We spent today touring the territory of Gibraltar…a part of the United Kingdom at the very tip of the Spanish peninsula. From this port of call, we were able to see both Spain and Africa as this is the point of Europe that is believed to have been connected to Africa millions of years ago. This particular area has been very valuable to various peoples over the years, and has at one point in time or another been under Phoenician, Egyptian, Moorish, Spanish, and English rule (since the late 1700’s, it’s been a part of the UK).
We started our day touring the Museum of Gibraltar in the city. We don’t have any photos of the inside because we were not allowed to take any, but the museum houses the ruins of the old bath house of Gibraltar, as well as many artifacts from animal remains, pottery, and, of course, the history of Gibraltar during WWII. Apparently, Gibraltar was completely evacuated and became a base for British and Allied forces during the war in order to try to fortify and win the African front.
After we spent a little bit of time at the museum, we took a cable car up to the top of the Upper Rock to walk around and look at the Macaque monkeys. No one really knows how the monkeys got to Gibraltar. These are the only wild monkeys in all of Europe. The same type of monkey is also found in Morocco and Algeria, so no one knows if they somehow swam across the Strait or found underground passage, or if a person brought them across when it was under Moorish rule. At any rate, there are about 300 monkeys living on the rock of Gibraltar. All are chipped, numbered, vaccinated, and fed a controlled diet to keep them healthy. If a person is caught feeding a monkey, you are subject to a fine of around 4000 GBP.
The monkeys are not at all shy around the visitors to the rock. When our cable car was coming to a rest in the station at the Upper Rock, one of the monkeys actually jumped onto the back of the car, scaring the bejeezus out of the people sitting there! We later watched this same monkey pull some Life Savers candy out of someone’s bag and jump up on the post to eat every last one. As an FYI, all of us were warned before we ascended to the top of the rock that these monkeys were pickpockets…that is, if you have food, they will unzip your bags, find it, and remove it before you even notice. Some monkeys appeared to be a lot heavier than others…clearly those are the ones good at stealing the human junk food.
As we walked down the Rock toward St. Michael’s Cave, we encountered tons more monkeys, We saw baby monkeys playing together, a mom nursing a tiny monkey, and many more monkeys eating the food that’s put out for them daily. One of the funniest things we saw, though, was that every time a taxi drove up the road, at least one monkey jumped onto it by the driver’s side window. They must know that tourists are coming and carry food. One time, the monkey managed to jump onto the car and grab a croissant from inside the open window. That prompted a couple of other monkeys to jump on top of the taxi and try to get it from the victor (and prompted the cab driver to stop the car and get out in an effort to shoo the monkeys away).
After viewing all the monkeys on the walk, we got to go through St. Michael’s cave. This is one of the many caves inside the Rock of Gibraltar. It was explained to us that the rock is much like swiss cheese with hundreds of caves scattered throughout. This particular cave was thought to be a useful site as a hospital during WWII for those injured on the African front since it was underground and not easily bombed…however, they realized that people would have to be transported by boat and would never make it to Gibraltar’s shores with the German U-boats. The cave is now used as a concert venue since the acoustics are good. It is beautiful inside…and definitely was a nice respite from the hot, muggy weather in Gibraltar today.
The final highlight of today was the ability to drive across the runway at the airport. The runway for the airport here actually crosses across one of the main roads (the one leading to the Spanish border). When a plane lands or takes off, they actually stop car and pedestrian traffic along the road to allow for the air traffic to clear the space. So different from other airports that keep you far, far away from runway traffic at all times!
Tomorrow, we head back into Spain, but today was a wonderfully unexpected treat! Not sure we’d ever have made our way to Gibraltar on our own, so we are so glad for the experience today!