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Trip 27 -- Malta and Gozo Walks

Gozo day 2: Victoria to Marsalforn
Friday, August 13, 2021

Today: 24655 steps/17.92 km/11.13 mi/3h 45m
Gozo total: 42570 steps/30.82 km/19.15 mi/6h 29m

I hoped for a confluence of miracles with regard to laundry. Tonight was the fifth night of the trip, I'd brought four changes of clothes plus what I wore on the plane, and my return flight is five days from now. The Electra Guest House in Marsalforn is near the beach. In a perfect world, the laundry machine would be self-service, and I could wash all five sets, wearing just my bathing suit and having a swim during the cycle.

But the hotel's "laundry service" turned out to be the kind where they send everything off the premises and you hope to get it back before you depart -- a risky endeavor; my parents received their clean clothes from Portugal several weeks after the end of our trip when the service was faulty.

B's Laundry in Victoria, my other option, promised me a four-hour turnaround, with a phone call when the washing was done. During that time I visited Victoria's citadel. The heat hit me like jet fuel as soon as I opened the door of my air-conditioned room at Casa Gemelli.

The naturally flat surface high above the nearby terrain has long made this small chunk of land desirable for defence; it was used for such as far back as Phoenician times. Carthaginians, then Byzantines, then Arabs, then Normans, and then Swabians, Angevins, Aragonese (I think the visitors' center was just making words up at this point -- Swabian is surely something to do with a Covid-19 test), and Castilians left their marks.

In 1530, King Charles V said something like, "Knights, I know the Turks have just kicked you out of your headquarters in Rhodes, and that sucks, but you can have this little island instead." And so the Knights of St. John came to Gozo and imposed their severe type of administration, which didn't make the local people or rulers very happy.

The Turks found them here, too, in 1551 -- 14 years before the Turks attacked Malta. They took most of the 5000 citizens -- except the hundred or so who escaped by sliding down the citadel walls -- and brought them to Constantinople and Tripoli to be sold as slaves. The soldier Bernardo de Opuo killed his own wife and two daughters to spare them from Ottoman torture; then he went off to die in battle.

The knights hung on after the siege, though. They made the citadel into the fortress it is today, and they required all the people of Gozo to sleep inside it from May through October. In 1637, the law was repealed and the citadel's population dwindled.

I visited a few of the museums, largely in search of air conditioning. The best air flow, albeit natural, was in the old prison, where la Valette himself had been incarcerated.

The phone call never came, but the washing was ready on time, and I set out for the west coast. Buildings gave me shade for a half-hour or so, but when they fizzled out, the heat was oppressive. My route led me into the rugged countryside, steadily downward. The road became unpaved, and then it turned into a soft kind of sand. The fine, white powder covered my shoes, almost burying them

I was only about 15 minutes away from the coast at Dwejra Bay, and then I came to a wooden gate and signs that said "No entry." "Danger." "Private." "Quarry." There was no one around. A light on a building flashed every few seconds. Was it a camera? Did it do that all day, or had I activated it?

It would have been a very long way back. I waved at the light and softly said, "Hello." Then I pressed on, past a chain barrier.

No one stopped me. It was an easy walk down to the bay. I was sweating swimming-pool volumes as the concession stand came into view. "You are going to get so much money from me," I said, still a few minutes away.

The enormous rock in front of me was known as Fungus Rock although the flowering plant on top, thought to have medicinal properties, wasn't really a fungus. In "The Kappillan of Malta," Father Salvatore comes here on a contemplative day -- no doubt a cooler one than today -- and camps out in the area. The book's author lived nearby for a few years, up the hill in San Lawrenz.

To my right was Dwejra Tower, built in 1652 and still in good condition. Built originally as a watchtower for enemy sightings, it was used in 1744 to deter people from stealing the precious plant on Fungus Rock, and then it was active during the two world wars.

I reached the concession stand and took a lime slush and water -- this bottle was a liter and a half. I looked for a place to drink them, but there was no seating, and at four in the afternoon, with the sea due west, there was absolutely no shade, anywhere. There had been a breeze higher up, but it didn't reach here. I leaned on the railing of the kiosk and asked for napkins to wipe my face and body. The drinks helped, but I couldn't stop sweating.

I stepped out briefly for more views of the rock and the bay, and then I ordered another slush and another bottle of water. Feeling somewhat drier, I climbed the road to San Lawrenz, 20 minutes up on the black tar. At the top, a house was under construction, the crew working on its roof. I couldn't imagine the job in this heat.

Much higher up, in the distance, was the white Ġordan Lighthouse. "You'd better not be bringing me up there," I said to Google Maps.

It obeyed. There was a slight climb and then a gentle descent to the coast, more lonely minutes on a remote dirt road, just my slower-than-usual feet and the occasional car.

I passed another walker coming in the other direction.

"Cheers," I said.

"Have you been to this place before?"

"No, I've just been walking from up there."

"Walk all the way to the end. It's beautiful."

Back in Dwejra Bay, a natural formation called the Azure Window had been a famous destination until a storm destroyed it in 2017. I soon arrived at Wied il-Mielaħ, a lovely if lopsided version of the same: an enormous limestone arch. A walkway led me partway down; beyond that a gate was intended to keep people from going farther and swimming, but that didn't stop two others from hopping it.

I had about an hour to go before reaching Marsalforn. I was feeling less sweaty but the dirt tracks, and the walk in general, were getting to be tough on my feet; I've had much longer walking days, but the past two have been difficult despite their relatively short lengths. I continued, steadily, like a camel, past an otherworldly series of salt pans, until at last I came to Marsalforn.

The Electra, of course, was clear on the other side of town, past the beach, then the promenade, then the road linking the promenade to the next beach, and then around the waterfront. I kept looking at the map in disbelief: What I figured was the last 10 minutes was really more than 20.

At least the person who welcomed me didn't keep me from my rinse. "Third floor, room fifteen, balcony," he said, handing me a pair of keys. The rest would wait until tomorrow.

It met all my expectations of a budget hotel. The air conditioning was payable and not nearly strong enough, and the remote controls for the television equipment got me only as far as the cable service's promotional channel. But the balcony view, over the bulk of the waterfront, was marvelous.

I still wasn't hungry. Was it the slushes? Enough sugar for a month but hardly substantial. Pasta and fish might be comforting, I thought, and so I headed to Otters for a starter of giant tortellini stuffed with chicken and pear, followed by a fillet of meagre, a fantastic local fish that's firm and slightly fatty. Back near the Electra, dark-chocolate and cinnamon gelati cooled me down again.

Even at eleven, people filled the waterfront restaurants and were strolling along the short pedestrian zone -- how frustrating that there isn't sufficient space for people to walk elsewhere in town. People were dressed up, ready for a few cocktails, and I wished I'd had the energy for one myself.

My reward for the past two days will be a much shorter walk tomorrow, followed by a stay at a farmhouse with a pool. Now before I sleep, shall I throw in a few more air-conditioning credits?

Go on to Gozo day 3