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July 24, 2009
I went on a photography holiday with Scott to Gibraltar. This is how it went down.
This was my first experience of an overseas photography trip, and my first experience of budget airlines, and my first experience of the Mediterranean, and my first experience of killing a man for sport. The last part was untrue, but overall it was all new to me, exciting but a little intimidating as well. I’ve not been overseas much, in truth I’ve not been away from the Thames Valley very often, so this was to be an adventure, possibly a chilling and horrific adventure but an adventure.
I had worries. My primary concern was that I’d fail to get any shots I was happy with. I’m fairly out of practice and previous trips had been to places within a couple of hours drive of home so I always had that mental crutch that I could, in theory, just pop back the next day if I really cocked up a shot or failed to capture a particular landscape, texture or confused looking goat, but sometimes you just have to unclench and deal with it.
The concept of budget air travel had me worried. Although I’ve never traveled by very expensive means, my mental image of Easyjet was not positive. From tabloidesque horror stories from friends I was expecting to be surrounded by drunken shirtless, rutting nimrods while being force fed irradiated pig guts and refused entry to the toilets until I had signed over all my worldly goods. In the end it was fine, actually it was easier than the couple of B.A. flights I’d been on previously. I’d been warned of the absolute horror of not being assigned a seat and the horror of having to fight with improvised weapons for an empty seat. I thought this was an advantage, assuming you are not the last on the plane (as we were on the return flight), you can weigh up who to sit next to and avoid the obviously unclean, mental or generally degenerate (who made up a fair percentage of the other passengers). We decided to sit next to the grumpiest man on the plane(t), what larks we had. Ok, he ignored us for the flight and we ignored him.
Tuesday 4.30am found me loitering in the street outside my house, waiting to be picked up either by Scott and taken to the airport or the Police and taken to the cells for scruffy loitering. With much fortune Scott got to me first and had the wonderful pleasure of experiencing my early morning grouch (much love to Karen for getting up at 3.30am to pump me full of caffeine and point me at the door). Much of between then and arrival in Gibraltar is a vague sleepy blur interrupted only by temporary caffeine highs.
I was hilariously unprepared for Gibraltar. Apart from having been spelling it Gibralter for the previous month, my failure to deal with it not being an island and THE FUCKING HEAT, I was absolutely amazed at how damned English it was. Once I’d had a chance to get over the brilliance that is a level crossing over the runway (how excellently eccentric is that?) we headed off through the town centre to the hotel. It was like someone had picked up Slough (or any other UK town of that approximate size) and dropped it in the med. Same bins, same postboxes, same benches, same shops, same American tourists, same Burger King wrappers. My lack of research and preparation was shortly revealed in my sudden need to visit M&S to buy some clothes not so suitable for and English winter. I am an idiot. Black t-shirts and heavy combats are not a sensible choice for Mediterranean heat. Shall I learn from this? Unlikely.
All outfitted up with our luggage parked at the hotel we set off to photograph the eccentric brilliance that is the Rock of Gibraltar. There was a two hour wait for the cable car, which being the primary method of getting up the Rock could have put a dent in our plans. Now, I’m not an athletic man, I’m not a man who can get up the stairs in a hurry, but I am a foolish man with no sense of my own limitations, we decided to go up on foot.
We set off through the back streets of Gibraltar. A maze of cobbled streets, lanes and passageways, lavishly coated in flowers embellishing the ornamental doors and windows with influences from all around the region (Scott got some great shots of the doorways). This contrast with the drab high-street and the run down blocks of flats we had seen so far made this even more foreign and exotic. I failed to photograph this curious and colourful place as I was busy dodging the streams of mopeds and buses that charge down the narrow streets in an attempt to main unwary tourists.
From the lanes we found our way onto a rocky path up the Rock. By rocky I mean, perilously-ankle-breakingly rocky.
Here I realised the important difference between here and home. The lack of excessive health and safety legislation. People in Gibraltar, are apparently capable of not throwing themselves off cliffs or a hundred other retarded activities that we in England would be so keen on if our authorities were to allow it. This makes it a great place to explore for photographical intentions because you can go anywhere you like, and risk your neck to your heart’s content. We did, it was at times terrifying.
This was the first of the abandoned military installations we came across (Devil’s Gap Battery), unlike the fenced off fortresses that are abandoned buildings in the UK this was open to the road. No warning signs, guards or difficult fences. Just the assumption that if you don’t want to break your neck you don’t try climbing around too much.
