So, it’s a new year, we’ve been here 6 weeks… what have we been up to?? Well the first thing we’ve been doing is – I believe – fairly obvious; having a baby. Hugo Young arrived on the 17th December in Málaga, 3 weeks after our arrival in Gibraltar, and the day after Jamie’s birthday…
But what were we doing in the three weeks before Hugo arrived? And what have we been up to since?
We were pleased to see that Jo and Steve from Mystic Star (who we’d met in Barbate) were still in La Linea when we arrived, so we saw them most days and had a fantastic afternoon/evening on board for dinner and drinks. Their boat seems enormous compared to ours – granted, they don’t have 3 pets on board, but they do have a wonderful big salon area which is perfect for ‘entertaining’ – we listened with some envy about their constant hot water which requires the mere flicking of a switch as opposed to running the engine, or using huge amounts of electric for the immersion heater! It was great to see them again and we were sad to see them leave for Ceuta, but we hope to meet up with them again later in the year on our way around the Med. Their friend Nick (who we also know from Barbate) had left his boat, Sovereign of Liege, here but will be returning in February, so more catching up will be done.
We also had our first UK visitors a couple of weeks after we arrived – Jamie’s cousin Steve, and our friend Louise. Otherwise, we’ve done some touristy things, checked out Gibraltar, got to know our neighbours, been to markets, tapas bars, beaches etc… S/Y Rose Rambler may have been resting for 6 weeks, but rest assured (Stevie M), crew productivity has not suffered!!
We have turned out to be really lucky on our pontoon (and therefore have not to move pontoons as we had planned to do); we have great neighbours in Denise and Telfer who have even looked after Bella on occasion, despite not being the biggest fans of pets AND have offered to babysit…!! Another pontoon neighbour, Tom, is Bella’s new best friend and also sits pondering higher wisdom with Walter (we haven’t yet managed to tap this facet of Walter’s personality). Since our other neighbour is very allergic to cats, Walter is generally kept in (barring the occasional bid for freedom), so we therefore assume he must be using the time to catch up on Proust, Dostoyevski et al. Tom also happens to be a dab hand with engines, so I guess we’ll be calling on him a fair bit for advice before we move on…
So, what were our first impressions of Gibraltar, Bastion of Britishness in the Mediterranean? Well, it’s a bit like the Isle of Wight – it’s lovely, it’s English, it’s a bit like someone’s impression of England 60 years ago… A bit old fashioned, with traditions and attitudes – it’s been lovely seeing Christmas here, but we would find living here a bit stifling. It’s essentially an enclave that has the population of Cheltenham, but has its own Government, an assumed grandeur which accordingly brings a particular mentality to the place. The town centre is picturesque – lots of stunning colonial architecture and impressive bastions, winding alleyways as well as the more commercial main street and lovely town squares – Casemates being the most impressive. Most of the land on the Western side (where the marinas, new hospital and Morrisons are…) is actually reclaimed – plaques on the former sea walls trace the route of the reclamation from the sea. The pubs are a bit weird – some are like English pubs, but most seem to be furnished internally with cheap aluminium garden furniture, and the pub food is – almost without exception – the worst of British pub food; bland beyond belief and massively overpriced. Tax-free Gibraltar may be, but this really only seems to be noticeable in the retail price of spirits, cigarettes, and fuel; 3 classes of product for which we don’t have requirements… Eating out, beer, day to day shopping, chandlery goods etc are comparable not only with the UK, but with Brighton or London. The Gibraltarians themselves are friendly and helpful, all are bilingual in English and Spanish (the English is spoken with the most intriguing intonation), Arabic is also fairly widely spoken. It is very multi-cultural for the size of it, with large populations of Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Sikhs integrated in all aspects of life and society. We have been less impressed with the Brits who have settled in Gibraltar, learning little Spanish, and adapting an arrogant ‘British when it suits us’ attitude – we’ve come up against this a few times and have been (to varying degrees – am I known for my tolerance??) riled by their blinkered and somewhat unjustified arrogance. Their disdain for Spain and the Spanish on the other side of the frontier is hard for us to understand, but has lead to us not only spending more time on the Spanish side, but also consciously making the decision not to have Hugo in Gibraltar – we actually feel that these factors have actually made our stay here more enjoyable and interesting. Ok, moan over….
So, the more positive side of our Gibraltar experience… It’s a fascinating place with an equally fascinating history. Louise and I took a bus to the south of the island to see the lighthouse, the Sikorsky memorial, and the stunning mosque – we had seen this from the sea, but to see it up close was even better. Thereafter, we took a tour up The Rock. First up on the tour were the Pillars of Hercules – where Hercules was said to have separated the land with his bare hands and brute strength to form the Mediterranean Sea. One of the Pillars is in Gibraltar, the other in Ceuta (the Spanish enclave of land on Mainland Morocco).
