Towns / Cities Visited: 175
Countries Visited: 30
Steps Taken Today: 11,474
Steps Taken Around the World: 4,221,622
Today was the day, the day we were to head to the island of Gozo, thus toting bags packed with the systematic efficiency of almost ten months of non-stop travel, we bid farewell to our Airbnb, and made the half hour drive to the ferry terminal on the other side of the island. Adding our car to the queue of others waiting to board the next vessel, we went into the building beside us to find out where to buy a ticket, only to discover that they have a system which is, frankly, pretty genius. You see, you do not actually have to purchase a ticket to take the ferry to Gozo, but you do have to buy one in Gozo in order to get back. Basically, if you want to go to Gozo and never leave you can have a free trip, or I guess you could always abandon your vehicle, commandeer a boat, and get back that way; otherwise, you can’t escape without paying your dues. All around it’s a solid system; not only do you not need as many people working at the terminal on Malta because you don’t need tellers to distribute tickets, but you also don’t have to worry about people losing their return ticket in their travels.
Soon enough we were driving into the belly of the ferry, parking our car, and clambering out to enjoy the view as we were floated across the small stretch of the Mediterranean which separates the two islands. Luckily, yesterday’s rain had given way to cloud dappled blue skies, and although the morning air was still brisk, we enjoyed basking in the sun a little as the ferry bobbed along the waves. That being said, I did have to sit down in the middle of the journey when said bobbing made me feel slightly nauseous. Regardless, I watched the little island of Comino, Malta’s third and smallest island, pass by. We had originally planned to visit it, as the beach is supposed to be spectacular there, but with it being winter, the boats out are sporadic at best, and with temperatures far too low to enjoy a dip in the sea, we decided we would just have to come back one day in the warmer months. You know, any excuse to have to return to this beautiful place.
We watched as Gozo grew closer and closer, an island which up until the point you have almost arrived is able to fit its entire width in your peripherals. It seemed surreal to think that my friend had come from this tiny spit of land on the other side of the world, all the way to Australia, the sixth largest country on the planet. I had never been here, and yet I had heard so much about it from him over the years, it somehow felt familiar by the time the ferry pulled up; it was like coming home.
Ducking back below deck, we waited patiently until our time came to trundle down the ramp an onto solid ground once again. With the day still young, we typed the location of our intended adventure into Google, and began our journey, driving through the heart of the island until we reached the west coast, and the breathtakingly stunning Dwejra Bay.
Now first step of our visit was of course to scurry over to the ice cream truck set up in the carpark. I’m pretty sure all great stories begin with ‘We got ice-cream’, right? Satisfied with our choice, we picked our way along to the edge of the honeycomb eroded rock shelf, watching the waves crash below us as we devoured out icy sweets slowly softening in the warm midday sun. The Mediterranean is always complimented for its deep azure beauty, but somehow it seems to outdo itself in this little cove, or perhaps it is just the juxtaposition of the crisp white foam capping the waves as they charge and retreat from the cliffs. Whatever the reason, I stood mesmerised for the longest time.
Speaking of azure beauty though, it was to be that Father Time had robbed us of a sight we had hoped to spy upon our planning, the Azure Window. This spectacular arch of rock had stood for the longest time, delighting all who dared visited it and even featured in Daenerys’ wedding to Khal Drogo in the first season of Game of Thrones, but alas it had collapsed into the sea the previous year and we were destined only to look out longingly at where it once stood. If you study the waves at the foot of the cliffs, you can just make out the stone below the waterline, lightening the deep blue as the undercurrent pummels it, time and movement picking it apart until one day it will be little more than sand floating through the seas, destined to settle down on a beach, or into a deeper layer, compacting into stone once more.
Clambering past the Chapel of Saint Anna and up higher on the cliffs, we looked down to a better view of the crumbled remains of the window, along with the Blue Hole, a natural opening in the cliff face which, when the tide is high, feeds through the sixty-metre cave to the inland sea behind us. Looking almost like a natural wave pool it basically begged to be swam in, although I imagine you would immediately regret doing so, not simply because of the temperature of the water, but also the violent thrashing against the rocks.
It seemed only natural to then head down to the aforementioned inland sea, which sits almost obtusely calm compared to its wild cousin on the opposite side of the cliffs. Upon reaching its shore, it was easy to see why this quaint little spot is so popular with swimmers in the summer months, and even a few professional daredevils who jump from the cliffs above the cave into the plunging depths at their foot. Nature’s beauty here is a little marred by the stark concrete piers jutting out into the pool, but unfortunately convenience is often bought at the expense of aesthetics.
