No Barbary Apes or Easy Internet in Gibraltar This Time

Cruise Flashback; Galveston to Dubai 2013

Gibraltar; May 4, 2013

JAN. 28, 2021, DALLAS — Many years ago at my mother’s urging, I read Paul Gallico’s novel “Scruffy.” Goodreads describes it as “the hilarious fictional account of the infamous apes of Gibraltar during World War II.” Legend has it that as long as the Barbary apes live on the rock, the British will rule Gibraltar, guarding the strait into the Mediterranean Sea.

Used edition of “Scruffy”

Unfortunately, it seems the book is out of print. My sister Eloise thought she had Mom’s copy, but we apparently let it go in an estate sale or donated it to a book drive. Too bad – I see a hardback copy is available on Amazon for more than $700.

Mom loved the story so much that when our 2011 cruise stopped in Gibraltar, she reveled in letting the macaque monkeys climb all over her. For the rest of her life Mom enjoyed the calendars and collages we made of her with the bold little creatures.

Mom with Barbary Ape in Gibraltar, 2011

Touring “the rock,” exploring the historic World War II tunnels and seeing the monkeys should be “must dos” on a first trip to Gibraltar. But as I arrived for my second visit on my 2013 cruise, I wandered instead through the very British streets and took dozens of photographs in the botanical garden.

Gibraltar Streets, 2013

Speaking of those British streets, Gibraltar remains in a kind of limbo as Britain exits the European Union. Negotiations continued right up to the New Year 2021 deadline. Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713 but has continued its efforts to reclaim the tip of the peninsula. About 98 percent of Gibraltar’s voters supported staying in the European Union, but it wasn’t to be.

When I arrived in 2013, I had two objectives: Explore inside the walled city by foot and find inexpensive Internet service. The first boosted my step count; the second almost did me in.

Gibraltar Wall Entrance watercolor, 2021
Gibraltar Wall Entrance, 2013

After leaving the port area and entering the city, I wandered to the Alameda, Gibraltar’s Botanic Gardens. It was a bit farther than I had expected and uphill most of the way. I reminded myself the return would be easier. The gardens were quiet despite the 3,000 cruise passengers disembarked into the small port. School vegetable plots were mixed with examples of native plants. Flowers bloomed everywhere.

The Alameda, Gibraltar Botanic Gardens, 2013
Gibraltar School Plot, 2013

The search for Internet service wasn’t quite as fruitful.

After our recent frustration with the spotty Internet service on the 2020 world cruise, it took revisiting my 2013 blog to remember a time when service was even slower – and worse, billed by the minute. In those early blogs I frequently wrote about logging in from the ship, downloading my email and immediately signing off. At the time I was writing for clients and needed to check daily for new assignments. Working for an hour or two a day was the price I paid for taking a last-minute cruise. When I wished I didn’t have to work, I reminded myself that it paid the bills.

As a result of expensive ship WIFI, sometimes my port time was filled with a quest for better service at a lower price. In Madeira, for example, few passengers knew that the second-floor café in the port building had free Internet for customers. The secret was to find hotspots that weren’t already flooded with others.

Gibraltar proved to be an Internet challenge. After buying a beer in a pub, I learned that it had Internet service but no WIFI. The service was limited to its own computers. The Burger King and McDonalds restaurants on the open square provided Internet passwords on their receipts, but I found it impossible to log on. Too many people were trying. This “free” service wasn’t so free when I kept buying pints and lattes.

Gibraltar Square, 2013

As I wandered back toward the ship, I detoured off the beaten path to a marina café listed on my hotspot map. Finally I could download recent newspaper and magazine issues while enjoying a late lunch.

Gibraltar Marina, 2013

Flashing back to the 2013 Internet search in Gibraltar reminds me that things have improved, even at some of the more remote places on earth. In more recent years cruise ships offer unlimited Internet packages, so I’m not sweating the minutes of a slow connection. I also avoid spending shore time trying to log on. I justify the ship’s Internet cost by reminding myself that I’ve spent a lot of money to get to those foreign ports and my focus should be on seeing them.

When cruising resumes I hope we will continue to see advances in Internet accessibility at sea. The service probably will never be as fast as I would like. Perhaps it’s a lesson that sometimes it is nice to just be out of touch.

Original Gibraltar post, 2013.