Surely, there is no place in the vast expanse of human civilization so puzzling as Gibraltar.
In early 1999, as Sister Mia and I were journeying through Iberia, we spent a day there --in Gibraltar. The previous four or five days saw us traveling through Spain, starting in Madrid and working our way through Grenada and Torre Molinos. Even though we were traveling at a hectic pace, the laid-back Spanish attitude was beginning to take hold. (It is irresistible, that attitude. Ask anyone who has been to Spain!)
Gibraltar jolted me out of it.
Once we had gone through the extensive immigration and customs that separates Gibraltar from Spain, I was struck by the change in culture.
|Gibraltar is a peninsula on the south coast of Iberia, dominated by a limestone rock that towers 1400' above the Mediterranean Sea|
Ethnically, Gibraltarians are a hybrid of many peoples, including Britons, Spaniards, Italians, and Portuguese (all of which are hybrids, themselves). No surprise there, of course. Gibraltar sits at a natural crossroads of humanity. To the east is the Mediterranean Sea, where mankind cut its sea-faring teeth. To the south is the Dark Continent of Africa, humanity's birthplace. The vast Atlantic, highway to the Americas, lies to the west. To the north, is Europe, the center of so much of Western Civilization.
|Ancient home of a lost people|
Our tour culminated with a trip up to the top of the Rock to see the famous Apes of Gibraltar. Two of our travel companions were Sarah, a young woman from Colorado, and her mother, Carol. The four of us talked as our cab wound up the narrow, rain-slick road on the flanks of the Rock.
"Mom doesn't want to get out of the cab when we get to the apes," Sarah told us.
"Why not?" I asked. We passed a sign by the road with the ominous warning: Apes may bite!
"Animals don't like me," Carol informed us.
"It's true!" Sarah said, laughing. "When we were in Yellowstone, she got attacked by a squirrel."
We had a good laugh at that and then each urged Carol not to worry. It would be a shame to miss the Apes of Gibraltar. She seemed to waver, but still looked unsure.
We came to a place where there were many cabs parked along the roadside. The road was cut into the western face of the Rock, and there was a wide space with a stone wall from which you could look out on the harbor below. We got out.
Except for Carol. She stayed in the cab.
The apes were there. They sat on the roofs of the cabs, or on top of the stone parapet. They were quite regal in their appearance. They had no fear of the many humans that snapped photos and pointed and gawked. They took peanuts offered by some of the braver observers.
I wasn't one of those --the brave ones. The apes were big --bigger than raccoons --and they had big teeth. Fangs, more like. And I couldn't forget the sign: Apes may bite!
"I wonder if it's a good idea to feed them like that?" I said, nervously. Mia and I timidly approached a pair of apes, a mother and her baby, sitting on the stones. We stayed a good distance behind them. I was ready to light out at the first quick movement. "Sarah, get a picture of us, will you?"
|Apes may bite!|
Then I saw one of the apes, a smaller one, but not a baby, start to lope across the road toward her. "What the fu--" I stammered.
The ape leaped into the air, hands and feet before it like grappling hooks. It landed on Carol's back, hands clamped on her shoulders. Carol let out a scream that I swear took a year off my life. "Get it off!" she screamed. I stood there, paralyzed. In my mind, a bright-light strobe blinked the alarm: Apes may bite! Apes may bite! Apes may bite!
Several of the cabbies came to Carol's rescue. "Relax!" they told her, laughing. They shooed the ape away, but as it leaped off Carol's back, it took her purse. The cabbies offered chase and the ape reluctantly dropped the purse and loped away.
"I told you!" Carol admonished her daughter. "Animals don't like me."
|Still up there... those apes|
Gibraltar, I tell ya... strange place.