Friday, March 03, 2000

TR Gibraltar

Gibraltar, Spain, Gibraltar, Morocco, Gibraltar
03/02 –03/09/00

As I mentioned at the close of my last report the weather in England was still cold, rainy and generally miserable when we returned from Cyprus so I decided to head south again until the weather turned good. I am happy to report that the daffodils are now up and blooming, the blossoms are in bloom on the fruit trees and the temperatures are in the low 60s.

Where did I go? When I made my month-long sojourn last November through Spain, Portugal, etc I had wanted to visit Gibraltar but did not have time. So I decided to check out the Rock and perhaps have a quick look at Morocco while I was in the vicinity.
I was not disappointed in the Rock – it is a majestic sight jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea. What surprised me was how small the country is! The Rock is 3 miles long and ¾ miles wide with the highest point being 1396 feet. It has a total area of 2 ¼ square miles –the total country is only 4 square miles! The total population is only 30,000 that are a hodgepodge of English, Spaniards and Arabs. But the country is very definitely British!

Gibraltar has been visited since 950 BC but was not settled until about 414 AD. In 711 a Berber by the name of Tarik ibn Zeyad conquered the peninsula and the name Gibraltar is a corruption of the Arab words ‘Jebel Tarik’ (Tarik’s mountain). The Arabs and Spain fought over the Rock for centuries until England took control in 1704. And Spain has tried to get it back ever since and is still trying! The border with Spain is a very narrow isthmus. During WW II the British built an airport on this isthmus and reclaimed land from the sea. To get to Spain you must walk or drive across the airport runway!

There is very limited habitable land and that is all on the west side of the peninsula overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and Spain. The east side is basically sheer cliffs as the Rock rises straight out of the Sea. The main street of the town is a pedestrian mall about ¾ miles long. It gets very familiar quickly since you can walk it in 10 minutes. In fact you can walk to any point in the country within 45 minutes! And my hidden agenda was to run a marathon on Gibraltar! Gibraltar does not have an official marathon so I decided to exercise my rights and privileges as a member of the 50+ DC Club to set up my own course. Where possible, we are supposed to request assistance from a local running club but I could not find one. But I did contact the Director of the Gibraltar Sports Authority (government department) and met with her. She helped me lay out a course on a map that comprised the longest possible route around the country. She guessed it might be around 10K? She also told me that she was not aware of anyone who had run a marathon completely within the borders of Gibraltar.

Now it was time to check out the course for the inaugural ‘Maddog Gibraltar Marathon’. First problem. I need a car to drive and measure the course. There are only three rental agencies in the country and they all laughed at me when I said I needed a car for one day. They rent mainly to tourists flying into Gibraltar to drive to the Costa Del Sol in Spain so they rent for a minimum of 3 days and are booked weeks in advance. Next plan? Ummm! What is my next plan? I found an agency that rented bikes –motorbikes that is. Since I only drove a bike once in my life (through a neighbor’s flower patch after I lost control), I chose a powerful 50cc Moped. I had actually driven the kids’ Moped in Dallas ten years ago so figured I could handle that. So I set off with my new wheels. Next problem! The roads were laid out by the British for left-hand driving but Gibraltar converted to right-hand driving 12 years ago. Boy, does that ever make for some interesting intersections and ramps at the traffic circles. There were a few times that I would have had absolutely no clue which path to take if there hadn’t been another vehicle in front of me? But I was off to certify my course with my trusty Moped! Only 1 ½ miles into the course and another problem! They had sealed off a tunnel through the Rock where the road used to go? But I walk down to and along the beach and find the road on the other side. Just a slight detour! Now I must backtrack and rejoin the road on the other side and continue to the most southern point of the country that overlooks Africa. Then swing north again on the east side of the peninsula. Here a single lane road is cut into the sheer cliffs of the Rock and there is one long tunnel that climbs up into the Rock before opening out to a small fishing village called Catalan Bay. Final problem! The road is completely closed to traffic at this point because it is being rebuilt. Solution –cut down through a hotel property, along the beach and back up in the village to rejoin the road. Another slight detour! Now I have to go all the way around the country to get to that rejoin point and begin the measurement again. When it is all done I calculate that the course is 6.75 miles. Great! I only have to do this loop –FOUR TIMES!

Now that I have the course laid out and certified I spend the rest of the day walking around (took the Moped back before I killed myself on those roads!) and visiting some of the tourist attractions such as the 100 ton gun and several other defensive Batteries.
Saturday was M-Day so I got up early and started out on the marathon carrying three large bottles of water that I dropped off at 2-mile intervals. On the first loop I went counter-clockwise around the Rock and discovered that the three hills were much steeper in that direction so I switched directions for the next two loops. But on the final loop I felt strong and stupid and I decided that I could use some good hill work and reversed directions again. This put the steepest and toughest hill at the 24-mile mark! But since I was running easy and not competing against anyone or a clock the marathon was quite easy-and the scenery was fantastic! Now if anyone asks me if I have seen the Rock, I can reply “Not only have I seen it but I have run up and down, around, over and through it – FOUR TIMES!” I finished in 3:59:10!

After the marathon I decided to visit Spain. I considered visiting Marabella or Malaga on the Costa Del Sol but it was at least a 1-hour train or bus ride to those resort areas so instead I just walked across the border and caught a local bus into Algeciras. Algeciras is an industrial/port city across the bay from Gibraltar that serves as the major port between Africa and Europe. Ferries run between Algeciras and Tangiers and this is a major drug route into Europe! The minute that I crossed the border into Spain I was reminded what I didn’t like about Spain? I forgot to tell you about this little detail in my previous report on Spain. I think that every citizen of Spain owns at least two dogs and there are no laws or moral responsibility about cleaning up after them. So there are ‘messes’ everywhere – in the streets of Madrid, in the streets of Seville and at the border of Gibraltar! You really have to be careful where you walk in Spain! But the views of the Rock are great from Algeciras.

Another decision that I had to make was what to do with the remaining 4 days that I had planned for this trip? I decided that I wanted to check out Morocco in spite of many negative comments that I had heard from fellow travelers around Europe. So I went to a local travel agency and inquired what there was to do and see in Morocco. I ended up buying a 3-day package to Casablanca. Why Casablanca? Well if it was good enough for Bogey and Ingrid to have a passionate love affair in one of my all-time favorite movies, then it should be a great place to visit? And it is on the Atlantic coast so I was hoping (secret agenda again) that there might be a good place to run a marathon and mark Morocco off my list?

So I had a great dinner in Gibraltar and looked forward to my adventure the next day in Morocco.
That adventure will be continued in Part 2 along with the results of the ‘Europe” contest. See you then!

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