Gibraltar, nicknamed “Gib” by locals, is one of the most unusual and fascinating places I have ever been. It’s a British Overseas Territory located on the southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula. In other words, it’s basically a British city in Spain. How did this come to be? Well, the territory originally belonged to Spain. The territory was ceded to Great Britain in 1713 after the War of the Spanish Succession. Despite failed attempts by Spain to reclaim Gib in the 1700s, the city remained under British control. In 1830, Gib was declared a British colony, and, in 1967 as well as in 2002, Gibraltarians voted against Spanish sovereignty and in favor of British sovereignty. Why do Britain and Spain care so much about this lil’ ol’ city? Located on the Strait of Gibraltar, Gib sits at the gateway to the Mediterranean. This strategic location means the city has historically been of military and commercial significance. To sum it up, there has been some interesting Spanish-British tug-of-war when it comes to Gibraltar, creating a sort of Hispano-Anglo citizenry that is uniquely Gibraltarian.
As I mentioned, Gibraltar is basically a British city inside Spain – technically in the Spanish province of Cadiz. One minute you can be in Cadiz sippin’ a caña and speaking Spanish, and the next you can be in Gib sippin’ a pint and speaking English. There are border controls to enter and exit Gibraltar, which require people to show their passports or EU ID cards. However, this border patrol is one of the most lax I have ever seen. I probably could have entered with a Pokémon card as an ID. Ok, that’s an exaggeration, but I definitely could have entered with my sister’s passport, for example, since the officers merely glanced at my passport picture page as I walked by them – most people barely even slow down to show their IDs as they enter.
Once inside Gibraltar, here are 5 suggestions to really get a feel for life in the city:
#1. Make Gibraltarian friends (aka “Llanitos”) and speak to them all day. This will be one of the most entertaining things you’ll ever do. Gibraltarian Spanglish, or “Llanito,” is pretty humorous. Now, I’m from Miami, and we speak Spanglish with the best of ‘em, but these Gibraltarians kill the Spanglish game. One second you’re hearing British English and the next you’re hearing Andalusian Spanish – it is an odd auditory sensation. Your brain literally doesn’t know how to process it, so sometimes you can’t even tell what language these Llanitos are speaking when they’re really jumping back and forth between the two. Here are some amusing examples of Llanito:
“If I don’t get a call from you, I’ll assume que si.”
“I’m just going to have lunch en el bar.’”
“Estaba andando por la calle cuando vino el mono and it bit me!
The Gibraltarians I met mostly fell into one of three categories. First, you have the folks who are more “English”: they get by with some Spanish but mostly speak proper British English. Then, you have the folks who speak both Spanish and English but feel more comfortable speaking English, especially when the topic of conversation becomes more complex. Finally, you have the fully bilingual Llanitos who can bust out in both Andalusian Spanish and British English, switching seamlessly between the two – all with a slight Gibraltarian twang, of course. Effectively, someone in this last group can either sound like “un tío de Cai” (a guy from Cadiz) or a gentleman from Gibraltar. All quite intriguing, really. Of course, there are intergenerational differences, with younger generations seeming to lose their Spanish. If you speak Spanish, watch this entertaining clip to hear some more examples of Llanito and learn a bit why it’s fading away.
#2. Eat lunch at the hippy Kasbar. This swanky vegan joint on centrally located Castle Street is a necessary stop while in Gib. Run by locals, this place will give you an authentic sense of Gibraltar with a bohemian twist. Specialties include vegan “meatballs” made from lentils and topped with a savory tomato paste, falafel “burgers” loaded with tomato and avocado on pita, and creamy “aioli” potatoes. Of course, there’s a wide variety of juices as well. Stop in for a bite and say hi to our friend Ronnie!
#3. Monkey around on top of the Rock. The Rock of Gibraltar, or El Peñón as it is referred to in Spanish, is home to wild monkeys. Yes, it’s weird and, yes, it’s cool. Drive up to the Rock for some spectacular views of land and sea (see the main photo for this post above), then go bananas with the monkey pics (pun intended). However, beware: although the monkeys are usually friendly, they can be dangerous. A general rule is to stay away from the young ones, as any sign of distress from them can lead to swift, punitive action from an adult – in other words, you gettin’ bit.
#4. Stop for coffee and cake with a view at St. Michael’s Cabin. This cozy restaurant is nestled on the top of the Rock and has beautiful views of the ocean. St. Michael’s is a local family business, so it’s got an authentic Gibraltarian feel. After a meal or a snack, grab some souvenirs in the adjacent shop.
#5. Wine and dine at the Orange Bastion: Along the Orange Bastion, historically a fortification to protect Gib in the event of a siege, you’ll find wine bars and restaurants to stop in for drinks or dinner. My Wines Gibraltar is a good place to start your evening with a glass of red wine and a Spanish ham and cheese platter. Then check out the restaurants next door for din.
This Hispano-Anglo love-child (or hate-child?) called Gibraltar is one of the most unique places I’ve ever been and is home to some of the most unique people I’ve ever met. I really have never seen anything like it. If you’re in the south of Spain, be sure to carve out a day or two to spend in Gibraltar. I recommend you drive to Gib en route to or from Sevilla or Cadiz. That’s exactly what we did, and we had a blast.