Staying with Mario in Gozo

My knock at the door yielded a schlubby looking, middle-aged guy with a filthy t-shirt and baggy sweatpants. As he walked me through his stone home, which clearly had not been renovated in decades and was filled to the brim with knick knacks and books, I couldn’t help but second guess myself. Then as I got to my sleeping area, a bunk bed in a cramped, hot space, I wondered, could I really stay here for the next two days?

After four days in Malta, I had decided to take a trip to the nearby island of Gozo, which I had heard was more rustic and laid back than Malta. When I initially went looking for Couchsurfing hosts before I left the US, I had received a message from Mario asking me if I needed a place to stay. I told him I was not planning to come to Gozo straight away but he said if I decided to come to let him know and he would put me up.

Which is how I came to arrive at his home in the hill town of Xaghra (pronounced Sharra). Of course I had not read all the fine print on his Couchsurfing profile and so did not realize what I was getting myself into.

For you see Mario is both the only Couchsurfing host on the island as well as a constant host. A 52 year old native of Valletta and anthropologist by training, Mario moved to Gozo 26 years ago for a more peaceful life and when not working as a curator of the Dwerja Tower, built by the Knights of St. John in the 17th Century, he loves to host guests. Read more of this post

My journey begins…in Malta

Judging by this first post from the road you can tell that I have successfully made it to Malta. Despite arriving here only a few days ago I have seen quite a bit of this island nation, which sits like a sun drenched speck in the Mediterrannean, right off the southeastern coast of Sicily.

Rather than give a blow by blow account of my time here I figured I would focus on some initial highlights and observations.

A day touring the island with Jorge

On my first full day in Malta, my Couchsurfing host Jorge treated me to an epic bike trip to several of Malta’s famous sites and a swimming expedition through caves in the Mediterannean.

After renting a bike on the waterfront in Sliema, where Jorge lives, we set off first to the town of Mosta, centered sround it’s famed domed church. One of the largest domes in the world, this church was bombed by the Germans during World War II yet miraculously, the bomb never exploded and the church still stands.

Mosta Dome Malta

enjoying the cannon outside the Mosta Dome

Our next stop was the walled former capital of Malta, Mdina, which affords breathtaking views of the Maltese countryside and showcases numerous examples of the limestone buildings that have stood out in my time here. It’s very expensive to live here and houses are passed down from generation to generation lending an air of old world exclusivity.

Mdina church Malta

a church in Mdina

Medina stands surrounded outside its walls by its sister city Rabat. Here we toured St. Paul’s Catacombs where the dead were buried in Roman times and where St. Paul reputedly stayed when he was shipwrecked in Malta. Catacombs are not the most exciting places to visit, especially as this one smelled like mildew. Can you imagine being buried forty feet deep in a cavern of stone?

By this point, sweaty from a day of riding and tired from the sun, we stopped near the ancient temple complex of Mnajdra, which was built in the 4th millennium BC. Yes it is that old. Luckily, the complex sits atop a hill above the water so we climbed down, dropped off our stuff and jumped in.

It was so much fun swimming in the choppy Mediterannean surf. We were shielded on three sides by caves with the open sea in front of us. The water was incredibly refreshing yet, made me appreciate how easy it is to swim in a lap pool where the lanes are clear and the water calm.

swimming in Malta

one of the areas where we swam

After drying off we biked back to Sliema, exhausted but exhilarated.

It could only happen to me

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