April 3, 2008

Gozo by taxi

Posted in Exploring, Travel, Visitors tagged , , , , , , , , , at 3:07 pm by Lauren

Sunday, March 9 was an exceptional day. In the future, I’ll see what I can do about posting about exceptional days before a month has passed so that I can remember the details better!

Why was March 9 so exceptional? We finally took the ferry to Gozo! It was quite the extended adventure. First we took a bus to Saint Paul’s Bay. Then we switched buses and headed to Circewwa (going through Mellieha and Ghadira on the way, so we got another look at the path we’d hiked earlier in the week). We pulled up at the ferry dock, and I bought our tickets. Then Mom, Dad, Allen, and I sat down for a huge “American tourist” cappuccino before getting on the ferry.

Once we boarded the ferry, Mom and I started reviewing the plan we’d made for the day. We’d take the bus to I don’t remember where, so we could start a hike at the quaint seaside village of Xlendi. Then we’d hike to the Dwejra Cliffs and the Azure Window (in the Top Ten). From there we’d hike back to Victoria and spend some time looking at the Citadel (another Top Ten site).

But suddenly, in revisiting the guidebooks at 11-something on a Sunday, already bouncing along on the ferry, we were noticing things that hadn’t caught our attention sooner. Most of Gozo’s buslines don’t even run until the summer high season (not March). Gozo buses don’t run at all between noon and 4 pm on Sundays. (We had to take a ferry back around 4 pm in order to catch the last buses home on the Malta side.) We were in deep muck.

“Oh well,” we said, “We’ll just take the bus from Mgarr Harbor to Victoria.” But when we got to the harbor, a taxi driver offered to take us to Victoria for 4 euros. We remembered that our contact at the hotel said that you could often hire a taxi to take you around Gozo for the day. And though we were fairly certain that the “4 euros to Victoria” was a gimmick meant to get us into the taxi so we could negotiate a price for the day, we didn’t really mind. After all, I was quite set on seeing the Azure Window, and we’d never get to it otherwise. The taxi driver eventually negotiated with us down to 60 euros for the day. (Of course, lucky him, our day was going to be under 4 hours.)

He drove us first to the Azure Window, passing through a Roman aqueduct on the way. At the Azure Window he let us out to take the boats out to see it. Allen, Mom, and Dad all looked at me. “Are we going to do this?” I said I was in.

The last time we all went on vacation together, it was to Sedona, Arizona and the Grand Canyon. Mom and Dad gifted us with an airline ride over the Grand Canyon, then a boat ride on the Colorado River, finished by a helicopter ride. Sounds cool, right? Oh, the horror. Unfortunately, it was rather disappointing all around, but the worst part was how motion sick I became. We flew over the Grand Canyon in a little ten-seater plan. I spent the whole time with my head tilted back so the air conditioning would flow on my forehead, looking miserable and as if I were going to throw up any moment. (As far as I knew, I was going to throw up any moment.) But at the same time, I didn’t want to waste this amazing trip, and I tried to look out the windows periodically to the Grand Canyon below. Each glance out the windows sent my body into a frenzy, trying to regain the feeling that maybe the throw up didn’t have to come just now, right this minute. Ultimately, Dad threw up just looking at me. (No exaggeration.) I managed to keep my lunch. But if you listen to our vacation stories, this is the most popular one to tell and laugh about (though Mom and Allen laugh a bit harder than Dad and I) from our trip to Sedona. (Yes, that and the other story, where we went on a hike, and Dad did something embarrassing in front of some tourists, and we heard a coyote so I wielded a stick as big as a telephone pole for protection then tripped over it when I put it down at the end of the hike.)

So we all looked at the little boat, then we looked at the motion of the ocean, and then we looked at that boat again, and we climbed in. “If I get sick,” I warned Allen, “I will need you to take the pictures.”

When we first climbed aboard the boat (about the size of a rowboat, seating 8-10, with a little motor), the waves weren’t too bad, as we were in what they called the Inland Sea, where the water flowed in through a tunnel in the rocks. We were going to go through that tunnel. Looking at it, we were all pretty sure it was folly, but we figured they’d done this before. We held on to the sides of the boat as the driver gunned the motor. We certainly didn’t linger long in that rocky passage. I didn’t dwell on the reasons for that.

