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Michael’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 14 Sep 2008

Location: Malta & Gozo, Malta

MapOn the Saturday morning in Malta I was up early and on my way back to the dive shop. Despite originally planning to do a dive on the Saturday, then a couple out on Gozo on Sunday, the weather forecast for Sunday storms rearranged things and I ended up doing all my diving on the Saturday. I was happy with that, it gave me more time to explore the islands, and meant a sleep in on the Sunday.

So, after a quick sandwich on the run for breakfast, I rocked up at the dive shop around 730, grabbed my gear, and eventually we piled into the ute with rear cab, all of the diving equipment in the back tray weighing us down. Again I would be diving with Wally the South African instructor, as well as a Spaniard who been in Malta for the last 10 days and a local woman who’d been diving all her life. I was clearly the new bloke on the block. We drove across Malta from St. Julian’s to the north side of the island to catch the car ferry across to Gozo where we were diving for the day.

On the drive it became pretty clear that Malta is a VERY warm place, and the entire landscape looked burnt. There was very little vegetation, and what there was would be classified as shrubs, not trees. In short, there was not a bit of shade in sight. My idea of renting a bike and riding around the island on the Sunday quickly started fading when I realised there was very little to see, there was no shade to stay out of the Sun, and it was hillier than I had guessed.

Upon arriving at the ferry terminal, it was clear that we weren’t the only people heading to Gozo for the day. In fact, it looked like the entire population of Malta was making the journey. As far as I could tell there was no real timetable for these ferries. They just wait until the ferry is full, and then set off. We missed the first ferry, after sitting in a queue for 40 minutes, but just 2 cars! Thankfully the ferry ride is only 25 minutes and there are 3 or 4 ferry’s in use at any one time, so the wait wasn’t too short for the next ferry to show up – the wait for it to unload and reload was though.

It was during this wait that I saw something that I am pretty sure I have never seen before. Wally and I left the ute and headed to the café at the front of the ferry car park. I grabbed a coke and something to snack on, while Wally grabbed the same, and a single cigarette! A shop that would sell a single cigarette… The packet had been emptied into a cup and singles were being sold for 40 euro cents. I almost fell over, but was told it happens all over Malta.

Finally the ferry took off and very motored past Comino, the smallest of the 3 main Maltese islands, and home to the Blue Lagoon, probably the biggest single tourist attraction in Malta. There really isn’t much to see on the island, in fact, from the ferry it looked deserted. There is only 1 hotel on the island, and from the top deck of the ferry it almost appeared as though you could see the entire surface of the island it was that small. If only it was a sand island instead of being a rocky outcrop.

We arrived in the harbour at Gozo, a small town built on the side of a cliff, populated more by bars that anything else it appeared. There was only one road into and out of the ferry terminal, so the long chain of traffic all went the same way. We climbed and headed for the centre of the island, driving through the capital city, Victoria. It was a pretty cool looking town, and reminded me of parts of Porto in Portugal for some reason. The architecture was similar, the colours similar, and the small compact town squares, made even more so with the old locals sitting at tables on the side walks and streets drinking in the streets in the midday heat.

We crossed the top of the island and passed the old raised aqueduct with massive archways below, a sure sign of the former Roman rule of the islands. Eventually we sighted water again and started descending off the top of the island. This provided some of the more beautiful views of the island and some of the most interesting facts. To the right we could see the Inland Sea, and it was the best view of the Inland Sea that we would get, if only I had though to ask to pull over for a photo.

The Inland Sea is a pocket of water that comes through a 300m thick wall of rock through a tunnel, both above and below the surface of the water. From the top of the hill we could see both the Inland Sea and the sea beyond the rock wall. And the Inland Seas would be our first dive for the day. We suited up, entered the water and swam to the front of the tunnel entrance. It was here that the tourist boats were speeding through the tunnel to the open seas on the other side. There was a general rule, divers to the left and boats to the right (on the way out anyway). To be sure, we made certain that we were at least 10 m below the surface of the water, just to ensure we didn’t get hit by any boat props.

The dive was wonderful, the water a fantastic blue colour due to the lack of light coming through the tunnel. As we proceeded through the tunnel, it was clear that the life in the water wouldn’t rival that seen in the Blue Sea, but the geography certainly would surpass it. The tunnel was incredible, and once finally at the far end we took a left into the open sea. The sea life was better out in the open water, but still nothing compared to Egypt. I was also fighting quite a bit with my balance, struggling to keep my buoyancy. As such, I used more air than I had hoped to, and the dive was a bit shorter than we’d hoped.

Back on land we walked to the next dive site after changing our air tanks. I also removed 2kg of weights from my belt to try and solve the buoyancy issues. The next two dive sites were on the other side of the peninsula from the Inland Sea, and that side had just as stunning features; The Azure Window, the Blue Hole, Fungus and Crocodile Rocks. Fungus Rock is pretty amazing. A rock that couldn’t be more that 60 feet from the land, yet has an endemic type of fungus living there.

We walked across the rocky land, weighed down with out wetsuits and gear and eventually made it to the water. The idea of this dive was to head out to crocodile rock and do a lap before heading back. Unfortunately Wally’s goggles broke on the way out and by the time we’d found the missing lens – not easy to find a clear glass lens on the bottom of the ocean floor! Eventually I found it, and the plastic surround that holds it in place, and we were on our way, with less air than we had started out with.

The second dive went well, though we did detour straight off the bat. We found a cave not too far into the dive and decided to explore that rather than head for crocodile rock. It was an interesting idea, but the cave was very empty. Not a whole lot to see, and by the time we explored the cave and got back to the mouth, we’d lost too much air to get all the way around crocodile rock, instead just exploring one side of it.
After the second dive we headed for a lunch break – burger and fries, food of a true diving champion. The third dive of the day was the dive that I was most looking forward to, and headed all the way to Malta for – The Blue Hole. It was another rough walk over the rocky outcrops, before we finally entered the water in the Blue Hole, a 10m diameter hole in the rock that drops about 25m straight down with a cave on one side and an archway into the wider ocean on the other side.

Swimming under the archway, we headed out to the ocean for the Azure Window. Once out there were swum out to the ocean and around one of the legs in the Azure Window and back through the window towards the Blue Hole. Again, the aquatic life was interesting, but nothing like the Red Sea. The geography of the under sea structures was incredible though, and made it so interesting. Once around the leg and back through the Azure Window, we headed back into the Blue Hole and explored the cave, before ascending and finishing the dives for the day.

We had a drink at the café before heading off to take the return ferry home. Another non-descript ferry ride, and drive back through Malta before arriving back at the dive shop, by which time it was after 630. By the time I headed back to the hotel, had a shower, and headed back out to the street, I was so tired that after eating dinner, I headed straight back to the hotel for an early nights sleep – on a Saturday night, so not me I know!