36 hour trip: Portugal, Spain, the U.K. and Africa!

While planning our trip to Portugal, I looked at something on Google Map and realized how close it was to Gibraltar. Then, while zooming in to figure out where to park in Gibraltar, I saw a ferry. The decision was made that instant, in one short week-end, we would travel from Portugal, to Spain, to the U.K., to Africa and back to Portugal through Spain!

I went to Gibraltar thinking it would be fun to experience a British enclave and feel the rich history of the place. I was not prepared to witness the incredible beauty and immense size of “the Rock”. On this mostly clear day, the top was always in the clouds, but they were the clouds the mountain creates itself, by forcing humid air up its near vertical cliffs. It reminded me a little of Queen Mary’s Peak on Tristan da Cunha.

The clouds forming as they approach The Rock.

You may have noticed the strange-looking antennas in the background of the first picture. I am not quite sure what they are, but you definitely are not allowed to go there. Likely something to do with aliens.

I’m not very fond of “me-in-front-of” pictures, but this is me in the UK, with Africa in the background!

I find it fascinating to see how countries or territories with minimal available space organize their urban infrastructures. The main urban area is Gibraltar, while past the airport, it is La Linea de la Conceptión, Spain. The airport is mostly built on reclaimed land, but it also occupies the entire width of this segment of the country.

To go to Gibraltar from Spain, you have to walk across the runway! The instructions clearly stated “cross quickly”, so we didn’t stop for a photo shoot. You can also drive, but it’s a lot easier to leave your car in Spain.

One of the biggest crowd pleasers in Gibraltar is its population of barbary macaques. Like all other tourists, my friends took a zillion pictures of them. Having spent the entire Fall in Africa, I was less excited by the monkeys! There is doubt about their origin; either they were transported from Africa by the Maure, when they occupied the area, or they are a small surviving population of monkeys which were known to live in Europe a few million years ago. They are taken care of and fed by the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society.

The old and the new.

Of course, if I get one meal in the UK, I’m not going to eat pasta!

The next morning, we woke up at 04:30 (that’s AM!), to catch the ferry to Ceuta. Even at that time, the port in Algeciras was very busy.

Gibraltar before dawn.

And the sunrise over the Mediterranean Sea. Right behind me, the Atlantic Ocean. To my left, Europe, and to my right, Africa. A pretty cool place to be on a nice April morning.

Ceuta, along with Melilla, is a small Spanish enclave encircled by Morocco. It measures only 18.5 square kilometres and has a population of 75,000. The history is very complex, but suffice to say it has been under some sort of Spanish or Portuguese rule for centuries before these countries even existed in their current form. The Moroccan Government still demands they be “returned” to Morocco. The local population is, unsurprisingly, happier to live in Spain rather than Morocco. Since it is part of the European Union, it used to have a massive problem with all kinds of Africans who would enter the country illegally to make it to “Europe”. The EU has invested countless millions to build an impressive triple layered fence cutting off Ceuta from Morocco. I was very keen to see it, but I had not done my homework, and I learned that my plan to just take a taxi to the “border” was not an option. The road along the fence is in a military exclusion zone. You can hike in the mountain and see it from a distance, but I was not prepared for mountain hiking and I did not know where the military restriction zones were, so I didn’t go. Or maybe the tourist office guide lied to me because the fence is somewhat controversial, who knows? This article has a cool picture of the fence at night.

The architecture is certainly Spanish.

The fortress. The downtown waterfront area is really nice, with a beach, a casino, a resort-type hotel when you can go as a day visitor, tons of restaurants, cafes and parks.

And the cats are cute, even this evil looking mother, who is protecting the tiny cat behind the vent.

All and all, Gibraltar is a must if you are in the region. I wouldn’t say Ceuta is exactly a world-class destination, but it’s cool to go to Africa for a day and the ferry, while a little on the pricey side, offers great views at sunrise, and probably at sunset too.

#Spain #UK

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