Up on the roof we found a decayed and graffiti coated cannon and a bowel-loosening drop into the town below:
Scott has slightly larger testicles than I and was happy to wander right to the edge to take photos. The view across the country was amazing from the industrial grime of the shipyard to the gleaming towers of the new flats by the shore, we could also make out Africa looming out across the sea. There’s very little decorative graffiti or tagging across the entire country (from my limited experience) but in easily accessible abandoned areas like here names and messages cover every available area. The messages go from the hilariously crude (including changing the “Devil’s Gap Battery” sign to read “Devil’s Gay Battery” to poetry, political messages and of course band names. In retrospect I wish I had some better shots of some of the more entertaining/interesting slogans but it was around now the couple of hours of walking and sunshine made me quite seriously aware that I hadn’t had anything to drink since we left the airport.
We made our way to a surprisingly well hidden cafe a little way up the Rock which gave me good experience of the near vertical calf-crippling roads, the constant flow of tour buses along the very narrow, safety fence free, near vertical roads and the vertigo-inducing prices at the tourist targeted cafes on the Rock (the prices seemed to get higher with the altitude, we may have imagined this).
Having nearly choked myself to death attempting to swallow 500ml of coke in one mouthful and taken out a second mortgage to fill every spare pocket of my camera bag with bottled water we moved on again. It get’s a bit blurry here, the heat may have got to me a little more than I realised at the time. After a bit more time on near-vertical-calf-damaging roads, Scott found us a rocky foothpath which gave a welcome break from the national sport of bus-dodging. Some terrifyingly breathtaking countryside later and we came out on a narrow path leading round an abandoned bunker (not sure if ‘bunker’ is the correct term) with an amazing view of the rock. I unfortunately deleted the pics I had taken of the path but here’s a shot from the roof of the bunker.
The path around the bunker looked unsafe with the suggestion that it may just collapse and take us through the roofs of the town below. We decided to risk it and it was worth the risk, it didn’t collapse and kill us and it was one of the best locations of the trip. Beneath the precarious bunker was a network of rooms and passages reminiscent of one of the better horror survival computer games leading through to a lookout/bunker looking out on the other side of the rock. The walls inside were even more covered in graffiti than anything we had seen previously and could have happily housed the demons from Hellraiser.
We followed the path of quite possible death along from the bunker, looking back gave us my favourite couple of shots of the trip. I did nearly have a massive panic attack on this path, it’s not so obvious from the photos but the steps were steep, uneven with a massive drop on one side and some rocks between us and a massive drop on the other side. Desire for ice-cream drove me onwards.
The combination of white rock and blue sky makes for some great views.
Then we went to see the apes. I’d be warned by a few well meaning friends to avoid the apes due to their aggressive, unpleasant nature. I only spent an hour or so around them so I can’t claim much experience, but they were mostly lazy and somewhat cheeky. There’s a feeding area by the road where a van dumps a shedload of fruit for the apes, who all congregate in that area, meaning of course that the tourists all congregate in one area as well causing a hilarious pile up of tourists, buses and apes. The apes take any and all food the tourists are stupid enough to be carrying, they are given no option. Much fun was had at the expense of a slightly drunk, slightly dim girl who lost a packet of biscuits to an ape who went on to rub it in by sitting just out of reach eating them. It was incredibly hard to edit down the number of photos of apes, I’ve uploaded more than necessary and saved even more.
So we said hello to the apes, laughed at them mugging tourists and moved on. At the top of the rock was another abandoned military base. Again it was brilliantly accessible and with some amazing views out across the rock.
After a degree of cajoling Scott convinced me we should try going down the Rock via the several sets of stone steps that stretch pretty much all the way from the town up to the ape feeding area near the top. It probably saved us about an hour, but didn’t do a massive amount for my calves or my vertigo (yes, I know, I am a massive girl). We did experience the danger of the apes on the way back when we went for a walk along the road for a bit of a last bit of exploring. Two apes were arguing over a pack of chocolate buttons they had nicked from a woman’s handbag, it got a little heated and they nearly took Scott with them when they chased each other off the edge of the road. The stairs that finished off my calf muscles:
On our way back down the Rocky Path Of Doom we found two incredibly cute white rabbits with black patch eyes investigating a noisy chicken in a bush. Unlike the bunnies of the UK, these didn’t seem to give a shit that we were standing around photographing them, far more interested in the chicken.
Back closer to sea level with shaky legs and a strong desire to lie down for a few years we made our way back through the lanes to the town (or city?) centre.
Being a big girl I gave up with the photography at this point which I do regret, some of the buildings were beautiful. I also missed a chance to get a shot of the arrival of the members to the local Masonic Lodge, lots of big businessmen in expensive suits on tiny little mopeds, it was like a piece of Monty Python street theatre.
With calves still aching and an overcast sky we took day two a little easier, sticking mainly to flat areas with plenty of seating. We started at the Alameda Gibraltar Botanic Gardens opposite the hotel and made our way through the town to the opposite end of the country to see the Mosque and lighthouse.
