Thursday, March 19, 2009

monkey business (morocco trip day one: Gibraltar)

I've been putting off these posts for as long as possible because I have so much to say about my trip to Morocco but I'm not sure how to verbally express everything I've experienced, but it's worth a shot so here we go let's see what happens (I'm posting these on the dates they occured, and not all at once, so bear with me!)

Day 1: Gibraltar

We arrived at our hotel right outside of Gibraltar in time for lunch which we ate in our rooms. The hotel we stayed in was pretty classy, IES treated us to free drinks (cafe, tea, cokes, waters) and the beds were beyond comfortable. I've really missed real pillows while I've been in Granada, my thin little excuse of a pillow at Trini's really doesn't do it for me. Amanda and I relaxed in our hotel room, while watching the Simpons in espanol and munching on our picnic lunches of Spanish tortilla bocadillas and fruit from Trini. I still find it pretty amusing that the Spanish are so in love with the Simpsons, I guess everyone likes to make fun of Americans even if it's through watching American self-criticism?

After lunch we walked the twenty minutes from our hotel to Gibraltar. Hilarious because since Gibraltar is technically an extension of England (they all speak English and use the pound, only difference between the two is that in Gib they drive on the right side of the road) the weather followed suit. It was very overcast and gray, which was very noticeable in contrast to the gorgeous Grenadian sun we'd been enjoying! But, it wasn't overcast to the point of obscuring The Rock, which is Gibraltar's main claim to fame. It was cool to walk towards this giant mountain-esque rock, even though I felt like I was living out a giant cliche since the peak literally pierced through the clouds at times, like something out of National Geographic or Planet Earth. It was almost hard to take it seriously because it looked so unreal when our bus first pulled up to the hotel.

We walked across the coast and then literally walked right into Gibraltar. This took awhile for me to wrap my mind around, because in essence I have now straddled the border between Spain and England, which up until now I assumed was impossible. You really notice how privileged you are to be from America when you literally just flash your passport and can WALK right into another country. If my passport had been from a country like Lebanon for example, I doubt this would be the case. But, anyways, we walked into Gibraltar, and thus marked the first time I've been outside of Spain since my arrival back in January. And man, did it hit me that I was no longer in Spain.

The second we walked into Gib, everyone was a little disoriented, suddenly all the signs were in ENGLISH. Instead of choruses of "guapa guapa guapa" followed by fast phrases I have no chance of understanding, there were "hi ladies how are you" or "have a nice day girls" "hello ladies" in chipper British accents. There were SUBWAYS, and McDonalds, and other American/English restaurants and stores that I haven't see in months. Later on in the day, at a pub and while browsing stores, the waitresses and store clerks asked us questions in english. I can't remember the last time that happened. Throughout the entire day everyone had to take a moment to think before asking questions and talking to locals, just to make sure English came out instead of Spanish or some odd Spanglish. I hadn't realized how immersed we all are in Granada until entering Gib, I guess this serves as a tiny sampling of how reverse culture shock's gonna disorient me once I'm back in the burgh. So, after shaking off the initial shock of the absence of our dear friend Espanol, we marched over to a bus station -- I still felt like some sort of illegal immigrant of some sort who had slipped across the border due to the lack of security ... even the Canadian border patrol asks you questions before letting you into their country, all I did was flash my lil navy blue book and BAM I was in, it felt anticlimactic, like an incomplete transaction of some sort -- where we boarded two small buses to get a driving tour of Gibraltar, all 3 miles of it.

Gibraltar as a country/city/whatever it's actual definition is is not that interesting of a place to me. Of course it is entrenched in history and has monkeys, but it all felt so tourist-ed up and fake that it was hard to really appreciate all it had to offer. We had a whirlwind of a tour, we only left the bus three times -- I would have rather walked around to discover the city with a guide so at least I could stop and take everything in from time to time. The tour was fun, but I was expecting a little more. We saw Little Ben (Gib's take on Big Ben), a little of old military bases, and a 1 ton gun (one of only four in the world). One of my favorite parts of the day was when we were actually allowed off the bus (for seven minutes) to take in a gorgeous view half way up the Rock. On a clear day you can see the African coast, the most Southern tip of Spain, and the meeting of the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean all in one breath, while behind you is the top of the Gibraltar rock as a back drop to an old mosque, it was beautiful in all honesty. I would have liked more than seven minutes to take it all in, because it was hard to believe that this was all real, that this was actually MY life and that I was surrounded by all of these incredible scenery.


We drove farther up the mountain and visited St. Michael's caves, which were unlike anything I've seen before (this becomes a theme for the trip, if you couldn't tell yet!) but, were tourist-ed out to the max. The people in charge actually blasted eerie classical music throughout the caves, I'm assuming in hopes of enhancing your cave-going experience but in reality limiting my ability to get lost inside a new place and forget that I'm in 2009. The caves were all strategically lit up, taking away from the reality of being inside ancient caves. There's also a theater set up in the heart of the caves where people put on concerts, etc. which is cool, but again really takes away any authenticity from the caves, at least for me. But this doesn't make the caves any less beautiful, don't get me wrong they were pretty cool and kind of creepy looking, but this almost got lost in translation.

After the caves our bus driver took us to the "Monkey Den" where we got to get off the bus for our third and final time to play with the monkeys! The Gibraltar monkeys are special because they don't have tails, and are technically apes. The monkeys were hilarious, especially because the second we got off our bus (which has a big sign inside that says no food, no smoking, and no monkey business) we were greeted by this

It was so much fun to be so close to all the monkeys!! Until the guide lured one ONTO MY HEAD with some food, I was terrified it was going to pee on me or soything. But they were all so cute I decided that having a monkey on my head wasn't that bad. We all took pictures with the monkeys, and then after lots of laughs and screams headed back down to the city center.

A bunch of kids hiked up the rock with Javier, but Amanda, Clare, Carly, Lydia, Julia and I decided that we were gonna rest up for the rest of the trip and browsed around to see what the Gibraltar shopping scene had to offer (answer: expensive clothes) and ate dinner at the yummy pub Catie recommended to me, The Clipper. It was Amanda's 21st birthday so we had lots of dessert and food. It was overall an amazing night! We immigrated back into Espana and called it a night!

Crossing back over, straddling the border!

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