I first visited southern Spain on a family trip when I was 16. At the time, my Spanish was really good. Now? German has completely pushed Spanish out of my brain. I can still understand maybe 80% of what is said to me, but trying to form a coherent sentence was a non-starter. The Mister is very good at languages, both living and dead, but there isn’t much Roman scholarship written in Spanish so it’s never been on his radar.
Luckily for us, this part of the world has been a vacation destination and second-home paradise for people from the UK. We only encountered one time the whole when we were really SOL language-wise in Granada (I’ll give you the full story later). I am sure that any other year, we would have been surrounded by UK tourists, but with the mandatory quarantine in effect back home ruining their holidays, we hardly heard any English from vacationers unless we were the ones speaking it.
I knew about the UK’s love of this region before we left, but what I didn’t know was that Gibraltar is basically “little Britain” poking out into the sea. As we learned from our helpful guidebook, Gibraltar has been under British control longer than the United States has been independent from it. We also looked up some more fun facts, such as this little outpost has consistently voted to stay British even though Spain wants to at least have dual control. They also voted 98% against Brexit, for obvious reasons.
Going back to the topic of languages for a moment, we noticed something really interesting in just the few hours we were there. Though it is a British territory, the people on the street were often speaking a sort of Creole. Within a sentence, the people would move seamlessly between English and Spanish, and occasionally Arabic (though I am not 100% sure what language it was). Which I suppose makes sense, considering Morocco is just 16 km away.
“The Rock” itself has been of military significance for centuries, and when you are driving up to it, it makes total sense. The area around this mountain is almost completely flat, and then this huge thing rises from the water.
Once across the border (which for us involved waiting for a plane to take off from the tiny landing strip on the other side of the papers check), you can get fish and chips, lamb stew, hard cider, and many of the other trappings of life in Britannia on the Mediterranean coast. This also meant that there was no trouble understanding our guide on our DOLPHIN TOUR!
Our Day with the Dolphins
Our intention was to take the very first cruise of the day at 11AM to avoid the heat, but because of reduced demand, the first available was at 12:30PM. We had a chance to grab a quick snack and pint before we embarked.
The water was pretty choppy even in the bay because it was windy. The breeze was good for dealing with the heat, but it made it a lot harder to get good pictures of the dolphins. We definitely saw at least 50, but in my shots it was hard to tell a breaching back from a normal wave crest. However, I did get a great video!
I was really surprised that we actually never left the marina. It turns out that it is an ideal place for dolphins because no commercial fishing is allowed, which means no nets and more food. Their population of common dolphins ranges from 500 to 5000 depending on the time of year. Bottlenose dolphins do also make occasional appearances, but they are larger and more aggressive than the common dolphins and scare them away when they visit the bay.
When we went up on top of the Rock, we also could see a huge pod of dolphins far below. I don’t think we would have recognized what we were seeing if we hadn’t just seen them up close.
The Rock of Gibraltar
We got a combined ticket for both the dolphin tour and the cable car to the top of the Rock. It’s around 1400 feet tall, and while it is possible to take stairs up, that was definitely NOT happening. During much of the year, there are two different stations for visitors, but in the summer only the top one was allowed. I was really disappointed to learn this because the guidebook said the lower station was where the “Barbary Apes” liked to hang out. However, we were NOT disappointed. The moment we stepped off the car and turned a corner into the station, we found a group of three young monkeys galivanting on the staircase. Within moments, they’d pulled out a wire out of the ceiling and used it as part of their jungle gym.
They were so tame and unafraid. It was really cool to see them so close. Then, we got to the top of the stairs and found…
We were some of the last visitors of the day, and travel in general being down right now, we were completely alone on the observation deck. Just us, almost 1400 feet in the air and the blue ocean below. There’s something like 50km of tunnels inside the Rock because of its extensive military usage, but on the outside, it’s an picturesque mountain on the edge of the world.
When we were looking down at the water, we realized there was a huge pod of dolphins below us, so we got double dolphins that day.
On the way down on the last cable car of the day, we overheard the conductor on the radio. He was telling a colleague that the “cloud” rising up over Morocco was not a cloud at all, but a massive fire.
It was an incredible day, and just the beginning of our fabulous trip.
We left Gibraltar and got to our hotel in a little town called Zahara de Los Atunes around 7PM. I had no idea how central the “atunes” (tuna) part of the name was going to be to our experience there, but you’ll have to check out my next post to find out more.
(Did you miss the first post in this series? Read it now!)