Gibraltar, UK: A meeting of seas, a big rock, cute macaques

We arrived this morning in Gibraltar before dawn. I wasn’t feeling very good during the night and wondered if it was the revenge of the tuna croquettes from Sevilla, but I have improved as the day has advanced.

This British outpost, claimed from Spain over 300 years ago, is nestled on the side of the famous rock promontory, overlooking the straits of Gibraltar and a short distance from Morocco. We had an early tour booked, a two-hour overview of Gibraltar, including Europa point, the St. Michael’s caves, the famous “Barbary Apes”, a view of the amazing drive-through airport to the mainland, and the old town.

Our tour guide and driver was a genuine character, a local named Paul. He was trained as a zoologist and ornithologist and lost his job a few years ago when he advocated moving many of the macaques (they are macaque monkeys, not apes) back to the Atlas mountains in northern Africa, instead of arbitrarily culling the groups. He had a sharp sense of humor and had us laughing as he careened our mini-bus through the narrow streets and several narrow tunnels to Europa point on the far side of Gibraltar.

The Europa viewpoint overlooks the strait, which has strict traffic controls and represents the dividing line between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Morocco is only 22 miles away, although there is a closer location to Africa on the Spanish coast west of here. Ships are parked all over the place, awaiting their turn through the straits (just like going through the Panama Canal).

Near the viewpoint was a new huge mosque, built with funds from the Saudi Arabian king, so it is likely a Wahhabi sect mosque. The Reconquest of Europe slowly and stealthily advances while everyone drinks beer, sleeps, sweats the soccer scores or worries about getting good Internet coverage.

Our guide next took us to the upper reaches of the Rock, to the nature preserve. We stopped for a quick tour through St. Michael’s caves; I looked at the caverns from the entrance but decided to skip the stair-intensive walk through them, as my left hip is not doing well right now. Steve wasn’t that impressed with them.

Our next stop was the highlight of the tour, a visit to the macaque territory. These vigorous monkeys jumped on top of the bus and hung onto the mirrors. Paul warned us to leave all bags, hats, and sunglasses on the bus. Those who didn’t heed this warning were treated to the experience of a macaque jumping on their heads or shoulders from a bus to try and steal their hats.

Paul was obviously on buddy-buddy terms with a large male macaque named George. As a tour guide, he is allowed to bring a few treats and George has learned to put his paw into Paul’s pants to get these treats or sit there cutely posing next to Paul. We could get very close-up pictures of these playful animals, but you do not touch them or make direct eye contact with them. They reminded us of the Cape of Good Hope baboons in South Africa or the mischievous Vervet monkeys in Zambia.

Our next stop was a viewpoint overlooking the city and the airport. The only road to the mainland crosses the runway of the airport. When a flight is expected to depart or arrive (and there are regularly scheduled British Airways and other flights), barriers come down and stop the traffic about five minutes before the landing or take-off. Spain actually closed off this access to Gibraltar from about 1968 until 1985; there is also the continuing controversy over who has sovereignty over Gibraltar, just like the Falkland Islands.

Also near this airport viewpoint are the great siege tunnels, built in the 1700s, but also used during WWII. Britain and the United States planned Operation Torch (North Africa invasion and operations) from this location. The strategic importance of Gibraltar has been noted for centuries; there are now more underground tunnels on Gibraltar than roads and streets.

We ended our tour going through the narrow streets of old town. Steve and I decided to go back to the ship for R & R on this beautiful, warm day.

At 4:00 pm we had our second culinary class, Flavors of the Sea. We did three cooking techniques and learned about two more. The first technique was pan frying. We used tilapia for this preparation and pan fried it in pure olive oil, then plated it with a remoulade type sauce (roasted red peppers and mayonnaise). This was accompanied by a Provence Rosé. We next saw the techniques for deep poaching and baking, with salmon in a court bouillon and Chilean Sea Bass in the Asian sauce they use in Red Ginger.

We then had to cook the next course, which was a shallow poached halibut . We did something similar to this last Friday, but this one used a lovely heavy cream sauce. This was accompanied by a sauvignon blanc. Our final cooking method was searing. We had scallops we seared in a little clarified butter, then brushed on a sauce that was reduced that had soy sauce, brown sugar and sherry. Yum, yum, yum!!! As usual, I was a complete idiot, but Steve did great.

We’re back at our usual table outside by the pool, hoping they don’t kick us out for some reason. We may get a small bite at the Terrace later, perhaps as we sail out at 8:00 pm.

We’ll have a little more from our day at sea tomorrow. We arrive at 9:00 am Wednesday at our debarkation port of Barcelona. We are doing a tour Wednesday to Monserrat and Cava near Barcelona, then get off the ship Thursday morning, go to our hotel by the airport, do a little exploring of Barcelona, then fly home early on Friday through Frankfurt. We cannot believe how fast this trip has gone by; it has all been a blur.

UPDATE: with a glorious sunset as the backdrop, we sailed out tonight and enjoyed a light dinner at the Terrace Cafe looking at two continents.

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