Left early after a bowl of cereal, some bread and jam. We shot down the busy road towards Gibraltar, briefly stopping for some fruit from a road side stand for ‘elevenses’. We cycled over a small rise in the road whereupon we saw the ‘Rock’ of Gibraltar ahead in the distance between two spurs in the land. I felt quite moved by seeing it because it was symbolised the first major step in our journey out of Europe. It was going to be the last part of ‘home’ that we were to see for months.
There was then a long downhill stretch into the border town of La Linea which is very much a working town of no note. There were very signs directing us to the border with the Rock, which was probably not surprising. Why would the Spanish help people find the border crossing when they were in dispute with the British over sovereignty?
Nevertheless, we quickly got to the border where a flower who had lived in Stockwell for twelve years asked us where we had come from, and could not believe that we had cycled from England. We crossed the border into British territory. The first thing you experience when crossing the border is the fact that you walk almost straight onto the runway, which is wide (When you fly into Gibraltar, it’s a nerve wracking experience. You fly in over the bay of Algeciras, getting closer to the water until you think you are about to take a swim in it and then the aircraft wheels touch the tarmac, much to everyone’s relief). The town seems quite some distance away. It felt like a mad house after the bustle of the border formalities (which are easy compared to some of those we were about to experience in a few weeks’ time).
Before going into the town, we turned right on went to the ‘Safeway’ supermarket which is near the runway to get some food. Going into the supermarket felt bizarrely emotional. It was because we had been living off pretty ordinary food for some weeks now and the site of all the delicious produce felt quite exciting. Pork pies, fresh milk, cakes, amazing stacks of fruit and vegetables and home comfort foods. Food becomes a major obsession for cyclists and the trouble was that it was all very expensive and mostly out of our budget. We still managed to buy ourselves a few treats but not many. We bought pork pies, cream doughnuts and fresh orange juice. It tasted great but the juice gave us horrendous gut ache for a couple of hours afterwards.
Gibraltar was hot, humid and packed with tourists from the Canberra cruise ship, that mostly come ashore to buy booze, fags and to see the apes. This was all a bit of culture shock after our time in the mountains and countryside of France and Spain.
Standing outside a shop, a girl walked past us wearing sunglasses and a cap. She nodded at me and smiled. I was in a bit of a daze and I wondered what on earth she was smiling at me for. As she passed, I noticed she was wearing cycling shorts. Damn! An opportunity missed to speak to another cyclist.
We went back to the Safeway to buy some drinks. On coming out, I saw the girl again so I went up to chat with her. Jan was Australian and was cycling home. She was waiting for some American bloke with whom she was going to be cycling. Jan was camping in Algeciras for a couple of days. We said we’d drop in and see her the next day and then set off to Brian and Sally Brophy’s place near San Roque, which was a bit further around the pay towards Algeciras.
Brian and Sally lived with their small children in a small house on a new development in San Roque. Dan knew them through a connection from back home and he had stayed with them on his previous motorbike journey to Morocco.
They were incredibly welcoming and friendly, letting us stay with them for twelve days in all while we waited for Dan’s friends to get down to this part of the world. Brian was a carpenter and worked in Gibraltar for much of the time. Sally worked there too in a school. We used the time to check our gear over, bought anti-malaria drugs, other medicines that we thought might be useful and made sure we were well rested.
The next day, we cycled over to the camp site in Algeciras that Jan had told us about to find her. We eventually found her sun bathing on the beach and sat down next to her to chat. She was fun and we talked about our forthcoming journeys and our planned routes. She was planning to head across North Africa and head down from there towards Asia to get home to Australia. After some time, we said our goodbyes and headed back to the Brophy’s
The weekend was approaching and the Brophy’s decided they were going to go to the beach at Tarifa for the day and would we like to join them. Would we? Of course! We all crammed into their car and went off for a day on the famous windsurfing beach around the coast on the Atlantic side of Spain.
Driving along the main road, we could see Morocco on the other side of the Straits of Gibraltar, waiting for us. My excitement and trepidation was growing as the time came closer when Dan and I would be leaving Europe for Africa.
We had a lovely day on the beach with the Brophy family and drove back in the afternoon sunshine to San Roque.
Since leaving England, the plan had been to meet up with Penny when we got to Gibraltar. Towards the end of our time in San Roque, Penny flew out for a long weekend away from her publishing course in Watford. It was great to see her after all this time. I had hired a car (I had budgeted for all of this but it still felt like an enormous slice of money!) and the two of us headed off into the mountains to spend some time together, leaving Dan with the Brophy’s.
Penny and I drove up to Grazalema in the Sierra del Endrinal, which is a pretty white village at 800 metres above sea level. We stayed in a hostal and ate in a little restaurant. I ordered ‘albondigas’ off the entirely Spanish menu not knowing what they were. Fortunately, they turned out to be meatballs and they are still a favourite of mine whenever we go to Spain.
Being high in the mountains, Grazalema was cool and cloudy after the heat and humidity of San Roque. The next day, we went for a walk in the nearby National Park, before heading off to Ronda where we saw the famous bull ring and stayed in a hostal for the night.
We headed back towards Algeciras and stayed in a hotel in Los Barrios the night before Penny’s flight back to London. The hotel was expensive (£20! Where can you get a hotel room for that amount these days?) I remember watching TV in the room where there was a Spanish version of ‘Grease’ showing. The last time I had watched that musical was when I was about twelve at a cinema near Wigan with my cousins. At the time, I had been impressed with the cars and the leather jackets, thinking it was terribly cool. Now, some twelve years later, I realised just how tongue in cheek it all was, especially when it was in Spanish.
Will Hawkins lives in Lincolnshire with his family, works in a technology company in London and does as many micro-adventures as he can.
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