Rocks, Plains and Monkeys…
With a brilliant and full on day that we had yesterday, we were excited to move on, but as we were loading up the bike this early morning we could see that it had been raining pretty hard, but thankfully as we were about to leave the sky was once again clear and blue…
Today we wanted to get as close to Gibraltar as possible, maybe Malaga for the night, you may be wondering why we choose to miss so much of Spain, well we could see the bottom of the money bucket now, we still had a few more countries we wanted to visit before our ‘Trips end’, plus we knew the weather was only going to get worse with winter looming in, Australia has spoilt us where good riding weather is concerned!!!
To ride to Malaga would take just nearly 16 hours, so we knew we wouldn’t make it there today, but we’ll give it a good bash anyway.
We rode for a few hours till hunger got the better of us, refreshed and refuelled we set off again, i found myself not really enjoying this leg of the trip and i think Clive felt the same, it had nothing to do with being in Spain it was more to do with the fact that we were getting close to the ‘Journeys end’.
Eventually we came to Valencia, the home of the orange, stopping by an orchid for a quick break and drink, before we had to head inland, while enjoying the break we could see many high-rise buildings about a kilometre towards the ocean area, we choose not to explore the area this time and kept going.
We were now quiet a bit inland the scenery had gotten pretty ordinary, just crop-less fields, a few hills nothing really to get excited about, the plains of Spain..does it rain?
For some reason today was dragging, we seemed to be getting no where fast, it was now late afternoon and we seemed to be getting closer to Madrid…
Hmmm in fact we were only a hundred or so km’s away, we needed to get fuel and to see whats happening with the GPS, the funny thing about getting fuel on these roads is that there are plenty of signs for them, so you pull off the main road, but the service station is a few klms away in the next village, this was beginning to frustrate us, eventually stopping and fuelling up at a service centre located ON the main road, we found that we had in fact missed a turning about 100 k’s away, flaming nora was not the words we used!!!
We had about an hour or so of daylight left so we decided to start looking for a place to stay for the night, well seeing as we were in the back and beyond, we didn’t have any luck, there was nothing out here in any direction, we did check out some land near a service station, but we deemed it too dodgy and it didn’t feel right.
Looks like we’re camping tonight so we literally went off, on to the beaten track and into a harvested corn field, about half a klm into the field were three tracks and a grassy triangle deviding them, with just enough room for our tent.
With the tent up and the sun going down fast, we sat down for an evening meal of mash potatoes (dried) and soup poured over the top, it turned out pretty good lol…
The sun was now completely gone and it was black, except for the millions of stars that shone so brightly, it was also freezing cold, so off to bed 6.30 pm in all our clothes for extra warmth…
As you can imagine we didn’t have the best nights sleep and woke to the sounds of a near by train thundering past..
We still didn’t get up until 8am, as it was too cold.
The temperature gauge on the bike in the morning was saying it was 5 degrees and boy did it feel it, it was also foggy very foggy, so thick that you could only see a few metres in front of you, after a welcoming cup of tea we loaded up the bike and got back onto the road. The bike didn’t like the cold and we had trouble starting it.
We couldn’t properly put the tent away as it was very wet from a heavy dew, so just rolled it up to deal with later, this wasn’t the first time we have had to do this. There was no traffic about, most normal people would have been still tucked in bed on a miserable morning like this.
We rode for about 2 or more hours utterly freezing our arses off, it must have been worse for Clive being the rider, although he does have heated handle grips!
Finally the cover of fog lifted to a beautiful blue sky, gradually i could feel the warm creep into my body, and it wasn’t long till we had to de-layer all the extra clothes we had put on.
We stopped at a roadside cafe and had a couple of coffees and a giant Palmier or elephants ear, and spread out the tent in the sun to dry.
