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677: The Little Island
Escape the late-winter blues with a tropical blast from the past
675: Scenic Spirituality
Commune with religion and nature in an ancient land
673: Aoni Onsen
Return to a forgotten time at one of Honshu’s most remote getaways
671: The Golden Rock
One of Burma’s many splendid attractions hangs by a hair
669: Hida Takayama
For personal trips gentle to the soul, seek out the old-time charm of Hida Takayama
665: Okayama
A serene stroll through history awaits at this seaside retreat
663: Cruising the Bay
Ha Long Bay offers a breath of calm away from Vietnam’s urban rush
661: Agamachi
Fox fires and bar codes help a rural Niigata town reinvent itself
535: Hotel California
Mark Parren Taylor kicks up the desert dust in Palm Springs, the perennial Hollywood star retreat.
531: Race through time
The Xterra Saipan triathlon journeys through tropical jungle, up steep mountain paths and across the sands of history. Tama M. Lung joins the chase.
527: Bohemian rhapsody
No visit to Paris would be complete without taking in the Montmartre district. Bon vivant Simon Rowe dusts off his French to go exploring.
523: Slow Motion
Mark Parren Taylor touches down in the timeless former seaport of Lukang, Taiwan.
519: Rock of ages
From ancient times to the present, Gibraltar has always been an island of legends. Stephen Mansfield sifts through its history.
515: Go west, young man
Simon Rowe takes in the big skies and dust trails of Western Australia's East Kimberley region.
511: All mixed up
Mark Parren Taylor makes land on Macau and finds an enigmatic blend of cultures, cuisine and heated competition.
505: Earth, wind and fire
A historically imperiled town in Papua New Guinea holds the keys to a magical getaway. Carlo Niederberger splashes ashore.
501: Off the rails
Braving the 2,010 kilometers of Vietnam's Reunification Express from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi is quite the adventure. Simon Rowe goes along for the ride.
493: Rites of passage
From firecrackers and cheek piercing to divinations and buffalo races, Thailand's most colorful customs come alive at two annual festivals. Mark Parren Taylor joins the crowds.
489: Paradise found
Beaches, battlefields and a colossal casino provide tropical pleasures on the Pacific isle of Tinian. Carlo Niederberger touches down.
485: Through the grapevine
Stephen Mansfield drinks up the delights of the Château Monbazillac in southwest France.
481: Pleasure island
Saipan awaits the young and young at heart with its pristine beaches, pointy peaks, and perfect amount of entertainment. Carlo Niederberger checks in.
477: Reservoir of dogs
Simon Rowe visits the Kingdom of Tonga, where storms burst without warning and wild canines rule the night.
473: Into the bat cave
Sarawak’s Niah Caves are home to hairless bats, birds on the brink of extinction, and lots of bugs, according to Simon Rowe.
469: A fork in the river
Laos’ ethnic minorities battle the forces of time. Stephen Mansfield goes upriver in search of them.
465: Action scene
Sick of the short, humid Japanese summer? Tired of the winter? In NZ it’s summertime and the living is easy, the food and drink inexpensive, and the evenings long and lazy. Mark Devlin heads south to explore and party.
457/458: In living color
Simon Rowe soaks in the glow of Samoa's kaleidoscopic streets.
454: From Jamaica with love
Michael McDonagh soaks up the atmosphere in James Bond's balmy birthplace
449: See worthy
Dan Grunebaum drops oar in the stunning caves of Thailand's Phang Nga Bay
445: Great heights
Simon Rowe packs his hiking boots and sets out for Malaysia's Mount Kinabalu
441: Split personality
There are few cities with such an exacting dividing line between past and present as Lijiang in China's southwestern province of Yunnan
438: Fierce creatures
Simon Rowe introduces us to the untamed charms of Australia's Kangaroo Island
434: Leap of Faith
Simon Rowe dives into a tropical island paradise of waterfalls, reefs and bush rugby on the Fijian archipelago
430: A week in Provence
Stephen Mansfield explores the historic festival city of Avignon, a medieval diamond in the south of France
426: Outer space
Surreal sites, lunar landscapes and UFO sightings go with the territory in Chile
422: The Big Easy
The Moorish streets of Granada, Spain are alive with a new Bohemian rhapsody
418: Small awakening
Japan's microbrewers
414: Fowl play
The animal kingdom comes alive in the Galapagos
410: The river of spirits
Wading through soulful waters in Varanasi, India
406: Heading north
Marching to the beat of a modern drum in North Korea
403: Santa's lap
Santa's lap - enjoy saunas, Santa and sightseeing in Finland’s Lapland
399: Shanghaied
Seeking the past in China's megacity
395: Rising from the ashes
Mary King explores the rich history, culture and art of Croatia’s phoenix city, Dubrovnik.
391: The betels and the stones
Simon Rowe rolls with the tropical exotica on the obscure island of Yap
387: Prague
World heritage site
383: South Africa
Land of hope
381: Hawaii
Pearl Harbor
377: Salt of the earth
Tour the Uyuni Salt Pan
374: China
Suzhou and Hangzhou
370: The Nile
The river mild
367: Tibet
Top of the world
363: Laos
Memo from the Lower Mekong
360: Cuzco, Peru
Lost cities
357: Namibia
Call of the wild
354: Southern India
Mad about Madurai

ISSUES 349-   

Rock of ages

From ancient times to the present, Gibraltar has always been an island of legends. Stephen Mansfield sifts through its history.

To the people of ancient times, Gibraltar marked the boundary between the civilized world and the Western void, consisting, as far as anyone could guess, of the Isles of Hesperides, the lost continent of Atlantis and the uncharted horrors of the purple sea of Hades. To the Greek mind, the chaos and darkness of the underworld lurked beneath these outer waters, into which no mariner ever ventured.

