Tal Mixta cave in Gozo, Malta
While the hike up to the cave was mostly easy, the last part was steep and narrow. Wearing a three-quarter skirt, strappy sandals and a heavy side bag did not help. My hands tingled with the familiar, uncomfortable feeling of possible danger as I gripped the porous rocks to help myself up.
There were only about ten metres left until I reached the famous Tal Mixta Cave from which many travellers captured the iconic Maltese landscape of the golden beach surrounded by deep blue Mediterranean sea on one side, and sand-coloured rocky cliffs covered in deep green vegetation on the other.
My body hugged the side of the mountain as I searched for a safe footing above. There didn't seem to be any. If I put my weight down on any part of the rocky pathway ahead, I would lose my balance and it would come crumbling down.
But I couldn't turn back. Doing that meant admitting defeat and once I did that, it would become easy to do it the next time, and the time after that. The only option was to keep going.
I stretched a leg and stood there for a few moments. A swear word escaped my mouth as I realised I was actually stuck. A wrong move, and I'd go tumbling down. I grabbed a short stubborn plant growing on the edge of the cliff and pulled myself up, exchanging it for another. Keeping most of my weight on my arms, I was able to pull myself to a safe spot.
The worst was over. I was on stable ground, only a few metres from the mouth of the cave.
The iconic view from the mouth of the cave ^
The other entrance into the cave ^
The long and winding road to the bus stop ^
After spending some time in the cave, I decided to make a move to my next location - the citadel in Victoria.
There was only one route to the bus stop from the cave. A long and winding lonesome road, flanked by miles of green rocky fields on either side.
I heard the dogs before I saw them. Two jumped out from the left side of the field and a few moments later, two more from the right. Heads low, eyes fixed, they barked at me to leave while creeping closer. I took off my satchel bag and held it in front for protection as I slowly backed away.
I had encountered something similar in Bali two years ago and learned that I had to feign power.
'Stay back!' I shouted, but the pack continued approaching me.
I swung my bag a couple of times and noticed them become a little wary. It seemed to be having some effect. Soon, they were satisfied with the distance I had retreated. They stopped barking but loitered around, blocking the road. I turned around and instead of following the curve of the road back to the cave, I decided to continue straight ahead. Google told me it was a dead end but it actually led to a steep pathway down the mountain, covered in deep green vegetation. I couldn't see if the path went all the way to the beach but it seemed to at least end on flat ground.
Carefully walking down, I noticed there was an old man with a giant pair of clippers at the bottom. He seemed to be looking at me. Was this pathway private? I had noticed a 'Private! Keep out!' sign while going up the mountain, maybe this was the other side of it. I waved feebly, hoping to establish a positive impression. He didn't respond. I continued taking baby steps downhill and once I was near enough, greeted him with a hello.
Up close, the clippers were humongous - they were probably longer than my entire arm. Irrational thoughts reeled through my head like an old film. Ignoring them, I asked if it was alright to go down this way, and when he didn't say anything, continued to inform him about the dogs.
'You were scared?' he enquired.
'Yes!' I answered.
He told me I shouldn't have been frightened and I should try going back the way I came. Like hell I was going to do that.
'What are you growing?' I asked, partly to diverge his attention away from situation, and partly because I was genuinely curious.
I had trekked the cliffs near the Blue Grotto the day before and was amazed at the miles of natural landscapes left untouched by humans. I wanted to know more about the natural world here in the Maltese island of Gozo.
'Come with me,' he replied.
I hesitated and then followed him through a narrow pathway.
'My name is Coronato,' he called.
We arrived at a tiny two storey beach house. A bathroom took up the entire ground floor. Small stone steps led to a single bedroom on the second. There was a sink and a portable cooker in the corner. Coronato asked if I wanted a beer or lemon tea and told me about two other travellers - one from Germany and one from South Africa - who passed through and were now his friends. They came and stayed in his house whenever they were in Gozo.
'They don't need to pay anything, everything they could want is here!' he said, as he sliced a yellow lemon. 'Water, beach, sun, bed! Very comfortable here. Especially in the summer!'
Coronato saving my mobile number
He was a sweet old man who had spent his youth as a fisherman, and the later years as a beach cleaner.
'You can come and stay here too,' he said. 'We have everything here. You don't need nothing.'
He must've been in his eighties, was separated from his wife, and lived at home with his only daughter - a homemaker in her fifties.
Coronato insisted I give him my mobile number and that he would call me on Sundays. He also suggested I add his daughter on facebook just in case he couldn't get through. After speaking to her on the phone, I obliged. I told Coronato I was planning on exploring the citadel next and he invited me to his actual house which was on a road behind the relevant bus stop. I accepted his invitation, interested in obtaining more of an insight into a local's life.
Before we left the tiny beach house, he handed me a clear bag. I was unsure why, and followed him down the steps into a garden where he was growing vegetables. He started cutting large, plump tomatoes from their vines and putting them into the bag.
Coronato cutting plump tomatoes off the vine