Just like yesterday the roads were straight and boring and very quiet with traffic, thankfully going the wrong way only cost us time and a lousy nights sleep as this wasn’t a expensive toll road that we had been caught n before…
Finally we came to some interesting landscapes, with hills, rocks a few trees and in the very far distance we could make out the ocean, i was beginning to think we would never get there, though it was way way in the distance.
We pushed on in hope of coming across that ever familiar ‘Golden M’ sign for a half decent coffee and a burger, we eventually found a Maccas near a seaside town, which of course we stopped for a well earned break, while using the WIFI to source some hotels for the the night.
Finally we arrived at Estepona so we knew it wasn’t far to Hotel Piedra Paloma our room for a night or two, riding with the ocean to our left we got stunning glimpses of the sea and the huge rock jutting up that we were trying to get to, this area doesn’t seem to be as touristy and crowded by high rises as some areas we have just ridden through.
Checking in was quick, taking our luggage up to our room proved a challenge as it was dark in the hall way, with only those stupid sensor lights that turn on once you have gone past them!
A shower was the first thing we wanted and some clothes washing was needed then dinner.
We had toyed with the idea to book a hotel in Gibraltar, but it seemed pointless as we were only a half hour ride away and we were told it would be very expensive so we decided not to uproot again but to do a day trip to ‘Rock’ from here.
Another early morning and we were greeted by warm sun and more blue skies, looks like its just shorts and t-shirts today, but may take a jacket just in case, we arrived in the seaside town of La Línea de la Concepción, and quickly located the border.
Before we could get through the Gibraltar–Spain border, we had to queue, thats if you were in a car, we were on the bike so we got to ride past all the cars, this border crossing is also referred to as (The frontier of Gibraltar) or simply as The Frontier.
After a few minutes we were through and into British Territory, wahoo, i was disappointed that we had to ride on the right hand side, i thought it would be the left!!!
Gibraltar is tiny its area is about 2.6 square mile or 6 kms, and about 30,000 people live at the foot of the ‘Rock’, packed in like sardines comes to mind!
Here is a brief History lesson on why the British rule the ‘Rock’,
It was at the time of Cromwell when Britain first became interested in the rock but it wasn’t captured until the War of the Spanish Succession. Gibraltar became a British garrison in 1830 and was declared a colony.
Spain has never been able to accept the loss of Gibraltar with good grace and twice during the 18th century she tried to recapture it without success. The first time was the short siege of 1727. There was a more serious attempt during the American Revolution when Spain joined forces with France in the war with a specific aim of taking Gibraltar.
The Great Siege commenced on June 21st 1779 and lasted nearly 4 years. During this time the rock was defended by a force of 7,000, commanded by the Governor, General Sir George Eliott. The battle eventually ended on February 2nd 1783. The city took many years to rebuild, hence the lack of Moorish buildings remaining here.
What is a Moorish building? well i wasn’t sure until i looked it up, this is the extremely short version The Moors were Muslim and influenced by the Islamic architecture that developed in the Middle East.
Riding around some of the really narrow streets, trying to find a place to park the bike was proving challenging to say the least, even for a motorbike, luckily we didn’t have the side boxes on, other wise we would have stood no chance, finally after going around the narrow streets we found the tiniest space between 2 cars, i hope the people that own these cars aren’t ‘large’ as they won’t be getting in their vehicle, but having said that the carsparked here were really dusty and they looked like that hadn’t been used in ages, and lets hope today is not the day the owners need their cars!!!!
We were just around the corner from the main Street, it was as if we had been ‘transported’ into the UK, the tiny streets, familiar shop brands but mostly small shops selling the usual tourist crap, old style phone boxes,Red pillar boxes, fish-and-chip shops even bobbies on the beat were all sights that reminded us of our previous life in England.
It was still breakfast time and feeling peckish, especially with the smell of bacon that kept wafting around the streets, that was enough for us to stop at one of the many pubs (The Royal Calpe) were serving a full English breakfast, we had to eat quickly though as it was blowing a gale down here,we chose to eat outside we were very concerned our sausages and bacon would be blown away with the wind, the breakfast didn’t disappoint either.
