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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

PASSAGE TO AFRICA Chapter 11: Monkey Business in Gibraltar

Chapter 11... More Ahead to The Past!

What sort of wisdom are you now hoping to learn from me?" asked the wiseman. "
     "I leave that to you," said the monkey, "any sort of wisdom-- it's all one to me. --Cha'eng-en Wu

When I travel, adventures happen at such a pace that before I write something down... something else happens.

So now, I'm in Lisbon, Portugal. A 1-day stop over (country number 54!!!) on the way to Senegal. For some reason, it's impossible to fly from one African country to another without changing in Europe. Maybe it's a colonial legacy.

I stay in my second hotel of the trip-- two days out of 22. Nice hotel too... not luxury,... but not bad for 60€ a night. No bugs, Internet AND one of the strangest lounges I've ever seen in a hotel.

Here's the ticket from the HONESTY BAR. In case you can't read the fine print, it says: This bar is yours. Please help yourself as you would at home. Thank you for filling out this form and handing it to the Front Desk, who will add it to your account.

That's right! A bar where you help yourself, and then tell them what you drank. Hoooey! Could you imagine that in New York? Would it last a night? I don't think so. People would be going home with the furniture.

I have a chance to write here, so that's what I'm doing. But I'm not writing about Portugal. I'm filling in the blanks.... between Karlsruhe and Africa... the part right AFTER... I HATE RYAN AIR!

After only 3-hours of sleep night so I could get to Karlsruhe, came the 1 ½ hour no-sleep flight to Malaga Spain. Then a 3 hour crying baby busride to Gibraltar, actually La Linea, Spain... the Spanish city that touches Gibraltar.

It's about 11 in the morning. I need to kill some time. John Dykes, my couch-surfing host, gets out of work at 6PM. I gotta wait. I'm hungry. I sure as theft wasn't going to buy any food from RyanAir!

I don't know how to get to Gibraltar from Spain... I'm just off the bus, I text John and asked where to go?

If you want to get to Gibraltar from La Linea,” he texts back. “Get out of the bus, look up, and follow the rock.”

I get out of the bus. Look up... and waddays know?

So there I head. Weighed down by bags, driven onward by an empty stomach. I follow the streets toward the rock. They all stop at the wide boulevard you see above. That's where the crossing is... from Spain to Gibraltar... you need a passport. Gibraltar is part of England... they even use English money... sort of. On the other side of the boulevard is Gibraltarian customs. On this side is a row of restaurants including one that doesn't look very Spanish... or English.

A diner... a very diner-looking diner, right here in Spain on the border of right here Gibraltar. Ok, I could use a Greek salad, a plate of meat loaf, and a cup of coffee. Yeah, right.

It's like the old Dr. Who TV show where you see a little blue police box on the outside, but on the inside it's a telepathic time machine. No time machine in this one, though... just chaos. Loud people... grimier than even me. Toothless guys drinking at the counter... which doubles as a bar, ordering station... and command center. I order a beer and a carne mechada ... some kind of meat I first had in Venezuela. I think it means mechanical meat.

Then I go to a booth in the back of the place, unload my backpack and computer bag, and return to the bar/counter to pick up my Somethingcampo beer.

A family comes in... a grimy little boy and his sister. They're having a shrieking contest... Mom wins the contest.. yelling at the kids to shut up... louder than either of 'em. She carries a baby of unknown gender in a sling around her neck. In the shrieking olympics, the baby comes in second. Dad is a quiet guy... looks like he's on a lunch break from construction work... late thirties... completely oblivious to the anarchy around him.

The whole family tries to squeeze into the booth in front of me... like trying to put toothpaste back into the tube. Pow, out pops the boy and girl... LET'S PLAY TAG! There they are... running through the diner... hide and seek between the legs of the patrons. Back and forth... screaming... running into and under tables... tipping drinks... going.... Okay, my sandwich is ready.

After lunch, I'm off to Gibraltar. It's a British colony and even though the UK and Spain are in the European Union... you still have to go through customs to get there... Well sort of customs... You need something that LOOKS like a passport, opened to a page with a picture of something that LOOKS like a person. That's it.

My host John, a big guy... with a beard... said that he once crossed the border with a 4'10” little blond girl. They switched passports for the walk. No one noticed.

I had to ASK the officer to stamp my passport when I entered Gibraltar... he said he was doing me a special favor... because it wasn't crowded.

Nice stamp, though... much hipper and less official looking than most. With even a WELCOME!

When I get out of “customs,” I can see that the town/colony is wants to make sure you know YOU ARE NOT IN SPAIN. Right outside the door is:

Okay, I get it. I get it. You're NOT Spanish.

Next comes the hike into the town center. I've seen deer crossing signs... moose crossing... duck crossing... even frog crossing. But PLANE crossing? I'm not shitting you. In order to get into town you have to cross a LIVE AIRPORT RUNWAY. Windy as Chicago without the planes, it's hard to imagine what it would be like with a jet taxiing while you're waiting.... or worse started to cross.

Once across the airstrip, you enter the TOWN of Gibraltar... the only town in Gibraltar. You have to change money. They use the British pound here... sort of. It looks like British money. Some of it actually IS British money, but there is a Gilbraltarian version... with monkeys. Soon I see that EVERYTHING Gilbraltarian has monkeys. Monkeys make it Gibraltar... otherwise it's English... like the pub I have lunch in.

Once across the airstrip, you enter the TOWN of Gibraltar... the only town in Gibraltar. You have to change money. They use the British pound here... sort of. It looks like British money. Some of it actually IS British money, but there is a Gilbraltarian version... with monkeys. Soon I see that EVERYTHING Gilbraltarian has monkeys. Monkeys make it Gibraltar... otherwise it's English... like the pub I have lunch in.

