Monday, October 31, 2011

Apes and Dolphins... Our Day in Gibraltar

We've been to some small countries in Europe, Andorra and Holland to name a few, but none have been as small as Gibraltar.  Located at the southern tip of Spain, Gibraltar is only 6.5 square kilometers (about 4 square miles) and while it has been subject to many disputes between Spain and the UK, it is an official territory of the UK. 

The Rock of Gibraltar is the most famous part of this port city/country (the city goes by the same name of Gibraltar) and at the point of the rock, the Straight of Gibraltar is at its narrowest with only 8 miles separating Europe from Africa.  It's something we were incredibly excited to see.  If we couldn't make it to Africa this year due to all the unrest in Egypt (which was our top stop to go to in Africa since it's so lose), then we could at least have pictures with Africa in the background!!!

Gibraltar is about an hour's ride from Puerto Banus and was overall a pretty drive along the Mediterranean Coastal highway.  You could see the Rock of Gibraltar from miles away and it seriously takes your breath away.  Essentially it's a limestone mountain that reaches about 1400 feet high but what makes it seem so amazing I think is that everything else around it is flat - so it's not just a mountain, it really does appear to be a giant rock amongst the plains!

View of the Rock as we were getting close to the border

When you drive thru customs, the most interesting thing that I found is that the one landing strip in Gibraltar also crosses over this spot.  So if a plane is coming in for a landing, the border is closed to ensure a safe landing!  No joke!  The "driver" of the cable car going up the Rock told us they are working on a tunnel to go under the landing strip so that they won't need to close the border for incoming planes any more.  I can't imagine the backup during peak season!!  I wish I'd gotten a picture of the run way crossing the street but it wasn't exactly a convenient place to stop and take a picture!

The map I downloaded from the dolphin tour was very misleading - it looked to me like there was basically 2 roads going thru the entire country.  I did wonder where everyone would live if there were only 2 roads and I probably should have listened to that inner self!  There were many roads, small and windy.  And many of them reminded me of the pedestrian walkway that we accidentally drove down in Italy. 

Our plan was to hit the Rock first and take our time up there and then come down for lunch before our dolphin tour at 2.  After a bit of searching and some not so great signs (some rotaries would have them and some would not so there was a lot of guessing), we finally came to the parking lot for the cable car up the Rock.  Now, I'm not a huge fan of cable cars to begin with.  A heavy car hanging from a small wire, no matter how strong the wire, defeats the rules of gravity as far as I'm concerned.  Not to mention it always hangs over the side of the wire.  Yeah, just don't like it.  So my plan, don't look downhill, just keep looking uphill.  I was actually shaking by the time we got to the top.  Though it did go up much faster than I thought it would given how high and steep the climb was (pretty much straight up - like taking a moving ladder uphill!). 
Waiting to get on the cable car
Looking down - brave boys weren't even phased!

As we got close to the top, the cable car operator pointed out an ape on one of the crossbars of the cable car below.  If you didn't know it already, the Rock of Gibraltar is not only famous for being at the southern most tip of Europe but also for it's Barbary Apes (which are actually monkeys, not apes).  These apes roam free all over the rock and occassionally even make it into town (we saw one today as a matter of fact!). 

You can just barely make out the monkey on the crossbars straight ahead (if you click the picture it will get bigger)

The part of the trip we were looking forward to the most was the apes - and the fact that they could come right up to us.  And they did!  As soon as we got off the cable car we saw a monkey perched on top of the building and started to get excited about what was still to come!!  When we went around to the nature reserve area, Josh went to put the map into his backpack and immediately a monkey came up to him to inspect what was in the backpack and did it include anything for him!!  It was hysterical and a great way to start our trek to the top of the Rock!

Monkey on top of the cable car building

Josh is in his element - look at that smile!

Aidan is so shocked that he can get this close!
This one got a little aggressivwe when Josh went to put his map back in the backpack!
Josh is actually telling the monkey there is nothing for him...
This was a big monkey!!  You should see the fangs on these things!!
We tried to head to the caves and went in that direction though we never made it.  So we just explored the area within a 20 minute walk of the cable car building.  There were some amazing views including that of Africa!  Just like I'd hoped, it was clear enough that we got to see Africa, Morocco if I'm correct. 

I continued to snap away with my camera and Josh and the kids continued on in search of monkeys.  We found lots of them but eventually the kids bored and we decided it was time to head back in order to get down in time for lunch and then the dolphin cruise.

You can see a few baby monkeys in this tree

The top of Gibraltar ahead and in the distance in the center of the picture you can see Africa!
Josh and the kids running ahead to the top (and no we did not make it - it was further than it looks and probably at least 100 stairs or more to get up there!)
He's probably sitting in monkey poop here but doesn't seem to care!
Monkeys cleaning the fleas and ticks off each other... lovely... and this is why I was thrilled they didn't jump on the boys' heads - let them give someone else fleas!
Aidan refused to pose with us so we each posed with Liam...
Notice Josh forgot the Rock in our picture though!
You can't see them really well (but click on the picture to enlarge), but there are monkeys just above Aidan's head
More monkeys above them
He's loving every moment of this!
Help, I'm trapped!
View of the Mediterranean behind Liam (the Atlantic is on the other side)
The top of the Rock of Gibraltar behind Liam and Aidan - and you can see a little bit of the Straight to the right.

