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Adventures on Malta

by Jacco Budding in Travel and weekendtrips , 16 februari 2005


This year Malta entered the European Union. Situated at an important strategic position Malta was a British colony since 1814. From 1947 the country was allowed its own government and in 1964 Malta became truly independent. However, the last English institutions didn’t leave until 1979. Leaving English as the nation’s second language together with Maltese. Malta lies at approximately 93 kilometers South of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea and has 400,000 inhabitants.

The island Malta is the biggest of an archipelago of three. The size of the entire archipelago is a mere 316 square kilometer. Sister islands Camino and Gozo lie very close by.

On Camino - the name is derived from cumin that used to be farmed here - there’s only one family on the 3.5 square kilometer. There’s still one natural and protected blue lagoon here. This idyllic lagoon is a sheltered bay with clear azure blue water with white sand and therefore also “in the sun” a reflecting beach. After all the day visitors have left and the sun is setting you really feel like you’re on a deserted island. For the ones who like a natural and car free environment there’s also a hotel complex. During the high season very popular with water sport fans and in the winter a preferred destination for hikers and photographers.



The island of Gozo takes up 67 square kilometers and has 29,000 inhabitants. Life’s rhythm is dictated by the seasons, farming and fishing. I arrived here with the ferry from Cirkewwa to Mgarr, a trip of about twenty minutes. The trip has a sort of 1000 & 1 night atmosphere. Everything in camouflage yellow, the dominant color here in nature and architecture. There are lots of herbs growing here in winter and agriculture is flourishing. In summer there’s a lush flora with lots of geraniums, oleanders and bougainvillea.

Knights of St John

I am underway to a spectacle depicting the take-over of the Maltese Order of Knights of St John by Napoleon. The Order of Knights of St John had ruled Malta from 1530 till 1798. The influence of this more than 2000 year lasting order is still very visible. The Knights of St John gave Malta her baroque look and they also gave Malta its most distinctive feature: the eight pointed Maltese cross. There’s wild shooting in the streets of Victoria by very convincing looking actors in traditional outfits. Victoria is also called Rabat, which simply means capital.



Napoleon Bonaparte and his entourage make way to the Citadel, the fortification of Victoria. The Citadel was built on the top of a hill in the middle of the city and offers a spectacular view of Gozo. At the Citadel I get the idea to take a photo of myself as a prisoner of war. Standing with my back to the captors, the actors, I wait for my execution. My action is not appreciated. Apparently because a journalist was decapitated in the Middle East. I’m accused of making a careless comparison. To be honest, I had not heard of this event. I did feel quite upset by the aggressive reactions. Also because I saw it as a joke. A firm faggot’s uppercut would have been in place but you can’t fight an entire army... count to ten Jacco!



At the Citadel I’m offered to stay for a traditional banquet. There are more than 200 guests invited. I’m in a foreign country and I know that the organization of such a large party is complicated. This, combined with the fact that there’s chicken on the menu makes me suspicious of the food. And rightly so because one by one my newly met fellow travelers disappear to the toilet. To come back looking pale and uncomfortable. I just eat some “pitsen” and rinse liberally with local wine.

Diving

After dinner I leave for close-by Djerwa to visit Fungus Rock and the Azure Window. Fungus Rock rises to eighty meters out of the sea and got its name from a rare plant called Fucus Coccineus Melitensis. A plant known to have a curative effect in case of dysentery. Azure Window is as its name tells, a window like opening in the rock, shaped by the force of the surf. Experts say that one day the elements will take this object of interest away from us.

To get the perfect snapshot I clamber along the limestone rock towards the water and am surprised to find several crystal-clear mini ponds. One of them is bubbling which I find curious. Closer by I’m surprised once more by the colorful fauna just below the surface. Medium sized caterpillars and tiny “Finding Nemo” colored fish give me a glimpse of paradise. From a cave just below waterlevel scuba divers surface one by one. They’re all beaming with delight and seem to be truly moved by what they just experienced. I remember all the enthusiastic stories of my friends too and though I’m not crazy about underwater life I’m determined to go for it this time. I leave in the direction of Marsalforn Bay for a test dive.



At the Calypso Diving Center I get a clear and extensive instruction before my first dive. The first time you only go to seven meters, which is nothing for any experienced diver but I realize it’s a beginning. After the instruction we go to the bay. We start with some breathing exercises and go through a couple of frequently occurring situations. Once under water you have view for about thirty meters. After a bit of sand I float over the water plants that always give me goose bumps when I normally swim. I feel high and completely one with my surroundings. The fear I have in the oxygen rich air for all that lives under water disappears.

I enjoy being weightless and all the impressions I get. All sorts of fish swim around me and they also seem to be completely at ease with my presence. Our trip is almost at an end when a shadow appears. I am barely able to control my panic but happily just managed as the shadow turned out to be a rock and not “Jaws” as I immediately thought. My first diving experience has made me curious and determined to do this more often.

