I’m moving to the Costa del Sol

Day three in Spain
Setting off from just north of Malaga we head down to La Linea in one day. We refueled near where we had spent the night, 150km from Algeciras. That is our first fuelling in Spain sinc leaving Andorra! South of Malaga is the ‘Costa del Sol’, or as the street signs say, ‘Costa del Golf’. The road is a high stress fast moving dual carriage way, hemmed in with concrette blocks. It has the appearance of a go-kart track. On either side of the road stand boom time buildings, Casinos, gated communities, landscaped gardens of emerald green, Moorish fountains, Arabian palms, commercial blocks with restaurants, snack and sport bars. But the boom times are over and now the landscape has fallen behind the global property train. The buildings look worn out, the palms are ill, petrol stations, fumes, cheap diners, foreclosures create an ugly stretch that we are keen to get past. The apartment blocks are neck to neck, squeezed into every available space by hungry developers. Malaga, Torremolinos, Estepona, San Roque, the resorts line the coast without a break. We past Sotogrande, where I spent two years as a child. Childhood places always seem much smaller when revisited as an adult. This is not the case for Sotogrande which has grown into a sprawling mess. It has the appearance of a project that had five different planners none of which spoke to each other. The result is confusion written across the hills. Still, the enormous billboards promise ‘exclusive luxury’, ‘international realestate’ and ‘one day golf only 35 euros’.

We arrived in La Linea, bordering Gibraltar. It is a rough looking town as befits a border town. The playground is excellent, but it sits in a crumbling park littered with broken glass bottles on the floor discarded by alcoholics slipping into unconsciousness, crack addicts dragging limp legs in the dim evening. Each decade sees a new flurry of municipal public projects that are left half finished, the abandoned old playgrounds broken, what looks like an enormous open air cinema covered in rusty corrugated hoarding, the desolate central arena, once envisaged as a circus/events space, the car park of which is now occupied by gypsy travelers.

All said we parked in a good spot. Driving past the Gib border crossing there is the main green park on the left followed by the stadium. Opposite the stadium on the right is a large open waste land. It was once a barracks. The buildings were torn down leaving only their concrete foundations and some open waste drains (watch out that your vehicle does not drop a wheel into one). Two years ago some taps and waste points were installed for caravans but this year they were removed. Every Wednesday there is a market which means park-ups must pay e5.00 for the day. But the rest of the week is free. There were six other motorhomes parked up the presence of which improves the security in an otherwise high crime zone. We had no problems leaving our locked bikes outside the Zil, which were still there after a day in Gib.

We chose to leave the Zil in Spain rather than take it into Gib so as to avoid the long wait at the border. The line of vehicles entering Gib in the morning was not too fierce but the return line extended back over the airfield and around the base of the rock. First stop was a churros bar just before crossing. This is a Spanish breakfast of thick hot chocolate with plain unsweetened donuts to dip. Gibraltar is a little like Hong Kong, a British enclave won as booty after a short war (the war of Spanish Succession). The difference being that Gib was taken from Spain, not China, so there is no compulsion to hand it back any time soon. Tony Blair once said that Britain is prepared to hand it back to Spain (who have never ceased demanding its return and play out all sorts of games at the border to make the lives of Gibraltarians most unpleasant). This empty statement should be taken as one of his pitches for ‘international statesman of the year’ rather than genuine British policy. The facts on the ground are that Gib is more British than Britain, bristling with military installations. Its history has always been that of a key military position. First the moors landed here and built a castle on the rocks. The Spanish in the 1500’s invested in new walls and gates. Then the British in the 1800’s, during the great siege, built impressive batteries, one of which had a 100tonne gun. They hollowed out passages inside the rock for gun points facing Spain. During the second world war it was again upgraded with naval defenses and more tunnels. During the cold war the harbor was upgraded for docking nuclear submarines and the airport housed fighter jets. Today the MOD are still all over the rock. I felt a chill seeing British police officers, perhaps on secondment from the MET, working the border and airport.

Apart from its colourful history Gib is famous for its Barbary Ape population which is the only wild primate colony in Europe. Brought over by the Moors, they have colonised parts of the rock, living in tight families, a few venturing down to Main street or Irish lane at lunch time to pick up leftover sandwiches. This is all Anika wanted to see. Not the gun tunnels, nor the Victorian 100tonne gun or exhibition on the great siege or castle or museum. We trekked 2km steeply up hill to get to the family that live beside the cable car ‘mid station’. Unfortunately the Apes were not happy with Miki. First one, then two, then four, with more coming, were up on the road. They were making strange faces and trowing their fists in the air. Miki,bless her, did not bark though there was a bark somewhere stuck in her throat. She seemed more confused by what these creatures could be, and sensed some danger. I had approached with caution maintaining an escape route back along the road. I doubled back before the monkeys cut me off and waited for Anika who was absorbing their behaviors.

That is Gib. It can be done in one long day on foot. Much better if one has the money is to taxi up the hill then spend more time in town. Regretfully there were no Tintin books in all of Gib. Sold out! The effect of the recent Tintin movie. Nobody restocked. I tried the Well lane bookstore, the mainstreet store and the ICC shopping center. Mara had better luck finding a Holland and Barrett that stocks Neal’s Yard products. And I bought a map of Morocco. Oh and we got some goodies for Anika from a certain Father Christmas. Aniak’s bike had been stolen from the playground in La Linea which really upset her as it was her symbol of independence. We could not find a replacement bike but bought her some fun little animals.

By 6pm we were back in Spain. Anika carried her own passport over the crossing. The lazy Spanish guard casually waved her past. This was not good enough for Anika, she insisted that he looks at her passport. He took it, flicked through it and handed it back. But no, Anika wanted him to observe her photo, it had to be done properly, just like in her cartoon, ‘Charlie and Lola’. He did it though none too pleased. We got back to the truck, fired up the engine and headed for Algeciras, last stop before Morocco.