Cowboy hat, a gallon of water, sunblock and trainers.
It was 9.30 am on a Saturday morning. An hour before the departure time and the queue leading to the Geraldine, in Sliema Bay was already longer than one a nightclub. The morning Maltese sunshine was sparkling and sprackling off of the waters of the bay. The traffic was already honking along the main road and someone in one of the hundreds of apartments facing the bay was cooking bacon. While singing Cher’s “Do You Believe in Love after Love?”
The queue was typical for such an adventure and as we waited to board the Geraldine. The only Maltese in sight were the polo shirt wearing staff checking tickets and handing out coloured wrist bands. These determined whether you gained access to the “open bar” and the sundeck bedecked VIP access on the roof. Myself included, I saw within the queue: Americans, Canadians, Italians, Spanish, Dutch and near the back of the queue like walking talking advertisements for eugenics were the Swedish. Then there was me, the lost executive, a six-foot-six mongrel standing head and shoulders above everyone else with a cowboy hat and enough sunblock to drown a hippo.
I like doing the “tourist” thing. I figure that if I’m going to find out the best things about a location I might as well rely on the professionals to show me around. Sure, you could Google it ahead of time but even then, some places that should be spoken about more often do not really make an appearance in Google.
I find cruises fascinating. As a business model they don’t require a huge amount of capital, the profits are pretty much immediate and it’s almost entirely down to the creativity of those hosting the tour to make it a success. But there is no way to prepare for the awkwardness of people in a crowd standing in their speedos. With this in mind, the newly boarded passengers shuffled awkwardly around the boat, trying not to rub our bared arms against each other and hoping we would find a comfortable place to sit.
I picked a spot on the second deck, amongst the flocks of people in various swimming costumes and while sitting there trying not to look lonely I took stock of everything I had brought with me. Namely, my mobile phone (for pictures and to look busy if I ever felt people were pitying me), sunblock with the maximum SPF 50- I was assured that to get any higher I might as well just wear a blanket, some cash and a gallon bottle of water.
THE COOL PARTS OF THE TOUR
Malta’s history is a long one. The island is mentioned specifically in the Bible. The island is a tactical military position for the Mediterranean with plenty of coastal forts. The same coastline is speckled with a dizzying number of caves that have managed to avoid being damaged by graffiti and vandalism. Partly because not all of them as easy to reach and partly because they’re being policed by the tourists and locals who spend their weekends lying on any available spot in the coastline chilling out.
I gained access to the VIP sundeck for the cost of 10 euros, and spent half the time there lying on a deck chair applying sun screen and the other half in the shade, applying more sunscreen.
How is it that some people can bask in the sun like lizards on a rock and gain only the lightest shade of brown whereas a quick sprint from shade to shade will leave me looking like a Canadian flag?
We arrived at Gozo, disembarked from the boat and jostled with each other to get onto the open top of the bus and were driven through Gozo.
Gozo is less construction focused than Malta and so seems a little better put together. There is a lot of history detailing how Gozo is an intricate part of Malta. And howto a certain degree has managed to maintain its own level of sturdy independence. But even so, many people in Gozo travel to Malta for work.
We spent an hour and a half in the town centre of Gozo. While there I enjoyed a big beef burger and chips and a 7 Up for a hiccupng amount of 5 euros. I sat under a gabana in the square in the middle of the Saturday markets. These markets open onto the roads and I couldn’t help but notice that the driving in Gozo is far more chilled than the driving in Malta.
There was a bit of a jostle to get into the bus’ interior on the way back to the ferry as the sunshine was proving to be distinctly unrelenting.
The ferry then took us to the Blue Lagoon. Which is the name of a bay on the coast of Malta. A glorious stretch of crystal clear water under the crumbling cliffs. I rented a pair of goggles and a snorkel. I’m a big fan of snorkelling, having spent most of my childhood in floating facedown in the Durban waters. The only reason my parents didn’t panic was the occasional jet of water from the snorkel, so I kept the same tactic going here.
The Mediterranean is very salty so you’ll float with very little difficulty so this is a past time for the lazy as well as the fit.
SOME LESS COOL BITS OF THE TOUR.
It’s all a bit samey. The coastline of Malta has a lot of history to appreciate. However, the forts are all quite small and you have to squint to see them from the sea. Also, they’re almost swallowed up by the immense amount of undeveloped land which is sparse scrubland and very dry. Once you’re away from the larger cities it just becomes a bit, “Oh well.”
The tour through Gozo is the same and left me feeling a little bored. I enjoyed it, but there weren’t many “wow” moments which I feel a tour should have.
The Blue Lagoon was a cool place to go to. But our ferry dropped us off and left us to our own devices for a couple of hours. So, we either snorkelled or we lay on the rocks and sunbathed but even then it all became a bit… dull. The ocean is perfectly clear but there aren’t that many impressive fish. Once you’ve taken the prerequisite selfies, once you’ve swum around, once you’ve baked yourself crisp in the sun, you start feeling a bit toured out.
DID I ENJOY IT
I enjoyed it. I found it to be quite informative and it was nice to get into the sun. However, I think that more could be offered. This is generally my feeling about Malta in general. The island has a lot to offer but, as the history shows, mostly people just don’t know what to do with it.
What I would recommend to all the cruises is to offer additional, free of charge services to the passengers. I was travelling by myself so I couldn’t take those cool Instagram images and videos that I wanted to. The ferry owners could purchase some under water cameras fairly cheaply. Then one of the staff members could offer to take some “underwater pictures”, or “Instagram shots”.
This extends into all the tours around Malta and Gozo. Tourists are now as interested in history as they are in getting pictures of themselves at the historic sites. We are in the generation of “I am here pictures”. Selfies are okay, but people want quality images for their social media. Having someone on hand to take a picture at the perfect spot could really bring an edge to the tour.
The sundeck is worth paying extra for. You get the chance to bask and access to all the other decks and the best views for the selfies.
Take sunblock and wear a hat. Some people came off that ferry at the end of the looking as if they would spend the rest of their time unable to wear clothes while Aftersun bubbled on their exposed bits.
Take water. I was grateful to have my gallon of water. One, because it’s hot, water is needed and two the water is soooo salty.
Bring trainers, not sandals. The reason being that you can always put your phone, wallet and sunglasses into your shoes while you’re swimming. You’ll also be grateful when trying to walk across the rocks. The Maltese islands are composed of sedimentary rocks, compacted sediments of rocks deposited from the ocean. This variety of different rocks means that erosion happens at very different rates. So you have rocks that are sharp, ragged and something out of Dr Zeus’ worst nightmare. You cannot walk across them comfortably bare footed and in sandals you could slip out or trip. You do not want to fall on these rocks.
Trust me, take trainers.