An Iberian Misadventure

Tiana Yasmin Nowzari

© Copyright 2022 by Tiana Yasmin Nowzari

Photo by Jason Mooy courtesy of  Flickr.
Photo by Jason Mooy courtesy of  Flickr.

It's the first week of August, and it's one of the hottest months in Spain. My trip here was initially planned as a graduation gift from myself after a straining semester filled with endless all-nighters and Red Bull binges. After excessively googling with the help of some celebratory wine, I came across a travel website called The site seduced me by flaunting Spanish historical landmarks and mesmerizing scenery. It finally succeeded in luring me when I booked an airplane ticket for a solo trip to the Iberian Peninsula and packed my things to fly thousands of miles overseas. Immediately, I began to envision myself learning flamenco on the hot sandy beaches with a gorgeous Spanish man with a bottle of rosé. And from then on, I was daydreaming of the adventure to come. 

I’ve been in Spain since last night. When I landed in the city of Algeciras, I instantly felt the arid weather as if dust lodged in the back of my dry throat. The heat smothered the pitch-black night and clashed with my hair as the frizz made me look like a poodle stranded in the middle of a desert. Although I was excited to arrive, I worried about jet lag. It was still daytime in Eastern Canada, yet, it was around midnight in Spain. Despite it, I couldn’t let the time difference deter me because I had a mountain tour booked in Gibraltar for the next day. I forced myself to bed and let my excitement drift me to sleep.

I woke up early this morning with exhilaration shadowing my exhaustion. I quickly got ready and called a taxi from my hotel to take me to Gibraltar. During the ride, I wondered about all the things I might see throughout the tour: plumped orchids, stinging bees, rocky mountainous steps. I made sure to bring my camera to capture moments that will travel back with me to Canada. 

In less than an hour, I reached my destination and arrived in front of a ticket booth. I showed my pass to the ticket agent, who was a tall, slender man with olive skin. His eyes matched the clear sky and were curtained by the tips of butter-coloured hair. He pointed to a spot where I would have to wait for my tour guide and driver to appear – it turns out it'll be the same person taking on a single job.

Currently, I’m waiting for my transportation to arrive. My shoulders feel the pressure of my backpack straps against the heat of the sun, but the lightness of my floral summer dress prevents me from drowning in sweat. A sign stands a few metres to my left that says, “Recoger Aquí.” Or “Pick-up Here” from the little Spanish I've learned from online Duolingo courses.

While waiting, I notice another couple, a man and a woman, lingering behind me. The woman is likely in her fifties and dressed in a long forest green ruffled dress. Her outfit is accessorized with long blue beads hanging around her neck and a crimson faux leather tote bag. I see something hanging at the side of her hip, which appears to be a gray camera with a long black strap. Her companion looks at least a decade older, and his attire is much more relaxed. He’s standing like an awkward stickman as if he doesn’t know what he’s doing here. 

My thoughts are interrupted by the sound of an engine beginning to growl from afar. I turn my head around and see a van finally starting to approach us. It must be our ride. The vehicle abruptly stops, accompanied by a screeching sound on the gravel road. The driver, a sturdy tanned man with a full beard, quickly exits. 

Welcome to Gibraltar!” he says with a gleeful tone hidden behind a strong penetrating voice. He opens the door and directs us inside with a slight bow. I head inside first and sit in the passenger seat while the couple sit comfortably together in the back. The driver introduces himself as Lucas and tells us we’re heading off in a heavy southern Spanish accent. 

As we move uphill, I peer outside the windows and watch the extensive landscape engulfed by leaves, trees, and flowers; all painted in different colours. The natural life in Spain hypnotizes me to gawk at the other side of the window. I feel like a young girl who has just walked into a candy store, allowing her eyes to follow each remarkable thing. I move my face closer to the window, thinking that my closeness will somehow connect me to the world outside. I stare intently until, suddenly, I see a flash!

What was that? Something just ran by the van. It happened so fast that I could barely tell what it was. I saw a brown light, maybe the size of a miniature poodle, dart beside the moving vehicle. My questions are quickly answered. “Those are Barbary apes,” voices Lucas. “They aren’t very friendly, so watch out.” The couple responds by intently staring outside the window, looking for the creature. Their curiosity lurks as much as mine. 

