GONZO GOZO: MALTA’S AZURE WINDOW

Valleta-Malta-boatAll great quests begin with a dragon to slay. And of course, a truly noble quest may include a princess in distress, a pilgrimage site, various vagaries of a strange and near-magical land, and then there’s all the unlikely characters—some timid and tilting at windmills, some brave and dueling with devils, and some…sheer villains.

The path is peppered with one ordeal after another—otherwise, we’d call it a five-star vacation sitting waist deep in tepid water at the poolside bar, which is lovely, but not a quest.

At some point on a quest, you may meet a mentor who aids your progress, or maybe a wood nymph or goddess appears offering comfort or grace. There’s a heartbreak or two of some sort along the way, a chapter or two you may regret.  Perhaps your Karma drone falls out of the sky, or a wheel falls off your carry-on. You may find a hint of humor—perhaps your sidekick wanders away chasing rainbows and unicorns in one scene. Just when things seem fine, trolls emerge from under what appears a safe bridge to cross.

Quests all end pretty much the same way: your underdog’s character changes, a hero emerges and maybe learns to fly solo after learning valuable lessons, then returns to the shire with the magic elixir—or returns with 2TB of photos, a Tumi carry-on, and an upgraded drone.

Azure-window-malta

When you travel the world solo, some days feel like a quest.  Take, for example, my desire to visit the most-stunning site in the Maltese archipelago: the Azure Window on the island of Gozo.

The Adventure Begins: Tarxien

tarxien-house-malta

I was holed up in an atavistic five-hundred-year-old, limestone-walled home in the small village of Tarxien on Malta’s main island. I had intended to rent a car for the whole month I’d be on Malta, but never quite got around to it until my last week there. The guidebooks actually say “driving on Malta is fun.” However, I’m the poster child for procrastination, and I also held a fairly good rationalization not to: they drive on the wrong side of the road in Malta, the left.

Besides that, the local bus is remarkably inexpensive and stopped fifty paces from my front door. If you ride west for 20 minutes, the bus drops you at the main bus terminal outside the medieval city gate of Valleta, where you can transfer to anywhere else on the island at no extra charge. If you go east, the bus drops you in front of Costa Coffee overlooking the alluring Marsaxlokk Bay.

Marsaxlokk-bay-malta

And perhaps most importantly, the towns are small, quaint and appealing to walk through; you see and experience significantly more than if you’re behind the wheel, concentrating on the left side of a narrow road or figuring out which way to turn at the next roundabout.

On some quests, it may be difficult to get through your day, as some like to say, without at least one good rationalization.

Entering the Gauntlet

On this venture to view the Azure Window, the villain appears in the first scene while I’m renting the car. My first impulse here is to begin whinging about this initial bump in the road before I even get on the road, but I’ll “man up” and move on. Let’s just leave it with this word of caution: the villain in our story performs sloppy sleight-of-hand tricks and palms your money like an ace of spades.

But let me offer you this advice du jour: if you travel to Malta and decide to rent a car at the airport, make arrangements well in advance, and choose your agency depending on whether or not you wish your travails to begin at the car rental counter or somewhere else further along your adventure.

Okay, and this: if the car rental company’s name begins with a “G”, read a few online customer reviews and know that everything negative, and each scam, those customers endured—all that is going to happen to you.

Apparently, I need to hone my manning-up-and-moving-on skills.

gozo-ferry-malta

The Second Ordeal

There is no airport on Gozo, yet, though there is a plan to build one.

One more piece of advice: visit before they do—Gozo is still a rough gem waiting for the final polish of globalization. There are no Starbucks, no Taco Bells, and only one McDonalds.

You’ll drive from where ever you are on the main island of Malta to the far west end and the little burg of Cirkewwa on the rustic Marfa Peninsula. I’m rather in a hurry to reach the ferry early enough to beat the flurry of late-night tourists who arrive later in the morning.  And I’m more than a little uneasy about getting lost, so I don’t bother to stop and take photos. But I do get lost. And I arrive at the ferry terminal a bit later than I hoped.

It was my own fault. I had the Google Maps turn-by-turn directions set up on my phone, which I’d never used before and didn’t quite trust (because I’m from the dinosaur generation that still doesn’t trust techy stuff, just recently purchased my first smart phone, and already have been diagnosed with appophobia), and then I see a road sign that says “Cirkewwa” with an arrow that looks like the right direction, so instead of listening to my phone I follow the sign, figuring there would be more.

