I should have realised it was going to be a journey with a difference when police stopped our bus on the way to Málaga.
It turned out there was going to be a procession, so all traffic was being diverted. Well that wasn’t much use to all the passengers who wanted to get off at the next few stops so the driver asked if it would be a long wait.
(Processions are a way of life in Spain. They are also a very good reason for always getting an earlier bus than you actually need. It is better to wait for 40 minutes or an hour in the bus station than miss your connection by five or ten minutes and have to wait another three hours. Bus stations are full of people who have arrived early, it’s probably also one of the reasons why the bus station bars have a healthy trade.)
Apparently it was going to be a long wait for the procession so the driver then asked where the diversion went. Onto the motorway. About a dozen passengers were junked off and we set off exploring the back streets (no diversion signs) to find our way to the motorway.
It wasn’t too difficult, and as we approached Málaga, one of the passengers asked the driver if he was going to stop at the port. The port bus stop is actually nearer to the town centre, whereas the bus station is further out, although next to the railway station.
No, we were off straight to the bus station. At this point, a strange woman – who looked remarkably like Linda Hunt in The Year of Living Dangerously – started asking what was going on.
The young lad in front of her explained patiently that the bus had been diverted because there was a procession and we were going straight to the bus station and not the port. For whatever reason she could not understand this, and kept repeating the same questions. Naturally the lad repeated the same answers.
After about the fifth repetition of this, the rest of the bus was in hysterics, while the young lad was patiently repeating the story yet again, although by this time with a smile on his face.
When we arrived at the bus station, the driver announced he would then go to the port for those passengers who wanted to get off there. Well this woman didn’t understand that either, so she picked up her stuff to get off. “No, no,” we all shouted at her. “He’s going to the port next.”
But she didn’t understand any of us and continued walking towards the door. Then somebody repeated it again and the penny dropped, and she sat down, looking very bemused.
I got off and made my way to the bar for the obligatory drink while I waited 40 minutes for the connection to La Linea. This turned out to be a pretty tranquil journey – well, for the first half – until we got to San Pedro (outside Marbella).
A woman got on (didn’t look quite so much like Linda Hunt, although there was a vague similarity), and a couple of minutes later a ticket office clerk followed her on and started shouting at her. It seemed she’d asked for a ticket but then left it, leaving the clerk with a (computerised) ticket and no funds to match against it.
The driver nicely told his colleague that he really needed to be going which he obviously couldn’t do while she was ranting at one of the passengers. So she stormed off the bus and back to the ticket office clutching the duplicate ticket and deciding how to explain it to boss.
At the next stop (there are only five), the driver obviously wasn’t happy with the number of passengers on the bus. “Get your tickets out,” he yelled as he stamped down the bus to start inspecting them.
I thought this was quite interesting as I’ve often thought it would be dead easy to get a ticket to the first stop and sit on to the end. I’ve never seen an inspector on the buses. I’m the sort of person who can never remember where I have put my ticket so I was busy emptying my pockets and trying to sort out old tickets from paper tissues. I hadn’t even unfolded what might have been the right one when the driver snatched it out of my hand. Sigh of relief. It was the right one.
Then we arrived in La Linea. More police, some sort of road block. Two women behind groaned and said we would be there for ages – apparently they had loads of suitcases and if the police were going to go through all their clothes…..
The police waved us on. As we went past the cars they had stopped, I noticed two young men putting their socks and shoes back on. I thought no more about it, jumped off the bus, and started my dash for the frontier so that I could get the 8pm bus. If we arrived by 7.50pm, I know I can catch the bus if there are no border delays.
One of the police motorbikes came up to where the road turns into the frontier and blocked it with his bike. Another one came up the pavement.
“Se puede pasar?” I asked. He waved me on. I headed for the frontier. First you go through a Guardia Civil post, then a Policia Nacional post, and then you get to the Gibraltar checkpoints.
There are three lots of police in Spain with varied responsibilities although the Guardia Civil seem to get involved in just about everything. If you want a police career in Spain it is the one to go for, especially as they have some great specialist units – mountain rescue, diving, environmental protection, coastal surveillance and security, and others. Next in the hierarchy are the Policia Nacional, and then you get Policia Local who are responsible to the local council. All three forces carry guns.
As I got about half way to the Guardia Civil post, I heard a ratatatatata noise like bangers or jumping crackers which the Spanish are always chucking around, even without a fiesta for an excuse. Then I remembered the road block and realised it was shooting. I walked even faster to the comparative safety of Gibraltar.
I passed an older couple and a woman. “Que pasa?” I said. (What’s happening?). “Tiroteos,” replied one of the women. (Shooting).
I love the Spanish and Gibraltarians. They have an amazing capacity for stating the more than blindingly obvious, and then normally repeating it a few times. Not for them idle speculation. So I replied the same way.
“Claro.” (Of course).
Another few steps towards the Guardia Civil. The shooting was well behind me, I glanced back and couldn’t see anything.
Suddenly the Guardia Civil joined in the shooting. In my direction. It was getting far too close now. There was a gap in the wall next to me. Admittedly it was one of those silly walls made out of bricks with holes in, but it was better than nothing. I hit the deck behind the wall.
Then I looked out. The three Spanish/Gibraltarians were still standing there watching the show. They obviously had more confidence than me in the shooting ability of the various police forces.
I got up. A Policia Local guy motorbike roared up on his motorbike to the Guardia Civil. “Hijos de puta! Cabrones! Que haceis?!” And loads more obscenities in Spanish.
A Policia Nacional car cruised out from their office, followed by countless officers on foot all interested in the spectacle. No, not the shoot-out. The Policia Local guy giving the Guardia Civil grief. Ouch. Police officer responsible to local council giving shit to Spain’s elite police force. Not something to do lightly.
Meanwhile I sped through all the controls and jumped on the bus. Still shaking. And told the driver (in Spanish, twice naturally) about the events.
I arrived home and where was Partner? Out dog-walking, actually taking the dog to the pub. The dog likes the pub, people give him lots of strokes and talk nicely to him.
Fast forward. According to Gibfocus on the Internet, the police had stopped a (Gibraltar-registered) vehicle in which they allegedly found some hash. But during the search the driver revved the engine and escaped, crashing through the road blocks and then speeding through the frontier.
I never saw the car. Maybe it was when I was hiding on the ground.
Gibfocus also reports that two police officers were injured, one of them was transferred to hospital in Cadiz with serious injuries.
Whatever the rights or wrongs of the incident, I hope the two officers have a speedy recovery to good health.
Apparently the Royal Gibraltar Police have arrested two Gibraltar residents, a juvenile aged 16 and a 22-year-old, in connection with the incident.
Sources: Gibfocus, me.
The above photos were not taken at the time. They show the frontier/airfield area. I was too busy looking after my arse to take photos.