Meeting the locals

I’m staying at the Victoria Hotel in Sliema, a little town not for from the capital, Valetta. It’s Saturday night and in spite of my cultural and sportive day I decide I want to see the nightlife. Sliema is connected with Paceville and St Julian and that’s where they say the nightlife takes place. After a power nap and a refreshing bath I head for the boulevard. The boulevard is on Saturday night the place to see and to be seen. The public dresses trendy and lots of flirting takes place. Nice start of the evening but, determined as I am to sexually explore the Maltese, I have to eat first. I walk along the boulevard towards St. Julian.



This little town lies on a beautiful bay with a little sandy beach lined by cozy restaurants with seats at the waterside. I’ve been told the seafood is excellent here. Where to eat? I decide to choose based on the waiters. Two birds with one stone: a good meal and information on what’s there to do for a single gay on a Maltese Saturday night. I pause at a nice little place called Terraza because I spot a toothsome little macho. The reception is very hospitable and I order water and wine. For starters I order the garlic mushrooms and I choose a scorpion fish for main. The female and professional manager comes over for an informal chat. I take the opportunity to ask if there’s a gay nightlife here. Chance has it that it’s Gay Pride organized by Gay Pride Productions. I decide to take a look and ask the waiter for directions. After a delicious meal and a lot of wine I order a double espresso to get me going.


They send me to a café around the corner called Juuls. Juuls is a small and intimate bar.

At arrival I notice that all the clientele is lesbian. I was told to ask bar girl about the gay party because her brother was involved in the organization.

I light a cigarette and order a Bacardi-coke. Everyone looks up in surprise and they tell me that a new law prohibits smoking in a public space smaller than 56 square meter.

Here’s where Malta is ahead of us! The solution is offered as well, there’s a “zen” like lounge patio separated from the bar with a glass door.

It’s easy to make contact and I enjoy the attention you get when you tell them you’re from Amsterdam. I basically met everyone in the bar. The public was more varied than I initially thought. They give me the address for the party and they help me get a taxi. They recommend me taking the black taxis and always agree on a price beforehand. The fare is six Maltese lire so compared with Amsterdam fourteen euro for a twenty-five minute drive is cheaper.

In a dark corner

Arrived at the crime scene we pay 3.5 Maltese lire cover charge and walk inside. I’m surprised. In this catholic country where you can’t even get a divorce there’s a real gayscene. About five hundred gays celebrate their pride with lots of dancing to driving music. No gym types here so even I get lots of attention. Most are slim, not very tall and Arabic looking. Typical features of the Maltese men, though without the frustration of a removed foreskin. The atmosphere calls for a little help from outside and a couple of my bad boy tricks.

I approach the organizer of the party and ask him to help me. In the storage room we share a drink together and then I head for the dance floor.

I’m waiting now for the warm sensation and the change of intensity of my perception. I can’t remember the transition of my senses. Every now and then I experience a lucid moment and I find myself completely into & going for the music on the dance floor.

I feel myself getting ready for a Dutch Maltese intervention. I look around curiously and focus on possible “victims.” There he is in that dark corner.



After a short introduction it seems harder and harder to keep our hands of each other and he feels me up. Yeah, Jacco’s got a green light! He asks me if I’ve had a taste of genuine Maltese body juice yet. I answer “I’ll have a Bacardi-coke, thanks,” and ask him if he’d like to join me to my hotel room. After he confirms he’s sober and able to drive, we go for it. I don’t get to sleep until 11 in the morning.
Completely against my principles I had to miss my appointment to go for a swim with dolphins. My disappointment grew when I found the towel left by my Maltese company, complete with traces of make up! I’m getting too old for this shit.

Valetta and Mdina

After a resting day filled with hot flashes from my partying excesses I go to Valletta. Valetta is the capital of Malta and lies at de “big harbor.” The streets are very narrow and at every corner you’re confronted with impressive baroque architecture, religious statues, fountains, niches and family coats of arms. There’s no lack of European cultural heritage on Malta. I also visit the impressive Upper Baracca Gardens. These are situated at a high point near the natural harbor and offer a gorgeous panorama of the three historic cities Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua.



My next visit is to the St. John [the Baptist] Cathedral. This church is truly a work of art with imposing marble tombs, statues and art of important figures in Maltese history. Valletta leaves a remaining impression of antiquity.
My last day I pay a short visit to Mdina, the silent city. Mdina has only four hundred inhabitants and consists of sandstone buildings and narrow streets. There are some souvenir shops and tucked away restaurants.

The evenings are beautifully tranquil and the place is almost fairy tale like. It’s also being used as a Hollywood film set, like lots of places on Malta. Malta provided the sets for films like “Troy,” “Gladiator,” “U-571" and “The Count of Monte Christo.” As a closure to my wonderful trip I go to Dingli where I take part in a mountain bike ride. The trip is great with lots of hills, great views of high cliffs that lead into the sea. Along the way I eat lots of cactus fruit, they’re sweet but if you don’t know how to peel them, like me, you end up with lots of tiny needles in your hands.



Malta has extended my horizon and made me realize there’s more than getting your kick from going out and party. I would recommend everyone to undertake something sportive and cultural. I’m sure you’ll discover a new world just like me. Just keep an eye on your budget: the Maltese lire goes at about 2.45 euro so pay attention to the cost of things. All price ranges are available so there’s something there for everybody.



 

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