Neither Elizabeth nor I have ever been to Gibraltar before. At least not in this lifetime. I have seen pictures of it, of course. And we both knew about its famous history (see the NOTE at the end of this story). And that The Rock has come to symbolize steadfastness, dependability, trust… even in the English language.
That’s why it was surprising that when we first caught the glimpse of what looked like an island from the hills above Algeciras, I knew instantly in my heart that that was the Rock. So I pulled over to take the above picture. And then Elizabeth took a photo of me.
The Rock felt so near you could almost touch it (see the map – above and right – of our route on May 27 from Cadiz to Malaga.
So Near, Yet So Far
Little did we know at that point that it would take us almost two hours to actually find it. As in the case of Madrid, we did not have a local map. And there were no road signs for it. Guess the locals think when something is as obvious as The Rock, why bother?
So we were being guided by the sighting of the The Rock to find our way there.
Alas, once we got into the maze of Algeciras roads and streets, there was not more visual contact with the Rock. So we kept stopping and I kept sending Elizabeth, the Spanish speaker in this family, to ask for directions of various people. She kept coming back confused and as vague as we were before.
I was getting frustrated. I could not figure out how come someone whose native tongue was Spanish could not get clear directions to something as big and famous as the Rock of Gibraltar.
At one point, out of desperation, I followed the signs to the Algeciras harbor.
“If all else fails, we’ll just hop on the ferry and go to Morocco,” I teased Elizabeth.
That would have been the ultimate example of spontaneity in travel (see “Planning and Improvisation: How to Ensure Every Trip Is a Great Experience” travel essay). Elizabeth just managed a halfhearted smile.
The next time I sent out Elizabeth to ask a man for directions, I stayed close enough to actual hear the conversation. And then the penny dropped. What has been befuddling Elizabeth was the Spanish pronunciation of the world Gibraltar.
She would say Gibraltar in Spanish the way English speakers pronounce the word – Jee-bral-tar – with the accent on the second syllable.
A typical Spanish person would not have understood what she meant. So that was half the problem.
The other half was the response she got. She could not comprehend what the Spanish speakers were saying.
Luckily, this last guy spoke English. So I heard him pronounce the name of The Rock He-bral-tar, with the accent on the third syllable
“Oh, you mean Campo de Gibraltar?” he repeated, pronouncing it as ˈkampo ðe xiβɾalˈtar (Campo de Gibraltar means Gibraltar Territory or Countryside).
So that’s what had been throwing Elizabeth before. One word – the name of The Rock – pronounced differently in each language.
Anyway, once we jumped over this linguistic hurdle, finding The Rock was a breeze. We got there in early afternoon. And had a ball.
In the end, Gibraltar ended up as Elizabeth’s No. 1 memory from our entire Tour of Spain. I will let you watch and listen to her explain in her own words why in our Tour of Spain Video Recap (which I am currently editing).
For now, here are some still shots we took in Gibraltar.
MAUI “ROCK OF GIBRALTAR”
Upon returning home to Maui, it occurred to me that we also have our own Hawaiian “Rock of Gibraltar.” And it is even more difficult to find than the European one. One big difference: no border crossings to get to it. 🙂
NOTE: ABOUT GIBRALTAR HISTORY AND BRITISH RULE
An Anglo-Dutch force captured Gibraltar from Spain in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession on behalf of the Habsburg pretender to the Spanish throne. The territory was subsequently ceded to Britain “in perpetuity” under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. It has been an important base for the Royal Navy.
Today, Gibraltar’s economy is based largely on tourism, online gaming, financial services, and shipping.
The sovereignty of Gibraltar is a major point of contention in Anglo-Spanish relations as Spain asserts a claim to the territory. But the Gibraltarians overwhelmingly rejected proposals for Spanish sovereignty in a 1967 referendum and again in 2002.
Under the Gibraltar constitution of 2006, Gibraltar governs its own affairs, though some powers, such as defence and foreign relations, remain the responsibility of the UK Government.