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GIBRALTAR TOURIST OFFICE
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FORWARD TO AFRICA
Gibraltar. It was afternoon and the looming giant rock
was casting its long afternoon shadow into the Mediterranean. It stood
there, waiting for us. Like it was giving us a final test or something
before we passed over the water into another continent.
Rudi and I crossed over from Spain to enter the two and
a half square mile place called Gibraltar. Stiff-spined uniformed middle-aged
border officials greeted us in English. It was strange to hear everyone
speaking a language I could perfectly understand. It was like coming out
of a coma, where everyone understood what I wanted to say. Now
Jeeze! That was a good feeling. When I wanted to say something to someone
-- no arm waving, raising my voice, drawing diagrams to get people to
understand what I was trying to ask. When people look at you kinda dumb-faced
all the time, it’s not a normal feeling. Here in Gibraltar, I felt
like a person let out of confinement. It was good.
It reminded me what a task it was to communicate in a foreign language
on this trip. Exhausting. I mean, especially talking with Rudi. If people
spoke to us in French, I had to translate the French into German. Or if
they spoke to us in Portuguese, I would recognize some of the words from
Spanish and translate them into German or English, or sometimes back into
I was never cut out to be a linguist or something like
that. It was a feeling of relief to be in a place where English was spoken.
No longer will it demand great concentration on the sound of their language
or inflections or gesticulations they might make to get their point across.
So here we were in this little piece of land, about 2 ½ square
miles as I said. No need for much gasoline for our motor scooter at this
place. If we drove 1 ½ straight miles we’d be out of the
Well I guess it’s not a country, it’s more what Americans
call a protectorate. But who’s protecting who?
It’s one of those places one country will capture and hold so they
have a safe haven for their battleships or airplanes or troops. In other
words, if they have these protectorates, it means they are an aggressive
nation, looking around to protect their imports and exports as well as
being prepared to invade some place. I never used to understand why one
country would want to own a slice of another country a thousand miles
away. I remember from my history class back at Mercersburg that Britain
owned a lot of these “protectorates” around the world like
Malta, Nigeria, Kuwait, Hong Kong, they even had Palestine up ‘til
the end of WWII.
Even Portugal had them, Angola, and a place called Goa in India. France
had them, like Algeria that started the Algiers war, which we will soon
be traveling through. I don’t think Canada had any places like this
but I remember I always thought it was funny that a place like New Zealand
had one called Samoa.
I don’t know how long the British will be able to hold on to Gibraltar.
These colonies have a long history of being a waiting time bomb and we
felt a tension here in Gibraltar that wasn’t present in Portugal
and the rest of Europe we traveled through.
The Germans are famous for having these long distant possessions, like
East Prussia on the Baltic. I can remember during my
CIC days in Wuerzburg interviewing refugees that wanted to come to the
USA; one of them was from the German possession of the capital of East
Prussia, Koenigsburg, the city where Richard Wagner, the composer lived
and the philosopher Emmanuel Kant is from. The Russians, during WWII,
kicked the Germans out. The citizens headed west on the only road out
of town with horse and wagons and all their possessions they could carry.
Russian fighter pilots strafed thousands of the mass
of people with their Luftwaffe machine guns. Not many people survived
and one of them was the German husband of an American friend of mine.
He was a toddler back then, walking in the exodus along side his mother
and little sister. His father was a German infantryman, fighting the Russians
in the East. The guy doesn’t talk much about it. His father never
returned. After a seventy-five mile march through Poland, his mother and
he and his little sister got back to the German homeland in ’44
and got to live the war out in an apartment that the Germans had confiscated
from a Jewish family who ended up in Auschwitz.
The USA has a history of these distant possessions or territories they
sometimes call them. Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico. If we’re not careful,
they could become time bombs too.
So much for history and politics. We always stayed out of arguments about
the ‘aggressive American’. But nevertheless, when people met
us, a German and an American, they expected a couple of aggressive guys.
They were always surprised we were not that way.
We got through the border just fine. The customs people everywhere are
always the same type. They don’t smile. You could put a Russian
guy in a French uniform, and visa versa, and unless he spoke, you couldn’t
guess his nationality. It’s funny how an occupation can attract
the same character in people no matter what their nationality.
