This weekend, I am going to lighten up the mood a bit by sharing yet another animal oriented anecdote. In March 2007, I travelled with my folks to Spain where the primary purpose of the trip was strictly vacation. Since graduating from university, my radius of operation had been greatly restricted. My regular weekends were either busy with work-related activities or spending time in Kingston, visiting my grandfather in a nursing home. The headquarters for the holiday in La Madre Patria was the colourful beach city of Islantilla, near the southern border with Portugal.
|The Rock as seen from the RAF airstrip|
One of our longest day trips was to Gibraltar, about a 4-hour drive. Why Gibraltar? Honestly, my father and I wanted to see the Barbary apes – not to be confused with the Burberry apes, those very fashionable primates. In fact, the history of this tiny 6.8 square kilometer (2.6 square miles) British overseas territory on the edge of Andalusia is quite interesting. These humongous natural rock formations on the European – which can in fact be seen from quite a distance across the bay - and African shores, serving as the gate to the Mediterranean, were referred in ancient times as the Pillars of Hercules.
The English captured Gibraltar in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession – a major European war over the unification of the Kingdoms of France and Spain under a Bourbon monarch. It served for several centuries as a strategic base for the Royal Navy and the small settlement of 30,000 Gibraltarians is very distinct from La Linea on the Spanish side. It remains perhaps one of the few border crossings left within the European Union with a controlled customs checkpoint. This small piece of land marks a contentious political divide between Spain and the UK. As a matter of fact, this was my first trip to the UK! Upon clearing the border crossing, one must then carefully traverse the width of a Royal Air Force tarmac before entering the settlement.
It was really curious that such a minuscule settlement remains quite heavily armed. The town actually resembles a tropical or sub-Saharan version of England leaving no doubt on their allegiance to Her Royal Majesty. We rushed through town looking for a way up the rock to see our apes – we were on a tight schedule. The importance of these glorious creatures to the people’s sovereignty is key. Popular legend has it that as long as the Gibraltar Barbary macaques exist on Gibraltar, the territory will remain under British rule. In fact, in 1942, their population dwindled to just a handful so British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered their numbers replenished from Morocco and Algeria due to this belief.
|An ape in service of the Queen|
After several obstacles, such as high winds and pricey full service tours of the rock, we decided to climb from sea level to about 200 meters to find the apes’ pen. I was surprised that they were all out in the open and able to roam wherever they please. One of the apes noticed my father was carrying a plastic bag, snuck up behind him and ran off with our supply of water bottles. This was the first time I ever was mugged by an ape. After this unfortunate violation of personal property and having enough fun among our new friends, we decided to head back down the rock and return to Islantilla. As soon as we made it back to downtown Gibraltar, I spotted a Barbary ape sitting on a tree eating a cake. Guess we didn’t need the hike after all.