As is usual in my life, next stop after the pub is THE BAR. That's where I meet John, my host for 3 nights. He's a lively, funny guy... full of stories. He's hosted more than 100 people, though. So at first I don't feel special. BUT, I manage to impress him with all my famous friends. I flash my cellphone phonebook. There's BIAFRA (as in Jello). That got 'im!

Look Mykel,” he says, “Can you give me the number?”

Sorry,” I tell him, “I promised's a trust thing. He wouldn't be happy. ”

Okay, then,” he says. “Could you write down the number... on a small piece of paper. Then hide it somewhere... anywhere... in my flat. Someplace I'd never find it.... in back of the toilet... anywhere. That way, I could say I have Jello Biafra's number, and it'd be true. I just wouldn't know where it was.”

I laugh and tell him “sure.” I don't do it.

Here we are, John and me, in the pub after the bar after the pub:

John, it turns out, lives in La Linea on the other side of the border. We walk to his place, crossing the runway, Spanish customs, and the diner. I'm about to ask why he lives on the Spanish side when he comes from England and his Spanish is worse than mine.

But we pass a bulletin board with ROOM FOR RENT signs:

Two bedrooms, furnished, a swimming pool, local taxes and water included. 485€ a month. (Around $700 a month.) In New York, that wouldn't get you a roach-filled closet in gangland Brooklyn. Suddenly, I understand. Maybe I could write a book there.

Next day is my last full day in Gibraltar.

Mykel,” John tells me,“you can't leave without actually going on THE ROCK. And you haven't SEEN THE MONKEYS.”

IHAVE seen the monkeys,” I tell him. “They're everywhere that doesn't have a picture of the queen. Even there.”

I mean the REAL monkeys,” he says. “You gotta go up onto the rock! It's only a 2½ hour walk up.”

I look from the city to the top of the rock. It's uphill.

I'd do it with you,” he continues, “but I gotta work.”

How many times have I heard that line?

Okay, okay,” he says, “take the cable car. You can go by cable car, if you want.”

He's testing my masculinity... my machotude... I fail the test.

The next day, I take the cable car up the side of the mountain.

It costs about 10€ and includes a free audio tour: INCLUDED WITH ADULT TICKETS ONLY.

Yowsah! I'm always up for anything that's adults only. I wonder what's on the audio that they can't tell the kids. Glad I brought an extra packet of tissues with me... never travel without them!

The “tour” is a bore. Just some historical facts about a small section of the rock. Plus, it has a touch screen... and I HATE those things. It's a waste of adulthood.

Just after I pick up the tour... there on the cement fence... looking kingly, yet pouty... is MY FIRST MONKEY!

There are so many of them, and they're so captivating I gave them their own folder among my pictures. You can see it by clicking on the picture below:

After the rock, I go back to John's in Spain. He's meeting a couple German couch-surfers... both girls. I wait in his apartment while he goes to the bus station to pick 'em up... a blonde and a brunette. They're both young, attractive, and tall... Michael Jordan tall, Yao Min tall, Gibraltar tall. It hurts my neck to look at 'em in the face.

It's the first time they've couch-surfed. Both university students, slightly more than a third my age.

I adjust my pants.

Wie geht's?” I ask.

We're English teachers,” says the blonde. “No need to struggle with your German.”


It turns out the girls are going to Morocco tomorrow. We'll be taking the same boat. The same bus to the boat. It's the cheapest one... they scoped it out. The only problem?

Yes, a GENERAL STRIKE. That doesn't mean army officers don't work. That means EVERYBODY doesn't work. It's a great tactic to show the power of working people. It stops the country. It says, If I exercise my right NOT to work, I can fuck things up. I was was hoping OCCUPY would lead to one in The States. But NOT NOW! I've got a boat to catch... and even if the boat captain isn't on strike, I have to take a public bus to get to it. Please don't strike that!

The girls have it figured out. There's “a last bus” that'll get us there on time. The bus leaves at 1:30. I want to get to the station by noon. I figure it'll be crowded, being the last bus and all. The girls want to see Gibraltar first. John's flat is close to the bus station. They think one o'clock gives us plenty of time. I have to stay in the apartment waiting for them. None of us has a key.

FLASH AHEAD: We make it. On to the bus. On to the boat.

I take a picture of my first step in Africa. You can find it here.
From Morocco... other pix

In Tangier we are staying with couch-surfing hosts... different ones. My phone stops working in Africa . Theirs doesn't. I ask them to call my host to make sure all is okay. They can't. They have their own problems. They're nervous. Their own host might call any minute.

Their host comes. Calls mine on his own cellphone... tells him where to meet me. Then, takes off with the girls. “We'll call you tomorrow.” Yeah right.

They dump me...leave me alone... at night... in a strange city... sitting by the bus station... approached by cab drivers, vagrants, hash sellers. Little me, sitting on a low wall, with my bags. Waiting.... waiting...

Chronologically, the Tangier entries are next. This blog is not chronological. My friend and host, Zayd, does indeed show up in Tangier. You can read what happened after. Right now I'm in the actual plane from Lisbon to Dakar. You could say that the trip is really starting now... but you could say that every second.

This is the trip up to yesterday (April 8, 2012):

This is the 11th entry of my travel blog for this trip. Here are the past entries:

Episode 1 here

Episode 2 here

Episode 3 here

Episode 4 here.

Episode 5 here

Episode 6 here

Episode 7 here

Episode 8 here

Episode 9 here

Episode 10 here

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