Advice du jour: when driving on Malta…listen to your phone. You’ll find yourself meandering through marvelous, picturesque villages with a maze of narrow streets built for horse carts, few road signs, homes of stone, and hundreds of photo ops, but you may need Ariandne’s Thread to find your way out of these small towns.

When I finally reach the ferry terminal, I’m a little unnerved at how many cars are already in line, rows of them. I leave the car in line and walk toward the terminal to purchase a ticket. Inside the fairly-new terminal, it feels more like a bloggers convention or night club—modern and nicely appointed décor; a shedload of young travelers brandishing backpacks, tech gear, and music; the din of expectation rising like steam; and a bar to buy drinks and sandwiches. Only thing missing is a disco light. I buy a brownie and Perrier. Obviously, this is a fine place to while away some time while waiting for a ferry.

But I feel antsy to move on and, uncharacteristically, not in the mood to sit with other travelers and talk travels. I begin to wonder if this is merely due to my impatience to get on the road to the Azure Window, or my disappointment at arriving late, or something more insidious, perhaps something like early-onset geezer misanthropy.

When the ferry begins loading, it feels like we’re all sliding inside the cone of a huge funnel waiting to slip through the narrow shaft before sifting into the boat. I’m surprised how efficiently and humanely the queue moves, and more cars board than one would imagine possible. Philip, a Maltesean who rides the ferry daily, informs me that at busy times, you might wait for two or three ferries to come and go before boarding. I board the first ferry.

Advice du jour: arrive early in the morning to evade long queues at the Gozo Ferry Terminal—and try to avoid August altogether when all Europe goes on vacation. The ferries actually run day and night at regular intervals. But I suggest crossing the channel at least one way during daylight hours for the impressive views over the deep blue Mediterranean. To ensure an early start, you might overnight at a nearby hotel, perhaps the Paradise Bay Hotel Resort with its private beach and a dash of local panache, only minutes away.

 Crossing Gozo Channel

comino-fort-maltaBefore reaching Gozo, the ferry passes its tiny sister-island, Comino, nestling nearby in the Gozo Channel where in the mid-1500’s the Knights of Malta built a small tower as protection against the Ottoman Turks. I don’t quite understand the efficacy of these towers, but the Knights built a number of them on the main, inhabited islands of the archipelago.

blue-lagoon-maltaIf you stay awhile on Gozo, taking the fast ferry to Comino from Gozo makes a charming day trip to visit their famous Blue Lagoon. But just so you know, it’ll cost you more for this short trip to Comino than it does for the ferry from Malta to Gozo.  However, if you love to swim in crystalline pools and take selfies with a body of green water and a tribe of tourists as your backdrop, the Blue Lagoon is a righteous spot.

Advice du jour: bring a picnic lunch. Perhaps include a traditional dish, like timpana, a baked, nicely-spiced macaroni casserole that effectively demands you overeat. Maybe slip in some pastizzi, the light and addictive pastry filled with ricotta cheese.  And a bottle of renowned local wine—you’ll find Maltese wine in only a few foreign countries. And the good stuff, only here.

Magical Mgarr

mgarr-port-gozo-maltaAs the ferry approaches the port of Mgarr (pronounced Mgarr), it almost feels as though we’re entering another epoch in history—if you look past the cigar boats, dive shops, Astin Martin Roadster, Captain Morgan red tour boats, and all the yachts in the harbor.

mgarr-street-hillOnce I debark the ferry, I wind my way through town and climb the steep hill out of Mgarr to reach higher ground. You won’t need Google voice maps for this, just look for the road that goes “up.” Imagine Gozo as a giant wedge of cheddar cheese. This westerly side of the island is the wide, vertical plane of the wedge.

malta-doorI find it almost impossible to walk past a beguiling door and not photograph it, especially an ill-kept door sunk in a ramshackle limestone wall with an arch of iron filigree above—where sometimes I actually think:  if only doors could talk.

Gharghar-tree-maltaI harbor the same issue with trees, especially twisted cedars or cypress, or the rare and endangered Gharghar—a gum, and national tree of Malta. Locals say it’s uncommon to find one in the wild here and is found nowhere else in Europe. The tree naturally emanates a resin from its branches that was used as a wood varnish in the 1500’s, when the tree flourished in abundance here.

malta-view-cactusHeading inland toward the village of Nadur, I discover impressive views on high ground—Gozo’s semi-arid flora, with the Blue Lagoon and the Knights of Malta tower on Comino to the left, and Malta beyond across the horizon.