With a bay comes the historic threat of invasion, and as such there is also a prominent site open for exploration here, the 17th century Dwejra watchtower, which was built along with many other coastal forts by the Order of Saint John. Heading up to its rear stairs, we ascended to the rather short two-story tower which almost resembles a sand castle thanks to its golden stone and its bright waving flag of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Stepping inside we were greeted happily by yet another British expat who had decided to spend their twilight years on this far sunnier island, and I couldn’t say I blamed them. This recently restored beauty is only one of four similar towers remaining on Gozo, although there was once many more, and, taking a pamphlet, we made our way up onto the roof, admiring the unrivalled view down over the bay and surrounds. Descending, we ducked briefly into the basement, before leaving a donation and stepping back out into the sun.
The sun was high, and we were starting to get peckish again; man cannot subsist off ice cream alone, I’m afraid. Fortuitously for us, there just happened to be a restaurant over near the inland sea which was bustling, but happened to have room enough for our little trio. Eagerly, we selected our meals from their seafood centric menu, my mother opting for a dish of salmon, and my partner and I sharing a braised rabbit dish, and a rather delectable seafood spaghetti, its mussels and pipis bursting with salty freshness.
As easily as we could have whiled away the entire day listening to the gentle crash of the ocean here, we had people to meet and places to go, and a short jolt saw us scrambling for a park in Gozo’s capital, coincidently of the same name as my home state, Victoria. Now when I say capital, don’t think bustling metropolis, it is little more than a regional centre, with a shop lined main street and not much beyond that. We would not be staying here though, we were simply there to meet someone special. Nerves buzzing as my social anxiety grappled with my desire to make a good first impression, I finally caught sight of a pair of people I had only ever seen in photos but have heard about almost incessantly for over two years, my friend Josmael’s mother, Angelina, and his younger sister, Gabriella. I need not have worried though, his mum’s warm smile took any chill out of the situation, and although his sister was exactly as silent as Jo had warned me she would be, there was nothing uncomfortable or unwelcoming about her presence.
A few rudimentary introductions and we were soon in our car again, following theirs as we made our way to Jo’s grandmother’s holiday house which was graciously being rented out to us for a spectacularly low cost. Before long we were pulling up on the roadside, just across from one of Gozo’s easiest identified coastal landmarks, Xwejni Rock, a jutting white rock located to the right of Xwejni Bay just outside the family’s hometown of Żebbuġ. Ushered inside our seaside apartment, we were met with a space which may not have been the biggest or the fanciest, but had an addition which made it feel like home; Angelina had not only prepared us a baked pasta for dinner, but had filled the fridge with supplies for breakfast, and on the bench sat sandwiches and snacks for afternoon tea. She swore blind it was nothing special, but as someone who so often shows love and care through acts of service, often cooking, I couldn’t help but feel blessed by the kindness of a woman who had never even met me. Up until today I was little more than an image projected through the stories of her son, and yet she had gone above and beyond not only to make me feel at home, but my partner and my mother as well. It was a random act of kindness I will forever be grateful for, and one I shan’t soon forget. Lina, if you ever read this, you have a special place in my heart.
After bidding our new Maltese family farewell, we settled in for the evening, snacking as we wound down and later tucking into our dinner with grateful gusto. As I listened to the waves and dug into my plate of pasta, I couldn’t help but replay Angelina’s voice in my head. As she spoke I could hear Jo’s voice in every word. His love for his mother defines much about him, anyone who knows him will tell you as much, but it is not until I met her that I came to see that he is so very much his mother’s son; every mannerism, every phrase, even the cadence on her words is replicated by her child on the other side of the globe. Much of who we are is not only nature, but far more often nurture, and sometimes it is not until we see the intergenerational resemblances of others that we look internally and recognise our own.
We remain naïve to our similarities with our family and friends to the point that it often takes someone removed meeting them and saying, ‘So that’s where you get that from’, for us to pick up on it. It is the slow morph into mimicry that leaves us blind to its very existence. We forget that we do daily chores or go about inane tasks in a certain order or way because we watched our parents or guardians do it as such constantly in our formative years. We forget when the common phrases of our friends became our own. That’s not to say there aren’t times when we catch ourselves and think ‘Oh my, I sound just like my mother’, or watch our siblings and realise their mannerisms are our own, but in meeting the parents of those we are close too, especially after years of knowing them, we are presented with a person who displays the blatant juxtaposition of being a stranger with calmingly familiar traits; it is de ja vu in human form clear as day.
As I mused on this, it was hard not to become sentimental about all the little parts of me which I have taken from those I love or have loved, the micro-movements and habits which connect us even when separated by time or space. The fact that my brother and I will both approach eating a meal of meat and vegetables in the exact same order, the fact I tisk when I make a mistake in the exact same tone as my mother, or the fact there are phrases in my life kept purely for my best friend or my partner is irrefutable evidence of their influence and imprint on my life, proof that we are of the same ilk. These wisps of them I carry when they are not near, are the wisps I will cling to should they part this world before I do; the subtlest of legacies we all leave behind.