This weekend I had what is probably my best couchsurfing experiences yet (out of a grand total of 2 officially using Couchsurfing.org) in the British territory of Gibraltar. For those of you who aren’t in the know, couchsurfing is a way to travel the world, meeting locals, and staying on their couches (or beds, hammocks, air mattresses, whatever they have) for free. A free membership on the couchsurfing website grants you access to the worldwide network of hosts, surfers, and people who sign up on the website just to meet other locals and travelers on their website. While there are a lot of pros and cons to using this type of system, I’m not here to discuss that. I do my own vetting and research to find a reliable host and have always surfed with a friend so far.
Our host :)
Gibraltar is nearly the southernmost point of Europe (beat out only by the Spanish city Tarifa), a small outcropping hosting the famous Rock of Gibraltar. You can see the not-too-distant mountains of Morocco and Ceuta in the distance on a relatively clear day from Europa Point.
The smaller land on the left is Ceuta, the mountains on the right are Morocco.
So arriving to Gibraltar is relatively easy. Though there are sometimes direct buses to La Línea de la Concepción, the small town right on the Spanish side of the border, we (my friend Amy and I) took a bus from Granada to the nearby port town of Algeciras. The bus totaled to a little less than 50€ roundtrip, plus an additional 2.30€ for the bus from Algeciras to La Línea and walked 5 minutes from the bus station to the border crossing. The border itself was a joke, you can definitely just flash any small ID-shaped card or passport looking book to get through, the guards care so little. Immediately after the border there’s a British-style red public phone box (perfect for taking tourist photos!) before you have to cross the airstrip for the Gibraltar Airport.
We met our host right away and walked with him to the main square, Casemates Square, where he was finishing up dinner with his friends. After hanging out for a while and getting to know them, he drove us up to the top of the Rock to play with the infamous Gibraltar monkeys. I’m not sure what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t the hoards of caramel-colored monkeys, some with babies clinging to their fronts or backs, crowding around and reaching into pockets in search of food. Though feeding them is illegal because they can get somewhat testy, our host brought a bag of grapes to tease them with. Afterwards, he finally brought us to his house so we could put our bags in our room and relax. The view from his balcony was fantastic.
T’was the season for baby monos.
The next day was exciting because it would be the first time either of us had stepped onto Africa! Visiting the autonomous Spanish town Ceuta on the northern coast of Africa, sharing a border with Morocco, added another continent to our tally. The easiest way to get to Ceuta is by taking a ferry from Algeciras. The high speed ferry is 62€ round trip across the board (worth it compared to the slower ferry at 59€ round trip) and though its advertised to take only half an hour, it reality the journey is around an hour. Once you land in Ceuta, the city is so small you can walk to anywhere of interest, including the beach, where we spend over an hour combing for sea glass.
On the “fast ferry” to Ceuta!
Playa La Ribeira.
While relaxing in a café later, we wished we had woken up earlier to spend more time in Ceuta since we only had the choice of ferries going back at 6pm and 9pm. This is the biggest downside to couchsurfing as I see it. Though it would not deter me from couchsurfing, you can’t just go in and out as you please like you could in a hostel or hotel. We wanted to make sure we got back to Gibraltar at a reasonable time so that our host would not be put out having to pick us up. It turns out we actually got back at the perfect time though (and we got stamps at the border!), as we had enough time to stop and get some food before hanging out with him and his friends for a really fun night in Gibraltar.
The next morning, we had enough time to drive around a bit and visit Europa point, St. Michael’s Cave, and the tunnels carved into the Rock before heading back to the bus station to return to Granada. One of the biggest perks to couchsurfing is insider local knowledge and discounts. We got to visit the cave and tunnels for free thanks to our host’s Gib resident card, whereas if we were on our own we would have paid around 40£ for them both (rough estimate, around $80USD). In that case, I would have just skipped them, but I’m glad I didn’t have to! After this weekend, I really can’t wait to surf again next week in Alicante, introducing another one of my friends to the joys of free accommodation with extra perks and making new friends.
The view from one of the tunnel lookouts.
St. Michael’s Cave
A beautiful mosque in front of the Rock at Europa Point.