Even though it’s a small village, you might want to use your turn-by-turn voice map while traveling through Nadur: I get lost again trying to find my way to Route 15 leading to Ramla Bay on Gozo’s thin side of the wedge.

Ramla Bay

malta-dune-buggyIt is a beach resort, so you will find Ramla Bay precisely as you’d expect: sunburned tourists being tourists on vacation wearing sunglasses, shorts, tank tops and thongs, carrying beach towels smelling like coconut SPF-15. And some, driving quads or Honda motorbikes.

ramla-bay-maltaIf you bring a swimsuit, Ramla Bay is a brilliant spot to sit under an umbrella in the (cheddar-colored) sand and enjoy the unspoiled vibes at the ocean. However, you may want to check the surf conditions: a sunny day does not always mean a calm sea here at the virtual center of the Mediterranean, almost 60 miles due south of Sicily in waters up to 2000 feet deep where a pleasant breeze swiftly shifts into gale-force winds.

Note to self: research why sand in the Maldives is white, and here on Gozo, cheddar-ish.

ramla-bay-tourist-hatRamla Bay has no town, so the extent of tourist trappings is minimal, oddly—or rather, thankfully. You can buy burgers and ice cream from food trucks parked along the road leading to the beach.

ramla-bay-calypso-caveIf you’ve rented a dune buggy, you might take a short cut from Ramla Bay and climb the mountain on dirt roads. If you’ve rented and been artfully overcharged for your G rental car by a villain named, let’s say, Fagin, you follow the road through fruit-bearing cactus groves that leads uphill to the cave where Calypso held Odysseus captive all those years.

Calypso’s Cave

calypso-cave-maltaAt the top, I find an imposing view at Calypso’s Cave. A word of caution about legends like this: accept them maybe, but harbor a smidgeon of skepticism.

I mean, they’re saying this lithe, little nymph—cunning perhaps, but certainly no Medusa or Minotaur — held captive for like seven years one of the greatest travelers, and warriors, of all time to use as her boy toy. Was she a witch? Possess superhuman powers? Cast magic spells? Or was she like this ravishing beauty, maybe younger and prettier and a better cook than his wife, and when Odysseus finally arrived home to Penelope, he sort of stretched the truth about being “held captive and praying to the gods for release” when it was more like a “time-flying-while-having-a-good-time” affair.

I’m certainly not trying to de-myth a legend, you understand. I’m just saying men have always been men, and in those days…maybe, even more so. And we all know what women are capable of.

calypso-cave-maltaI discover a limestone structure huddled on the hill above the cave. I’m pretty sure Odysseus built it, and this—not some cave with bats and rats and lice and open to the elements—is where he and Calypso hung out until Zeus eventually answered the prayers and—ahem—forced her to let him go.

marsalform-maltaAfter leaving Calypso Cave, I wind my way through striking valleys and stark plateaus toward Marsalforn Bay.

christ-redeemer-maltaIf you’re a hiker, Gozo is a walkable island — about 9 miles long and 4 wide. You could fit four Gozos in the town of Las Vegas. Near Marsalforn, I pass the Gozitan version of Christ the Redeemer, a miniature modeled after the original in Brazil, which befits the size of the island.

Marsalforn

malta-swimming-waterAt some places on Gozo, it’s easier to “dunk” yourself into the ocean from a protected, yet rocky shore rather than wade through thrashing waves, like this spot in Marsalforn Bay just off Triq Santa Marija. Triq is Maltese for street, or way.

Qbajjar-bay-maltaIf you keep driving, or walking, along the coast on Triq Santa Marija, you’ll have nice views across Qbajjar Bay. If you’re overnighting or staying for a longer time, this is a comfortable area to use as a base camp, or chill—quiet, clean, ocean breezes, fine dining, reasonable rooms, accommodating but uncrowded, no McDonalds, no ferry traffic.

Qolla l-Bajda-maltaA little further along the coast, I pass the Qolla l-Bajda, a military battery used by the Knights during the 1500’s to house artillery and weapons.