To the right is Spain and the Straight of Gibraltar

One of MANY monkeys!

Using the new panoramic feature on my new camera.  Just behind the rock is Africa poking out of the clouds and then to the right is Spain - in between the two is the Straight of Gibraltar

A few monkeys, monkeying around :)

On our way back we noticed a taxi coming our way. In hindsight we should have done the taxi tour - the taxi drivers are actually official tourguides here and will take you up the precarious slopes of the Rock (seriously I didn't even know this was an actual road - I really did think it was a pedestrian walkway) and stop at each location for tourists to check out the sights. What was funny about this taxi is that as it came towards us, 2 monkeys hoped on for a ride!! It was hysterical!

Monkey on top of the taxi!

Close up of the monkey!

The taxi stopped not far from us and we saw the taxi driver giving the tourists the 2 cents on where they were and he seemed very familiar with the monkeys, even giving him some peanuts (I believe they are the only people allowed to give them food beyond the group running the Rock.).  One actually jumped on a guy's head.  I'm so glad that wasn't one of us!  Though I missed one using Aidan's arm as a jumping off point to climb up to a tree!

Aidan with a bunch of monkeys behind him

Liam was actually pretty scared to be this close to them!  I had to convince him it was ok to turn his back to them to take the picture

The guy from the taxi - ended up with a monkey on his head which then ate a peanut on his head, resulting in lots of peanut fragments in his thanks!

The taxi driver who seemed to know what he was doing and was talking to the monkey as if it were trained - the monkey ate right out of his hand

One last panoramic shot of the Rock

This is the view from the bottom of the cable car up to the top - pretty much straight up!
We finally made it down the Rock and started to drive into town.  We had wanted to go to a quaint area by the Rock but after driving thru even tighter streets that we were thinking perhaps we should not drive down (was not the case but probably close!) and having to make a few several point turns, we decided to head towards the port where we knew we could park and be close to the dolphin tour.  It took us much longer to figure out how to get there than we expected given that this whole country is only 4 square miles!! 

Thankfully we ran into some people from the Dolphin Adventures crew and asked them where we needed to go.  They got us our tickets and made some suggestions for lunch.  I will say that lunch was nothing to write home about (and yet here I write about it) and that I wish we could have gone to one of the cute places closer to the Rock.  Ah well, can't have it all, right?

After lunch was the highlight of my day, though Josh and the kids vote that the apes were their favorite.  We went on a Dolphin cruise.  Now in my last several trips we have been to places that tout how they have tons of dolphins just off the coast and that those areas are known for their dolphins.  I've seen squat.  Based on I felt we had a pretty good chance of not just seeing a few dolphins but potentially a few hundred.  And tripadvisor didn't mislead!

I've never seen anything so amazing as what we saw today.  We didn't even have to leave the harbor!  The harbor itself is over 5 miles long with depths of over 100 meters and apparently once you leave it, you can also see orcas which would have been very cool.  But regardless, we were not disappointed whatsoever in what we saw today.  We saw both the common bottlenose and the striped dolphin.  They loved to swim with the boat and would ride just under the bow and speed up and slow down with the boat which was amazing to watch.  And there were a few that were total showboaters - they did flips without any signals, just jumping in the air to entertain us. 

The tour was an hour long and during that hour we saw the dolphins feeding, riding the wakes and just playing in the water.  It was so amazing to see these creatures in the wild.  They were so social - with each other and with us!  I have never in my life seen anything in nature so beautiful.  This is a part of the trip I will not soon forget!!  I took a quick video that you can see here:

Our first glipses of the dolphins ahead - so amazing to see them in the wild!!!

Riding under the front of our boat

This one was a total show off and kept doing flips in front of the boat without any prompting!

You have to look close but you can see a bunch of fins out in the water 

I love the Rock of Gibraltar in the background.  This harbor is on the Spanish side of the Rock - so this is the Spanish side of the Rock you are seeing - not the side towards Africa and the Straight of Gibraltar.

More dolphins swimming towards the Rock - they all seemed to swim in sync, it was so amazing!

Swimming under our boat

After the tour we headed back to Puerto Banus to have a quick swim and then dinner in town - there is a beautiful boardwalk here that we walked along til we got into town.  Town was definitely similar to what I expect of Marbella as well - stores like Louis Vuitton, Valentino, Gucci... a very ritzy area.  And yet, the restaurants looked subpar by comparison though we did get a nice meal in the end. 

Tomorrow we have no particular plan.  We think we may head into Marbella which is about 5 mins from where we are in Puerto Banus.  We thought about Granada after some recent great reviews from friends but it turns out it's about a 2 hr drive from here, just a little too far.  So I guess keep an eye out to see what adventures we set out on.  My guess is not much will top today though!


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