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Trip 27 -- Malta and Gozo Walks

Malta day 4/Gozo day 1: Baħrija to Ċirkewwa, Comino, and Mġarr to Victoria
Thursday, August 12, 2021

Today on Malta: 28070 steps/21.19 km/13.17 mi/4h 11m
Today on Gozo: 17915 steps/12.90 km/8.02 mi/2h 44m
Today's total: 45985 steps/34.09 km/21.18 mi/6h 55m
Malta total: 108990 steps/83.00 km/51.57 mi/16h 1m

I woke up early and was out the door at 7:30. It was much cooler than yesterday. I descended the steep road toward the coast and thought, "I'm glad I don't have to climb back up this." The coastal path would lead me past bay views, ancient cart ruts, and an old watchtower; Google Maps had presented an alternative along inland roads, taking slightly longer. After the watchtower I'd merge with the road to Ċirkewwa to catch the ferry to Comino island and then continue on to Gozo. The early start was essential.

I passed some tree trimmers and their dog, and soon after that the road ended, turning into a dusty track. It climbed gently and then split in three; the most obvious one headed toward a brief but steep scramble. It can't be that one, I thought. But the others dead-ended. At least the terrain wasn't slippery; my feet held firm, and by gripping the shrubs I pulled myself up easily.

It was smooth going for a few minutes, with a gentle incline. Then the angle increased, and the path became ambiguous again. The correct way was steep enough that stairs had been built into the path, but it at least it wasn't too narrow and it wasn't directly hanging over the cliff.

And then, suddenly, it was, and for a brief stretch the path was in a damaged state. Could I cross this treacherous patch without hurtling down the mountain? As I stepped forward to investigate, a startled black snake scurried down the slope.

I'd been on the trail for ten minutes and already encountered several obstacles, increasing in severity. Even if I made it farther, what lay ahead? Retracing my path for ten minutes wasn't as bad as the potential of having to backtrack several hours. Clearly this hike wasn't for me to do alone.

I turned around and headed back toward Baħrija, sitting and inching myself down the steep sections. I reached the road, and the me that had said "I'm glad I don't have to climb back up this" mocked the disillusioned me. The setback had cost me exactly an hour. I came to Baħrija's center -- so much more pleasant without the parked cars -- and bought water. Then I retraced my steps a short way along yesterday's route and diverted into the hills.

What I never checked on the map was the altitude variation. I'd assumed a gentle decline toward the northwestern tip, but there were more ups and downs than a heavily used elevator. Sometimes the walk was glorious -- an elegant church would come into view, the breeze was agreeable, I passed farms and a well-preserved old aqueduct -- but then I'd see a roller-coaster incline way in the distance and think, "I hope that's not on my route." Invariably it was.

Finally, after three hours, Ċirkewwa appeared, or so I thought. I descended and found instead the bay of Għadira, a resort town with a popular beach featuring water sports, food kiosks, and lounge chairs and umbrellas crammed together. I had a lime slush -- served in an awkward reusable hourglass-shaped plastic vessel -- and then found a water refill machine, where I reloaded my bottle for the bargain price of 20 cents per liter.

Then the road rose and fell once more, taking me to Ċirkewwa, where I just made the noon ferry to Comino.

The ferry ticket was good for two rides: one to Comino and one back to Malta or continuing on to Gozo. The schedule to Gozo wasn't quite what I had seen online: I'd expected a choice of 1:00, 2:00, or 3:00 -- and that last one might have been perfect -- but in reality they would skip 3:00 and offer 4:00 and 6:00 instead. With three hours of walking ahead of me on Gozo, I decided I'd better take the 2:00.

It was a small speedboat that took about 25 passengers. The captain slowed down to give us a view of grottoes near Comino, and then he disembarked us at the island's frenetic Blue Lagoon landing.

The beach chairs were even more densely packed here than at Għadira. The swimming area, roped off from the boats, held a couple hundred people. The landing was crowded with passengers hoping to board the next ferry. The walkway led upward and curved around toward kiosks selling snacks, drinks, and meals, each with a steady stream of patrons. People shuffled by with beverages served in pineapples. Club music filled the air. The crowd was a good-natured mix of families, couples, and friends of all ages.

