The theme of “finding hidden places in my own backyard” continued. But this time I was traveling the local scene with an actual explorer…
I met Mark Borda in Khartoum, Sudan. We were both on the same expedition to Jebel Uweinat, deep in the Sahara desert. But it was only after we returned to Malta that we realized he lives in the same building as my landlord’s father, and that he’s known him for years.
I knew Malta was small, but jeez, I thought the Sahara was boundless…
Anyway, Mark made a big splash in Sahara circles a few years ago when he discovered an Egyptian inscription at Uweinat. The effects of his find are still rippling outwards, because until now the vast majority of academics believed the Ancient Egyptians were unable to reach this remote and waterless part of the desert. Uweinat may have been a staging point for journeys to the Ennedi in Chad. And if so, the Egyptians might have traded directly with Central Africa. Entire history books will have to be rewritten…
But that’s another story, and we don’t have time for it now.
Today we’re talking about hidden places in Malta.
When we were out in the desert, I asked Mark about his favourite locations here on the island. Secret corners a foreigner was unlikely to find.
He stopped by last week and took us for a drive, and I wasn’t disappointed.
We saw the ruins of a Bronze age fortress right outside my village. And Mark showed me where I could find some Roman ruins if I hiked down a valley and hopped over a few walls.
We explored Hassan’s Cave, a natural opening in the limestone cliff 80 meters above the sea. The area was closed off a few years ago when the ground became unstable and an enormous chunk of cliff sheared away into the sea. But we found a gap in the fence and went down to check it out.
It’s a sprawling complex that goes deep into the side of the island, it’s innermost reaches blocked by an iron gate. It’s unclear whether or not the place was inhabited in prehistoric times, like the nearby cave of Ghar Dalam. But cave paintings are a possibility, and so we photographed the walls for later enhancement with DStretch software.
From there our explorations took us to Fawwarra, a beautiful green stretch of coast near the cliffs, with a bicycle path and routes for hiking. Peaceful chapels slumbered next to vineyards and fields. And tall trees cast their shade over dry stone walls. It felt a thousand miles away from the overcrowded urban sprawl and clogged roads of the Harbour side of Malta. I never imaged such a place to exist here. And I never would have found it through all those single-lane farm tracks.
After stopping to grab a pastizzi in Rabat, we continued on narrow roads to an even more remote stretch of coast called Blata tal-Melh.
We climbed down the hillside on a footpath made by hunters, and walked along the smooth worn stone at the top of the cliffs. We had to pick our way down a section of steps cut into the rock, holding a worn knotted rope in one hand. And at one point we leaped over a narrow inlet where the sea crept a finger into the shore far below.
There were salt pans, boreholes, and a narrow passageway carved into the rock. No one knows how old the system is, but crystals of salt still collect in the sun when the sea is heaving and spumes of water spray over the flats through these deep man made holes.
It’s an isolated place, with views of the cliffs in both directions, and Gozo in the hazy distance. Wind and solitude and mists of salt spray. Plunging depths inhabited by pelagic fish like tuna and shark. A plaque on the rock in memory of a man who was swept away by heavy seas in the 1960’s. And nature — something all too rare on this tiny island, unless you know where to look.
I’m going to venture back to these places on my own in the coming weeks for further exploration. And I’ll write about each of them in detail on the blog. But for now I wanted to share a few images.
After 2 years here, I’m still finding secret places right in my own backyard.
I understand well what you did in Malta.
From 1985 to 1989 I lived near Misratah in Libya.
At first sight the city’s natural environment was empty and completely uninterested.
And when I left Misratah in 1989 I was able to organise full day tours to show my friends how many secrets I discovered in that emptiness.
I’ve never had a chance to visit Libya. The civil war started right when we moved here. It’s a place I’d really like to see – and so close to here too. I hope things settle down and open up for travel again. I’ll be hitting you up for advice for sure.