You’ll also find interesting examples of how the elements of nature deftly shape the rock and sculpt the landscape here. The road is well maintained along the bay, but a little further on, you might need one of those four-wheelers to continue over to Wied il-Ghasri, an enchanting ravine carved out of rock.

Xwenji bay maltaWhen the Ottoman’s attacked Gozo in 1551, they vastly outnumbered the locals and fairly swiftly seized control of the island, then shipped the Gozitans, and remaining Knights, off to Tripoli—a little over 200 miles due south—and sold them into slavery, many departing from Xwejni Bay.

Salt Pans

gozo-salt-pan-maltaI meander a little further along the Xwejni coast and discover a vast array of salt pans used for harvesting sea salt; the “pans” are chiseled out of the rock at the water’s edge and run a good three kilometers up the coast. Some of the salt pans have been used since Roman times and are now operated by a number of families who’ve worked them traditionally for over three centuries.

After the water evaporates, the salt solidifies into thick grains in the pan. The collectors use wide-head push brooms to sweep the salt into piles, then scoop it up and store it in caves carved into limestone cliffs along the coast. Talk about a low-tech, low-overhead business.

gozo-salt-pan-maltaPosted signs request you not walk on the salt pans (nobody wants thong jizz in their salt). But obviously, some tourists cannot resist the temptation for some reason—one might surmise, it’s those low-rent-not-desired-in-Bhutan-for-this-very-reason types.

gozo-ocean-maltaWalking a bit further along Xwejni Bay, just past the salt pans, I arrive at Recca Point. If the weather is right and the winds pick up, you easily sense the power of Mother Nature’s repertoire of elements, and you may linger a while to imbibe the milieu of forces ravaging the shore. You might begin to feel as though you’ve become one with the energy—water, wind, rock all merging into an intense visceral emotion. Perhaps, the kind of place gods and nymphs hang out, or speak to you.  Or maybe…are created.

Wied il-Ghasri

If you’re walking—or driving a dune buggy, or your G rental car you’ve paid an ogre twice for insurance (right, muffle the whinging)—you can take the dirt road along the coast over to Wied il-Ghasri. The road here almost looks like you won’t be able to drive it, but you can.

Wied il-Ghasri-maltaI travel another kilometer or so along Triq Is-Saghtrija, and discover the remote and interesting valley of Ghasri. When the water is smooth and tranquil, the guidebooks say this is an exquisite spot to swim and snorkel. Today, the water is anything but smooth and tranquil. Five- to six-foot waves careen through the narrow ravine and break against the rocky beach with a dissonant rumbling sound.

Wied il-GhasriSomeone at some point actually built a stone stairway down to the bottom—because without the steps, I’m surmising, this would be a fairly ambitious and dangerous location to access, and too many adventuresome pilgrims got hurt trying (right, despite signs being posted).

Wied il-Ghasri-maltaEven with the stairway, the only people here today are a handful of millennial vagabonds. Some in thongs, some topless, all with body art. Just so you know: this is not whinging—who doesn’t love perusing attractive tats.

Zebbug-malta-gozoAfter leaving Wied il-Ghasri, I begin climbing the long hill up to the classic burg of Zebbug. If you’re on foot, it’ll take a while. If you’re in a dune buggy, try not to ruin the terraced vegetable fields. In my twice-insured G rental car, I begin forming one more rationalization: when justice is unlikely, vengeance may be justified. I imagine hitting every garbage can I pass, or maybe testing my skill at scratching only the bottom third of the side of the car on roadside brambles.

Rabat-victoria-maltaWhile traveling along Triq il Fanal heading west, I find it curious that on an island the size of Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod and housing a population less than Bozeman, Montana, there are almost 50 churches. In the distance, the bulwark of the ancient walled city of Rabat, the capital of Gozo, rises majestically on high ground.

It was renamed Victoria by the British in the 1700’s, but most locals still call it Rabat, Arabic for “bond” or “unity” which makes sense because until the mid-1700’s everyone on Gozo slept inside the ramparts of Rabat—required by law, due to the ruthless raids by Turkish, and other, marauders over the centuries. And yet the name seems odd, or ironic, to me because “rabat” is Arabic, the very people who attacked at one point and took control of the islands and renamed it Rabat after being inhabited since Neolithic times.

