British Airways
The Rock Hotel

GIBRALTAR The Real Monkey Island
em Feature

‘Island’ of Adventure
I’ve put ‘Island’ in inverted commas there because it used to be one. I went on the tour of the place (which I’ll come to later) and so should be able to tell you dates here, but I wasn’t really listening, so I’ll just say ‘a good few years ago’ they started to slap on extra bits of land and it’s now linked up with Spain. Imagine playing Sim City and adding extra bits of land, then slapping some buildings on, and an airport and stuff. That’s pretty much what’s happened here. The scary thing is that from up on top of the rock, looking down at the reclaimed land, it looks exactly like a real life Sim City.

Now I could start talking about Gibraltar and saying how quaint the place is, made up of twisting little roads, palm trees and an enormous rock right in the middle. But I’d only start to sound like a tourist board or The Travel Channel. So I’ll get straight to the point and say if there’s any reason to come to Gibraltar (apart from the ridiculously cheap alcohol and tobacco) it’s for the monkeys.

Ok, technically they’re apes, the ‘Barbary Apes’ to be exact, but for all their cuteness and mannerisms let’s call them monkeys, I’m sure its what they’d want.

This is clearly the main tourist attraction of the place, especially evident when the facade of every other shop is littered with all manner of cuddly, plush and beanie monkeys. And in that respect, Gibraltar is heaven.

Yes I was there to do a job, and I’d finished that job in about an hour, but I wasn’t going to leave without seeing these legendary monkeys for myself. After all I probably won’t get to come here again, and how many chances, coming from the UK, do you get to walk amongst wild, mischievous monkeys?

The Journey Begins
There was one problem here. Firstly I was on my own as two of my colleagues were off working all day, and the other had gone to bed, even though it was the middle of the afternoon. Secondly the weather was awful – not at all what you’d expect off the coast of southern Spain, but that’s the way it was and so the cable car that takes you to the top of the rock was out of order.

This left only one way to get up there. Well I could have walked, but that could have taken days. The chances of me getting lost on the rock would also be pretty high; and fun though the thought is of me be rescued by monkeys and living out the rest of my days amongst the trees and crevices, I fear they would have turned primal and taken my arms. So the only real option was to take one of the tours.

These guys line themselves up near the town centre offering guided tours of the rock, which includes the caves, the tunnels and of course the monkeys. And I’m pretty sure these are the guys that sabotage the cable car as no-one really wants to see the caves or tunnels, just the goddamn monkeys! So to cut things short I ended up joined a family of three – Steve, Sue and their teenage daughter, Ruth as we got taken up to the rock for our guided tour. I felt like I was with my parents.

"The only reason we moved on was the fear that we were in the heart of monkey gangland."

To be honest they were OK at first, but as time went on and they got more comfortable, they started to get more eccentric - especially Sue – to the point where I would have quite gladly taken my chances getting back down off the rock myself. There were all these sort of little in-jokes going on, you know the sort that within the family they’re probably hilarious, but to anyone outside they just look like cretins?

But anyway, I digress, back to the monkeys. Seeing them for the first time is a surreal event. And for someone who finds them as amazing as I do the urge just start laughing is almost impossible to resist. It’s not everyday you have to stop because of a monkey sat in the middle of the road, who, in all fairness, couldn’t give a shit if he was in your way or not.

They’re a pretty chilled out bunch all in all, and mostly just sit around on the walls, or as I mentioned, the road. Now and again a small fight or disagreement would break out amongst the lower monkey ranks. But then this brute of an ape, who I could only assume was King Monkey, would come and settle things in his own way. The only reason we moved on was the fear that we were in the heart of monkey gangland; a ‘monkey south-central’ if you will. Something big was about to go down and we didn’t our heads to be tomorrows monkey-trophy.

I’m not going to bore you with talk of the caves or the tunnels. Once you’ve seen one cave you’ve seen them all.

So then it was back down into town and to the hotel, which was a very nice place indeed apart from two things. Firstly there was no pornography channel on the TV, and secondly the mini-bar was locked. Apparently you had to ask for the key at reception, but when you want a quick drink, the effort involved in going down 4 storeys and back again is way too much to even think about.

They did make up for this with the monkey key fobs though. Hell, if I ever own a hotel I’m going to adopt this gimmick whether there are any monkeys on the damn island or not! And you just start seeing them wherever people keep their keys with them. I’m sure it’s not that difficult to visualise, but every breakfast table being populated by toy monkeys is a pretty funny image first thing in the morning.

"Personally I can’t see what the deal was with wearing trainers, maybe you can hide more cards in trainers than you can shoes?"

But the more you hear about Gibraltar, the more you start to think its one big hive of corruption. Being a tax free place there are all sorts of stories about people getting around the law. For example, The Rock Hotel – a four star hotel and probably the nicest on the island – has Sky TV in each bedroom but the reception is a little fuzzy on a lot of the channels. It was only later; when I found out that they’ve paid to link up to some guy’s satellite dish in town - who uses fraudulent decoder cards to get a signal - did it all start to make sense.

A Mugs Game
As ‘firsts’ go, this little trip would offer another for me: Casino gambling. Like I said I was out there to photograph the casino, and seeing as it was right next to our hotel it was the most convenient place to go drink – especially considering the rain. It was the last night, so I thought I should at least try it out. I mean I’m not allowed to use any of the company’s casinos back in the UK, and I’m not going to go use a competitor’s casino, so this was my chance.

For a start you can forget all of that Vegas imagery, it’s just not that cool and the casino in Gibraltar is tiny. It’s a large building, but the casino is only in one room and a very small room at that – for a casino anyway – which held two Roulette tables, two Brag tables and two Blackjack tables. So, after cunningly slipping past the lady at the counter’s rigorous ‘are you wearing trainers?’ questioning (a simple answer of ‘no’, even though I was, seeming to be sufficient proof) we made our way to the Blackjack table.

Personally I can’t see what the deal was with wearing trainers. I think it’s a dress code thing, not that it should possibly matter. Or maybe it’s to stop cheating? Maybe you can hide more cards in trainers than you can shoes? With that in mind how about boots, flip-flops or even slippers? Hmm, saying that, I did once win a hand of poker by pulling a hidden Ace out of a plimsoll.

Well, it didn’t turn out to be a problem anyway, and the next half hour or so was spent losing money. £19 to be exact, which may not seem like much, but I can’t help but think about what I could have spent that money on instead.

Back To Blighty
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately considering how tired I was) I wasn’t sat next to a yapping girl on the flight back. I was, in fact, sat next to a couple of dorks. They looked like a 40s/middle-aged couple, or maybe they were brother and sister? Maybe I shouldn’t be going there, I mean the guy didn’t have much of a chin and had rather bulbous eyes, and the woman resembled The Beast Rabban from Dune.

Anyway, it sounds like I’m being nasty about them, but they weren’t offensive in any way other then optically. So I figured the best thing to do was sleep.

This was a pretty strange trip. I’ve only ever had one other business trip abroad, and that was for meetings and working/getting to know our German team. But this was just strange. At one point during the tour of the rock, Sue turned to me as asked “So how did you get a job taking photographs of a building?” And I think this pretty much sums up my questioning about the whole thing and everyone else’s. I can only look forward to the next trip.

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david twomey

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