Tuesday, October 31, 2017

1985 (1) – Road Trip

One of the many interesting shops in Gibraltar.

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

Our weeks in Gibraltar turned into months.  On February 5, 1985, the border between Gibraltar and Spain reopened after sixteen years.  That was a Tuesday.  On Friday, Julie (a friend from another boat), and I walked across into Spain.  The town on the other side of the border is La Linea de la Concepcion.  We wandered around looking in shop windows, and stopped for an ice cream cone.  It turned out to be Julie’s treat because I hadn’t thought to change any money into pesetas!  We walked for three hours, and were pretty tired when we got back to the marina.

I watched many movies at this theater.  The cost was one dollar.
The movie changed at least once a week.  They never knew
what movie they would be showing until the film arrived in the mail!

One day in early March, we were surprised to be hailed from the dock with a loud call, "Can't believe you're still here in Gibraltar."  It was Tony and Marjorie, a couple who had been friends while we were in Portugal, and who had stayed in Vilamoura for the winter.  Their boat, Marjorie II, was still in Vilamoura, but they had driven to Gibraltar in a rental car.  Their intention was to check out the marinas along the southern Spanish coast, and select a nice one to moor in when friends, who were expected in mid-April, came to visit.  They had decided to stop in Gibraltar to see if we were still around. 

The Rock of Gibraltar, rising behind buildings at the marina.

We were really pleased to see them, and talked them into staying overnight.  That evening we took them for curry at our favorite Indian restaurant, the Maharaja.  I was fairly new to curries, and always ordered my lamb with "very mild" flavor, done in a delicious cream and coconut sauce.  Ed that night braved "medium," but Marjorie and Tony, old hands at curry, went straight to "very hot."  The waiter asked them if they meant VERY hot and they said, yes, very, VERY hot.  Without even seeming to sweat, they thoroughly enjoyed a meal that would have sent me straight to the hospital. 

Gibraltar street scene

Tony and Marjorie invited us to go for a ride with them the next day to see the marinas along the first section of the southern coast of Spain.  We visited four marinas by lunchtime.  The marinas were fine, but everything was very tourist-oriented, with high-rise apartment buildings.  There was lots of new construction, all part of Spain's tourist industry.  Tony and Marjorie selected Duquesa because it was clean and quiet and far from any town.  We decided to give that one a miss - for the same reason - because it was far from any town.  

Internet Photo.  The 18th century bridge at Ronda.

The four of us had a pleasant lunch in Marbella at an outdoor cafe alongside the marina.  After lunch, Tony got out the map and suggested we return to Gibraltar by a different route, taking a drive through the nearby mountains.  Making what turned out to be a good choice, we decided to pass through the city of Ronda.  The only information Marjorie's Michelin guide had on Ronda was that it contained the oldest bullring in Spain.  After a couple hours of climbing over 3000 feet on a new, winding, well-built road, we reached Ronda.  In the center of a mountain range that bears its name, Ronda is set on a plateau on the edge of a gorge, overlooking a plunging ravine.  Peering straight down 650 feet from the 18th century bridge that spans the ravine was enough to give anyone a case of the dizzies.

While we didn't have much time to spend in Ronda, we particularly didn't want to miss Spain's oldest bullring.  We bought tickets to go inside.  A guide led us through the bullring and told us some of its history.  Built in 1784, it was still in use, with bullfights held at the time of the local fiestas.  King Juan Carlos attended the September bullfights.  Our guide pointed out the royal box to us, as well as the area where the band sat to perform.  We squeezed ourselves behind the boards where the matadors go to escape the bull's horns, and then our guide took us to the center of the ring.  There he clapped his hands, and the sound reverberated around the walls of the bullring.  Marjorie and I tried some foot stomping and a few "Oles!" while Tony and Ed pretended not to know us, and the guide smiled indulgently. 

Postcard I purchased.  Not the bullring we visited.  We were up in the
mountains.  This bullring was in Malaga, down by the sea.

The guide then pointed us on to the museum, and told us that we would see "toro" inside.  The museum was an experience - there were several bulls' heads attached to the walls, a pictorial history of bullfighting at Ronda, and cases containing retired-matadors' hand-embroidered costumes (called a "suit of lights"), several of which had dark stains which our new guide explained to us were "bwud" from the bulls.  (It took us awhile to catch on to his highly accented English.)  Bullfighting was often a family tradition.  Portraits of successive generations of bullfighters, grouped by family, also adorned the walls.  There was even an old photograph of Ernest Hemingway attending a Ronda bullfight.  In Ronda's long history, only one matador had ever been killed in its bullring -- illustrated in another graphic pictorial display.   

