Land of the Gozitans

Malta

On the 11th, we braved the heat and day tripped to Gozo, Malta’s smaller second island (carrying 6 litres of water). We bused to Cirkewwa (about an hour) then caught the excellent Gozo Channel Ferry to Mgarr Harbour (25 minutes).

Once in Gozo, we splashed out €30 to hire a car for the day (slowest car ever – it was a Chevron and there were plenty of these hired to tourists) as we didn’t want to waste any time waiting for buses. (Arriva also operates buses on Gozo but for some bizarre reason your Malta ticket isn’t valid in Gozo.)

Driving was fun. Most of the roads had been dug up for road works so there were many diversions in place. There is only one road rule in Gozo – tourists must give way to local Gozitans (and because most tourists drive brightly coloured Chevron hatchbacks, this rule works ok).

We decided to drive straight to the far side of Gozo (15 minutes) to the Azure Window in Dwejra.

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The Azure Window is one of those freaks of geology that features on all the post cards. I came here nine years ago with Mum, Dad and Nicky, but it was worth the second visit.

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Since we were last here, some huge pieces of rock have fallen off the Azure Window (this only happened this year) and it is now pretty certain that it will one day topple into the ocean. Here is the before and after shot published in the Malta Times:

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Inland from the Azure Window is the Inland Sea which is a cliff bound lagoon connected to the open sea by a tunnel that runs for 100m through the headland of Dwejra Point. Local fisherman take tourists through the tunnel for about €7. We did this last time, but today opted to spend our change on ice cream.

In the rocks between the Azure Window and where I am standing in the photo above is the Blue Hole. It’s very cool. It is a natural vertical chimney in the limestone about 10m in diameter and 25m deep that connects with the open sea through an underwater arch about 8m down. From the surface the Blue Hole is completely enclosed by the rock. Here is a bird’s eye view from Google followed by one of Em’s photos.

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There was a group of divers in the Blue Hole when I went for a dip and I was wishing that I had organised a dive while we were out here – this is one of the top dive sites in Malta.

As the photo above was taken, this local guy (wearing speedos and smoking) sat down next to Em and started chatting.

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It turned out that Mike the Maltese was a dive instructor (although we were a little wary of this to start with). The Dutch people that Mike was to have taken diving that day were apparently sick, so he offered to take me diving for €40. Being so desperate to go diving, I couldn’t say no. He went home to get the gear and we arranged to meet in the car park in 45 minutes.

With the dive shop in Sliema who took me to the HMS Maori on Monday there was 4 pages of waivers of liability and signatures everywhere. Mike didn’t seem to need any of that. He did have a laminated business card though, so seemed legit enough.

After the agony of putting on a wetsuit in the car park in 38 degrees, we made our way to the water to get started.

The first part of the dive involved following Mike down this incredible vertical chimney that is just wide enough for a diver. I found a link of some divers doing the chimney on YouTube (although it doesn’t do it justice) – click here

We then go off this big ledge and descend to 27m. There are lots of cool fish and some are feeding by swimming vertically up the ledge towards the surface. Mike the Maltese (who was evidently very experienced and an excellent underwater guide) was joking around and I was spitting air laughing at his hilarity. Earlier he had told me: “I had a wife, and now I have a girlfriend, but I get in trouble often as I meet lots of people and many of them are French and Italian and wear bikinis”. Maltese accent required.

We make our way back to the chimney and this time ascend through it before heading under the Azure Window. You could see all the huge pieces of rock that had fallen off recently. The change doesn’t look significant in the photos above, but close up there is one piece as big as a bus (which Mike takes us under). We can see the outline of the arch above the surface from 15m down. The visibility is much better than at home.

The next interesting bit is a massive underwater cave which we swam into until it was pitch black. Then we swim back out a bit and Mike points out a rock formation that resembles a face.

We go under the arch into the Blue Hole to start our ascent, but need to do a safety stop for a few minutes at 5 meters. Mike has me spewing air as I laugh at him pointing out the large French mammals treading water above us.

Dive time = 55 minutes and I enjoyed every minute of it.

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Mike the Maltese smokes two packs a day but his air still lasted longer than mine!

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We farewelled Mike and headed off around the coast in search of a sandy beach, stopping for photos along the way.

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Finally it was time to get out of the water, eat some more ice cream, and head back to the ferry terminal to drop off the car. We decided to have dinner at a restaurant adjacent to the wharf before catching the return ferry back to Malta at 8.15. The only hiccup was the Arriva bus at the other end (I think I was too generous towards Arriva in my last blog) which left us waiting at the stop until 10pm. Other than that, the trip to Gozo was awesome (and we drank all of our water).

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