Thursday, July 9, 2009

Layer 174 Gibraltar and Spain

Travel by air is the pits. These days we allow ourselves to be regimented, coralled, processed, monitored, x-rayed, scanned, frisked, scrutinised, questioned and treated like objects. We agree to be deprived of any autonomy and dignity. All in the name of security and safety. The bad guys have already won when they've turned civilisation into this stressed-out struggle to move from A to B.

Even so, moving through Stanstead is a breeze compared to the awfulness of Heathrow.

Malaga was even better. I was third off the plane, first to get to baggage reclaim, first to pick up my case, and first to the buses/taxis. There was very little traffic on the way into town, and so I was sitting on the bus to Algeciras within an hour of touching down. The flight itself had taken just two and a half hours.

The Costa Del Sol is boring, barren, dry, parched and scruffy. The hillsides are full of little outcrops of flats and timeshares - bland and sometimes downright ugly holiday 'units' piled on top of each other.

Some of these places are retirement homes. I can understand Brits who've enjoyed holidays in the Med coming to live here for the sunshine, sea and cheap booze, but in reality the Del Sol doesn't compare to South Devon, for example, for beauty and character. Places like South Hams, Dartmouth, Totnes, Ashburton, Brixham and Dartmoor are quite sublime.

Onward we trundled past 'urbanisations' of ever-increasing hideousness. The flats might be perfectly decent inside, but from the outside they're just the lowest-cost solutions to providing the maximum number of storage and living spaces for human beings on any given plot of land.

Many of the new developments are now abandoned: unsold, and only half-completed. Cranes stand idle on deserted building sites. This is the reality of the drying up of credit and mortgages.


There was just a two minute wait in Algeciras for the little bus that wended its way on a 40 minute trip round the bay to La Linea. It had been quite a trip - by car (thanks to my lovely daughter), train, plane, taxi, coach and bus.

There's a three minute walk from the bus station in La Linea to the border with Gibraltar. After the customs the first thing you come to is the runway of the airport, which you have to walk or drive across. It's apparently one of the scariest airports in the world to fly into since the plane has to approach over water and the runway sticks out into the sea at both ends, across the narrow strip of land that connects Gib with Spain, under the towering mountain of the Rock itself.

We had dinner in a restaurant on the roof of a hotel from where there were fabulous views of the town, the Rock, the sea and the sunset. Afterwards we went down to the bar, where a very decent jazz trio were playing. The guy on upright acoustic bass was very good. Chatting to him afterwards he said there's a bunch of musicians who drift in and out and jam together twice a week.

B & G are staying in a huge four-bedroomed flat on the 6th and 7th floors of a new block right next to the harbour. Apparently it's the 'main' residence of friends who've set up a business in Australia. Which is nice.

The views from the huge windows and the large balcony are incredible. I can't believe how close the coast of North Africa appears - just 14 miles away. An enormous Morrocan mountain sits on the skyline - grey, craggy and barren. The lower slopes are hazy in the sea mist, but the top half is sharp and beautiful against the deep blue of the sky.

The amount of traffic in and beyond the harbour is amazing. There's an incredible variety of small boats, ferries, coasters, and massive ocean-going vessels - container ships and tankers. Gibraltar seems to be a refuelling stop for many of them. You get a real sense that this place is a major crossroads between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and between Europe and Africa, and the rest of the world.


Saturday - late - Costa Tropical.

It's the beginning of Apocalypse Now. A ceiling fan is spinning, the room is hot and humid, and someone is lying undressed on a bed, seemingly waiting for a mission.


Sunday - morning.

Are humans really so different to reptiles? I need to sit in the sun each morning, soaking up its energy through my skin before I can feel fully charged, fully alive, and ready for the new day.

I love this climate, and always have. Stepping out of the air-conditioned car in Malaga yesterday was like stepping into an oven. 40 degrees C. It made Gibraltar seem positively cool.

Here on the Costa Tropical it's incredibly exotic. There's bananas, mangos, oranges, lemons, peaches and apricots growing in the garden. The vibrant colours of bouganvillea and oleanda are everywhere, along with others of brilliant white, orange and magenta - shrubs and climbers I don't even know the names of. T's veranda has million-dollar views up and down the coast, and down on to the glistening sea.

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