Malta has left me with a few bruises, scars, cuts on my feet and a sunburn that has made carrying my backpack nigh impossible. It’s hot, dirty and full of inconsiderate tourists. But, my goodness, do I love it here.
There was the woman who stopped her car in the middle of the road and blocked traffic to see if I was OK after I slipped over while walking around a corner. The roads and paths in Malta are slippery. It happens when there is a mix of salt residue and dirt from the construction and restoration sites around the islands. Car tyres slip while they struggle up the roads in Mellieha and Australian tourists slip while turning corners in their Birkenstocks. That’s the price you pay to have such long architectural history and to be surrounded by the beautiful Mediterranean.
A young man working in a cafe has just brought me over a free coffee – I’ve been sat here for a while trying to avoid the sun beating down on my back and neck that are already too raw for moonlight, let alone the sun in this part of the world. It’s little gestures like this that show me how friendly the Maltese are.
As I walked around Comino yesterday, avoiding throngs of loud, drunk tourists in deck chairs and under umbrellas lining the rocks of the Blue Lagoon, I found a fort that was being restored. I dumped my bags and took a look around before one of the middle aged, tanned-to-within-an-inch-of-becoming-a-leather-chair, friendly workers started talking to me. The Maltese love Australians – as long as you’re not in a big group and being obnoxious – and he pointed out the swimming spot I had my eye on. He assured me it was safe and that I’d just walked past the small path that led down there. We chatted and he wished me luck as I set off by myself to the highlight of my trip.
Another Maltese gentleman waited on me hand and foot while I was out to dinner by myself at a local restaurant – this time sans book and happy to watch the city light up at night – and introduced me to a delicious Maltese rosé. He didn’t question me when I declared I would have the world’s largest bowl of pasta and cheesy garlic bread and complimentary bread but cheered me on when I was struggling during the meal and refrained from judging me when I couldn’t quite finish it.
Little kindnesses and little gestures. The Maltese are full of them and are community-driven with everyone a cherished neighbour and no favour too big to ask.
This little trio of islands – Malta, Comino and Gozo – has helped me fulfil dreams I hadn’t realised I had. I’ve been swimming in remote spots to which others don’t bother finding a path. I’ve pushed myself out of my comfort zone, diving into unknown waters (quite literally) and being at peace and comfortable with myself. I’ve sat in countless restaurants and cafes by myself, been happy to hike, lounge and swim by myself and I’ve embraced myself in a way that I’ve seldom done before.
Travelling alone in Malta has been liberating, uplifting and a challenge.
I travelled my new favourite way: plan very little, research minimally and don’t book accommodation for the whole time. I’ve taken everything day by day, often only deciding what I will do half an hour before I set out. I roll with the punches, especially when I get on the wrong bus and I end up at the end of the line in an unknown location but enough know-how to get by, enjoy the location or get on another bus.
Other tourists have been a challenge: jumping ahead in queues for busy buses and ferries, being inconsiderate in cafes, bars and shops or, my favourite, standing directly in front of me while I’m sitting and watching the sunset. But, as with everything else in life, all you can do is control how you react and – especially when I had nowhere to be – it was easy to let things go and simply catch the next bus, move along to a new spot or take a few deep breaths.
But then there are people like the couple sat next to me while I write this who steal crisps from me with a cheeky smile when the wind blows them across the counter onto their plate, the mother on the beach whose toddler was throwing a tantrum and with whom I shared a wry smile and a shrug, and the man who chased me down after I left my newly purchased water on a counter.
High season in popular countries can be difficult, but the humanity and the different souls I’ve seen here have inspired me, helped me relax and have made me feel more comfortable with my place in this world.
Malta is a must-see, a must-go and hard place to which to say goodbye.