Well, with the formalities at the border over, we drove into Gibraltar,
doubtful that we would find any farms on the tiny province. But maybe
since Gibraltar is a peninsula it must have some beaches where we could
The great rock loomed like an overlord as we wound through the tiny main
street, the 1400-foot rock plunging down into everyone’s backyard,
into everyone’s business. It would block away the stars, half of
the night, and half of the day, the sun. That big rock was like someone
looking over your shoulder all the time. But I could see why some country
would want to own it. It was like a traffic cop sitting right there between
Africa and Europe, looking at everything that was happening coming in
and going out of the Mediterranean from all those countries in the Near
East and Italy and France and Spain, plus all the North African countries
like Egypt and all. What a powerful place!
As we were driving through the spotless, well-scrubbed main thoroughfare,
wide enough for two English-sized cars, we halted to watch a parade of
double file patrols of bagpipe-playing Scots, dressed in kilts.
“They’ve got skirts on!” was Rudi’s
assessment of the solemn soldiers.
We stood motionless, like at a football game when they play the national
anthem. You felt like saluting or something. The soldier\musicians were
repeating an ancient ceremony that probably harks back to Scottish clans
warring against one another back in the 18th century. It seemed fitting
with this pre-historic rock behind them in the background. Sea gulls soaring
overhead must’ve seen humor in it. Stern soldiers in colorful plaid
skirts parading to squeaky music from bagpipes. Oh well,
it’s like scotch whisky. You have to acquire a taste for it.
“They’ve just come from the changing of the guard ceremony
at the Governor-General’s palace,” a tall, gray-haired Englishman
standing on the sidewalk behind us said, seeing we were curious.
“I believe they’re from the Black Watch barracks,” he
said. English people we had met on our trip seemed to always want to offer
the history and background of places. “And where are you chaps coming
from?” he asked.
“We’ve just come from Europe and we’re on our way to
Africa,” Rudi answered. He was getting pretty good at answering
in English the standard questions people would ask us, like. “Where
are you from? Where are you going?”
“On that motor scooter?” The man asked, looking down at our
I didn’t answer. I let Rudi practice his English.
“Yes, don’t you think we’ll be able to make it?”
“Well, and he paused, I’m sure you didn’t have any trouble
in Europe. But when you blokes get to Africa, you’ll see
a world of difference in the roads.”
I love the English people, but it irks me the way so many of them want
to maneuver you into a debate or a ‘can you top this’ contest.
I guess it’s their way of testing you. I usually play “dumb”
with them, and then surprise them later on in the conversation with a
remark that tops anything they’ve produced so far. But I didn’t
think I could top this man.
We stood in the street with the gentleman for a while, talking about our
trip in Europe, and hearing advice on what we were going to meet in Morocco.
And listening to what we should avoid. He sounded like my mother.
“Have you chaps ever been to England?” he
“No, we didn’t get there. We plan to hit it on the way back.”
“Well, it’ll take more than just hitting. You could spend
a year on the British Isles, and still never see enough. I suppose then
you’ve never tasted stout?”
“What’s that? “ Rudi asked.
“Stout? Why it’s the best ale you ever tasted. Would you like
to try some?” he said, pointing across the street to an open-air
“Sure!” I said, and we wheeled the scooter across the street.
On the way over, we introduced ourselves. His name was Everett
Manchester. He was retired and lived in Gibraltar and was originally
“How did the British ever get Gibraltar?” I asked him as we
sat down to a metal table with a typical café umbrella over top.
He started, “Well there’s one thing you must know,
the sun never sets on the British Empire. To make a long story short,
we captured it from the Spanish two hundred and fifty years ago during
the war of the Spanish Succession. The Spanish captured it from the Moors
two hundred and fifty before that, the Moors had held it ever since the
“Why did you want to establish a fort here? It’s not near
England.” Rudi asked.
“For its valuable position, of course, “ He quipped. In
WWII we were able to effectively use it as an anti-submarine base against
you. Well, not you, but the German war machine. He stopped short
and changed the subject. “Well, I suppose you would like to try
that stout, wouldn’t you?” and he snapped his finger a couple
of times, attracting the attention of one the waiters.
“Where do most of these people come from, Mr. Manchester?”
I asked, noticing the waiter didn’t look very English.
“A great majority of them are descendant from Genoese fishermen
who immigrated here when the rock first became a colony back in the eighteenth
century. Franco eventually closed the border and didn’t
let any Spanish come in here during his reign. But now it’s open.
Anyone can come in here. He was looking at Rudi.
