How to Act at the End of a Continent
By Jackie DesForges
There are a lot of people who say that Europa Point in Gibraltar isn’t the lowest point on continental Europe, after all – they believe it’s actually somewhere in Spain. I personally think that there’s enough to see in Spain already and we should just let Gibraltar have this one.
It certainly felt like I had reached the end of something when I was standing on Europa Point by myself. I could see Africa faintly in the distance – about 16 miles away, according to the rusty sign. I looked up at the lighthouse on the edge of the cliff and wondered if anyone was inside, watching me. There was an empty playground in the middle of the empty bus depot, and behind that was an empty tourist information center. The bathrooms in that information center had no toilet paper. There was a mosque in the background – a massive, intimidating structure equipped with equally massive speakers. Every few minutes, a loud voice would chant in a language I didn’t understand. The chants were monotonous and echoed across all of these empty places, and I wondered if I was the only one who could hear them.
There were several benches situated for optimal gazing across the strait. Not having anything else to do, I sat. I had brought a notebook and a few postcards with me, but I didn’t feel like writing. My camera was running low on battery power. I fiddled with the nail on my ring finger. I checked the time on my phone. I waved in the general direction of Africa, wondering if anyone was over there looking back.
Deciding that I should perhaps try to use the bench to its fullest extent, I attempted a few moments of intense gazing. This was unsuccessful, as it was really sunny and my eyes started hurting after about a minute. I looked over my shoulder at the place where the bus had dropped me off, half hoping that someone else would show up. Everything looked as empty as it had when I’d gotten there.
I turned back towards the water. If I were to paint a picture of the end of the world, or even just the end of a continent, are these the things that I would leave us with? An empty playground, an empty bus depot, an empty lighthouse, an empty information center, and a few rusted signs? I’ve seen pictures of the region known as “The End of the World” at the bottom of Argentina, and it looked as I had expected the end of the world to look – quiet, some trash scattered around, no one in sight, an empty bridge. Despite that, I’d thought the end of Europe would look slightly different. I’d expected a gift shop and dozens of people taking pictures, maybe a nice restaurant or two, free wifi.
I’d been looking forward to my Europa Point excursion because I’d imagined that a somewhat romantic experience would be waiting for me. I would sit on the edge of a continent with my notebook and my camera, contemplate my life and its general lack of direction, and think of something profound and sad to say about it once I returned home and everyone asked what I’d done there. There would be other people sitting around me drinking coffee and doing the same thing, and we could all feel united in making our sadness seem glamorous and important.
But no one else was there. And I didn’t feel glamorous, I felt uncomfortable. I looked back at the empty playground, imagining that if I were a character in a movie, I would probably go sit on one of the swings and hang my head, and the camera would pan out to emphasize how alone I really was out there.
So I went and sat on the swing. It creaked as I swung slowly back and forth, which I found appropriate. A few tourists appeared and started snapping away with their cameras, posing for pictures with each other. I perked up at first, then suddenly realized they were their own little group, and I felt even more uncomfortable at the thought of intruding.
They only stayed for a few minutes, and then I was left alone again. Maybe I should talk it out, I thought. My camera was threatening to lose battery power at any second, but it seemed to have enough life left for a quick video. I am generally awful at taking videos, particularly of myself, but it felt somewhat comforting to at least get a recording of this strange place. Even with the terrible sound and my awkward, rambling commentary, the video captured something that I’m not sure a series of pictures could have. When you watch it, you can hear the emptiness of that place as clearly as you can see it.
I was relieved when the empty bus arrived at the empty depot to take me back to town. I wondered what it must be like to drive that bus for a living – to have to make your way to end of the continent every single day, over and over again. I tried to imagine that place as if it were part of my daily routine – as if the emptiness were something normal for me to look at. As the bus drove away from the lot, I opened to the notebook page I’d reserved for this particular excursion. Before I’d left my hotel room that morning I’d written the date and “Europa Point, Gibraltar,” somewhat optimistically across the top line. Sitting there on the bus, I decided to leave the rest of the page empty, and even now I can’t really think of anything I’d choose to fill it with.
About the Author
Jackie DesForges is a writer from Los Angeles currently living in Chicago. To date she has served as a student ambassador in England and France, a volunteer in Mexico, an art student on the Riviera, and a fledgling travel writer in Edinburgh. Currently she spends her time blogging about travels past and present at www.jackietravels.com and saving her pennies for her next great adventure overseas.