Ta Pinu

ta-pinu-cathedral-gozo-maltaI drive leisurely on Triq Pinu toward the town of Gharb heading for the popular holy shrine and pilgrimage basilica of Ta’ Pinu, built in the 16th century out of the ubiquitous local limestone you see everywhere on the island. It seems interesting that the architects constructed the bell tower as a campanile, a completely separate structure from the church—like the leaning tower of Pisa, also a separate church bell tower—which is how they were built at that time, and only later became integrated into the main structures.

If you’re walking, you’ll discover it peaceful in this area of the island. While driving along this stretch, I begin to understand why the guidebooks say it’s “fun to drive on Malta” even though on the wrong side of the street: there’s limited traffic on open roads, streets are fairly-well maintained, outrageous scenery in any direction, unique landscapes, vistas to the blue horizon, and I begin to feel the rare inner quality—when traveling, the very-rare quality—of freedom blended with a sense of security.

When I arrive at Our Lady of Ta Pinu, the parking lot is almost full, with more cars arriving. I figure something is up, and hope I’ll see some sort of festival, or ceremony, or miracle. Turns out, it is time for evening mass. I refrain from going inside to photograph the sacred site where a Maltese woman heard the voice of Mother Mary years ago and where two popes have visited and blessed the site of the miracle.

But a pilgrimage is a pilgrimage, and I have my own to complete. So I continue toward the not-exactly-holy grail on this quest — a visit to the exceptional Azure Window on Gozo’s Dwejra Coast, a handsome natural heritage site just a few kilometers down the road from Ta Pinu.

Dwejra-Bay-gozo-maltaAs I near the water and look south, I notice another view of the thick side of the cheddar wedge at Dwejra Bay, and the limestone cliffs along the Dwejra coastline, created when the African tectonic plate slipped under the Eurasian plate, and moved ¾ of an inch north each year for the past 100 million years or so.

A small piece of my ego would like to high-five a triumph, and boast a long and arduous trek across Malta and all the way to the other side of Gozo on this adventure (although without extracting vengeance).

Truth is, the guidebooks were right—driving here is fun. And easy. And get this: you can drive right up to Gozo’s solitary, wild west coast, and park your car 100 meters from the water and the majestic Azure Window.

It gets even better: if you’re hungry by now, you can eat dinner at the not-exactly-cheap-but-pleasant-with-a-sunset-view Azure Window Restaurant located here at the end of the road in the middle of nowhere.

Hint du jour: order the timpana and some pastizzi. A glass of pinot. Chocolate baci for dessert.

First Glimpse of an Icon

azure-window-malta-sunsetIf you’ve seen Game of Thrones, you might remember this as the site where a young Daenerys Targaryen chokes down the bloody, still-warm heart of a stallion at her marriage to Khal Drogo, leader of the Dothraki tribe.

Every photo of Gozo’s Azure Window that I had seen before I arrived displayed a very calm ocean, people swimming in the bay, even boats drifting under the arch. A sea idyllic for snorkeling, and floating in still waters, a marvelous seaside experience. That is what I expected to find here—and I wanted to float in the tranquil Blue Hole and gaze up at the adjacent Azure Window from below.

azure-window-maltaHowever, nobody is going in the water today—the sea swarms over the rocky shore, the winds gust against the cliffs. It’s quite a sight, and a rush for all five senses. Looking north beyond and through the Azure Window, you see the Dwejra Cliffs and San Dimitri Point pressing into a frenzy of Mediterranean waves.

azure-window-maltaRemarkably—or perhaps not remarkable at all given the remarkable sight—I don’t see one person checking their cell phone the whole time I’m here. However, there is one menace to be aware of at this destination. The limestone on the beach—after eons of erosion—can get fairly treacherous in places, especially when it’s wet. Not a fun place to fall or allow your foot to slip into a crevice, no matter what weather you encounter.

Dwejra Cliffs-gozo-maltaA closer look confirms this is not a sandy beach. It’s ragged rock. Hard. Sharp. If you’re playing the game “Rock-Scissors-Skin” here, rock wins every time.

Dwejra Cliffs-gozo-maltaThe wind is blowing so hard, it blows my hair straight back, billows my clothes against my body, whips my skin, and washes over me in a shower of salt water spray, while the sea roars like a dangerous animal lurking nearby. The onslaught of nature’s aggressive paw kindles a natural high.

azure-window-maltaI climb to the top of the Azure Window to catch the view from there. The elements are particularly powerful up here, where it’s a little less sheltered. I don’t know how hard the wind is blowing, but I actually have to kneel down and hold onto the rock at one point to keep from being bowled over. I need to clean my camera lens every few shots because the incessant, onshore mist spatters the cliff as though anointing everything in its path.