Next how to get up the ‘Rock’, there were lots of tour guides trying to get us to join their groups, that were going up the ‘Rock’, those sorts of tours are not our style, we find our way to the top thank you.
We make our way to the Cable Car which is located at the southern end of Main Street next to the Alameda Botanical Gardens.
We get to the ticket office and a few people were waiting, the girl selling the tickets was on her own and the English people behind the person she was serving were being loud and yelling at her to hurry up, we felt bad for the girl serving, but also embarrassed that our fellow country ‘men’ would act like this, i think today we shall be Australians, we had hoped that what we had witnessed wasn’t what the UK had now become, a bunch of loud mouth yobbos, Not sure if i want to go back if this is the case!
It was our turn to be served by the frazzled young Spanish girl, we decided to buy the whole package, we are splashing out today lol..Euro 28.70 ($41) each.
The cable car ride was fast, the ride up took less than 3 minutes although i read somewhere it takes 6 minutes, maybe thats both ways, the cable car swayed a little in the windy conditions, but not a white knuckle ride by any means, getting out at the top we nearly got blown away.
We made to the top of the ‘Rock’ where we collected our headsets for the commentary.
While we adjusted our headsets we were being inspected by the Barbary Macaques (monkeys), who seemed to be checking to see if we had any food we were willing to part with, the fines for feeding the monkeys is 700 pounds, but this didn’t seem to bother a few people up there who were blatantly opening up packets of biscuits and feeding them, stupid people this is why they attack and scare visitors.
Clive decided that he would go via the spiral staircase to get to the lookout, i watched on in amusement when he high tailed it back down after a monkey bared his teeth at him, as the monkey was enjoying a pizza!
At the top of the lookout a huge big cloud just hoovered over the tip of the ‘Rock’, it was not going to budge so we could get a clear view photo, but the cloud was pretty stunning as it looked like it was creeping up the ‘Rock’ in places, after a few photos we moved on it was breathtaking in more than one way blowing a gale…
We took the path along the top of the ridge and come across Apes Den, i couldn’t see a ‘Den’ but a concrete area, where the monkeys get fed, as you walked past them you could feel the monkeys closly watching you in hope that you had some goodies for them, when they realised we didn’t have anything they went back to grooming one other or chasing each other along the walls that surrounded this area.
Our ticket let us into various attractions up here, so with no time to waste our first stop was were the Siege Tunnels, it was then we realised that we could have rode the bike up here after all, oh well never mind.
Upon walking into the tunnels you immediately felt the temperature drop, stone slabs paved our way through this historical marvel, the tunnels were carved out of the rock by hand during the Great Siege which took place between 1779-1783. This was done to defend Gibraltar against the Spanish and French forces who were trying to recapture Gibraltar from the British.
Its truly amazing to think the tunnellers relied on the strength of their arms, on their skills with a sledgehammer and a crowbar, and some gunpowder for blasting. In five weeks 18 men had driven a tunnel 8 square feet (2.40sq.m) by 82 feet long (25m) into the Rock, they must have at times felt like they were getting no where fast.
Whilst tunnelling they decided that a horizontal hole be blasted in the rock face in order to improve ventilation for the workmen, on doing this they realised that a gun could be put in place to bear down on attacking forces.
Its amazing to think they even managed to get cannons and other equipment up here.
Inside the tunnels there are small historical exhibitions in the different rooms you enter, the wind coming through the cannon spaces whistling through, it would have been freezing up here in the winter, another fantastic experience.
We decided that we would now catch the cable car back down and go and get the bike and ride it up here, this bike as been to some amazing places on this trip…
Next was St.Michaels Cave we were expecting wonderful thing when we ventured into the Cave, we were disappointed that it had tacky rainbow coloured lights, just plain coloured would have looked better in my opinion. The natural beauty of the cave had been hijacked by the 21st century, maybe we are we hard to please? i don’t think so.
