After almost one month in Morocco, it was time for Claire and I to depart the continent of Africa. From the port town of Tangier, Spain was in our sights (You can actually see Spain along the coast) and all we needed to to do was cross the legendary Strait of Gibraltar. After spending a full day exploring what was once an international epicenter of cultures and home for beat poets (Tangier was an international zone divided by many countries until Moroccan independence) it was time to get on a boat.
Waking up in the wee hours of the morning, we rushed down the coast to get to Tangier Med Port. The ferry boats themselves are very comfortable and even have movie theaters on board. Crossing the Strait itself is pretty quick. It only takes one hour and a half to get from Tangier, Morocco to Algeciras, Spain. Before we knew it, we were stepping onto the fringes of Europe. With a new continent under our feet we set off to find a cheap hotel. As we walked around looking, it didn’t quite feel like Spain just yet.
While Spanish could be heard around every corner, the names of hotels and restaurants looked all too familiar to us. Chawama and tajine, rather than tapas were sold along the streets and hotels signposted by the names of Marrakech and Fez dominated the skyline. The fringes of Europe in Algeciras was clearly little Morocco. Being tired of tajine, we saved our appetite for our next destination in Europe, Gibraltar.
Arriving at Gibraltar
Only a 30 minute bus ride from Algeciras lies Gibraltar, the rock that acts as the Jaws of the Mediterranean. This narrow strip of land has been a strategic location since the Phoenicians first established a town here in order to control the Mediterranean. Now, it belongs to the British thanks to Spain giving it to the United Kingdom as a gift a long time ago (smart idea? Probably not). As a consequence, Gibraltar is very, very British today.
A Day in Gibraltar
Gibraltar is quite the oddity. One moment you are walking through Spain, the next, after a quick glance of your passport at customs and you are on Winston Churchill Street. British accents abound and little red phone booths dot many of the street corners. This is an English town… dragged a few 100 km south into the Mediterranean.
Gibraltar, a cute little British town nestled under the towering rock of Gibraltar almost feels cheesy at first until your brain is able to process how on earth it is possible for this place to be a part of Britain. Around town, pubs line the streets serving typical British fare with every restaurant serving Fish and Chips along with many different pies and stews. Being only a few square kilometers, it is easy to get around most of the peninsula by foot. For when your legs give up (or you’ve had one too man pints), you can catch a bus along most streets. The highlight of this little town however, is getting out of it and up to the top of the rock.
There are several trails that lead up to the top of Gibraltar with the trail to the south being the most challenging. We decided to take King Henry’s stairs most of the way up and were greeted by the peninsula’s most famous residents, the monkeys. Keeping your distance from them is impossible as they loaf around on the narrow steps, seeming not be bothered by those who pass by.
To avoid any unwanted attention, do not have any food or plastic bags in your hands, otherwise you will become very popular, very fast (and not in a good way.) The closer to the top you get, the more monkeys seem to appear. Hitching free rides on the taxis that are climbing up the hill, these creatures seems to have a special friendship with these drivers as they call out the monkeys by name. Many of the monkeys seem to just be asking for their photo to be taken, hanging out on the balcony with the entire sea behind them.
Don’t forget to look around at the landscape that encircles you after you get your fill of monkey pictures. From the top, you can view the entire rock of Gibraltar, the town lying below, Spain, the Mediterranean Sea, Morocco, AND two different continents… that’s not too bad for one lookout point!
Gibraltar: A Quirky Place to Be
Gibraltar has been one of the more quirky travel experiences Claire and I have had. Spending the day between 3 different currencies, 3 different languages, two continents, and 3 countries definitely doesn’t happen very often while traveling. Gibraltar makes for an excellent day trip for your travels around southern Spain. While you are in town, grab some British pub grub, knock back a pint, and take a trip to the UK while enjoying the Mediterranean sun.