The ferry ride had taken 23 minutes, leaving me with just over an hour and a half to explore the island. I'd planned to walk its paths for lovely views of Gozo, taking in a watchtower and a chapel along the way. But I was now hot and dripping with sweat. All I wanted to do was submerge myself in the Blue Lagoon.

Yellow banners screaming "Lockers" enabled that to happen. The water was cooler than I expected, and that wasn't a bad thing at all. Though it was crowded, I found space. Some people were swimming to and from smaller islands a short distance away. On some of the larger boats, people slid down slides for a quick entry. And somehow the water stang my eyes as much as the sunscreen.

I did take a brief walk into the countryside, as it were, and determined that the paths I would have been strolling were much like the ones I'd already strolled, the landmarks similar to those I had seen or would see.

I was among the last to board the full 2:00 ferry; the captain said he'd come back for more passengers, and he seemed hellbent on departing at 2:00 and also returning at 2:00. I gripped a metal bar as we bounced along.

The islands of Gozo and Malta have similar layouts. They're both oblong, oriented from the northwest to the southeast. They both have their main towns in the east and their ancient capitals -- Victoria and Mdina, respectively -- just west of center. And they both have cliffs in the southwest.

Much as I had passed through Dingli and then veered inland toward Mdina, on Gozo I headed for the fishing village of Xlendi in the southwest and then headed up to Victoria. The ferry landing at Mġarr was the starting point of two possible routes west. One was a tangle of trails along the beach, and as had happened this morning, I found dead-ends and snaking paths that soon put me off. Back to the inland road I went -- and of course it welcomed me with a sharp incline.

By now it was at least as hot as yesterday, I was tired and dripping with sweat, and somehow I wasn't hungry despite having had no calories all day apart from a couple of slushes. Up I went.

At least the traffic wasn't bad, and my eyes weren't stinging. I passed horse farms and vegetable farms. But I hadn't given myself much of a break. I came to a snack bar and decided that, having left Comino an hour earlier than I'd planned to, I could afford to rest for a while.

I asked for a big bottle of water; in Malta these are usually two liters.

"I have it, but it's a bit frozen," the man said.

"Frozen! Not a problem at all." I would have paid extra. I wanted to make love to that water bottle, right there on the table. But there was a little black dog nearby, and dogs are easily impressionable.

While I waited for the water to melt, I had a Kinnie. I'd thought Nancy from my Baħrija lodging had described it as an iced tea, but it's a bittersweet orange soda -- not what I wanted at the moment. My taste buds seem to have been focusing away from sugary fizz on this trip -- is it the heat, or is my body generally weaning me away toward healthier drinks?

I soon could drink some of the water, and the rest remained cold for the next series of ups and downs. I passed through the attractive town of Sannat, which suffered a blow during World War II: Escaping British Spitfire planes, a German bomber dropped one over a bakery in Sannat, killing 18 people and injuring many others. Many of the townhouses in Sannat were for sale; in Victoria I'd learn that the real estate here is relatively inexpensive, with a two-bedroom apartment in a new development being advertised for €112,000.

I took another long break in the quiet and calm main square; my water still hadn't fully melted. I was feeling much better; in less than an hour I'd reach Xlendi, and Victoria less than an hour after that. Of course, it was a steep descent into Xlendi.

Xlendi does double duty as a resort town and a fishing town. The main waterfront was busy with swimmers and diners; trails provided access to cliffs, coves, and towers. I picked an eatery in order to rest; I still wasn't hungry, but a bottle of sparkling water was thirst-quenching.

Then it was up one more time, to Victoria, albeit not as steeply as I'd predicted. I arrived at Casa Gemelli and checked in to my room with high ceilings, a chandelier, wood beams, and a brass bed with ornaments that jingle whenever I shift positions. I couldn't get into the shower fast enough. I put the air conditioner on, rinsed off, and fell asleep for an hour.

I couldn't bear the thought of moving -- or of eating. But I thought a stroll, now that it had cooled off, might give me an appetite. Victoria proved to be beautiful and compelling, with narrow lanes, churches, and sculpture. Of the restaurants in St. George's Square, looking up at the basilica of the same name, I picked Tepie's, tempted by their special salad of Parma ham, burrata, apples, pears, and grapes over greens. Maybe I just needed the right kind of food, and that was it.

Go on to Gozo day 2