Although we originally intended to take public transit only in Malta, we were immediately deterred by the discrepancy in travel time to the blue grotto. Twenty minutes by taxi versus nearly two hours by bus. With this knowledge we booked a Bolt taxi. Unfortunately, we hadn’t considered the factor of motion sickness. Our driver followed Waze to get to our destination, therefore taking many small windy roads that were clearly unfamiliar to him, with lots of sudden deceleration and acceleration. By the time we arrived at Is-Siggiewi I was rather nauseous.
We walked down to the main harbour area for boats into the blue grotto, but Qianqian vetoed taking one due to my obvious discomfort and the advice of the teachers we met at the tower. This was a small school group of elementary students on a school trip in their last week of school after exams. The teachers and I connected immediately on our shared profession and we chatted a bit at the base of the historic tower (which was unfortunately closed). They warned us of the high chop in the sea due to the wind, which we saw immediately in the lurching motion of a boat below. After descending to the harbour, QQ decided to swim around there while I went back up to the tower to sit in the sun and draw.
She joined me after a brief swim and we decided to walk up for a better view of the blue grotto. A fun scrabble, we eventually joined the main road and then curved back around for the official viewpoint. Something about that sixty meter archway is just special. I have seen many natural wonders, but somehow this humble one really captivated me in its elegance. QQ huddled in the shade while I drew.
It was during this time that Qianqian innovated herself a ghonnella (before we even knew what such a thing was), using the towel of darkness that we’d brought as a sun shade. She was very pleased with herself and adorable in that gremlin-y happiness. It kept her shaded on the walk up the hill to the prehistoric sites.
We spent the rest of the day at Hagar Qim and Mnaijdra – temple sites a few hundred meters away from each other dating back 7,000 years. I think it was the highlight of my time on the island. The mystery, the solemnity, the quiet (very few tourists), the majesty of the megaliths, the astronomical alignments, and the evidence of ancient ornamental and figural art combined to create what QQ would call a Terrence trap. We listened to the free audio guide as we went. As I drew the rooms that particularly appealed to me I thought of the advantages of drawing over photography in lending clarity, in guiding the eye on what to focus on.
After a short requisite stop at the museum (with a “4D” video whose third and fourth dimensions were completely unnecessary), we spent almost all our time at the first site of Hagar Qim, only having fifteen minutes at Mnaijdra before closing, following a pair of young French women dashing frenetically about the site, flushed with the heat, and clearly stressed to see everything in a short amount of time (they’d arrived after we’d already been there for an hour).
We all walked briskly back up the hill to the exit afterwards, cognizant of the time in regards to allowing the docents to finish work. We weren’t particularly keen on taking the bus back, as we’d just missed the timing of the previous bus and would have to wait forty minutes for the next one (which would take us to Valletta before we’d need to transfer to a bus to Rabat). Luckily, we met a very friendly elderly taxi driver feeding a group of cats just outside the museum “Fifteen cats”, he kept saying, happily. This was enough to win QQ over, and his casual offer also inclined me towards accepting the ride as well. His rate was less than the quoted rate on Bolt, and we agreed. He had a poor command of English, but tried his best nonetheless to point out the sites on the way “Silent City, Silent City. Malta flag. There Valletta. History.” Best of all, he drove with confidence, ease, and efficiency, even taking us through a closed off road after asking the construction worker – they’d closed the road for a horse race the next day. We paid him more than he’d asked but less than the quoted Bolt price with all the cash we had on us, sixteen euros, and alighted from the smooth ride with many friendly goodbyes at the edge of Rabat.
A few days later, on our last day in Malta, we had something of a redux of this entire journey. We took an aggressive young taxi from Birgu back to the same area, this time to Ghar Lapsi a bit Northwest of the blue grotto. Qianqian picked out the location for the natural pool, as I insisted on including some QQ activities in our day after spending the last few on Terrence activities. She swam happily in the natural pool (she proudly proclaimed having paddled to a little cave) as I watched from a rock above, taking angible photos and drawing. Occasionally, young men egged each other into jumping off this rock into the water below.
The people there mostly consisted of locals, including a pair of young women taking sexy photos halfway up the staircase. When I pointed them out, QQ decided to do a set of silly “sticky” poses, as she was by this point rather brown and sticky – a stick. QQ struck three hilariously derpy poses in a few seconds. Quite the efficient contrast to the women, who were still at it (after an hour and half) by the time we left for the bus station above. I felt very uneasy on the bus ride back as a massive man in his thirties with a shaved head and crazy eyes got on the otherwise empty bus after a few stops and stared menacingly at us throughout his time on the bus before getting off, thankfully, a few stops before Rabat.