Friday, November 16, 2007

Gozo

Let's start with the conclusion, I really like Gozo and Malta. It's funny how things work out. I've been trying to get to Malta for a while and we had wanted to go from Tunisia via Libya. Instead we ended up there via Morocco and Ireland. Malta is a tiny island in the Mediterranean and is quite densely populated. There are 3 inhabited islands though only 2 are really of note, Malta and Gozo. Gozo is about 12km by 10 km and has only 30,000 people while Malta which is maybe 3 or 4 times bigger has 400,000. We went to Gozo island right after arriving because we'd arranged a host there. The ferry terminal on Malta island is only 30 km away from the capital and yet it takes about 1 1/2 hrs to get there because the traffic is bad and the road is small, hilly and windy. Malta is not a flat rock in the ocean but actually has lots of little hills with small towns usually on top of them, seperated by only a couple km.
Gozo is very relaxing. Unlike on Malta where the coastal towns have all run into each other, the towns on Gozo are still separate little entities. We ended up staying for 3 1/2 of our 5 days on Gozo with our amazing host, Mario. He had other guests staying there at the time too but decided to take us on as an extra challenge. He loves to cook and we love to eat :) There's nothing like good food and good conversation but when done in an old house with stone arches inside, it's even better. Everything is built from limestone in Malta so tends to be the same colour and look the same. They've done lots of recent construction lately and I like the little balconies but the best are the older building with the unique weathering patterns that only limestone makes. They look older than they really are. Either most of these places are summer homes (tourists don't really come in winter) or the locals don't like going outside (which may actually be true). I was also surprised to find that they all drive cars rather than ride bicycles or use motorbikes which would be convenient in such a small country.
Gozo is close enough to Malta (25 min ferry) that most tourists just come on daytrips from the capital and it operates on the Mediterranean system of closing for a few hours in the afternoon so it often felt like we had it all to ourselves. We generally slept in, walked around for the island along the shore for a few hours and then came back at sunset to eat and chat with our host and the other guests. Perfect system. I found myself wishing again and again that we had more than 5 days for the country. Because of the hills, you can get excellent views of the island from the main city of Gozo, Victoria, which has a large citadel commanding the entire island. Because of its important strategic position, Malta has often been at risk of invasion and occupation and has actually been inhabited for millenia. There are many megalithic temples dating back to as far as 3600BC (nearly 800 years before the pyramids at Giza) and the one on Gozo (Ggantija) is the oldest free standing structure ever (or so they claim). Looking out over the island now the first things that immediately pop out are the cathedrals. Most buildings are 2 or 3 stories but the cathedrals look about 10 times bigger. They are monstrous and each town has one. Malta is generally very Roman Catholic and people tend to be more reserved and hide at home, especially on Gozo. We found the bus drivers to be generally grumpy but everyone else very kind and helpful. Nicest people as a whole that we've met in ages.
On our third day it was really windy and had been the whole night previously so when we walked down to Marsalforn, a coastal town, huge waves were being funnelled right up the harbour and up and over the breaker wall. There was sand and rocks and water all over the road and patios along the waterfront. The waves were still quite strong so we just watched them for a long time until dad decided he wanted to get more personal with the waves. The girls were in a shop when dad and I went out to get a picture of him standing beside the wall with the waves crashing in the background above him. That quickly escalated to him standing on a park bench in the line of fire getting periodically sprayed until one totally freak wave knocked him over the bench and onto his head on the pavement. It was so funny and everyone around thought he was crazy. By the time the girls finally got out of the shop dad had gone from perfectly normal (for him anyway) to soaked and bleeding from the head down his neck and onto his rain jacket. He was still laughing and Bre, our group medic, patched him up.
The sad thing is that we really didn't see any signs of wildlife. Not many birds, which is easily explained because we saw a couple locals with shotguns and dogs headed out to hunt them, and not much seashore aquatic life either. Of course the saddest thing was that we had to leave.
Ammon

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