So last night was an okay sleep…. We always share the best room when we vacation together…wait that sounded wrong. We share-as in- the best room is divided-so if we are in that particular villa/apartment for 6 nights-Gary and Nicole get it for 3 and we get it for 3. Keeps us from fighting. Mostly.
However, this was our night in the nice room with the full king bed…-Gary and Nicole slept in the other room…and as is the case in a lot of European bedrooms, the “king” bed in the lesser of the rooms is actually two twins or doubles pushed together and sheeted that way. So, last night when we went to bed I heard a huge thump and then Nicole giggling hysterically. But you know-I ask no questions. What they do in their down time is none of my business.
But when Nicole gets up this morning she is waiting for me in the kitchen making her coffee and laughing and can’t wait to tell me that last night, when she came back from the bathroom, all she could see in the room was arms and legs sticking out from between the two pushed together beds and a muffled “can I get some help?….and also, I think our bed is drunk…”. So basically Gary jumped into bed, trying to do his sexiest pose for when Nicole came back from the bathroom-and fell between the beds. And was stuck. Mood ruined, but perfect blog material. Thank you Gary.
We talk about how both our husbands have been snoring all night like ant eaters being slowly strangled. ALL NIGHT. You know. The usual Nic/Karen coffee talk.
Then its off to the McDonald’s for the meet up for our next tour. This time its open and we get…..sausage McMuffins….ish…..its more like a burger-a HUGE sausage patty and a full fried egg. Really good-but not the usual McDonald’s breakfest. Then on the bus and the drive to Gibraltar-a British territory that’s at the southern tip of this Iberian Peninsula, where we will see MONKEYS!!!!!!!!!
On the bus I am trying to show Nicole that she needs to stay away from the Monkeys…a safe distance. Because I have heard my sister talk about seeing the Barbary apes in Gibraltar for years….and I just know she’s going to try and get one in her suitcase. So i bring up videos of tourists getting jumped on by the monkeys- thinking I’m going to scare her into being careful….but they end up being really funny actually….and we are crying laughing by the time we see the huge rock of Gibraltar and reach passport control. All I’ve done is show Nicole how to get them to jump on her. I’m pretty sure she has peanuts in her purse.
And its about here that I realize I have on a bright yellow shirt and white shorts. I’ve basically dressed like a banana……..to go see the aggressive monkeys. Excellent.
We pass passport control (a British immigration officer comes on the bus and checks our passports) and then we drive into the town. To do that we have to drive on the runway-something Gibraltar is famous for- the military airport is a working airport that also accepts regular airline carriers…but is considered one of the most dangerous landing spots-because the entirety of the airport and runway were reclaimed from the sea with rock and dirt….and the runway is short, and doubles as a vehicle crossing-the only way to drive into Gibraltar. So we drive through the runway and take the pictures, and start to see the British-ness of this rock. Red telephone booths, double Decker buses and everything in English again! Which is very exciting when you’ve struggled to read anything in the past week.
We drive to a drop off spot and are let of the buss and given 2 hours to SHOP!!!!! YAY!!!! So we do some damage-there are a ton of perfume shops and tourist trinkets-and fish and chip pubs. I get the Chole LOVE I’ve been searching for obsessively in every perfume and duty free store since I first bought it in Paris. SO HAPPY!!!! If anyone out there ever finds it, I’ll take 56 bottles. Or vats. Or just the pelt of the woman who is wearing it.
So after we scratch our shopping itch-we sit down at a quaint English pub for beers and fish and chips. Its a beautiful 25 degrees this morning-so we keep the vampire (Chris) in the shade so he doesn’t sizzle out- and we soak up the sun like Lizard Rats (Chris’s term for us).
Then back to the bus for the tour with the cutest little stereotypical British gentleman I’ve ever met. I’ll give you the most interesting details.
Gibraltar is about 7 km square. The landscape is mostly dominated by the Rock Of Gibraltar at the point which is a densely populated area, home to about 33,000 people and 300 apes. They use the pound here, and you would swear you were in Britain-as most of the inhabitants are British and you have to have British citizenship to live here. The average small one bedroom apartment is about 1000 British pounds a month ($1750 Canadian) where as just steps away in Spain, the same apartment will cost you about $300 euros ($535 Canadian)…so 10,000 people cross that landing strip every day to work. The Spanish making up most of the tourism and labor jobs (server, shop clerk, housekeeping), where the British are mostly employed by the numerous bank and company headquarters that set up in Gibraltar-there is no business tax here. So It’s a haven for the major British banks. The others are employed by the active military base on the small block of land. In fact, of the 33,000 inhabitants, our guide tells us that in the financial report that was released recently, only 120 are listed as unemployed.
And the Rock is like Swiss cheese. There are natural caves throughout-but also man made tunnels from the 2nd world war that are still used today-some sectioned off still in use for the military, and most now open for regular traffic. It such a strategic point, the mouth of the Mediterranean, where the Atlantic meets the Med Sea. So no wonder it was utilized by the British in the wars. There are 27 KM of roads out side the mountain, and 50 inside! That’s how many tunnels there are. In fact the land that was reclaimed for the airport? the rock and dirt used came from the tunnels they dug. Impressive, but also Makes me kind of nervous when I see all the busses going up and down the road to the top.
