Gibraltar has been firmly in British hands since 1713 and despite demands from Spain that it be handed over, the local populace (known as Llanitos) has fiercely resisted any moves in that direction, a few years ago voting 99-1 in a referendum to maintain the status quo.
In return, Spain likes to make things difficult for Llanitos, causing delays on road traffic entering Gibraltar by searching each car, and not allowing aircraft flying into Gibraltar airport to fly over Spanish airspace on their approach.
We do the sensible thing and avoid the traffic jam by parking in La Linea on the Spanish side of the border and cross on foot.
We buy tickets for the cable car up the rock. At the top is a small cafe and gift shop and a large viewing deck. The top of the rock is also home to the famous Gibraltar apes. I believe technically there are macaques rather than apes, but I don’t think they mind us calling them apes.
However they are classified, they are the only primates that are native to Europe and have certainly made themselves at home on the viewing deck. The earthy scent of ape faeces only detracts slightly from the serenity of the view.
You are warned not to let them see any food as they will immediately steal it from you. They also associate plastic bags with food, so you are also advised against taking them with you up the rock. Alas, it seems not everyone follows this advice, as we see an ape snacking on a packet of Cheetohs when we arrive.
As we stay a bit longer we see a few instances of apes stealing from the unwary. One guy we see has a chocolate bar snaffled from his trouser pocket. A teenage girl has a plastic bag stolen and the apes rifle through the contents. Unfortunately for the apes there was no food inside, but unfortunately for the teenage girl, they strew her sanitary pads everywhere during their search for all to see. She enlists the help of a ranger to try and get her stuff back but the apes are not cooperative.
Famously, there is a saying that Gibraltar will remain British as long as there are apes on the rock. Things looked bleak for a while in World War II when Gibraltar was threatened by the German and Spanish fascist regimes and the population of apes dipped to just a few individuals. Winston Churchill ordered some additional apes shipped in from North Africa which I’m sure was a huge boost for morale. Judging by the numbers of apes today, many with babies, it appears these irredeemably inbred apes will be stealing from visitors and smearing their faeces over a thoroughly British rock for many years to come.
The map we get shows the other sights on the rock as being fairly close and easily walkable. Unfortunately the map isn’t to scale and of course doesn’t show the altitude change. We split up from our friends and walk to the St Michael’s cave and the military tunnels that are open to the public but it took much longer than expected and we descended a fair way down the rock. Rather than walk back up we decide to take the easier route of walking all the way down and catching the cable car back to the top. In summary, if you plan on visiting Gibraltar just get a taxi tour to the rock as you will see much more in less time.
However, if we had missed the walk we would have missed out on the most bizarre road signs we have ever seen. Most places have signs warning motorists about the local fauna. Things start normally enough with a sign for apes. Fair enough, you need go be careful of apes. Things take a strange turn as we head further down the hill, suddenly motorists are being warned about much smaller creatures. We understand you don’t have many animals Gibraltar, but one cannot be careful of butterflies and praying mantises when driving. It’s simply not possible.
Once we all make it to the bottom of the rock, we have a quick wander through town. As one might expect, it has all the signs of Britain: red phone booths, red post boxes, fish and chips and even a small part of town dedicated to the Irish. We stop off for a drink and watch the locals wander past. Surprisingly, most speak Llanito (indistinguishable from Spanish to us) rather than English, and there was also a large Jewish community.
We finish our wander, and our time in Gibraltar, with a quick walk across the runway/RAF base which is cut in half by the only road into and out of town, fittingly named Winston Churchill Avenue. Access, which is somewhat unsurprisingly, closed each time a plane needs to take off or land.