As our busy Irish schedule of eating, driving, taking photos, eating more, driving more, turning around a few times, then eating, leads to me falling further and further behind in my blog I shall do my best to do beautiful Gozo justice without overtly rushing things (a sentence without at least 3 commas is hardly a sentence at all), glossing over any deserving highlights (sure, it’s a giant Citadel with impregnable walls and a commanding view of the entire island, but where are the dramatic sea cliffs? Show me the dramatic sea cliffs!), or oversimplifying sensitive cultural issues (if one has been destroying large quantities of turtle doves since one was a wee child, shouldn’t one be able to continue destroying turtle doves as a crotchety, defeated old man?). But I can’t make any promises.
After the hustle, bustle and lively salesmanship of Morocco and brief, but exhausting, bouts of excessive drinking in Barcelona we had planned 9 days of relaxation and recuperation on the picturesque little island of Gozo, just 14 kilometres long by 7 across.
10 days if you count our last night on the main island of Malta where we searched aimlessly for our well-hidden hotel, witnessed the initial stages of a grotesque street rave and had to get up at 3:30 am to head to the airport – which I don’t. Gozo is one of 3 islands in the little known – and routinely disrespected and bullied by its larger, less ambiguously located, compatriots in the European Union – chain of islands known as Malta. Well, little known among North Americans, anyway. Every European knows Malta is exactly where you go if you are looking for summer dance parties or lots of words with an ‘x’ or silent ‘gh’ in them. We rented a 2 bedroom apartment, you know, so the 4 of us wouldn’t get lonely or anything, having to spend even a night or two without the constant presence of close family. Our apartment had a kitchen, of course, (hello, cereal and popcorn) and two bathrooms, one of which actually had a light switch in the general vicinity of the bathroom itself, two unimaginably uncomfortable couches, but couches nonetheless, and incredible views out over the beautiful, and entertaining, bay of Marsalforn. We even had a little glass alcove right on the corner where we could sit, read and look out from our 2nd floor perch, and enjoy the hourly appearance of a double decker tourist bus where the camera-wielding and idiotically grinning passengers determinedly freezing their extremities off on the uncovered upper level would pass by close enough to touch, if I wasn’t still on probation for that, or for them to point out the small piece of bacon stuck between my teeth, if it were a weekday.
The only downside was the newly opened tapas bar directly below us, the theme of which, if the cacophony of sounds was any indication, was to eat lightly, drink heavily, and be besieged by repetitive techno music until it was time to stumble out into the street at 3 am to squeal with laughter at most everything and do your utmost to loudly talk over each other until the police show up. Some of them were very good at it.
Now, for the Top 10 things we did/saw/touched gently on the ancient Isle of Gozo:
10. Ggantija Temples
That is actually pronounced something like ji-gan-tee-ya, but with a little bit of spitting and a weird amount of emphasis on the ‘y’. But don’t worry if you can’t say it exactly right, I certainly never did. These temples are apparently over 3,000 years old, built before Stonehenge, before the Egyptian pyramids, even before the popcorn maker at the Waskesiu movie theatre. Pretty cool but, not surprising for a structure that old, really not much of anything anymore. Old and underwhelming, that should probably be one of UNESCO’s featured categories. These temples could then join big Catholic churches, all ancient rock carvings and any Roman ruin that no longer features at least one intact wall.
It did have a nice bushy swath of grass around it, though, which provided a touch of wildness, and a good place to get rid of all those Coke cans I’d been saving up.
9. Xlendi Bay
Pretty little bay with a fun name, a lot of waterfront restaurants specializing in combining great views, fresh seafood, and an incongruously snooty atmosphere. Nice area, though – tremendous views, big hills and, just to top it all off, a cave.
8. Ghasri Valley
A sharply sloped valley full of luminescent blue water winding its way to the sea, this spot was a terrific place to get some good photos, take a small lunch break and witness the BBC at their finest, on location filming scenes for an upcoming Moby Dick biopic (“Moby Dick: Legendary Predator or Clumsy Metaphor for Seafood Addiction), where they very politely proved unable to keep anyone at all from traipsing around on their set, be they overly stealthy, overly quick, or overly pitiable (i.e. the woman who nearly collapsed in tears explaining how hard it had been too convince her husband to bring her here and how her chances of ever doing so again were even smaller than the chance of her recognizing an inappropriately dramatic response to a very minor setback).
7. Ramla Bay
This nice little bay contains the only real sand beach on Gozo, as well as a cute little swamp for the kids and a couple very popular ice cream shops for their vastly overweight parents. It could be reached by an invigorating coastal hike with expansive views, exciting rock scrambling and fun tunnels through stands of weeds, or by vehicle. The hike detoured past Calypso’s cave, allegedly the very cave where that sneaky siren seduced Odysseus and held him prisoner for 7 long, erotic years, forcing him to perform humiliating acts such as dressing up as Zeus for lovemaking, and helping to sweep the sand out now and then. Of course, we were unable to investigate either of those theories further since the numerous enthusiastic signs simply led us to a rusty old gate that looked like it had been locked since around the time old Odie (as he was known to friends and Garfield) actually managed to escape.
