I've had two trips to Malta; one in 2012, one in 2013. This is 2012's highlights*. Funny how, if you leave it a while, you realise what you took away from the experience:
- Learning that every trip really needs one person whom everyone else can privately agree is a bit, well, unique. Ours was P. P wore his wetsuit and a straw hat at all times. Wearing a wetsuit is not odd if you're going diving. It is odd if you are out of the water for an hour having lunch, and it's 35 degrees C in the shade.
- Learning that you should not give the person everyone else thinks of as a bit, well, unique, the map when trying to drive to a dive site on Gozo you've never been to before. Gozo is the sister island of Malta, and home to one of the Mediterranean's most famous dive sites, the Blue Hole of Gozo (picture above). It is a running joke among visitors to Malta that the Maltese took the road signs down to confuse the Nazis, and never bothered to put them back up again. Picture the scene. I'm in a car with five divers, one of whom is trying desperately to navigate his way through Gozo's twisting roads in an overloaded Volvo, three of whom are clinging on for dear life, and the fifth is P, who was staring at the map with an expression like an alien trying to comprehend Crufts. I, the driver, asked harriedly as he approached a roundabout, "Do I turn right here?" P looked up, and uttered in a tone of mild interest: "You can turn right if you want to turn right." The second time this happened, the iron entered the soul of one of the other divers, L, who leaned forward, fixed P with a gimlet stare, and explained: "You've got the map, man! The way this works is that YOU tell HIM where he needs to go!"
- Exploring the Blue Hole of Gozo, when we finally got there. It is truly a unique dive. Like the Blue Hole of Dahab, you enter a blue pool, descend about 25m, and swim out into a stunning underwater landscape. It is one of those moments where the answer to the question: "Was it worth learning to dive?" is answered "Yes", for the rest of your life.
- Learning that, no matter how much you like someone, by the time they've uttered their catchphrases "I Like Magic Malta" and "Hey Guys", five times a day for a week, you will want to silence them by buying them a drink at every opportunity.
- Night diving at the Popeye Village (Anchor Bay) site, and spotting a really enormous sea snail.
- Seeing a cuttlefish for the first time.
- Learning that diving twice a day in the sunshine, then spending an evening in the pub with your mates, is a truly excellent way to spend a holiday.
- Malta is nice, and has cheap pizza.
- Malta also has a load of old Arriva buses plying its streets, which can make things confusing... you step out of the airport, and the first thing you see is an Arriva bus pulling up on the left hand side of the road. It's hard not to wonder "Holy crap, did the pilot turn the plane round in mid-air?"
- Getting your own beer fountain in the pub sounds like a better idea than it actually is.
- Diving the Um el-Faroud - one of the biggest sunken ships in the Mediterranean - really is all it's cracked up to be.
- Comino's Blue Lagoon is an amazing sight. So are the nearby caves, although they are the site of one of my more alarming dive stories. I was happily trolling along in the "Fish Bowl" area, a shallow dive site popular for an end-of-day dive, when an anchor suddenly thudded into the sand a foot away from me. At the time, I just thought "Ooops!" and sculled off to the edge of the Fish Bowl. Only later did it occur to me that this story could have had a very different ending.
* yup, this is the same holiday when I discovered the hard way (i.e. 18m down) that my inflatable BCD was leaking air.