Next up, St Michael’s Cave – very cool. A large upper hall 40ft into the rock leads, via 5 passages, to a smaller hall 150ft down – impressive stalactites and stalagmites are everywhere, and there is a cross-section on display of a stalagmite that fell over(!). The caves were kitted out as a military hospital in WW2 (but was never needed as such), but the upper hall now serves as an impressive naturally acoustic concert hall.
Then came the Macacas Sylvanus (barbary apes) – tailless monkeys, essentially. Around 200 apes in 6 families are dotted over the rock (not sure how they avoid the inbreeding.)… In a nod to the legend of the ravens at the Tower of London, it is said that the day they leave The Rock, Gibraltar will cease to be British. They were very tame – you could get within a few centimetres of them, but they have highly developed thieving skills, so we were warned not to have any food – or in fact anything nickable – on us when we got out to see them. They are well cared for, and there are several ‘wardens’ that feed them and clean their play areas!
Finally, we saw the Great Siege Tunnels. Amazing to think that these were excavated out of the rock by hand and explosive during the Siege of 1779-1793 — the noise and smoke must have been phenomenal. They were improved upon in WW2 by the Royal Engineers (who have since been granted the Freedom of Gibraltar). The access tunnels are steep, and getting the cannons and munitions up and down must have involved huge amounts of men and time.
Of course, there is much more to see and do on the tourist trail, so we hope to tick off a few more places before we leave
There was a really good little Christmas market in La Linea, and although it was only on for one weekend at the beginning of December for some reason we were really glad we saw it. They had lots of stalls of snacks (roasted chestnuts, handmade crisps, sweet candied nuts), a live nativity (donkey, ducks, sheep etc), crafts made locally, cheeses, meats, smoked sausages etc. The atmosphere was really good, and it was so nice strolling around eating our warm snacks and sampling local produce. In the town centre there are a couple of streets lined with tapas bars and outside seating, which really adds to the atmosphere of ‘al fresco’ life, and we really enjoy walking around smelling all the different foods (and having a good gawp at people’s food, obviously). When Louise came to stay, we risked Bella chewing the boat up and sampled a couple ourselves; some pointing and guessing elicited some excellent fish and meat tapas in full pre-Christmas party season. Things are a lot more relaxed here, and we notice the difference between our ‘let’s get a load of pints down our necks and go for a kebab’ mentality and the arguably more civilised way of eating and drinking here (not that there isn’t good reason for loads of beers and a kebab on occasion, mind….). Often when we walk down ‘Tapas Street’, the majority of people are sitting there with a coffee and a bit of cake – and they’ve probably been there for hours… There’s no sense of urgency for the customers, and the waiting staff are not in the business of hassling you to order more the minute you’ve finished what you’ve got. For us Brits, we confess it’s a bit weird – I mean, an inch from the bottom of your pint, you’re waiting for the waiter to bring the next one, right? But in Spain you could be waiting for ages simply because it’s not a foregone conclusion that you want another if you’ve already had one. We are lucky with our ‘local’ bar though – the marina bar. Aside from being tuned in to the British way of drinking (pints, and keep ‘em coming), the food is really excellent. When Steve came to visit, we went up there for a late meal (we ordered at 11pm – late for us, normal for Spain…) – fresh tuna steaks, seared with white and black sesame seeds and a soy dressing – truly delicious. We have also tried cuttlefish, oxtail, and the house burger. All were really good, fresh, locally sourced, and reasonably priced. The waiter there also adores Bella (the feeling is mutual) and picks her up for a good cuddle whenever he sees her. In turn, every time we walk past with her, she peers in to see if he is there!
We had a check up at the doctor’s booked for me on the 16th, so left Bella with Julie (our dog-sitter who’s also a groomer, so Bella got a very smart new haircut at the same time) and set off for the clinic in Marbella in our hire car. ‘Great!’ we thought – ‘Bella’s occupied, we’ll get back and go out for a last hurrah birthday meal in Gibraltar’ – we had been recommended Gaucho’s steak restaurant by several people, so this was to be the location – steak and red wine, after a couple of beers in Casemates… Birthdays would never be the same again, so it was go large or go home! Or, as it turned out, go to hospital…. We were told we should go straight up to the hospital in Málaga to be induced, which then turned into having a caesarean with 20 minutes’ notice… So the birthday meal was had in a Andalusian greasy spoon caff. At least Jamie got a birthday beer – I decided that having a drink myself before walking into the hospital smelling of beer to give birth was probably not that cool.
The hospital was superb: our room was great (with a fantastic sea view), and the staff were excellent. We really couldn’t fault the care we received. Everything had been arranged for us by our doctor, and it took a lot of the stress out of an event that, to be quite honest, we hadn’t really planned that well!!
