My first visit to Malta was in 2016, during a particularly turbulent period of my life. Bookended between chapters of distress, confusion, and bitterness, I remember that weekend on Gozo together with Martinique as a much-needed respite: a scintillating moment of sun that pierced through the ever low-hanging clouds.
We arrived in Malta in the evening and took immediately to the ferry terminal. As the taxi dropped us off, we saw the last remaining passengers embark and scurried to join them. A few moments later, breathless, our pockets five euro lighter, we were standing on the open deck, just our backpacks and puff jackets, with no plans and no reservations, armed with only a naive yet cocksure confidence that we’ll figure something out. I remember the calm that night as we crossed the channel. Faint stars dotted the firmament and lights from the land danced in the distance. Their reflections over the water seemed to amplify time and space. In the middle of the Mediterranean, we floated over infinity.
In the dimness, I mulled over the mess I had made for myself in Switzerland: tattered relationships left and right, a job that was neither stimulating nor taking me anywhere. What little control I had over my life was slipping through my fingers. But on that boat, for a moment, I felt buoyant. If my universe unraveled around me right then, I thought, at least there were still places like Gozo to escape to…
“Hotel Calypso?” asked a driver as we arrived on the docks. It was thirty minutes later and approaching midnight. We told him that we had nothing booked, so Hotel Calypso sounded as good of an idea as any. We jumped into the taxi bound for somewhere fast. Marti chattered like she always did with taxi drivers and I winded down in the back seat and left her to it; they always found her charming and this time was no different. “If you want, my aunt has an apartment,” proposed our driver in a tone that sounded like he was about to do us a solid. It must have been clear to him by then that we really hadn’t a clue what we were doing. “It’s nice: two bedrooms and a good price. You interested?”
‘No, but thanks’ was the answer which had immediately crossed our minds but was definitely not what we said, and so before we realized, we had agreed to rent a room for two nights from an aunt that we never met of a taxi driver that we didn’t know.
I don’t remember much from that first evening on Gozo but Marti said she froze, which made sense because even though there were two bedrooms, we shared one. Dawn was upon our door in the blink of an eye and I found myself alone. I lay in bed, musing over our spontaneous decision to sleep in a stranger’s empty home, and waited for Marti to return. Neither of us remembered that Malta had British-style power sockets, so she had gone to the nearest hotel, which turned out to be Calypso, to borrow an adapter from the reception.
Breakfast was a ftira sandwich: leavened Maltese bread with a hole in the middle, stuffed with an omelette and fried ham. I devoured mine with a carnivorous hunger and proceeded to finish off Martinique’s leftovers too. We rented bikes from a small shop and started on the gentle incline leaving Marsalforn Bay.
Gozo blessed us with beauty that morning: the sky was as singular and blue as the sea. We cycled past salt pans and endless fields of green and gold and used the excuse of exploring the village squares to rest our legs. I tried a Kinnie, Malta’s chinotto-flavored soda, and we coddled and cooed at the sunbathing cats that sprawled on car hoods and dead-end streets. They embodied the spirit of the island: languorous, gentle, and carefree.
We reached Città Victoria by midday, chained our bikes, and meandered through the medieval-looking capital of Gozo. It was Carnival season and the main street was strewn with provocatively colorful and crudely painted floats. It was a strange juxtaposition of art and architecture that jolted me out of my rural daydream. By the citadel, we picked out hand-knitted sweaters and chatted with the shopkeepers. From one, we learned that there would be a large Carnival celebration that evening in the village of Nadur. From another, we heard bits of ancient Gozitan history and lore: according to the locals, Gozo was where the beautiful nymph Calypso kept Odysseus as her prisoner and lover. Marti and I responded with simultaneous oohs as we finally understood Calypso’s influence over the island.
An alluring image caught my eye: it was the postcard of a temple, poised regally in a prairie of blooming wildflowers. It reminded me of a place I had forgotten about long ago, packed neatly away with the rest of my childhood video games and fantasies. I tugged at Marti and said that we had to go: if I could only see one more thing that day, then it had to be this place on the postcard. And so we were off again, zigzagging across the Gozitan landscape, our t-shirts stuck to our sides in the breeze as we pedaled toward the village of Għarb and the magical shrine of Ta’ Pinu.
It wasn’t the largest or the most grandiose, but something about this basilica by the sea was indescribably transcendent. Out there in the openness, the sun, the warmth, the flowers, the heaven and earth breathed new life into a splintered spirit.
I thought again about my little unraveling universe: what was it worth, trying to keep it all pinned in place? If the cosmos was in motion, then maybe it was time for me to move with it. I closed my eyes and let myself drift. I imagined what the winds of fate had in store: they had blown me from Beijing all the way to San Francisco Bay, and then here to Europe. If Switzerland was only meant to be a Zwischenstopp, where was next? The northern shores of Tangier? The far reaches of Fiji? Perhaps back to sunny California and the palm-fringed avenues of Beverly Hills. If I was about to really “lose everything,” as René had so menacingly warned me that final time we met each other, then at least I would be untethered. Then at least I could start everything anew. And that didn’t seem so bad.
We didn’t stay long at Ta’ Pinu, but I believe that day on Gozo island, I touched upon the gates of some sort of sanctuary.
We cycled on under the setting sun and reached the Bay of Dwerja just in time to see the limestone cliffs turn a radiating hue of saffron. In front of the Azure Window, we posed and snapped our tourist pictures. Neither of us guessed that it would be the last time we would ever lay our eyes upon it, but even the sturdiest-looking of stones couldn’t stay still forever. The cosmos was in motion, and so were we. Rolling our wheels against the last rays of light, we sped back toward Marsalforn, where we gave our feet a short break before taking on the night in Nadur.