everywhere, and a lot of duty-free booze and cigarettes.

After crossing the main square, Katri stopped at an ATM to take out cash, which was silly as her bank card had been non working for about a week, but she just wanted to check it. She inserted her card and heard a weird turns out the card had just fallen into the machine. There was no mechanism to suck it in, or read it, or anything. It was like a toy ATM.

In the ensuing frantic search for bank personnel, information, etc, I stood by the fake ATM and had to warn people away from it: "Excuse me, you shouldn't use that one." Most people were rather indignant, as if I'd asked them not to enter their own homes, or was ominously warning them like I would beat them up and rob them once they got their money. Then I explained that they would be separated from their money, and they all looked relieved and even happy, although no one tipped me. Schadenfreude, indeed. We left a sign on the ATM that said, "No!" with a sad face on it, and walked on. (And this is why European ATMs suck--when you only swipe your card, like in the US, there's no danger when using a toy ATM.)

The bank card lost, we settled into an English pub and ate well and drank pints, then decided to get the ferry to Morocco. Unfortunately we didn't realize that no ferries leave from Gibraltar. Why would they, when it would just mean more customs hassles for the UK? Hindsight would make this clear, but not before we lugged our bags to the far end of the island and back, looking for the nonexistent ferry dock. Then we passed a McDonalds, whose bright lights and crowd of delinquents running around the playplace acting tough made it seem like it was made for such a surreal place.

Finally, we made it back to Algeciras and spent the night in a crummy pension there, ironically for much less money than we had been spending on accomodation. It was probably better that we didn't even try to get a ferry that night for Morocco, but instead went the next day.

So, all in all, the little country of a thousand self-proclamations was a pretty eventful stop on our dash out of Europe. And, in case you're wondering, we did make it to Morocco--but that's a whole other story...
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