Monkeys on the mountains. That’s something I missed on the excursion’s website. I suppose if I pay them no mind and watch my belongings, I’ll be safe from those furry four-legged thieves. I try to divert my attention back to the view. It’s truly incredible. Lively colours decorate the fertile landscape like an artist’s palette exploded over a canvas. Some trees stand so tall they might touch the sky. Out of all the places I’ve travelled to, this must be the most magnificent. My thoughts are emulated when I hear the woman say, “Over there, Jacob, look! Those flowers are beautiful. They wrap around the tree barks like a dress.” Followed by the sound of a click and flash. 

After some more time driving, the van comes to a slow stop. Lucas turns his whole slumped body towards us and says, “We’ll stop here so you all can get a good look at my beautiful country. I’ll take the van to the top of the mountain and meet you there.” I remember reading this part on their website. Explore the remarkable mountains and observe their ravenous beauty. 

Follow that path,” he then points to these elongated brown steps that travel uphill, “those are the steps that’ll take you around the mountain and all the way up. They’ll lead you to our meet-up spot at the top.” Based on the exasperation on our faces, he tried to reason with us, “It seems long, but it should only take you a little less than an hour. We’re not that far from the peak.”

I follow the couple’s lead and exit the van to hear birds singing and flying in the ocean-blue sky. I make my way toward the steps and notice trees of different shapes and sizes surrounding them. The couple looks around as astonished and mesmerized as me; while wandering through the landscape and ignoring my presence, feeling like I’m in solitude. “Jacob, take a picture of me with the flowers,” the woman asks while rushing towards a large field of pink flowers that would make a delicate bouquet. This place is beautiful. If only I could lock myself in time and intertwine this with my life forever.

I climb up the light brown wooden stairs and take my camera out of my bag. I snap photos of nearly everything while my backpack remains sturdy on my shoulders. There are so many spectacular specks of nature. Blue flowers invading tree branches, piles of rocks each shaped in a unique geometric pattern, and leaves so big they could provide shade. I look further into the distance and see a reddish-coloured rock shaped like a widened cone. On top of it, another one of those monkeys I saw earlier sits comfortably. Its hind legs are crouched to stabilize its position, and its two front paws hold an opened and half-eaten chocolate bar. 

So, you got into someone’s bag, didn’t you?” it stares at me curiously while the snack reaches back towards its mouth. I take a photo, “Now, that’ll be one for the photo album.” Still that same look. 

I think about moving along in my journey until I see another monkey emerge from behind the fully-leaved branches. Yet another one that isn’t shy to show itself. This one, however, looks different from its sweet-toothed friend. Its body is broader with lighter fur and has a bleak appearance on its dotted and wrinkled face. It stands cautiously and watches with large purposeful eyes. I capture another photo of my companions. I swiftly remind myself about Lucas’ warnings about the monkeys and continue on my path.

Walking uphill feels like a never-ending journey that burns my thighs from the impetuous movement and glazing sun above. Not too far ahead, I see a big chalky rock with a smooth flat surface. Perfect for me to catch my breath. I pass through the trees and untrimmed grass and eagerly plump myself on top. The heat fuels my exhaustion and forms enormous sweat droplets on the sides of my forehead. In the event that something like this might happen, I made sure to bring any necessities. I packed a protein bar, an apple, a litre of water, sunglasses, and sunscreen, among other things. For now, just the protein bar will do. I swing my backpack onto my lap and pull out my snack before ripping it apart like an animal in dire need of food. The savoury bar reaches toward my salivating mouth but abruptly stops when I see something. 

What caught my eye was a pudgy butter-coloured monkey with a white patch of fur on the side of its head, crouching just a few steps in front of me. I must’ve been so hungry and tired that I didn’t initially see him. The monkey stares at me while standing still like a statue, but I can feel that the stare is really aimed at my snack. “I’m going now,” I say while gently packing up my belongings and lifting myself off the rock. “I don’t have any food for you.” The look becomes more intense after every stretching second, but it remains immobile. It doesn’t seem like it'll be leaving anytime soon. I reach towards the steps and gain some recollected comfort. I start climbing anxiously, feeling like my brain is clouded. Should I really be scared of a monkey? Perhaps I’m being overdramatic. I should be safe if I remain focused on where I’m heading. A few more steps later, my mind is at ease, and I feel lighter. 