But again, an interesting emotion rises—all that power of wind beating against your body, water misting the air, the primal aroma of the ocean, the cacophony of it all massaging each of your five senses, while you watch the waves pummel the high side of the island’s wedge, as you kneel on solid rock and hold on for safety. A place where if you don’t believe in gods or sea nymphs, you might begin to understand why someone else may.

blue-hole-maltaOn top of the Azure Window, I have a rather distinctive view as I peer south toward Wardija Point. In most other photos I’ve seen (with tranquil seas), the area where the white water rushes over the nearby rocks here contains snorkelers and swimmers. It’s the famous Blue Hole, a natural swimming pool with amazingly clear water on calm days. I remember seeing one photo—taken from a few meters beneath the surface and looking up at the circular formation of the rocks, a distorted golden sun filtering through at the center, a small fish in silhouette. But nobody is going in the water here today.

Dwejra Cliffs-maltaThis is the kind of place where it’s easy to discern the power of nature—the water erodes the cliff by cutting into it from the bottom up.

Dwejra Cliffs maltaThe wind and water also gnaw on the rock from the top down—this woman closes her eyes as she embraces the elements, and the spray off the ocean. Imagine that feeling. Then multiply it by ten. Imagine leaning into this energy, energy that has the power to move mountains and shred rock, and knock trees down. Only a few sturdy plants, with thick stems and built low to the ground, survive here.

Dwejra Cliffs maltaIf you look closely at the cliff in the distance, you can see how the forces chew away massive chunks off the cliff wall, eroding and altering its face through time. Nature simply changes or rearranges the landscape with impunity.

The intensity of these natural forces created this rugged coast over time, including carving out the arch below the bridge of the Azure Window—which was solid rock at one point in history.

fungus rock maltaIf you walk south along Dwejra Bay, you find Fungus Rock. In the mid-1500’s, one of the commanders of the Knights of Malta discovered a rare plant on top of this rock, which became revered as a powerful healing plant for diarrhea and impotence, and to stop bleeding (all very useful to fighting men of that day). It’s original name was the General’s Rock, but because the plant was ugly, hugged the ground, and looked more like fungus than a flower, it became more popularly known as Fungus Rock. It is known locally as Gherq is-Sinjur.

dwejra tower maltaFrom this tower overlooking the bay, the Knights of Malta guarded the coast, as well as protected their valuable, and only, source of “fungus” on the general’s rock—the plant grows nowhere else in the archipelago.

Initially, I am disappointed that I cannot swim here today. But then, I realize just how impressive all these elements are. This is a completely different experience than a tranquil, balmy afternoon here.

Dwejra Cliffs sunset malta

In these photos, you can’t actually discern just how powerfully the wind is blowing, and it’s calmer down here where the land is more sheltered than atop the Azure Window, but you may perceive the fine spray misting the air. And if you look at the woman’s skirt, you can see it flaring while she secures it with her hands.

Note the fresh bandage on her foot. She’s the young woman—we’ll call her our princess in distress on this quest—who warned me about the dangers of slipping into a crevice here. The troglodyte in me envisions her as Sharon Stone doing a remake of Basic Instinct here on this beach.

Dwejra Cliffs coastlineOne last look to the south—you can see where the elements chiseled away and sculpted the rock, leaving tiny islands and boney shards or stacks of limestone.

Epilogue:  Trolls at the Bridge

Two months after I visited Gozo and held on for dear life on top of the Azure Window, the Maltese government passed a law making it illegal to walk on it—due to geologists warning that the rock was no longer safe. Apparently, the rock had been weakening for quite some time, actually ever since the initial portion fell away and created the arch in the first place.

The government imposed a minimum 1500 euro fine for walking on top or being underneath. They wanted to protect the rock itself as well as ensure the safety of tourists. In the past (when the waters were calm and tranquil below), you could see young adventurers leap into the sea from the top of the Azure Window, and large chunks of rock being ripped away as they jumped. Apparently, although limestone is a stone, it’s not granite.

Heartbreak Farewell

If every quest does contain at least one heartbreak, this would be ours: only a few months later on March 8, 2017, without warning but during another powerful thrashing of the coastline by Mother Nature’s array of elements, the Azure Window crumbled and fell into the Mediterranean Sea.

