Trip 27 -- Malta and Gozo Walks
Gozo day 3: Marsalforn to Nadur
Saturday, August 14, 2021
Today: 14100 steps/9.86 km/6.13 mi/2h 12m
Gozo total: 56670 steps/40.68 km/25.28 mi/8h 41m
I expected a place called the Electra Guest House to have better power. I supplemented the inferior air conditioning by leaving the balcony door open, letting the two air flows combine to create a passingly tolerable climate through the night. Credit for the air conditioning was depleted based on kilowatt usage, rather than time, and since the machine didn't work well it lasted most of the night. I heard it go off at 4:53 a.m., at which point I stuck in another euro to get me through a couple more hours.
My phone seemed to charge slowly at the Electra, too. But maybe that's the pace of life in Marsalforn. With a relatively short walk ahead -- but still lots of climbing -- I took my time leaving, enjoying the included full English breakfast and the morning view over the bay. Then I bought water and walked uphill for 40 minutes.
The Ġgantija megalithic temples are slightly older than their counterparts at ĦaĠar Qim, dating from around 3600 BC -- only Turkey has older extant religious structures. It's clear that Ġgantija was a place for ritual, although the exact purpose is unknown. Ġgantija has altars, circular door indentations that may have supported a kind of railing or beam for access, slabs pricked with dotted patterns, slabs over 50 tons in weight, and 200-year-old graffiti from the early excavations. Its walls comprised stones that were irregularly shaped compared with those at Ħaġar Qim, owing to the use of coraline limestone rather than the latter's softer globigerina limestone.
A block away was the Ta' Kola flour windmill, named after its last caretaker, who maintained it until the 1980s. The current mill was built in the 1780s to replace one built with poor materials by the Knights of St. John in about 1725. When there was enough wind to operate it, the miller would announce its opening to the community by blowing a snail shell.
The surrounding town of Xagħra, like so many Maltese towns, has an attractive main square backed by a church and featuring a few restaurants. Some of these plazas had been lifeless, but Xagħra's was thriving, enough to persuade me to linger for lunch.
I didn't want anything heavy, and the menu at Al Sale, replete with crudi and carpacci, caught my eye, especially with the appearance of a meat I hadn't tried.
"You have kangaroo," I said, chuckling, to the woman who was inviting me inside.
She chuckled back. "Yes, we do."
I sat inside, for the air conditioning, enjoying the 19th-century arches of this former house. The kangaroo was smooth and tender and enhanced by truffle shavings and an on-the-spot smoking procedure. The swordfish carpaccio was fresh and light. And the two sheep's cheeses from Gozo, one a dense, chalky accompaniment to the warm bread and the other a less sweet version of ricotta used as a ravioli filling, gave me a taste of the island's farms.
I was ready to head on, but I was happily delayed by the offer of a complimentary Gozitan pomegranate liqueur and then frustratingly delayed when the server overcharged me by picking "USD" instead of "EUR" on the credit-card reader, which exacted a 3.5-percent markup over the prevailing exchange rate.
"I'm so sorry, it went by so fast!" she said. And then: "I must have chosen it by mistake."
"I believe you," I said, only half-sincerely at the time and with dwindling faith the more I thought about it. Which one was it -- the screen didn't give her time to choose, or she chose the wrong one? The owner made things right by refunding the original change and running it again in euros, showing me the screen, which clearly paused for a choice to be made.
It seemed no less hot than yesterday, but I continued without sweating, and with reasonable pep, down to Calypso Cave. In "The Odyssey," Ulysses is shipwrecked somewhere near Sicily -- it must have been Gozo -- and bewitched by a nymph, who lived in this cave. There's not much to see of Calypso now except the stunning view over Ramla Bay, where I'd briefly touch down before taking off again on the ascent to Nadur.
The path was a dead-end for cars but continued as a steep road for a minute or two, increasingly encroaching on my progress with nature and bringing me to what's left of the Ulysses Lodge. The resort was in use until the 1980s but abandoned thereafter. Now it's an overgrown, decaying frame, perfect for illicit gatherings of people, as evidenced by the broken vodka and beer bottles, spray-painted phone numbers advertising sex, and discarded whipped-cream chargers.
Google Maps is usually so on-the-money that if it shows me as being even a meter off course, I go back and correct it. So I tried to hug the wall that had been built down the hill, as indicated, but it became impassable with growth. On the other side of the wall, "Danger" was painted in big, red letters, and this time I believed it: The associated descent was over a jumble of loose bricks. This was clearly not the path.
Behind the lodge a path appeared to go in the wrong direction.
A short distance behind me, a paved road led to the bay, but I'd have to follow a dirt road first. It brought me to a parked car, beyond which there was no more road and a man was tending his garden, accompanied by two dogs.
"Excuse me," I said. "I'm sorry to bother you. Can I get to the road from here?" I asked, pointing.
"There's no path to get there!" he said, cheerfully. "Where are you trying to go? Ramla?"
"Just take the path up there," he said, gesturing toward the Ulysses Lodge. One of his dogs approached me, surprisingly friendly toward an intruder.
"I tried it. It seems very dangerous!"
"No! Not dangerous!"
I admired his enthusiasm and good-naturedness toward someone who had stumbled onto his property.
"Take the path behind the building." He must have meant the one that seemed to head upward.
"OK! Thank you! I'm sorry for bothering you!"
"It's no problem!"
I picked my way across the lodge, past the phone digits promising a good time (they were not in the Maltese numbering format, so there was no need to ponder them) and toward the back of the hill. A walker came toward me in the opposite direction.
"Hello. I can get to Ramla?" I asked.
"Yes. Just follow the path."
The path was easy, most of the way -- a moderately steep decline, but not worse than I'd already seen. Then it forked, and the indicated path -- by now there were red markers -- was down what looked like a dried-up waterfall bed. The other option went...where?
I followed the red dots and for several minutes inched my way down, sitting on the rocks and balancing myself with my hands. It was a short distance and I was nowhere near a cliff or anything where a fall would be fatal, but it was extremely steep and tedious.
As I reached the bottom, I saw a family emerge to my right, their having happily taken the easier fork.
Ramla looked beautiful for swimming, but my guest house would have a pool, so I picked up a lemon slush and climbed up the other side. Now it was hot, and I was sweating, and my grunts were loud, long, and frequent -- were they actually helpful, or did they just feel good? -- and after another 45 minutes I reached the Narcisa Farmhouse B&B.
I'd imagined horses and pastures and vast rows of growing vegetables, but it was none of that, just a sprawling house in town, attached to the adjacent houses. No doubt it had been a true farmhouse at some point; now it was a friendly bed-and-breakfast, with just a small garden in back. It had charm and good air conditioning; that's what mattered.
I made use of the pool, picked up juice and water at one of the two depressingly dark supermarkets, and headed into the town square for dinner.
I liked the town immediately. The main church watched over the central plaza, where everyone was in good spirits except a child who wanted to be alone and a fussy dog. It was no longer hot, there was a light breeze, and the sun was falling into a pocket framed by a building and another church. Kids rode their bicycles down the main church's stairs. A mother asked her teenage daughter to go into the bar and get her a gin and tonic. I heard a mixture of English, Maltese, Italian, and Slavic languages. Who were these people? It wasn't a particularly touristy town.
I dined at the Fat Rabbit, within touching distance of the back of the main church -- what better place to sample the country's signature meat, in pasta and stew forms, accompanied by Gozitan wine? I finished at nearly midnight, and everyone -- biking children, teens, families, couples -- was still having a jolly time.
Go on to Gozo day 4/Malta day 5