Monday, September 19, 2011

Gibraltar: The Rock!

There are many places in the world that make one dream such as the Taj Mahal, the pyramids of Egypt or the Panama Canal and whose reputation and history are relegated more to legend and myth than real personal knowledge and Gibraltar is one of them. What I mean is that everyone heard about Gibraltar and its famous rock but who could point it on a map or say why it is significant? In fact, before getting there Danielle and I, and other people with whom we spoke, thought it was an island when in fact it is a small peninsula with a large rock on it.

To fill the intellectual vacuum of the club for the geographically challenged which we are part of, I present here a small map of the region and some info I found here and there. The first thing to see on the map is that Gibraltar is not an island but an appendage of Spain and more specifically of the peninsula of Iberia. The second thing to notice is that this Lilliputian kingdom is so small that without a microscope it is not visible on a world map. Add to that its proximity to the only entry to the Mediterranean and therefore it’s obvious interest to the British, a rock several hundred meters high that is totally impregnable for an invader and a main street full of English pubs and you have Gibraltar. A population of about 30,000 and the currency is the pound of Gibraltar pegged at parity with the pound sterling. Now, how can such a small population support a currency in itself is a great mystery to me especially that since it is pegged to its big British sister so why not just use the British pound? Well let’s not try to understand world finance or we will have to understand how an American can mortgage his house to 110% of its value! The day we arrived, Sept. 10, happened to be Gibraltar’s national day and the people here were truly patriotic, all dressed in red and white which are the colors of the flag of Gibraltar. Notice that the same clothing could be used for the Canadian or Peruvian national holidays when you think about it.

A passage in Gibraltar is not without a visit to the famous rock which covers over 90% of the area of the country. But in addition to the tunnels, caves and monkeys the feature that strikes the most during this visit is the view that one has of the only airstrip in the country. The problem that the British had to deal with is that there is not enough flat land here to build a long enough runway. So they took the only flat part of the country, have filled in the missing part and spread the asphalt over it. But as the runway covers the entire breadth of the country so how do we get out? Simply by passing on the airstrip. A system of traffic lights on each side and we’re in business. Run a red light and a plane lands on top of you! It sure makes you think twice. Now back to the rock itself. Over the centuries it seems that everyone wanted this piece of rock then the English or Spanish depending on who owned the land at one time have dug tunnels in the interior of the rock for shelter in times of siege. This is more than 48 kilometers (30 miles) of tunnels that are now found in this mineral gruyere. Think about it for a second, 48 km of tunnels dug into the rock bed! And you found that our work at the office was hard! But on top of all this is found the only tribe of monkeys in Europe, more than about 300, which bask and enjoy absolute protection and food that their cousins Homo sapiens give them. Obviously there is no such thing as a free lunch, even between primate species it seems, and these favors are given at the price of being photographed all day long with ugly tourists. Of course we can ask ourselves the existential question of which of the two species is the smartest? The one that works his ass off all day long to satisfy his irrelevant taste for consumer goods or the one that basks in the sun of the Mediterranean and eat the food given by the other? Just look at the last two pictures and the answer becomes pretty obvious!

Obviously the cruising life would not be the same without the never-ending list of boat repairs that extends as quickly as we managed to reduce it. So every time we enter a port of importance on the one hand we spend hundreds of dollars for our pleasure but on the other thousands for the boat! Here, among others, the main sail had to be mended and we also installed a new windlass, which is used to winch up the anchor, and thus put an end to two weeks of exhaustion for me after raising the anchor by hand. A 10mm (3 / 8'') chain it is heavy, very heavy! And talking about windlasses one might think that installing such a device would be quite a piece of work but it wasn’t the case at all. The old one we had was almost the same so the installation turned out to be trivial. However, Danielle had to work very hard to actually get the part delivered to the boat. The story is too long to be described here but to make it short let’s say that we ordered the device in Spain while dealing with customer service in England then it was shipped from The Netherlands and delivered in Gibraltar. And without the commendable dedication of Ian in England we would have long finished our trip before receiving the device! But when I say that it is virtually impossible to empty the list of things to do I'm not kidding. When I finish mending the sail, our list was completely empty of any essential repairs. Well, that lasted two hours and then poof! The container of one of the watermaker’s filters cracked in half pouring all our water in the bilge. Why this container, I had just installed in Turkey, decided to die at that very moment? The only possible answer is that it heard us talking in the kitchen and saying that we managed to complete all essential repairs hence creating a paradox in the maritime parallel universe and the container such as a Palestinian martyr has voluntarily sacrificed itself in order to rebalance the normal order of things.