Touched by a monkey

Tonight I was looking back through the pictures of my trip to Spain and one jumped out at me as absolutely capturing my mood right now:

I had taken a three-hour bus ride at the crack of dawn to visit Gibraltar, just to tick another country off my travel list. But really the main motivation to go was to see the colony of Barbary macaques, the only wild population of monkeys in Europe.

When you think of wild monkeys, you probably imagine them hanging out in trees picking bugs off each other. I saw myself as someone like Marlon Perkins in Wild Kingdom or Steve Irwin. I was ready to observe monkeys doing monkey things in a small forest. There was also free wifi, so I could do a Facebook live broadcast.

In Gibraltar, the monkeys have the run of the top of the Rock. Emphasis on “ROCK”. There aren’t many trees. Caves, WWII bunkers, viewing platforms. Not so much for trees. The monkeys essentially hang out all day and wait for tourists to show up. The taxi drivers/tour guides feed them so they will pose for selfies with tourists who then scream when a monkey climbs on their head. And the monkeys have learned to become more skilled pickpockets than you’d find in a Paris train station. One of the first monkeys I saw hit the jackpot stealing a bag of chips from a backpack and refused to share it with his monkey friends. He just sat there shoveling them in his face and turning his back toward the others. I think they were sour cream and onion, or the Spanish equivalent. I can relate tonight, my spirit animal. My self-isolation snacks are mine. Get your own.

The monkeys have fruits and vegetables delivered every day to feeding stations scattered around the Rock. If this didn’t happen, the monkeys would find their way down into town and break into homes and refrigerators looking for junk food. True story; Google it!

Potato chip monkey was followed by a four-month old baby who jumped off a wall onto my chest. It was the most action I saw on my vacation so I didn’t protest. He hung on to my camera bag, which didn’t have food in it because I am a responsible tourist who does my research before I travel. I think the little bugger was still a novice in pickpocket school because he didn’t really know what he was supposed to do. He just hung onto my chest, and I pondered whether he would fit in my carry-on bag. He couldn’t have been more than 8, 10 pounds so there’d be no extra fee. And now I have an aweseome cocktail party story about the time a baby wild monkey jump on me. He was not my spirit animal though because when he climbed down my leg he grabbed a carrot. I would have held out for some chocolate, little guy.

Because what else is there to do when you’re isolated but to eat.

Gibraltar is a peninsula off the southern coast of Spain. It is separated from the mainland by an airport runway. So while it isn’t totally cut off, it is in a way. I believe it is the only runway in the world pedestrians can regularly cross. You have to walk across the runway to get to customs (which is unmanned and on the honor system). Very cool, yet slightly disturbing. What if a terrorist wants to steal the monkeys?

If you’re afraid of heights, taking the cable car to the Top of the Rock is a wee bit unsettling. Every time you turn around there is a steep drop. The monkeys jump around like it is nothing. Balancing on a thin piece of plexiglass is second nature to them. I, on the other hand, was always worried one would lean too far and plunge to his furry little death. It was really upsetting me so much I had to force myself to stop gasping and reaching out to catch them or I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the experience. Living in the moment has always been a challenge for me, and I still grapple with it. I guess the monkeys had become used to living on the edge. Maybe they just always knew they would be able to hang on or land on their feet. I don’t know, because they can’t talk. I’m fairly certain there’s another lesson about fear in watching the monkeys. Or balance. Either way, both things we need to learn right now as we don’t know what tomorrow will bring in this crisis.

When I stop and think about it, I’m glad I didn’t realize just how challenging it would be clambering around the switchback paths on the Rock for someone whose only exercise involves walking my dog around the block on weekends. Not only because I am allergic to sweating, but I had done more walking in 9 days than I do in a year. I sprained my ankle pretty badly hopping down off a ledge, but had to press on because there was no other way back down the Rock, and then I had to cross back over the border or miss the last bus to Malaga. My ankle swelled up the size of a cantaloupe and I was worried I would have to bail on the last day of my trip to the Alhambra, but I didn’t travel all the way to Spain to miss the Alhambra. My family was concerned I would throw a blood clot on my flight home two days later but I wasn’t missing the Alhambra. There was simply no time for an adventurous trip to a Spanish clinic or ER. Probably wasn’t a great idea to press on, because it still hurts me four months later. The Alhambra was worth it though, even in the rain. The ankle is nothing that a little wine won’t cure.

It was all worth it for this picture.

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