After several minutes of walking, I hear a tussle to my right between the large flapping leaves. It doesn’t sound like the wind because there was too much movement in the noise. I try to ignore it until another shuffled sound alerts me. I steadily move towards it. My neck is tense, and sweat is raining profusely all over my sticky body. I lean in just a little more and my head begins to slant forward from my neck like a turtle. I slowly reach out my hand before I see something peer out. It’s a hand!

Well, it’s a monkey paw. Barely a second later, the head pops out, and I see a cute hairy face staring directly at me. “At least you’re cuter than your friends,” I say as if I should be expecting a response. Two more monkeys approach me to my far left while walking on all fours. I get an uneasy feeling but try to reassure myself. I try to back away, hoping I can get out of the crowd that seems to be forming around me. I take some steps backwards to regain my foot on the stairs that will lead me back to safety. Before my mind can be put at ease, I feel a tight tug on the top of my backpack as if the sky is trying to pull me up. I twist my sun-burnt neck to see a grimacing monkey hanging from a tree branch. Its weight pulls the branch lower where its paw is able to hold onto the small black strap hanging off my bag. This doesn’t look good for me. 

What do you think you’re doing?” I try to pull away from his firm grip without much success. “Let go,” tugging a little harder this time. Its face is still grimacing like it knows the next move. One more monkey appears and supports its fellow primate by jumping directly on top of the thick, loaded bag causing me to stir in panic. Should I leave the backpack behind? Do I fight them off while potentially getting clawed by wild Spanish animals? Whatever scenario I can think of seems like a recipe for disaster. With the slightest bit of aching hope, I try to tug the backpack by moving forward onto the trail as I had initially intended, but I’m stuck on the spot. One of the monkeys begins to unzip my bag, and I can already predict that they’re reaching for my food. 

I slip out of the straps freeing myself from their entrapment and deserting my belongings in their possession. I run ahead into the trees as I can hear the screeches echoing behind me. My head turns to see the havoc created behind me and watch despairingly as my backpack is being ripped apart by several ferocious paws. The pockets have become hanging pieces of black thread barely holding on together while they are searched through ravenously. 

Hey! Get out of my stuff!” I yell with a tone of panic in my voice. I pick up a small stone the size of an Oreo cookie and throw it towards the crowd without receiving a reaction. The smell of the snacks has probably distorted the awareness of their surroundings. The swarm of primate ravage through my belongings, and shreds of torn dark material fly out of the huddled group. My mind becomes a jumble of incoherent thoughts that lead to my body feeling overwhelming shivers of panic. There’s no hope. It’s all gone. I want to scream out the frustration until my vocal cords burst, but instead, I’m standing like a lost and confused puppy.

An irrational rage casts throughout my being. Feelings of anger, frustration, confusion and fear compile like building blocks in my pulsating brain. This couldn't be happening to me. I could never make it through the entire journey without my backpack. And I'm too far high up in the mountain to bother returning back down. Jitters of panic trail through my body like a serpent slithering through my veins, circulating my blood. My options are tight. Do I take my chances? Could I make it? It could be dangerous. But it could be possible. A charge of energy erupts from my hysteria, which causes me to sprint impulsively. I leap through the air with my legs swinging back and forth like an Olympian runner. I don’t recognize my speed or ferocity, but I feel the inner burning conviction fueling me. The closer I get to the group, the more I question the sanity of my decision. But it’s too late. I have to go through with my plan. 

It’s now or never, I think to myself before colliding into the enemies…

Tiana Yasmin Nowzari is a fourth-year undergraduate student at Toronto Metropolitan University. She is pursuing her Bachelor's degree in Sociology and plans to attend law school. Since she was a young girl, Tiana loved to write short stories and poems. She is passionate about writing and has often based her work on human rights projects and initiatives. She currently lives in Toronto with her dog, Quincy. 

Contact Tiana

(Unless you type the author's name
in the subject line of the message
we won't know where to send it.)

Another story by Tiana

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher