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When we reach Gibraltar, the rock itself is shrouded in fog. We can make out the shape – it’s the familiar wedge we’ve seen a thousand times in Prudential commercials. The details, though, are lost in shades of gray.
By the time the Prinsendam docks – around noon – the sun burns off some, but not all, of the haze. From our balcony, we can see Gibraltar’s odd little airstrip. It looks much like any other, except for the fact a four-lane highway cuts right across the middle.
When no planes are landing, traffic streams across the runway. When a plane’s coming in, the signals turn red and the yardarms drop down, stopping the cars until the jet touches down. It’s exactly like a railroad crossing … but for aircraft instead of trains.
We’ve rented a van for the day, and our driver/guide is eager to whisk us away to all the prime sights well ahead of the ship’s busloads of passengers. That’s fine with us, so in just ten minutes, we’re standing on top of the rock, gazing down at the sea below.
From this vantage point, we’re supposed to be able to see Spain (we can) and Africa (we can’t, thanks to today’s hazy conditions). But while the African coast is feeling shy, Gibraltar’s famous apes are not.
We’ve heard tales of terror about the apes. “They will steal every purse in sight,” one woman warned us. A tour guide on the Prinsendam showed us a photo of his monkey bite: a red finger dotted with puncture wounds from monkey fangs. We are to stand very still, we’re told. “If they approach you, avoid sudden movements, and if they jump up on you, don’t move at all.”
Today, though, the apes are sedate. They lounge around, looking bored or drunk or blissed out. Our bags and cameras and chatter hold no interest for them at all. They sit on railings and stare out at the sea, or groom each other, or walk from this shady spot to that shady spot. They are too laid back to pounce on us, and no one gets maimed.
When we go to see the 100-ton gun, however – the massive weapon on one end of the rock that, when in action, took a full three hours to prepare and fire – the local wildlife is very much aware of us – and not very happy we’re there. In the early summer, baby seagulls hatch, and the brush around the 100-ton gun is busy with soft, fluffy, spotted seagull chicks.
We deliberately avoid the nests, but the parent gulls still perch around and above us, barking and honking and hissing. One mamma gull hides behind a concrete wall and pops out each time we pass, her mouth open, her tongue out, panting and stretching her neck in an attempt to scare us off.
The day heats up quickly, and we’re happy when our itinerary takes us to Saint Michael’s Caves, an underground fairyland of curtained limestone, a huge portion of which has been converted to a subterranean concert hall.
When we arrive, the disco light show is in full-swing, with red, green, blue, and purple lights blinking on and off so rapidly it almost makes us dizzy. Thankfully, it only lasts a few minutes, and soon, we can just stand in the central chamber and enjoy the sort of random sculpture that only millions of years of dripping, mineral-rich water can create.
By the time we see these things – and the siege tunnels and the dramatic cliffs of the eastern side of the rock and the lighthouse that marks the southernmost point of Europe – we’re exhausted. Despite the fact our ship will linger in port until 10:30 p.m., we’re back on the ship for an early dinner (fish and chips along the pedestrian shopping strip in Casemates Square didn’t appeal to us), showers, and a quiet evening at home in our cabin … even though home, technically, is practically on the other side of the globe.
And this, I think, is what people don’t understand about the way we travel. We go and do – aggressively! – during the day. But at night, we like to wind down, to relax, to be still, to read, to look at photos, to reflect on what we liked and didn’t like during the day.
In other words: every night, no matter where we are, because we’re together, we’re right at home.
I gotta tell you: that’s a great way to see the world.