Perhaps, it would not be so heartbreaking if just the bridge section of the window collapsed and left the impressive pillar standing just offshore. The locals had expected precisely this to happen at some point because they were aware the stone, forming the arch below the bridge, had been disintegrating over recent decades. They had seen pieces fall away from the arch, enlarging it until the bridge above the arch was a thin layer of limestone.  They already had a name for the site for whenever the bridge portion fell: the Azure Pinnacle.

But no, they call them “heartbreaks” for a reason: they break your heart. And change your perspective of reality.  The whole structure—the bridge along with its massive pillar—succumbed, and crumbled and disappeared beneath the sea.

If you visit the Dwejra Coast today, you will not be disappointed.

It is still a sincerely awesome piece of landscape. You can still walk the coastline and view the imposing array of natural elements on display; you can still experience the power; you can still dine at the Azure Window Restaurant when you feel hungry at sunset; you can still swim in the Blue Hole, or deep-sea fish from the rocks on tranquil days.

But yes, the venerable Azure Window is gone. If you now photograph the coastline of the Dwejra Cliffs toward San Dimitri Point, perhaps with your upgraded drone hovering above the Blue Hole, you have a clear shot, minus the stunning arch of the window.

azure-window-malta-GONEThe coastline is still breathtaking—and you’ll find it far from a heartbreaking view.

The heartbreak, perhaps, is simply knowing an icon as remarkable and majestic as the Azure Window once stood here, but now lies broken and buried beneath the waves, like the Colossus of Rhodes, or Atlantis, or The Dark Lord’s One Ring. The stuff of legends and myth, forever lost.

Visit Gozo Official Website:  Gozo video 

WHERE IN THE WORLD IS GOZO?

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In case you’re wondering:  as always, the Badfish & Chips Cafe receives no remuneration from a sponsor, especially not car rental agencies that have rammed a stick in his…eye.

More posts on Malta:  One Fine Day: Malta

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See more DP Daily Prompt: Jolt

30 comments

  1. As one earth lover to another (and in particular a lover of wild and crazy waves 🙂 ) this is a powerful piece of writing. I don’t know why you don’t just sometimes cut to the beautiful prose and photos. They speak worlds. I live in fear of those crevices because I have skinny ankles and no balance. I’m so glad you battled the elements that day and got to see it for us.

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  2. Fantastic land and seascapes BF. I suppose you’d only miss the beauty of the Azure window if you’d already seen it. Nice to see you, because your gravitas is a naughty Nemo your good looks are a surprise!

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  3. Good gosh, BF! I was right there with you on those rocks and I was scared! What a shame about the Azure Window. I can see why they call it a heartbreak. It looks so very strong but it is like Mother Nature v Mother Nature. So sad, but a truly beautiful post.

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  4. Don’t you feel special for having seen and been on that thing? I actually thought about it falling when you said you walked out onto it, but I was still surprised by the heartbreak at the end. In the end, what impressed you most were the elements that made that window in the first place, and those remain. Loved your whole long series on this trip!

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  5. First off you should be charging people to read your work. Detailed. Entertaining. Funny. Informative. Beautiful photos.

    Also, I had read in the news of the heartbreak of this natural wonder. It must me karma you were able to visit and share your story before it fell. Can you imagine if that had happened before your trip?

    Thank you for traveling to unusual places and sharing your journeys in such an entertaining fashion. I can’t wait for the next trip.

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  6. I could really feel the wild weather, and the need to explore. Great storytelling as usual. It reminded me of the wind in Patagonia. So powerful it blew me over. Chilling in every way. I love this series of photos. They’re madly oversaturated and it works. Was it deliberate? Great selfie. Good to see your face again!
    Alison

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  7. This is so not-fair, BF! You write these tomes that have so much meat in them, and where exactly is one expected to start to even begin writing a comment?!!

    So, first – your sense of humour is still crisp “the port of Mgarr (pronounced Mgarr)” … there were just so many examples to choose from.

    I was right with you on the Window and the sense of panic at the potential of being blown off … and then the post-script 😦 Nature is a force that we simply cannot defeat. I’m thrilled for you and the amazing adventure you were so lucky to experience – but sad at the loss.

