From Ronda we follow our tablet instructions, even when the signs say otherwise. We are learning.
The road to Gibraltar winds seemingly endlessly down through the Sierra Nieva mountains. Needless to say we get collected by a couple of trucks grinding their way down, and join the snaking tail of traffic that accumulates like a procession. Occasionally there is a relatively straight stretch where a few cars can pass, only to be collected by the next one.
We finally descend out of the mountains, to a new vista – the tree-covered cliffs give way to hills covered with villas on private golf courses, any lake now is a man made challenge for the golfers, not an irrigation necessity. And the horizon is obscured by the dense layer of smog that blankets the increasingly urban. coastal area.
We continue on onto the road that follows the coast round, the Rock rearing up in front of us. There’s a long line of cars, and an empty lane, so despite my misgivings, W drives up the empty lane.
Sure enough it isn’t long before we realise we need to be in that lane, a fortuitous space left by a tourist bus allows us entry. But the next time he tries this manoeuvre, it is to be quickly put in place in the queue.
We crawl our way to the border and customs area, where we don’t even get a glance from the spanish guardia, but a very English sounding official on the other side wants our passports. We are waved through; the ‘goods-to-declare’ lane is closed.
Next to us in a separate path, an endless stream of tourists walk across.
Our next obstacle is the runway – the road goes right through the middle. There aren’t any aircraft to be seen, so we drive across and follow the road signed Europa Point. It’s a landmark I remember, but everything is different.
It’s funny, the shape of the Rock is imprinted in my mind, so it seems familiar. But nothing is the same. I doubt that I would recognise anything even if nothing had changed, but I certainly don’t see anything I can recollect. The house we lived in on Europa Rd is no longer – the paintings I did on the lower glass panes in my parents’ bedroom to stop people on the road from copping an eyeful, long ground to dust. (They must have been doing something to conceal at least once without my knowledge, since my sister was born here. I don’t even remember the number of the street.
We stop at Europa Point for a bladder break, take a few snaps and continue on around the other side. Just after I have said that the east side is covered in concrete as catchment because the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain – quelle surprise! All that concrete is now gone, replaced with terraced landscaping. Probably to protect the little villas on this side from the glaring sun. There is even a little private resort with its own beach now. I don’t even remember there being a road on this side. It takes all of 30 minutes to drive the entire circle – it took us longer to get over here in the queue.
The place I remember clambering all over, sneaking cigarettes from my mother and sitting on some ledge just under the cable car, is no more. It’s a shabby version of that time, the aparment buildings rear up on the western side, and just look a bit tawdry.
The Rock has such a rich and contested history, I feel it deserves better than this.
We forgo the apes of the rock, obviously still here, because its still British territory, despite many of the locals speaking Spanish. We miss St Michaels cave -one of the most spectacular of the many that honeycomb the monolith, but join the queue to go back to Spain. To my great amusement, there is a sign that tells us where to go (internet page) for forms to complain about the queue system for entering.
I won’t complain, because I won’t be back. My memories of the Rock; going on a destroyer to have a (non-alcoholic) drink with my father at the bar, sailing on my father’s pride-and-joy catamaran, looking at the octopus being thrashed on the jettys, and most precious of all, my first ride on the only horse in Gibraltar on a narrow strip of grass half the size of an olympic pool can rest intact.