For one last time during my two-month stay in Spain, I arrived at the Estepona bus
station and sat on the metal bench outside with holes that always leave a circle mark on
the back of my thighs. As I waited for the bus that would take me to La Línea station, I
snapped a photo of the Avanza sign, just like all the other times. But unlike those times,
my final destination was not in Spain.
Although a step away from Spain, Gibraltar is part of the UK and Gibraltarians take
great pride in being British, or so I had heard before heading there. The Olive Press, the
newspaper I wrote for this summer, asked me and another intern to head to the Rock for
a day to do vox pops (short interviews with the public) on what the National Gibraltar
Day means to people. During our five hours in Gibraltar, I got to understand the pride of
Gibraltarians and their love for red, white and blue of the Union Jack, as well as the
oddity of the place.
As the bus approached La Línea, the Rock came into view and I felt a sense of
uncanniness creep upon me. It may have been the strange contrast between the blue
waters of the Mediterranean and the rocky mountains that shot up from the calm
plateaus. Or perhaps it was the sight of tourists crowded around the countless “Official
Tour” stands. It even could have been the realization that I was in La Línea, which is not
only the Spanish neighbor of Gibraltar but also the #1 drug trafficking site in Europe.
Something felt odd–like I was in a dream.
Getting into Gibraltar, crossing a border into a different nation, was easy. It took two
brief glances at my half-open passport from a distracted, sweating officer–no
immigration lines or irritating bureaucracy. Well, that was a first. Another surprise
came after I crossed the border. A walk across an airport runaway without any
barricades awaited me. Planes landed and departed above my head as I slowly made my
way toward the promised land. I had been on airport runways numerous times but
always 10 feet up in an airplane seat, never actually stepping on the ground.
Everything about Gibraltar felt like a simulation or a movie set. Starting with the
"Welcome to Gibraltar" sign and the iconic red telephone booth, a classic photo op,
everything, or at least everything in sight, felt polished. After snapping the telephone
booth photo, Diana and I headed off to Gibraltar, finally, to do our assigned job as
commissioned journalists.It was a rather simple task that required constant, aggressive smiling: interview 10
Gibraltarians on how they celebrate their National Gibraltar Day and get their name,
age, birthplace and a headshot.
The first person we approached didn't speak English. As I started my fresh, energized
spiel about my assigned task at Gibraltar, she just stared at me blankly. Only after a few
seconds of one-sided conversation did I have the courage to ask if she understood me
and whether she had the courage to speak up. She did not.
The second was "a private person" as she described herself. She wore a wide brim hat
with a bright blue ribbon that covered the top half of her face almost perfectly. The sixth
was a police officer unable to give any personal details. Amongst numerous
Gibraltarians we approached, there was also a woman having a bad hair day, hence no
photos, and tourists who looked overly comfortable in this foreign place. But there were
also 10 others who gladly answered our questions and even continued on to give small
bits about their childhood and the history of Gibraltar.
“I was only 13 when they closed the frontier,” said Patricia Gerada, a 63-year-old native
of Gibraltar. “The National Day brings back nice memories; the whole of Gibraltar was
done in blue, red and white, and we painted all the steps. Now, everyone comes out to
the streets and let go of thousands of balloons down at the Casemate Squares.”
After the 10th headshot was taken, we explored Gibraltar- its narrow cobblestone
streets, colorful buildings, the famous Rock, and even the postcards featuring the
wedding photo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono from 1969. In this mysterious and eclectic
place, anyone can get married with only one day’s notice.
Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory, but has its own autonomous political system
that functions independently within the nation. Although the United Kingdom governs
its defense and foreign affairs, Gibraltarians make it clear that they are Gibraltarians,
not just British.
“On Gibraltar National Day, we celebrate our independence,” said William Vass who has
lived in Gibraltar for more than seven decades. “We are not independent from England,
but the day reminds us of our roots. We are Gibraltarians. We were born here. It’s a way
to make ourselves strong.”
As the sun slowly descended, we walked along the airport back across the border into
Spain once again. Going out was even easier than coming in. After the automatic
passport control lit up red and ordered me to go see a nonexistent immigration officer, I
just walked through the open gates on the side back into Spain.
Not once did I have to show my passport, which was open and ready in my hand.
After one short hour, I was back at the bus station where I had sat around that morning,
taking photos and waiting for my bus to come. Just like that, my excursion into the
British bit of the Iberian Peninsula was over and I was back where I had started.
Without even a stamp on my passport. It might as well have been a dream- a very
surreal one. (Only if I didn’t have the photos to prove that I was there!)