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Gibraltar Travel Story

Apes on the Rock of Gibraltar

Gibraltar travel from the Algarve or Spain is a popular day trip, and that's what I had done, taking the day tour bus from Albufeira, Portugal through Spain to Gibraltar and back (five hours each way). it's a long day trip but if i's your only chance to see the Rock of Gibraltar, go for it!

Apes on the Rock of Gibraltar are a big draw, as is Gibraltar town. The highway from Sevilla winds through wonderfully rolling farming country along the Route of the Bulls.


Going 'Ape' on the Rock of Gibraltar ~ A Travel story

The peace of a sunny springtime morning shatters as car doors slam behind yet another clutch of chattering tourists eager for their 15 minutes on the tall and famous rock. They call to each other, excited, a many-tongued chorus of squeaks and shouts, jostling for the best vantage point to see (and take photos of) the main attraction -- the apes at the top of the Rock of Gibraltar.

Well, not the very top -- that's reserved for the military. But for the rest of us, that's as high as we can go.

"I hear the apes bite," says one tourist to another.
"Only if you poke them," comes the reply.

Two apes perched atop a narrow stone wall at the edge of the narrow roadway are studiously picking through each other's fur, as oblivious to the precipitous drop at their backs as they are to the camera-clicking throng in front of them.

Abruptly, they leave their grooming to climb onto the shoulders of one man leaning against the wall. The apes crawl across his shoulders and arms; he winces but doesn't move, and remains unbitten.

We'd arrived in Gibraltar . . .

We'd arrived in Gibraltar just an hour earlier, on a five hour-drive day trip from Portugal's Algarve where we were vacationing, to take a fast tour of the Rock, and see these famous apes.

About two dozen of Gibraltar's 250 or so apes -- Barbary macaques, actually -- live in this colony, one of five free-roaming colonies on the Upper Rock.

Legend has it that so long as the apes inhabit this rock, Gibraltar will be British. It's been 300 years now and the British are still here.

This 426 metres high slab of Jurassic limestone that marks the spot where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic has had many names.

The Phoenicians called it Calpe. To the Greeks, it was one of the Pillars of Herakles. But for hundreds of years now, it's been known as Gibraltar, the name supposedly derived from a Berber chief named Tarik, who came ashore and gave this mountain (jebel) his name.

So Jebel Tarik (say it fast and drop the 'ik') became Gibraltar.

Given that the Rock is located in one of the world's most active earthquake zones, and that it has holes chopped into its Mediterranean face, and that its innards are riddled with more than 40 kms of tunnels and caves, including one cavern that can seat 400 concert-goers, well, it's surprising that The Rock is still standing at all.

But stand it does, on a tiny peninsula of less than six square kilometres, joined to the Spanish mainland by a narrow isthmus that's also the airport runway.

When a plane needs the space, a siren sounds, and everyone moves aside. Evelyn Waugh, writing in Lables, said the rock looked like a great slab of cheese, and that the city of Gibraltar was one of the most depressing he'd ever seen.

But that was in the 1920s . . .

But that was in the 1920s, and a lot has changed since then. Today, Gibraltar is a collection of high end shops, trendy restaurants, and elegant hotels, its 30,000 residents a cosmopolitan mix of Brits, Moors, Europeans and Asians who welcome five million visitors each year.

By land, sea or air they come to shop, to ride the cable car to the Upper Rock, to explore the caves and the museums, and to watch dolphins frolicking in the bay. In nearby Algeciras, in Spain, they can board the ferry or the hovercraft, and cross the strait to Tangier, in Morocco. It's only 20 kilometres.

Yet even with Gibraltar's amazing views from the top and its riveting history, the apes are still the biggest attraction. On the Upper Rock, where the narrow road -- one-way only at this point -- winds its way between the hillside and the concrete guard rail, several visitors creep near one of the apes, then jump back when the ape turns to face them. When the ape turns away, they creep forward again, trying to get closer.

Back and forth goes this primitive folk dance, and always the ape stays aloof. Grown men and women acting like misbehaving children make clicking sounds, or whistle, even call out to the apes, hoping to provoke a reaction, yet they seem to be half-afraid of what the ape will do when sufficiently annoyed by their antics.

All too soon it seems, we have to move on. Our time is up, and we must make way for other van-loads of tourists waiting in queue for their chance with the apes. Inside our van, we press our faces close to the windows for a last look at the apes amidst a throng of gesturing, chattering humans.

As the driver pulls away, a voice in the van breaks the silence.
"Kind of makes you wonder which of us -- apes or humans -- are the more highly evolved."



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