Gibraltar (the second time)
Several months ago, before Covid changed the world forever, Alec, Jack and I traveled to Gibraltar to do research for winter 2021, believing then that we would make our way into the Med for the following summer 2021. Even though that was only 6 months ago, everyone reading this can relate to how different our world looks, both individually and collectively now.
Still, having done the research months earlier, it made coming here easier in several ways in that we knew what to expect and we had made contacts for dockage as well. I had written a piece about Gib, as it is affectionately called by the locals, which I later sold to Ocean Navigator magazine, and for that reason, I never made a blog post about it then. Sometimes I write to get something that we experience on paper, wherever it ends up. Having done that, I find it difficult to write a different piece for a different audience on the same subject, but I am happy to have another opportunity to share our combined experiences of both trips here now.
The great thing about coming to this lovely place twice and having one of those times before this Covid crisis was, we had the ability to sightsee in a way last time which was impossible this time due to the closure of many of the tourist attractions for the duration of our time here. We did manage to walk up the Rock of Gibraltar and visit the monkeys who seemed overly friendly in the wake of the drought of visitors of late. We had heard that they were “cheeky” little thieves and would welcome any chance to make off with hats, glasses or even back packs. On our first visit we saw none of this bold familiarity yet on our recent trip, with us the only visitors we saw in a full day of climbing up and down, cheeky was the perfect word to describe them. They grabbed at Jacks hat, desperate to abscond with it to who knows where. They grabbed my arms and tried to engage with me in a gentle sort of playful way. Given that I have had exactly 2 experiences with wild monkeys in my life, this was completely unnerving to me. Especially the males who appeared to be guarding the nursing females on our ascent up the rock. At nearly the top and after getting some “guff” from one such large ape like monkey, I felt it was time to turn tale and head back down – I had gotten close enough to the top to call it a victory.
On the previous trip and given that we only had 3 days not 3 weeks to explore, we took a taxi to the top and made the requisite stops at both the St. Michaels Caves and the Pillar of Hercules. So, a short history lesson here, The Rock of Gibraltar, only a 3 miles spit of land, (growing daily due to the high value of land and the attendant desire for reclamation) and completely surrounded by Spain on all land sides, has been home to inhabitants dating back to the Neanderthals. Travelers have been leaving their mark here since the Phoenicians and later, the Carthaginian’s who, traveling past believed that they were approaching the end of the earth, left gifts to the Gods in the caves in the years between roughly 800 BC and 200 BC. In 711 the Moors landed at the foot of the rock and so began the Muslim conquest of Iberia. Evidence of their occupation remains in the Moorish Baths located within the Gibraltar Museum. The British and Dutch forces captured the Rock in 1704 and under the Treaty of Ultrecht in 1717 ceded Gib to the British Crown in perpetuity. This would not be the last heard of the Spanish however and several more attempts were made on the rock the final and greatest being The Great Siege in 1779-1783. For Americans a point of significance is that date. The British had to endure a brutal siege by Spain for Gibraltar at the same time the Americans were fighting for their liberty. Dividing the British resources undoubtedly played a role in the success of the American and French in fighting the British for American sovereignty during those same years.
A quick glance at a map and one can easily see why this is so important a piece of land for the British. Given necessary trade with Asia and India the rights to the Straights of Gibraltar prevented Crown ships having to make the trip around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and all the way back up again. Cutting through the Med especially after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 gave them access to a far shorter trade route. Today that same shortened route is required to get access to precious oil from the Middle East. From a strictly military point of view, it is a critical strong hold and remains encamped today to provide supplies to allied ships proving invaluable during WW2.
On our earlier visit our guide shared with us a story of the myth of twin pillars of Hercules. Homer claimed that Hercules broke the mountain joining Europe and Africa resulting in two pillars on either side of Straights of Gibraltar. The European “pillar” is the Rock of Gibraltar and the “pillar” on the African side is Mount Hacho.
We dropped by the museum, closed due to covid, and discovered that with prior arrangement a visit may be possible. I sent an email and was delighted that they would permit us a private visit during a designated time slot. It was a perfectly wonderful museum exploration – we were the only visitors there and we were free to meander and discover completely at our own pace. They had reconstructed a couple of Neanderthals from found bones and just that alone was worth the trip. There have been carvings and evidence of their habitation in Gib for over 100,000 years.
We are clearly moving into yet a new phase of our learning aboard Gratitude. So accustomed have we been to think of history in terms of the past 300 years in the US, upon reaching the UK we began thinking more in terms of the past 2000 years. Now we are beginning to look at History in terms of BC and AD as much of the Mediterranean history dates back well over 2000 years ago.
Jack turned 10 last week and we celebrated in a big way aboard Gratitude. Having experienced a bit of a Toy drought since we left -unable to just run to Target for something on which to spend his hard-earned money, the toy store abundance combined with his impending birthday made this the perfect place to be. Also, I lost a (dental) crown, which was repaired here, and Alec had some worrisome skin issues resolved.
Finally, if you have been following along you may be wondering why we are headed into the Med now when we were originally planning to be in the Baltic this summer. When the Covid thing hit and as we were waiting for Portugal to open and let us leave, we were simultaneously waiting for another country to open their border to let us in. We have the additional constraints of the shortened cruising season up North, in fact, as early as October the weather was changing quickly as far South as the Channel Islands. We certainly don’t wish to be in the North Sea that late in the year. Also, with our immigration concerns there seems to be a more lenient approach to allowing extensions in the Southern part of Europe as opposed to the Northern countries. And finally, Italy was the first country to open their doors and allow foreign visitors. So, armed with all of these constraints, we decided to move around some plans and hope that we may still make it to the Baltic in the summer of 2022 spending this summer and next in the Med. Of course, given so many variables up in the air, even now we aren’t certain where we will end up this winter, though we hope to be in Sicily. So, this is all just a wild guess.
What we do know now is that we are on our way to Cartegena, Spain and having the most gorgeous passage. Underway for about 25 hours thus, and with another 2 to go, the weather has been stunning and the views breathtaking. The Spanish coastline has made me wish we could stop at every little town we seem to pass.
One final note – many have asked us about the guidelines and requirements here in Europe in the wake of Covid. Mask usage is fairly consistent across the board anytime a 2-meter distance cannot be maintained. We just arrived in Spain where one can be fined 1,000 Euros on the spot for failure to comply and have with them a mask. As in Portugal, usage was mandatory in restaurants and cafes anytime not seated at the table and the tables and its occupants were required to be 2 meters apart. Nobody is complaining about this – nobody is even talking about it – it’s just become part of the program and without dispute, the Covid numbers are under control here. There have been a few tiny “brushfires” which have been quickly tamped down with contract tracing and immediate resolution but with mask usage – the asymptomatic carriers aren’t spreading it accidentally. When I read the US news I’m just so amazed that this is even an issue – using a mask saves lives – this is the undisputed fact of science. It has NOTHING to do with political affiliation or belief – it’s just science and across the board there is no dispute that wearing a mask prevents the spread – Just my 2 cents worth.
We hope wherever this finds you – you are enjoying your summer plans – upended though they most certainly are – and enjoying each other.