    Third – LOVE the selfie! Such a rare treat from you 🙂

    Lastly – your photos are strangely haunting. You made an interesting call on the processing … it gives the entire experience a surreal feel to it. Brilliant. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am.

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  8. I could almost feel the wind blowing mightily as I read this article, Badfish. I’m glad you got to see the window before it was lost to us. In Victoria we have the Twelve Apostles, which are limestone stacks off the coast. There are only eight now, although last year scientists discovered five more underwater.

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  9. Boy you go missing and then you make up for it! Malta is on my bucket list. Goodness, those photos! and a great tour. As I was reading about the arch, I was thinking, ‘didn’t that collapse?’ Glad you got to see it intact. Even without it that’s a magnificent coast. Keep having good travels–even with the bad parts (which I expect) it’s mostly good.

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  10. Wonderful, monumental adventure. Thanks for taking us with you. You must tell me, still, just your phone camera???

    And thanks for re-instituting the whole M. Night Shamalamadingdong tradition…or maybe for you it is Hitchcock…of a quick Cameo appearance so your fans can watch for your knees, or thonged feet or, in this case, your sweet face! (And not even in just a reflection!) Sure am glad I came across that first post I read of yours!

    Look forward to more whenever you can!

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  11. Well, hey there, wind-swept, smiley guy! Fun to see a pic rather than an elusive shadow or reflection in a window!
    This has been the year of heartbreaking losses: The famous Sequoia in CA came down in a storm in January. You must thank the gods of serendipity that your randomly thrown dart at the world map hit Malta for your “where in the world is BF now?” journey.
    One of my all-time favorite experiences is a blustery ocean side. It was a visceral thrill to read your description, and clever to point out that mother nature happens, contrary to what all the travel brochures claim.

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  12. Wow, Badfish, what a trip! Your pictures seemed like something out of a children’s book – bright primary colors! Gorgeous! I have to read a few lines to my husband as well, and like Joanne, this was one of my favs. “the port of Mgarr (pronounced Mgarr)” I noticed quite a few tales of thongs sprinkled tantalizingly throughout the travelogue for Carol’s(and probably others’) benefit. She did not comment on them, which surprised me. I felt a little chilled by all the wind, and I’m sure there must have been a bit of sand caught up in the gale-like breezes. Definitely a place for a light long-sleeved shirt and some sunglasses. I’m not sure a hat would stay in place. Thank you so much for taking us with you on this epic journey. 🙂

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  13. Forces of nature, that reminds me of the time when a few of us then teenagers decided to go swimming the day after a hurricane passed offshore. That decision left me in a 1/2 inch of quickly receding water looking up at a 15 foot shore breaker about to descend on me, thinking WTF do I do now. Good memories.

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  14. Well…those pictures are stunning…including that wind swept dude…he really caught my eye, expressing such joy! I know it was heartbreaking to lose the arch, but isn’t it nice to know that nature, ultimately is still in control no matter what?! Thanks for the story and those pics!!

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  15. Oh sure – blame it on the women! (I will always believe that Sirens are a myth invented by those “men who will always be men” to excuse themselves for their more -um- testosterone-driven behaviors.) Every man is taught the secret of seduction at puberty, of that I am absolutely certain (and forgets it the moment the woman he wants becomes the woman he has).

    I admire your restraint as you perused the “attractive tats” – regardless of the topless beauties in their thongs. Did you keep your camera aimed at the landscape, or do you have a private collection you don’t share online?

    In any case, I feel breathless taking the adventure with you – even on my computer (which is probably the only chance I will have to see it unless I get it together to purchase a winning lottery ticket.) Can one go inside all of the many churches – meaning are they all still operational and saving souls, or merely marking the place of history past?

    I truly loved the post – thank you so much for sharing the last look at a natural wonder – I’m thrilled for you that you made it there before it disappeared forever.
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

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  16. Your writing had me! That post was a pleasure to read. I came here via another blogger who had reblogged your post. I can see why. The photographs are stunning too. Looking forward to read more posts of yours.

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  17. THAT SELFIE 💓. And that picture of the Princess in Distress was just so good in all its retroness. I am happy-sad to hear that one can no longer walk upon the Azure Window. Happy to see nature protected but sad that I can not have a go. Always a pleasure to walk with you Mr. Badfish. You and Duncan were top of mind recently when I happened upon several Hermit Crabs while visiting Koh Rok Noi.

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