Visiting Gibraltar turned out to be logistical nightmare. Because I’m travelling with a South African passport, I needed to get a visa. There was a slight chance that Gareth’s parents wouldn’t be able to join us for our Spain 2010 holiday, in which case we considered making a quick stopover in the UK to see them while we were in the northern hemisphere. So, knowing that Gibraltar is a British overseas territory, I thought it would be simple. Get a UK visa, kill two flies in one go. Not quite.
Before our trip last year November, I wrote about my passport and visa troubles, but I didn’t elaborate on this particular part of the drama. I applied for a 6-month UK visa and paid the R840 fee. A week later I received my passport back, along with a letter in which the official kindly noted that my application made it clear that I wanted to visit Gibraltar, but because I had applied for a short-term UK visitor visa, that’s what he’d given me. However, one can visit Gibraltar on a UK visitor visa, but it has to be the 2-year or longer variety. He recommended that I submit another application specifically for a British Overseas Territory visa.
So, pressed for time, I went ahead and did as asked. The visa itself cost R576, on top of which the administration centre charged a R780 handling fee. What could I do? I’d already spent money on the first visa and I would probably not get another chance to visit Gibraltar again. I paid the money. In the end, the visa for a daytrip to Gibraltar cost me R2196! (That’s roughly US$320 or UK£197 or €228 for my overseas readers.)
After my visa was sorted, it was time to plan the trip. Since we’re mostly independent travellers, we had initially planned to visit the Rock on our own, but after stumbling upon a very convenient tour online, I went ahead and booked and paid for our excursion. Satisfied that all my arrangements were in place, even if only in the nick of time, I got onboard a plane and flew to Spain a few days later.
It was the first holiday I took my laptop along with me and it’s very fortunate I did! When I checked my email there was a message from the local tour operator, stating that unfortunately South Africans needed a visa for Gibraltar, so he’s booked the tour for three people but I would have to stay behind, sorry. Emails went flying back and forth, and about three days later I managed to convince the guy that I did have a visa and would be able to join the tour. What a hassle!
When the day of our trip finally arrived, I was very excited. After all the trouble and expense I’d gone to, I would finally be able to visit this quirky British island just off the southern coast of Spain. As our bus stopped at the border, I opened my passport at the visa page and smiled at the sour-faced customs official who had boarded the bus. He gave me the most uninterested glance imaginable, not even noticing that my passport was green instead of red, as all the other passengers’ were, and walked on by without even checking my visa! I felt cheated. Disgusted. Totally annoyed by the fact that I’d gone to all of that trouble and could just as well have flashed a grocery list for all the attention the man had paid. I consoled myself with the fact that even though he hadn’t done his job very well that day, I would have been in trouble if he had been more attentive and I hadn’t had the necessary documentation.
As it turned out, Gibraltar was worth the trouble, but more on that in my next few posts…
For more posts in the Spain 2010 series, click here.