Our arrival at our second port of call (after the Azores) came with a bit of unexpected advice: “Don’t mention Brexit.” This was a bit confusing until we remembered that Gibraltar, even though it’s located at the southern tip of Spain, is controlled by the United Kingdom. Still, we weren’t quite sure why this would be a subject to avoid. Without internet, we had to ask around to get the scoop, which led to a lot of uncomfortable mumbling and few answers. The boat pulled in to port, and we stepped off into this stormy climate (both literally and figuratively) to explore the tiny yet strategically important territory of Gibraltar.
As mentioned, Gibraltar is a British territory located at the southern tip of Spain. This territory has changed hands many times over its long history due to its strategic importance. This is the place where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic Ocean. Gibraltar overlooks a major world shipping route – half of the world’s seaborne trade passes through this strait. Therefore, in times of conflict, controlling the naval traffic through this area is of great importance.
The Territory itself is only 2.6 square miles in area. From the top of the Rock of Gibraltar, we could see it all plus the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, Morocco, and Spain. Ownership has been a point of some contention in modern times. The English captured the territory in 1713, and signed a treaty with the Spanish granting them ownership in perpetuity. Since then the Spanish have asserted their claims to ownership, which have gone nowhere. The Gibraltarians themselves have been given the chance to vote on leaving to rejoin Spain, but the people have voted to remain in the UK.
This makes Brexit a bit of a spiky subject in Gibraltar. The ~30,000 residents of one of the most densely populated areas of the world benefit greatly from the UK’s inclusion in the European Union. For one thing, it makes trade and movement across the Spanish border much simpler. 82% of Gibraltar’s population came out to vote for the Brexit referendum, with 96% of them voting to stay. Needless to say, they’re worried about the coming transition. It’s to this environment we arrived as clueless tourists, ready to wander the picturesque streets, take pictures, and climb to the top of the famous Rock.
Rock of Gibraltar
Our adventure today takes us to the top (-ish) of the Rock of Gibraltar, also known simply as “The Rock”. Our table mates all opted to take the cable car up, which in retrospect was probably the right decision. We chose to walk. The walk from the port to town was nice. It took us through Casemates Square, which was packed with shops and restaurants and had a lovely pedestrian way leading off of it.
We began the climb from one of these little side paths. At first it was quite nice, with gently slanted sidewalks and short flights of steps. The path was lined with houses that had been built against the side of the hill. It was a delightfully dramatic scene. But, as time went on, our moods turned sour.
It wasn’t that the walk was too challenging, but that everything just started going wrong. First, the sun moved behind a cloud and it started to get chilly. Next, we realized we had to pay to walk up The Rock (£5) and pay again if we actually wanted to see anything once we were at the top (£13). Then, the wind started to blow. A little ways further, some road construction and poorly placed signs caused us to get briefly lost and double-back. Then the rain started, and we decided to call it quits.
However, we did see the Moorish Castle… from the outside (once again, you had to pay to go in). It is a relic from 711 CE, when the Moorish ruled over Gibraltar. There wasn’t much to look at, but the view around it was amazing and we even got a shot of our ship in the background! Although not visible in this particular picture, we also had the pleasure of seeing some of the local Barbary macaques. They’ve been roaming freely within the nature reserve for years.
After a challenging day on land, we had a challenging evening on board. The weather was less than ideal for cruising. We received a letter in our room after dinner letting us know that they would be shuttering our window in case of water damage (see the pre-shuttering video below). We were able to avoid motion sickness, but had some trouble remaining comfortable in bed. I had to wedge myself between pillows to keep from rolling around. Haha! Otherwise, the journey was a pleasant one and we were eventually able to get some good rest before our next stop in Alicante, Spain!