“Now you take that man,” and he pointed to an olive-skinned
guy out in the street driving a shaky horse-drawn carriage with a canvas
top. “He’s of Spanish blood, typical of the lazy scalawags
that spend their day sitting in one of those carts. We’re lucky
that most of the tourist carts they use to drive the tourists around the
island in migrate in here in the morning and go back across the border
to Spain in the evening. Say, you chaps ought to take a ride in one of
those things. Have you traveled around yet?”
“We drove around a bit when we first came in this afternoon,”
“Did you see our Barbary apes?” he asked
“Apes?” Rudi looked up.
“Sure, we have monkeys climbing all over the rock up there. No one
seems to know where they came from, but they certainly have multiplied
since I’ve been here. The tourists feed them. The army takes care
of them, and makes sure they don’t harm anyone. They even have the
job of burying them.”
“Are they dangerous?” Rudi asked.
“You wouldn’t be afraid of a monkey would you?”
He asked Rudi.
Rudi didn’t give him the courtesy of an answer.
Mr. Manchester continued. “They’ll swoop down on a tourist’s
car, steal ornaments and munch on them ‘till they find they’re
not edible, or snatch food from picnic baskets. My sister-in-law visited
us last year, and they snatched her purse. It was a half-hour before we
could catch the little devil.”
The waiter brought the stout and we raised our glasses to him.
“Cheers!” he returned. “Well, how do you like it?”
I took another taste, to make sure I wasn’t wrong. It tasted almost
like cough syrup. “It has a very interesting taste,” I said
“It’s a taste you’ve got to get used to,” he smiled
Rudi didn’t venture any opinion, and I’m glad he didn’t.
He’s usually blunt about things like this.
“Well, I guess you boys are heading to Tangier tomorrow,”
“That’s the village on the other side?” Rudi asked.
“Well, I wouldn’t call it a village,” Mr. Manchester
smiled ruefully. “How long did you say you two have been traveling
Europe?” It became apparent to him we were not a couple of veteran
tourists loaded with travel guides and how-to information.
I interrupted; “We’ve got to get some information about the
crossing in the morning. How many crossing do they have?’ I asked.
“I must warn you,” he said. “It’s
another world over there…” He paused and then continued. “I
believe they have two crossing now, one at 8:00 o’clock in the morning
and the other at twelve noon.”
“And what would it cost for both of us and our motor scooter?”
Godammit it was disconcerting to talk with someone like this. So uppity.
Looking down his nose at us. Always trying to win the next move. He made
that disdainful smile again. He thought for a while and then answered,
“About five pounds.”
“What would that be in U.S. dollars?” Rudi asked.
He looked at us with an expression as though he realized he was in the
company of a couple of vagrants. “Almost fifteen dollars. You’ll
also need a carnet du passage to get into Tangier.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“A carnet du passage?” he scratched his temple with his index
finger, like a kindergarten teacher searching for an answer for a child
who asked why some children have blue eyes and others have brown. I felt
like giving him a black eye at this moment.
In his condescending way he said, “It’s a kind of assurance
that you won’t sell your vehicle in the country you’re traveling
in. It protects the local automobile salesmen from people bringing vehicles
into the country and selling them at good prices.”
Although I wish Rudi hadn’t asked him, Rudi asked, “Well what
happens if a person happens to sell his vehicle anyway?”
Rudi’s misplaced question confirmed that we might be either gangsters
or spies trying to get strategic answers from him.
He gave a standard explanation. “The automobile club that originally
issued the carnet to you must pay a fine to the country in which you sold
I asked, “An automobile club? Is that where we find out about the
“Yes," He snapped back. "It shouldn’t cost you more
than a hundred dollars.”
Rudi and I looked at each other. Fifteen dollars for
the ferry! We hardly had a dollar left to our name after buying the camera
and traveling from Lisbon to here.
“Have they ever let anyone in without one of those carnets?”
“I’ve never heard of that case, and the Moroccans have become
pretty strict since their recent independence in ‘54.”
“Well, maybe you’ll hear of a case. We don’t
have that much money to put out!” Rudi laughed, finishing the last
of his stout and banging his glass down on the metal table. I could see
he was perturbed with this guy also.
“How about another one, fellows?” He asked in the tone of
a butler or a doorman.
“Thanks, anyway.” I said, figuring we were the invited ones
and he was going to pay the tab. I figured the cost to him of the stout
was worth the price for the put-down he enjoyed with us.