Now onto the World war 2 tunnels which built by the Royal Engineers before and in preparation for the Second World War, with a total of 33 miles or 52 kilometres of tunnels inside the Rock.
In preparation for war the British, set up a “town” inside the Rock of Gibraltar. The intention was to house up to 17,000 military personnel inside the Rock who could remain hidden inside for up to 2 years with ample food and water supply for this period.
There were fully kitted sleeping accommodation for the Army, Navy, Royal Air Force and domestic staff (mainly women). There were kitchens, a hospital including a fully fledged operating theatre, a pharmacy, ammunition, food, water and fuel stores.
The mind boggles, our service men and women were true heroes.
Back on the bike we rode to Moorish Castle, almost not stopping as there was a lot of traffic here and nowhere really safe to park the bike, but we squeezed the bike into a place on a very steep incline and we were worried the bike would topple over at any moment…
The castle was built by the descendants of the Moorish general Tariq ibn Ziyad (670–720), who conquered the Rock in 711. The present Tower of Homage dates from 1333, and its besieged walls bear the scars of stones from medieval catapults (and later, cannonballs). Admiral George Rooke hoisted the British flag from its summit when he captured the Rock in 1704, and it has flown here ever since.
We climbed lots of steps and finally reached the top and what great view we had of the marina below us and the stretch of beaches that were in Spain, there wasn’t much to see inside this thick stoned building.
We were relieved that the bike was still upright when we returned…
Back down and onto the main street we take now decide to have a walk through the tiny Trafalgar cemetery, it was here that men wounded in the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805 that died of their wounds in Gibraltar were buried.
Across from the cemetery is a memorial statue of Admiral Lord Nelson erected in 2005 on the 200th anniversary of the battle of Trafalcur, the graves and the gardens are well cared for and was lovely to walk through them reading the interesting inscription on the gravestones.
Back on the bike we ride around the ever twisting narrow streets past cars that were parked so tight up to the walls they were next too and would need a can opener to move from the position they were in and followed the maze of tunnels that go under the rock to the other side.
We come to Europa Point a large flat area, from here we could look across the straits to Morocco, which is about 23 km (14 miles) away.
We did have plans to visit Morocco if we had time when we first started this trip , but we had run out of time…
There was plenty to see and do here, Hardings Battery, The Lighthouse, Ibrahim-Al-Ibrahim Mosque, Shrine of Our Lady of Europe and the Nun’s Well.
With many of streets all one way, riding back was now going to be chilly as this side of the ‘Rock’ was shaded.
As we had skipped lunch we were now feeling hungry, so back to the other end of main street to see what wonderful food we could find, parking the bike on a wide path near Grand Casemates Gate on the site of Water Gate.
Which is the main access to the fortified town of Gibraltar, we walked through one of the huge stone tunnels, that had the original old wooden gates still attached.
We were now in Casemates Square, a large public space where the former barracks have been transformed into bars and shops, we had a wander around unsure of what we were going to eat as there were so many restaurants to choose from, we were spoilt for choice, but in the end we decided that as we had started the day with an English breakfast we shall end the day with a English Roast dinner as we were in a small piece of Britain, this was a great place to sit back with a beer and enjoy life and reflect how far we had come…
The sun was slowly setting, so that was our cue to go, riding across the airport runway and back to the border, getting back into Spain took a bit longer that coming in this morning, plus we couldn’t jump the queues as motorbikes had to squeeze down a make shift passage single file.
There is a deliberate stalling tactic by the spanish border guards at the moment because they are in some sort of dispute, but they waved us through with no hassles.
Back at the Hotel we researched where we were going next, folded and packed the washing, tomorrow we are of to see what Portugal has in store for us.
We were having mixed feeling now, from now on we are on last leg of the journey taking us towards the end…