The drive home to Gibraltar was breathtaking.  An older road, full of impossible curves and switchbacks, meandered through orange groves of colorful fruit, passed shepherds tending their sheep, and zipped through small hamlets of whitewashed, red-roofed homes, suspended precariously on the slopes of the mountains.  It was the time of the full moon.  We watched it rise like a pale, colorless orange from the mountains to the east.  As we descended from the heights, we would get the occasional glimpse of "the Rock" far below us, with the Atlas Mountains of Morocco ranged behind it like protective parents, across the narrow Strait of Gibraltar.  

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

1984 (14) – Touring the Rock

Postcard.  Cable Car to the top of the Rock.

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

We waited for a sunny day to tour the Rock of Gibraltar.  On that day, we walked across town to the cable car that takes visitors up the mountain (and back down, if you're not so foolish as to decide to walk it).  The cable car made a stop halfway up the mountain where we got out to visit the Apes Den.  There was a troop of about twenty apes living on that part of the mountain.  They were free to roam about at will.  Called Barbary Apes, their ancestors were originally from Africa.  No one knows how they came to be in Gibraltar, but it was assumed the original apes were brought over as pets when the Moors occupied the Iberian Peninsula. 

Postcard.  Posing for his portrait.

The apes were under the protection of the British Army.  One of our pamphlets explained that the apes specialize in "monkey business."  We saw a good example when one lady, holding her baby, put down her purse.  In a flash, one of the apes had grabbed it, and taken out the food she'd been carrying. 
Ed, at the top of Gibraltar.

After our visit with the apes, we caught the next cable car going up, and went to the top of the mountain.  We had beautiful views in all directions - Spain nearby, Africa and the Atlas Mountains to the south, and the Mediterranean Sea stretching off to the east.  From there we walked downhill for about ten minutes to St. Michael's Cave.  A natural cave, 1000 feet above sea level, it had a beautiful display of stalagmites and stalactites.  One exhibit explained that the caves were inhabited as long as 30,000 years ago in Neanderthal times.  

A view inside the caves.

On leaving the caves, we had a choice of walking back uphill to get the cable car at the top of the mountain, or following the road downward, and catching the cable car at the Apes Den.  What with the pull of gravity having its usual effect, we headed downhill.  After visiting with the monkeys again, we decided to walk the rest of the way down the mountain.  The paved road zigzagged across the face of the mountain - and eventually took off back up the hill. 

We found what looked like a disused road, and continued downward.  It was a long walk, but we eventually got to the bottom - only to find ourselves stopped by a ten-foot high, rusty metal gate, topped with spikes.  On the far side we could see the casino and a road that would take us to town.  There was no way around the gate, which was padlocked.  We got the distinct feeling we were where we shouldn't be.  We decided we were going to have to climb over the gate.  Ed pointed out diagonal metal bars, and explained that by using the bars, I could climb up one side of the gate, go over the top, and climb down the other side.  I get over without much trouble.  When Ed came across, I had him stand by the gate while I took a picture. 

Yes, we climbed over that gate.

We didn't carry any insurance on the boat, or any medical insurance on ourselves, and just took our chances.  But - having been brought up on Prudential commercials - I was sure that all we really needed in insurance was to "get a piece of the Rock."  I had it in mind to pick up a rock on one of our hikes, but before I got around to it, I came upon a store in town with a window sign saying:  "Take Home a Piece of the Rock."  I succumbed and went inside. 

My shot of the cable car.

Gibraltar was formed of limestone.  This store owner had access to stalagmites and stalactites that were removed from St. Michael's Cave during the Second World War, when the cave was used as a hospital.  He sold polished hunks of rock, as well as some lovely jewelry.  The polished stone was translucent, and the color of butterscotch.  Since a rock off the hill would have ended up as more ballast on the boat, I could see the practicality of buying my piece of the Rock at this store.  I mentioned insurance to the proprietor.  He replied that Prudential should write to him if they needed any more pieces of the Rock. 

Postcard.  Sunrise across the Bay of Gibraltar.