The Botanic Gardens and zoo were peaceful and soothing, although the lack of sunlight killed my enthusiasm for photography a little.
From here we set off on foot to the Mosque via the pleasure beach area. On the way we went through one of the tower block/estates (I’m not sure of the right expression). From the outside it looked really run down, like a lot of the housing blocks near the town centre but on the inside it felt very different with an abundance of life with pot plants and ornaments and people getting on with their lives. It did bring to mind films and documentaries about run-down and deprived communities, but I think this is an unfair comparison.
Having finished invading people’s space we moved on towards the coast, Scott wanted to show me another abandoned military facility but it was closed off and we couldn’t find anyone to tell us if it was permanently closed or if there was any way inside, so we moved on through the pleasure beach. Pleasure beach is a phrase that generally makes me want to vomit my lungs out in disgust. The idea of enforced family entertainment in a plastic and concrete man-made hell fills me with horrific dread but this was fascinating.
I’ve already managed to offend at least one Gibraltarian with comments about the pleasure beach on Flickr, my disgust with such places is global it has nothing to do with this one in particular. While I appreciate it may be a great place to take the kids when the weather is fine and you’ve got an afternoon to kill, from a visitors point of view on an overcast day with no other tourists about it’s a very different, more sinister, but also fascinating place. You walk through a tunnel in the rocks and the first thing you see as you come blinking back into the daylight is the the Zombie Dolphins. The Zombie Dolphins are three water spouts which when in use (I’m guessing here) spray jets of water over the swimming pool, which is probably all very charming and fun. When not in use, streaked with rust and dirt and left standing at the edge of a desolate concrete area they look disturbing. This was exacerbated by the desolation of the rest of the beach, aside from a friendly chap filling a swimming pool and a couple of bored looking lifeguards we were the only people walking over this big flat, concrete block covered in little round tables like a field of alien mushrooms. It felt like we were starring in an early eighties episode of Doctor Who, or possibly the Prisoner. I kept expecting to look back and see the Zombie Dolphins had moved slightly closer to us while we weren’t looking.
A long walk through another tunnel through the rock, this one much longer, chillier and darker and we were at the end of the country. A few hundred square yards of wasteland with a Mosque at one end, a lighthouse at the other and a handful of abandoned buildings. The Mosque was still in use and was fairly impressive. We didn’t venture inside as were not sure what’s appropriate in such situations.
From the threshold of the Mosque we could see the Entrance to Hell. A small building of indeterminate utility with a weak castle-like theme to it’s design. Aside from a pile of rags and shit in the corner the building was entry, but for a set of steps leading down to a doorway piled high with rubbish. Lack of appropriate footwear and weaponry prevented us from exploring inside. Scott wanged a couple of rocks inside to see how far it went (some distance). At the time we theorised that it was an abandoned underground car-park but in retrospect the only entrance we found was the steps.
We took the bus back to the town centre with just enough time to eat and get ready for our flight back. We timed it just right as we got to the the massive build up off traffic on the road which intersects the runway. They had been unable to clear it fast enough so the plane had to circle round which caused a build up of cars, bikes and mopeds like a wacky races grand prix. Aside from being seated next to a pair of horrendous cackling orange harpies the journey back was easy. Neither of us had bothered to note down which of the two-million car-parks we had left the car in and had to elicit help from an amused car-park attendant who drove us round until we found it. Then exhausted but alive we made it home.
In the end…
Gibraltar is a strange and fascinating place. I feel I should state that these opinions are from a single day of experience, most of which was spent exploring the abandoned bits of it. As a vanilla holiday destination it seems to be a strange choice. I couldn’t see much to do from a more traditional standpoint. There’s a handful of pubs, most of which seemed to have the same menu. A museum which filled 30 mins of our time and of course The Rock. The Rock is amazing and big and full of wildlife but you can easily cover it in a day. There was little in the way of obvious culture, which is not to say there is no culture, just that it’s not in plain sight. Walking down the high street gives almost a feeling of anti-culture with it’s rows of chain stores and very little else. I suspect the culture is there but for the benefit of the locals, not the tourists. From my perspective it made a brilliant holiday destination, full of abandoned buildings and eccentricity. I’d certainly return there, if only to revisit the places I’ve already been to get some more and better photographs.
A successful trip. I got some nice shots and more importantly some experience. I’ve learned that I need to get more practice, having spent the first few hours trying to remember how to use my camera. I didn’t come away with anything very striking and I feel my shots were pretty pedestrian and more ‘holiday snaps’ than anything else but with practice I’ll improve. I also need more experience writing, this has taken me about a month to write and probably needs a whole load of editing. I’ll try and write more often and about more.
I am Bob. This is my blog. It is an outlet and a substitute for real life. It contains my art, photography, illustration and thoughts on mental health (I deal with anxiety on a pretty much constant basis).
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