Coming out into the Mediterranean, the boat moved quite a bit more on the waves. My stomach was holding though, and I snapped picture after picture – of the tiny space we’d just emerged from, of the bright orange coral on the rocks, and of the Azure Window. (Unfortunately the lighting wasn’t too good for this, and my pictures of the Azure Window aren’t that impressive.) However, the place itself was beautiful, and we got a giggle out of the boat driver describing what certain rocks looked like. At the Blue Grotto, the tour bus driver had suggested that one rock looked like an elephant’s foot, and he’d said it so many times that with this second guide insisting similar resemblances in the rocks, we decided that this was a hobby the locals took on to play with the tourists. However, I will admit that one of the rocks did look like a crocodile.

We zipped back through the narrow tunnel in the rock and met our waiting taxi driver. He brought us next to Zebbug,for a view from one of the high points of Gozo. We were struck all the while by how quiet Gozo was compared to Malta (and in general). The taxi driver explained that Gozo only had 25,000 inhabitants, while Malta had over 300,000 (or was it more?), and that it was always this quiet (and not just on Sundays). We looked out over the Mediterranean for a view of Sicily, barely visible in the distance. Then we curved around a tiny road (“Your tour buses won’t give you this view, that’s for sure!” the taxi driver gloated.) for a view of the salt pans near Marsalforn. (These were beautiful, but not as I expected. Mom and I thought they would look more natural, like the mineral deposits of Pamukkale, Turkey.)

We then drove up the hill into Xaghra, where the taxi driver pointed out exotic local fauna, such as bamboo and orange trees. (“And here the bamboo is used as a fence around the orange trees.”) Oooooh, aaaaah. He also showed us a pomegranate tree, one of which my parents have growing right across their property line. In Xaghra, we stopped “the grotto”, which we were hoping was some fancy excavation site where they’d recently found a Megalithic burial site like the Hypogeum on Malta, but in fact it was Xerri’s Grotto. Xerri’s Grotto was discovered by old grandfather Xerri a couple of generations ago when he was trying to dig a well. Instead he found a beautiful little cave system with stalactites and stalagmites, which have all since been named for the enjoyment of the tourists. We enjoyed the side of pork and strips of bacon just as much as the one that looked like a dinosaur to someone.

After Xerri’s Grotto, we headed to our only Megalithic site of the whole trip to Malta. What a shame. But I was glad to see this one. The Ggantija Temples might have been a little more impressive without the scaffolding and roped-off areas. They were still impressive. For one thing, they are older than Stonehenge or the Pyramids of Egypt. Think about it. And the Ggantija Temples had some rocks balanced in ways that you wouldn’t believe humans had the strength or wits to achieve thousands of years ago. (Way to go, humans!) The mysteries of human history are really beyond our imagination.

After we strolled around the temples, we came back out to find that the taxi driver was gone, so we bought some ice cream in the little shop he’d encouraged us to patronize (ahem, not going to say anything), and then we wandered up the street to an old windmill. Coming back down, I noticed the bamboo mats that served as screen doors. I wish we had bamboo in America! (Okay, I’m kidding, but I did like the idea of bamboo screens, which isn’t something I’ve seen chez Uncle Sam.)

We met the taxi driver again, and he drove us back to the ferry dock in Mgarr, our tour of Gozo at an end. What memorable times we’d had with this driver, starting the minute he almost got in an accident on the way out of the ferry port and giggled after the innocent party, “Silly buggers.” We parted, satisfied that we’d seen what we wanted to of Gozo, and we headed into the ferry station. There we had a delicious snack of pea and cheese patizzi and meat pies. After the ferry back to Malta, we caught the bus to Saint Paul’s Bay. But when a second bus driver told us to walk up to a busier road to wait for the bus we wanted (because of disruptions on the road because of the elections), we ended up walking all the way back to the hotel instead. After all the reviving sun and air of Malta and the Mediterranean, it was an appropriate way to end the last full day of our vacation.

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