…meeting a naked farmer, oh my!
Photos and words by Mary Charlebois
Watching the sunrise from my back terrace, I thought, “Gozo, you are my forever home.” Camera and cup of tea at hand, my heart poured out gratitude. It was a joy to be part of this celestial event. Two nights in my comfy apartment and I was calling Gozo home.
Covering the entire island of Gozo on foot, over 2-weeks, was an ambitious plan for an old dame like myself. I was asked to review a self-paced walking tour and the luxurious resort that acted as basecamp. How could I say no?
I had seven walking trips to complete. I wanted nothing more than to get out in the countryside and see Gozo. My first adventure began just outside my village, Ghajnsielem.
Hit the trail
The trail began about a quarter-mile northwest of home. I crossed the cra-cra busy four-lane road in the morning rush-hour. Cars, lorries, and cyclists raced to get the next ferry and cross the channel to their jobs on the main island of Malta.
Within five minutes, I was out of the village and on an unpaved country road meandering along a rubble wall. I had directions that indicated where to turn by street name. Of course, there were no street signs. Luckily, there were few cross streets. Once or twice, I wandered down what I thought was a lane but was the road to a house or field. No one seemed to mind that a wandering American elder was roaming the backroads of Gozo.
In the shade of an olive tree…
It was hot. There was little or no shade. I needed a break. Passing through an olive grove I found a likely looking tree and sat, thinking about the wine, olive oil and honey festival coming in a day or so and the centuries it had been celebrated.
In the distance, I saw workers harvesting the green fruit. Olives of many varieties are one of Malta’s finest crops and the most common tree on the islands. These olives would go to Żejtun. Dressed in traditional attire, farmers take their olives to be blessed at the church there before pressing them for oil.
After satisfying my thirst, I settled down and looked up. Framed by olive trees, an age-old basilica in the distance seemed to chuckle at my lack of tolerance to the Mediterranean sun.
Rest-stop is over
I suppose that was my kick in the keister. I got up and continued my walk-about through olive groves, fig orchards, edible cactus hedges, open land, rolling hills, and rocky terraces. Along the hills, I saw caves. There was a fella rock climbing I watched for a bit. I heard some of the caves are occupied from time-to-time by those on a spiritual pilgrimage.
At the edge of a very deep and narrow gorge with one end opening to the sea were the most intriguing buildings I’ve ever seen. They looked as though they were sliding off the rocks and piggy-backing into the gorge.
The old watchtower was a restaurant; some told me, others said it was a B&B. I didn’t find out what it was exactly. That will wait for another trip. I must go there!
It was a secret trail, not a secret beach
Following my instructions, I left the road and headed along a footpath that would take me down to the secret beach. I planned a swim and lunch at the little snack bar mentioned in the walk notes.
Before you know it, the trail forked. There was no mention of this in my guide, so I took the path leading down, that is, until it ended overlooking a steep and rubble-strewn cliff.
I retraced my steps and took the other fork. I followed the narrow rut, placing one foot in front of the other, thinking, “Maltese folks must have tiny feet.” That’s when I realized, the words ‘Goat Trail’, from my GPS, was not the name of the trail. It was an actual path used by goats.
This was all wrong. I couldn’t see any way to get to the beach, so I stayed on the goat trail that was leading up. After a few minutes, I could see a watchtower that was on my GPS and walking guide. I headed toward the giant sandstone square.
I spent some time in the shade of the old sentinel under the drawbridge. This was a place that was in use as recently as WWII. The stone monolith had seen centuries as a watch post, looking for the ever-present threat of invasion. It was closed that day, but I got some photos, had some water and an orange.
Finding a naked Maltese farmer
I gave up on my walking guide and decided to follow GPS, but first, I had to find a road. There was a truck parked beside a small stone farmer’s hut. “That person drove there, they could give directions.”
Crossing the deeply furrowed and newly planted field, I walked to the shelter. As I got closer, I saw the backside of a naked man sitting on a white 5-gallon bucket reading a Maltese newspaper and smoking a cigarette. I made a quick u-turn and got the heck out of there, heading uphill as fast as I could.
As I got to the crest, I could see the road below me. I had to walk down but made a wide arc to avoid the farmer’s hut. Then I heard, “Madame, madame, are you lost?” He was coming toward me.
So, I met Joseph, now wearing khaki shorts and no shirt. Joseph was a warm and funny Maltese Farmer I had inadvertently interrupted going about his ‘business.’ We talked for an hour or so sitting on the tailgate of his white pickup. He shared his tea and some pastries; I shared some dates.
Chasing birds and drinking tea
Joseph told me he was there chasing birds, so they didn’t eat the newly sprouting seeds of his wheat field. He was a human scarecrow. My time sitting and chasing birds with Joe germinated my connection to farming on this small, hot, dry, and almost waterless island.
I said my goodbyes to Joe and followed his directions to the road leading back to my village, Għajnsielem. A half-hour later, I was lunching on my terrace and planning a nap.
Limited directions and poorly marked trails led me astray that day, but I met Joseph, something wholly unexpected and unforgettable. It was a happy accident.
Thanks for stopping by, MaryGo
Folks That Helped Me Plan My Trip to Malta
~ Travel Insurance – Allianz ~