According to legend, Heracles (Hercules) passed through here on his journey to capture the Red Oxen of Geryones, opening up the strait by placing two massive rocks, one on the European side, the other in North Africa. Gibraltar, together with Mount Abyla across the Strait in Morocco, were known in Roman times as the Pillars of Hercules.

If the legend is impressive, the geological reality must, despite the absence of human witnesses, have been an even more spectacular sight. Five million years ago, the land-locked Mediterranean, its waters long evaporated, developed a fissure where the Strait of Gibraltar is today. As the waters gushed in, a massive, 10,000-foot waterfall formed at the entrance to the strait, discharging the Atlantic spill into the basin for the next 100 years.


Fellowship and community
Attached to mainland Spain by a low isthmus, Gibraltar takes its name from the Moorish commander, Tarik ibn Zeyad, who took the Rock in 711 and named it Geb-el-Tarik (Tarik's Hill). The Rock was finally recovered in 1462 after more than 700 years of Arab suzerainty, only to be lost to an invasion force of British and Dutch troops in 1704. Gibraltar was acquired by the British with the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.

A performer in Main Street, a pedestrian shopping area running through the center of the peninsula

Today there are both Jews and Moors (North Africans) living in Gibraltar, co-existing to all appearance, on far better terms than they do in many other parts of the world. The presence in Gibraltar of a hundred or so families of Sephardic Jews, Moroccan laborers and stevedores, and the occasional sight of a woman in yashmak passing by on some domestic errand, hint at the cosmopolitan, Middle Eastern fabric of Gibraltar society, its varied sources of Mediterranean ancestry.

There are also people here of Maltese, Asian, Spanish, Portuguese, Minorcan and Sicilian extraction, besides servicemen and their families and other British expatriates working and temporarily residing in the colony. The mortar unifying all these disparate racial and linguistic allegiances is the sense of being Gibraltarian, and the fellowship this inspires in this small and, by international standards, marginal community.

Father Donavan, an Irish priest I ran into while staying at the Bristol Hotel, the Rock's oldest hostelry, claimed to know everyone, "irrespective of color, creed or denomination," in the colony. It was small enough for this claim to just be conceivable. I got my first look at Gibraltar as a child in 1966 when the cruise ship I happened to be on, after negotiating its way passed several ominous looking British warships, docked there for two nights. One would have expected a place like Gibraltar to have changed beyond recognition since then. This time I drove in, joining a queue of other vehicles, most with Spanish registration plates, waiting to have their documents checked before being waved on to Gibraltar's British ruling, left-side traffic lanes.


Curiosity value
A sense of how confined space is in Gibraltar is immediately apparent while crossing the narrow isthmus from the border across an asphalt strip known as the Neck. Apart from being the only overland passage into Gibraltar, the Neck also serves as the colony's only airport runway. When a plane is due, a barrier is swung out and the road is cordoned off. When the aircraft has taxied across the road, an all-clear signal goes out and the barrier is raised.

A view of the shipyards from the top of the Rock

Aside from a good climate and a few, easily exhausted tourist sights, Gibraltar's draw card as a tourist destination is its curiosity value, the sensation of being in a cozy, slightly tacky, middle-class English seaside resort. Compressed and self-contained between border and sea, Gibraltar fits this image of a safe but lackluster British coastal town rather well, at least on the surface. Any British person will recognize the familiar signs for Afternoon Teas, Real Ale, and Fish 'n' Chips, identify the little fluttering Union Jacks, Hindu tobacconists, shops like Marks & Spencers, and note its respectable public houses, replete with dart boards and cheerful bar maids from London.

The Rock itself, given that the total land mass of Gibraltar is only two-and-a-quarter square miles, appears disproportionately large, throwing everything at its feet into miniature, including Gibraltarians themselves who, as travel writer and novelist, Paul Theroux, once put it, "seem like a tribe of tiny idolaters, clinging to their mammoth limestone shrine."

Gibraltar is now Britain's only remaining possession to be ruled directly from Westminster. These days, Gibraltar seems more of an anachronism than ever. "I perceive a distinct sense of solitude amongst my Gibraltar friends," the Spanish journalist, Juan Rubio, recently wrote, "as if history, slowly but surely, is leaving them exposed." For the Spanish who live on the other side of the fence the Rock is history, and they want it back.


Getting there
Currently, there are no direct flights from Japan to Spain. The fastest way is to go via Amsterdam with JAL or KLM and then transfer to Iberia Airlines.ÊFrom Madrid or Barcelona, you can take a train or busÊto the portÊof Algeciras, the closest city to Gibraltar. From here, youÊcan either walk into Gibraltar, drive or catch the bus from the station called Empresa Comes.

Where to stay
Miss Serruya Guest House is a popular and cheap lodging, but the rooms are small (92-1a Irish Town, tel: 732-20). For middle-range accommodation, try the Cannon Hotel (9 Cannon Lane, tel: 517-11) or Queen's Hotel (1 Boyd Street, tel: 7740-00). They both have good-sized rooms, and adjoining bathrooms.

More information
An Office of Tourism can be found at 18-20 Bomb House Lane, and an information center in the Piazza Building along Main Street. Both have good maps and other data. A cable car runs to the top of the famous Rock, but it's a fairly easy climb by road. Passports are still required to cross into Gibraltar. Both Spanish pesetas and British sterling are accepted everywhere. British food is also well represented in pub grub and at places like Smith's Fish 'n' Chips at 2995 Main Street. There is plenty of Spanish and Moroccan-style couscous as well. Bourbon Street, an international eatery at 150 Main Street, has a good general European and American menu.

Photo credit: Stephen Mansfield