Many boats passed through the marina during the fall, on their way out of the Mediterranean.  The cruising sailors were headed for the Canary Islands off Africa, then on across the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean.  The racers were sailing to Casablanca for the start of a trans-Atlantic race to the island of Guadeloupe.  You could almost imagine the boats were birds, migrating together in a flock.  That was the time of year when the winter trade winds made for favorable passages from Europe to the Caribbean.  In a few years, we would probably be among them.  I was glad we were going east, heading in to the Mediterranean, and not back across the Atlantic.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

1984 (13) – Exploring the Town


To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

I had imagined that everyone in Gibraltar would be British, but the people were actually descendants of Spanish settlers, and settlers from Genoa in Italy, with a dash of Moor thrown in.  The Gibraltarians spoke English to the outsider, but among themselves they used a language evolved from Spanish and Genoese that is spoken nowhere else in the world.  About 25% of the population was Moroccan (Morocco is just twelve miles across the Straits from Gibraltar).  The Moroccans made up most of the low-paid labor force doing manual labor like cleaning and construction work.  

Internet Photo.  The Rock of Gibraltar. 
Notice the airport runway, and the marina right above it.

"Crowded" and "seedy" come to mind when I think of Gibraltar.  That 2-square-mile bit of rock housed 25,000 people.  From the streets of town, there were mazes of steps, paths and passageways making a warren of the hillside.  Many people lived on the steep slopes overlooking the city.  Lawns and gardens (aside from the public ones) were nonexistent.  And woven betwixt and between city streets and hillside housing were the remnants of battlements, forts, drawbridges, tunnels, and a castle, with every historic wall labeled in two-foot high block letters. 

The castle is up in the background, on the right.

We spoke with many people, mainly British, and the advice was virtually unanimous that we were crazy to stay in Gibraltar, when we were free to go on to Spain.  We listened to complaints on everything from the weather, the closed border, the size of the place, the local people, the lack of nightlife, the quality of service, and the expense of importing food and goods.  But, even though the novelty of the place quickly wore off, and despite all the advice we received, we still liked Gibraltar very much, and decided to stay on there for a couple months.  

The crowded marina.  I added an arrow, pointing to Tropic Moon.

Ever since the Azores I had been self-conscious about being so obviously an American.  It seemed that everyone could tell, even before I opened my mouth.  I fared better in Gibraltar.  One day we were watching the Changing of the Guard in front of the Governor's palace.  I had been chatting with an older British couple who were standing next to us, the man taking picture after picture of the guard and the marching band.  At one point he turned to me and said, "You don't look like an American.  You're not flashing away with a camera."  We hadn't bothered to bring the camera with us that day because it was overcast.  We figured if there was anything worth taking a picture of, we could come back again.  So I pointed to the sky and remarked that it was cloudy.  "I only take pictures when the sky is blue."  He nodded, looking like he thought I was pulling his leg (I wasn't), and went back to his picture taking.  

Internet Photo.  Mummies in a case at the Gibraltar Museum.

After the Changing of the Guard, we went to visit the Gibraltar Museum. It hadn't looked like much from the outside, but inside there were thousands of items, displayed in lovely rooms.  One room contained a 30-foot scale model of Gibraltar.  There was an Egyptian mummy that had been recovered from a ship that had sunk in the Straits, and the skull of a Neanderthal woman that was discovered on Gibraltar.  There were beautiful watercolors of local scenes painted by a British officer in the 1800's.  Rooms were filled with cases containing samples of indigenous rocks, birds, insects and underwater marine life.  The museum was built above what was originally a 14th Century Moorish Bathhouse.  It was fun to wander through the rooms and imagine its original use, though, as a woman, I probably wouldn't have been allowed in.  

Internet Photo.  One of the rooms in the Moorish bathhouse, below the Gibraltar Museum.

The Museum was something of a labyrinth, with many stairways and passages, and I eventually lost Ed somewhere between the wildlife exhibits and the room on military history.  I covered the area several times, and finally decided he must be waiting near the entrance (it turned out he was in a bathroom).  Back at the reception desk, I started talking with the woman working there.  She eventually said, "You don't look like an American."  It was, indeed, my day.  She then explained that she and her family had visited Disney World in Orlando, and that she hadn't been able to get over the number of fat American women.  I asked her what I did look like, and she said I looked like I came from Gibraltar.