In the distance as we climb the mountain for our first stop we can see a number of HUGE container ships. Paul (the guide) explains that Gibraltar port is a major hub for these ships for two reasons-it is obviously the first point after you cross the Atlantic to refuel, and also because fuel here is about 30% cheaper then anywhere else they can stop along this route – because the British bring the fuel in huge tankers from their off shore reserves, but never let it touch land, just sit in the tanker in the port…so no land tax is ever paid on the fuel, and no tax is charged on goods in Gibraltar, and therefore no tax is charged on it. HUGE savings for some of these gigantic ships that need a gallon of fuel for every meter they travel. So easily hundreds of thousands in savings to get it here….however, to get the fuel-they radio ahead, and they are credit checked. Once the credit comes back good, small ships bring the fuel to them and fill them up. But there are a number of ships in the port-probably filled with crap Melissa and I have bought on AliExpress-that are what is called “Friendly Arrested”. Meaning, they can’t afford the fuel they need to keep going, or their credit check came back denied, or their company went bankrupt- and now they wait,, unable to leave, and are placed in holding by customs. He says the 4 that are furthest out have been there for literally months and months.
Okay, now on to the star of the show…..sort of…the first stop half way up the rock, is at a cave. You are given a ticket to climb about 3 flights of outside stairs, enter the cave, walk through and see all the stalag-whatever-the-craps-and then come out at the bottom back where the bus is. But then we see it. And he knows when he’s lost control of the bus, or at the very least the last two rows of drover/hersey/keddys. . The squeal of delight the emits from Nicole can only be described as pre-Jurassic. She sounds like a tetradactyl having its babies stolen. WE. SEE. MONKEYS. On the side of the road. Paul says, “listen, I am bringing you somewhere to spend a ton of time with the monkeys….so take the time to go see the cave. Its magnificent. Then come back down, take a quick picture with the monkeys and then back on the bus and I’ll drive you to the better viewing point”. So we get of the buss and Nicole bee-lines it to the nearest monkey. After a few moments-I tear her away and make her walk through the cave. The ENTIRE time, all I can hear behind me is “but I don’t want to see a cave. I want to see monkeys. Caves are stupid. I hate caves. Why am I in a cave?” Over and over again. Until we finally get OUT of the cave…and she’s right. The monkeys are far more interesting.
The Monkeys. They are adorable. I mean, I have never been this close to something so human like but yet wild! I start out a little scared i have to admit….but not Nicole. She would full make out with one I’m pretty sure. She’s up in their faces. I swear at one point I look over and she’s propped herself up on the wall with one and is letting it look through her hair for lice.
Paul says “lets go…I’ll bring you somewhere even better!” And Nicole ignores him. Completely. We are all waiting on the bus when she finally tears herself away from her new family and reluctantly walks back.
He’s tells us the history of the Monkeys as we make the climb to the next stop. The Apes were not brought here by the British-they were already here in 1704 when Gibraltar was captured by Britain…. but legend has it that as long as the Apes stay in Gibraltar, so can the British. So when the ape population was declining, Churchill brought in more. And now there are about 300-in about 5 troops (or family groups)- and they occupy the top of the rock and are a protected species. They are fed and vetted and taken care of on the top-so that they don’t come down into the town proper and do damage. Because they are monkeys after all. So as we slow down for our next stop we see them. Dozens of them. One catches a ride on our buses side mirror and gives us a show. Paul says she’s pregnant-and she is looking for peanuts-which she knows he always keeps in the bus. …. so she reaches out, digs her claws into his arm and pulls it out, and smacks him, and nudges him….and he finally gives in and gives her some peanuts and away she goes.
It is breathtaking. The monkeys sitting along the walls of the road, inches from me, looking at me like I’M the one on display. Soaking up the attention, and not at all bothered by the number of people in their personal space, or the fact that Nicole is trying to fold one up and put it in her purse and Gary is trying finalize a adoption with one of the females. Behind them you can see the city and the sea, and the outline of Africa, and I’m finding it very moving for some reason-a lump in my throat. I find myself not at all afraid of them-they are gentle creatures. Paul explained to us that they are very very friendly, you can walk right up to them-but don’t touch them-if they touch you its fine-but don’t touch them first. Also, if they make a circle with their mouths-and an “oooo” sound…that means back off. It usually happens when they are eating-but stay away. They will go a little ape at that point-pun intended. And we see that first hand, when Gary tries to feed one a peanut shell and the ape sticks his head out a little-and makes a very distinct “OOO. OOOO” noise. And we run like he just pulled a gun. Yeah. We brave.
After we spend all the time we are allowed with the monkeys, and take the monkey selfies, and the monkey videos, and frisk Nicole for monkeys, and make Gary give the babies back-we are back on the bus and back down the mountain to start the dive home.
After such an amazing day we get home in time for cooking! We stop at the local grocery store and buy fresh ingredients for some flat bread pizza and pancetta and cheese raviolis. I LOVE TO COOK IN EUROPE. There’s something about the ingredients, and not having the things you’re used to but being forced to step out of your culinary habits and create-that makes me almost dizzy with excitement. And the wine. Rioja-the Spanish wine- I thought would be a less well rounded grape-but it isn’t-its lovely. Full and well bodied with a hit of oaky-ness that I definitely wasn’t expecting. And I decide that we need to try them all before we leave.
But before dinner we actually have time to make our way to the beach for some pre-dinner relaxing. Chris does his usual-makes an Inukshuk with the rocks along the beach. The Canadians were here! (Like the beer empty’s didn’t give that away)…. and we try to ignore the nude beach that’s about 200 meters away…. which is difficult to do with our binoculars and zoom cameras……
After beach time we go back to the apartment and I serve appies and dinner . We make a good start on my wine mandate and polish off a couple nice bottles of Rioja before bed. Tomorrow we leave this apartment and are going to our next stay. 7 nights in a villa we rented in Mojicar- about a 4 hour drive west along the coast. It has its own pool and lots of Lizard rat areas for us to lounge in and set up muppet lounges in. So I’m not sure how much I will blog while there-I’ll probably do one every few days or so-I am looking so forward to the break and the ocean and the pool…and the cooking!
SO off to bed…..more adventure awaits tomorrow….perhaps not with as much monkey-ing around (although I wouldn’t count on it)…