6. Bird Hunting Season
It is a long-standing tradition in Gozo, apparently, to have large groups of well-armed men hide in fortified stone bunkers with powerful shotguns alert and ready to take down any unsuspecting turtle dove arrogant enough to land on one of the clever man-made perches located just a few metres away.
Which nobody has any problems with, I’m told, as long as they could just hold off until May when breeding and migrating season was over, but I mean, who are we kidding, like they are going to go the whole of April without killing any birds. I don’t think so, yo. So they have chosen to ignore the rest of Europe on this particular point, really sticking it to the man. And by “the man”, obviously I’m referring to the oppressive European Union. And, well, nature, too, I suppose. But what is the future of the world’s turtle dove population compared with a chance to wear camouflage, shoot unsuspecting birds sitting too close to miss even after you’ve been drinking, like, all day already, and build some awesome forts with your friends? And if you get to threaten a protester or two, well, that’s just icing on the cake.
These fascinating stone depressions are carved out of the rock on ledges high above the ocean to collect salt water that crashes up over the edge. I guess the idea is that if you wait patiently enough eventually the water evaporates leaving you with piles of tasty, and oh so dirty, sea salt, all without having to do any work other than some intent staring and occasional cave napping. At first glance they look like giant flooded chess boards, and are terrific at sunset, but the illusion fades quickly when trying to maneuver an unwieldy rook or saucy bishop through them.
Also, all the “no BBQ” slogans etched into the sandstone walls were somewhat confusing – are they concerned with drunken salt pilfering, or what eating too much red meat will do to our circulatory systems, or simply tired of having their salted cucumbers leave an aftertaste of teenage urine?
4. Giant Wave Storm
On our second or third day on Gozo the wind picked up and swung around from the north, creating huge waves that stormed into the bay purposefully, building in speed and power as they approached the pier wildly and unpredictably like those in a perfectly round waterbed at a 1979 key party. The largest ones actually shook the foundation of our building, over 50 metres away, and sent water crashing right over the road, to the repeated chagrin of curious tourists foolishly venturing in for too close a look, and the repeated delight of people like us, watching from our windows taking photos and cackling with glee. Not that Laynni could resist coercing Lyle, notorious for his distaste for rain, and all rain-related phenomena, to join her for some rather short-lived wave running. Or, more accurately, standing hunched and tense in anticipation while mentally willing me to just take the picture already.
These soaring cliffs featured sheer, panoramic drops down to the very blue, very rough sea below, the crashing waves echoing all the way up to the cliff tops like David Guetta hits during half price shooter hour at a tapas bar. We initially had some trouble finding our way out to the cliff edges, despite the fact they are, well, immense and several kilometres long, but they were very well protected by a sprawling many-star hotel, a nearby power plant surrounded by rusty barbed wire, some neglected and difficult to negotiate stone ruins, probably thousands of years old, if I know anything about Gozo, and my 7-day bus pass says I do, and more thistles than I ever cared to see anywhere I wasn’t doing my damnedest to hide Br’er Rabbit. Stunning, though.
2. Bus System
As I mentioned, we each bought a week’s pass and paid just the low low price of 12 euro each, entitling us to as many wild, rattling rides around the island as we wanted (around 20 or so, it turned out) for roughly the same price as popcorn and a drink at the movies, or a used, but still functional, dog.
With extremely helpful drivers and only a handful of different routes, most of which ran at exactly the same time every hour, these buses were exceptionally easy to navigate and made getting around to all the hidden corners of Gozo easier than tying a knot in a cherry stem with nothing but your tongue and a pair of needle nose pliers.
1. Azure Window and Fungus Rock
The most popular tourist location on Gozo, and still the most impressive despite being virtually overrun with literally dozens of tourists at a given time. Sure, that may not sound like much, but on a quiet island like Gozo in early April that constituted roughly half the entire tourist population at any given time (not including weekend day-trippers from Malta who also visited the site en masse, but only for very brief moments in between ecstasy spikes). Besides providing an incredibly memorable location for scuba divers clearly much hardier than us, featuring striking natural architecture and outstanding ocean vistas, and serving as the location for Daenarys’ Dothraki wedding on Game of Thrones, the Azure Window’s main function was clearly to serve as the breathtaking backdrop for photos of tourists posing like bar tarts. Even if one were, even briefly, inclined to forgo the douchey histrionics, your outlook could change in an instant, especially if that instant happened to coincide with the girl in the soon to be proven unwisely short shorts contorting herself so far in search of the perfect camera angle so as to briefly lose track of her vulva.
Inspiration takes many forms, as artists and perverts the world over have always agreed.
In summary, Gozo is an amazing place, one of the best mixes of scenery, nature and ever-so-handy food options we’ve ever experienced, and one we absolutely intend to return to the next chance we get. In fact, by the time we left I was so caught up in the expansive setting, easily accessible hiking trails and laid back island lifestyle that I had started referring to the bus as “my ride”, the central city of Victoria ne Rabat as “town”, and even went in for an authentic Gozitan haircut (ultimately very similar to most other haircuts, just less even).