“We’re looking for a place we might be able to set our tent
for the night; can you suggest anything, Mr. Manchester?” Rudi said
hoping he had a large yard. He said it so fast, I didn't get to kick Rudi
under the table. But I guess Rudi didn’t catch the innuendos. I
realized then that speaking English, and understandings every word, including
the nuances, could actually be a disadvantage in your travels, at least
the way we were traveling, depending on the generosity of the foreign
people we met.
“ I wish I could help you chaps out, but my wife and I have
only a small apartment. Why don’t you go down to Catalan
Bay, they have beach over there, and I’m sure no one would object
to you putting your tent up on it.” He slapped down a couple of
coins on the table and we parted.
When we left him, it was getting dark. We followed the winding road out
past the army barracks ‘til we saw a sign, “Catalan
Bay.” We drove down a small grade, and the fresh sea air
blew up from the tiny fishing village below to meet us. You knew by the
scent it was a fishing village. You knew also the breeze was mixed with
the clean, fresh air wafting over the Mediterranean from the south, from
the continent of Africa.
We found a vacant beach area lined with palm trees on
the outskirts of the village. By the time we set up camp on the deserted
beach, the moon found its way behind the great hovering rock, its long
shadow enveloped us for the night with the sound of distant seagulls looking
for a midnight snack along the beach.
In the early morning, just about sun up, we heard
some music. It wasn’t very far away. In fact, it was real
close. It was outside our tent. It was odd-sounding music -somewhat like
the bagpipes we had heard in the afternoon, except worse. Maybe it was
someone practicing the bagpipes.
“I know what that is! It’s my harmonica!” Rudi
threw open the tent flap and rushed out of the tent in his underwear and
almost landed on a Barbary monkey who had stuck his hand in Rudi’s
knapsack laying outside on the beach and pulled out Rudi’s harmonica
and started eating it.
The monkey was not about to give up the harmonica without a fight.
It became a loud ruckus and a case of “finders- keepers”.
He swatted back at Rudi and showed big incisors. There was a tussle. Rudi
wasn’t about to lose a fight to a monkey. Finally the monkey realized
this was no ordinary tourist, or the harmonica didn’t play very
well. He dropped it and smugly walked away.
Next morning, the early July sun was above the horizon
now and getting hot. We were slow in packing our scooter to go into town.
At the ferryboat quay, we verified the price for us to cross over to Tangier.
$14.05 was it, and there was no way we could get around it. “You
fellows can swim across if you want to; it’s only a couple dozen
miles,” a smart-ass official used his pat phrase for dead broke
travelers like us.
In town we checked with the automobile club. There the news was even worse.
“Yes, that’s correct, young men,” A red-faced, stoic
official at the office told us, “The price is a hundred dollars.”
But, even if you did have the money, we couldn’t issue you the Carnet.
That should have been issued to you in the town where you bought the motor
scooter. We can only issue Carnets to people who plan on bringing the
vehicle back to Gibraltar. That is the only assurance we have that they
won’t sell it abroad, and cost us a lot of money.”
“But we’re not going to sell the scooter, sir!”
Rudi pleaded. “We’re on a world tour!”
“World tour? What assurance do I have that you might not end your
world tour in Morocco, or that one of you might get killed in the Sahara
Desert and the other one sells the scooter for capital? No. I’m
sorry gentlemen, this office is in no position to help you. Besides, you
don’t have the money in the first place, didn’t you say?”
“Yes,” Rudi said disgustedly, and we left.
We walked outside and aired our problems out as we sat on a bench near
the Naval depot. “As I see it, all we need is that $14.00 to get
across,” Rudi said
“How about the Carnet, though?” I said.
”We don’t have to worry about that ‘til we get to Morocco.
I doubt if once we get over there, they’ll send us back. We’ll
just tell them we don’t have the money to come back,” Rudi
said, mustering up some enthusiasm. This isn’t the first time border
officials wanted to stop me from traveling forward.
“Well, maybe you’re right. But, how about the fourteen dollars?”
“That’s for you to figure out, Engh.” He
crossed his arms and leaned back on the bench.
I said, “They must have a radio station in this town let’s
see what we can do there.”
“You and your radio stations!” Rudi said. “Radio stations
are for a big country. Do you realize that this Gibraltar is only 2 ½
miles wide? I think we’ve seen the last of radio stations.
NEXT: To be continued.