All went well on the 17th and we got our new crew member. We also got a call from Julie to say that Bella had come into season, which meant one thing: bleeding (well two things really, the other being puppies…) – of course she was; things were clearly neither complicated nor messy enough for us as it was! We had some more visitors while in the hospital, our friend Anabel (who’s Spanish and handily stepped in with a bit of translation as well as voluntarily changing a nappy!!), and Emma (my cousin) and John who flew out from the UK especially to see the new arrival! It was so nice to see them, and it gave us a real lift as well as taking a bit of pressure off the intenseness of the ‘new baby’ situation! True to form, when we left the hospital to drive home, the car battery was flat… but luckily Emma and John were on hand to help the patients and bump start the car respectively!
We arrived back on the boat on the 20th as a multi-disciplinary family of 6; our crew finally complete (we promise there are no more surprises – we have no more space for a start…). Hugo settled in well, Walter and Dita didn’t bat an eyelid at the new arrival, but poor Bella was confined to the floor and keeping her bottom on some ’puppy training pads’ on the sofa. It was our own fault – we had meant to take her to the vets as soon as we arrived, and we had made enquiries, we just hadn’t booked her in… So the next three weeks were spent wiping up drips of blood, and trying to avoid her being humped by male dogs running around off leads and thereby giving us another 8 crew members… I think that would have been the last straw! We had one particularly hectic half hour two days after we got home that ended with us begging ‘would everyone just STOP weeing, pooing, bleeding and vomiting please?!‘. We have certainly consolidated our knowledge of human/animal biology recently. Equally, we are pleased we don’t have health visitors coming round ‘How do we launder his clothes? Oh, we hand wash them and then put them on the reptile tank and get the cat to lie on them to dry them out. Oh, and mind the blood-stained pads on the sofa next to the baby basket, it’s just the dog’….. (social services anyone?!)
We spent Christmas day chilling out – the weather was lovely, and we invited Tom and Telfer around for beers in the evening which was really nice; despite not having that much space, we really enjoy having folks round, and we have been lucky enough to meet some great people.
After Boxing Day we were invited ourselves to a boat newly-purchased by Richard and his wife – both boat builders from Falmouth. They had met the original owners of Rose Rambler (Peter and Rosie Barton) in Gibraltar back in the 1980’s, and seen her again with her next owners Jo and Tim (from whom we bought her) in Mallorca about 10 years ago, so Richard had knocked to say hello. We are only the third owners in 40-odd years, so it’s great (if a little weird) to meet people that have seen her before and can tell us some stories!
We got another surprise the following day when Nick and Jenn and their two children from No Worries (who we’d met in Nazare) knocked on us. They had spent Christmas up the River Guadiana, so it was really good to see them again and catch up. It still amazes us that this boat has been around so much, and that we are already bumping into people who know her or people we’ve met before on our short travels.
New year was definitely the big finale of the year both in Gibraltar and La Linea. We’ve never seen fireworks like them – they started at midnight and went with great gusto for at least an hour and a half, with the odd bunch still being heard at 4am! The entire area between Casemates at the bottom of The Rock and the cruise ship port on the western side of Gib was ablaze with them – the official celebrations as well as many smaller private parties, corporate events etc, turning back to the Spanish side, all around the town and harbour areas were being equally well lit with pyro – incredibly impressive, and we got an amazing view of the whole lot from the cockpit of our boat!!
Since New Year, we have done some more socialising, this time on No Worries – a catamaran. We were impressed with the amount of space they had – a really nice salon that spans the two hulls, and the boys, Corran and Aiden, even had their own rooms! We’ve also done some more walking – this time over to the Mediterranean side of the Isthmus to see the fortifications built around the time of the Great Siege, we’ve been to Algeciras, watched the kite surfers off La Linea Beach and built a New Year beer wall with our celebratory cans (which keeps getting blown over as the wind has changed to westerlies and picks up to 30+ kts…).
The 5th January was Dia de los Reyes – ‘Three Kings’ – the Cavalcade in Gibraltar and La Linea. This is the festival of the three wise men, and traditionally held the evening before the Spanish (in this part of Spain at least) exchange their Christmas presents. The festival essentially seems to be floats and A LOT of sweets being given out. It also seems to be the time that most people do their Christmas shopping, and town was packed with people out buying last minute presents, toys, cakes and wrapping paper.
We’ve been away about 4 months now – seems like ages and last week at the same time – we will stay in the Gibraltar area for another month or so and then move on around the Costas up towards Cartagena, Barcelona, and Southern France. But first, there are several jobs to do, not least give the engine some TLC… We will keep you updated….