Pronounced nashaar this small quiet town in the south of Malta is more of a jewel than I imagined. Malcolm, my b&b host, picked me up from the airport and we were on our way! Nestled on a tiny street among many other two story buildings the place where I am staying is a mix of Mediterranean curves and statues, and Middle Eastern roof top terraces. It is the first time I’ve ever stayed somewhere that feels less like a post on tumblr 😁. It is everything I need.
The minute I closed the door to my new accommodations, I took a long nap in the most massive king bed I’ve ever seen. Didn’t even know they had king beds in the Mediterranean lol. I woke up still feeling a little groggy from the jet lag, but also super restless and needing to move. So I changed my shoes, put on a cotton red dress, and locked the small blue hobbit town door behind me.
There is something soft and beautiful about this town. Something in the pale walls and the colourful front doors, the quiet murmur of a people that take life easily and enjoy the heat. That hum of patio cafes and sinking sun pulled me into a small piazza of restaurants and the parish church and suddenly I was famished!
Ok, I’ll be honest with you friends, I might be a little bit of an introvert. The tiniest of tiny 😬 or at least that’s what I tell myself when I experience this kind of unexplainable shyness and, might I add, a slightest bit of fear. Now you might rolls your eyes at me, and be like Carla your alone in on an island, where you have never been before, and people speak a language you don’t understand.
But that is not what makes me hesitant to go exploring. It’s this weird awkwardness I feel at being alone and people staring at me. It’s years and years spent travelling with family and friends and avoiding being on my own. It is the thing I’ve come to conquer, among other things.
I want to travel with myself. Does that make sense? I want to be my own company. Not because I don’t have friends or family, or not because I’ve experienced a traumatic event or lost a loved one. (These usually seem to be the things that make people go off on their own and write a book) I want to like being with myself because it’s time. I’ve done my wifely, motherly, and even daughterly duty. Don’t tell my mother she wont agree lol. But I’ve put in the time and love and patience and money so that everyone I love, or care about, is able to live their lives without my constant presence. The only person I’ve ignored for so so long has been me. And now it’s time she gets an adventure.
And so this trip is about pushing beyond the rigid boundaries of mother, daughter, wife. Here, on this roof top terrace, as I enjoy the most incredible late afternoon meal, I listen to people families talking softly, the wind blowing through the linen drapes around me, and I have to admit that I am exactly where I want to be. I am free. To be and do what I want with only myself to please, or annoy. I am without the constraints of other peoples moods, appetites or choices. It is both exhilarating and a little baffling. I don’t know what to do with myself to be honest. I mean I will probably head back to my bohemian room and watch some Netflix, or read a book and fall asleep, but I am on the cusp of building a trip based solely on my own compass, and I have to admit it’s a bit like standing on the edge of a cliff.
Tomorrow I shall plan my adventure for the next two weeks. I hope it’s going to be fun, enlightening and safe. I hope to be filled with awe and wonder and most of all, revelation. I hope to fall in love with myself on this journey. My imperfect, slightly chubby, somewhat shy, often absent minded self. I have already been in love with my growing up immigrant, strong work ethic, hug my kids daily, get wild with my husband, ride my morotcyle, hit my team mates in roller derby self. She’s awesome. I love her to death and she has made me resilient and independent. But it’s the soft shy self that I struggle with. I push her into speaking, into moving, into using her voice and taking up space. I’ve pushed her for decades… shoved her, really. Now I want to love her, to listen to her, and to let her follow that soft, quiet instinct and let her take me wherever she wants to go.
ITS BEEN A DAY ( I may have let her ‘run’ too early 🤣)
So I’m only on day two of my ‘adventure’ but man what day! I woke up this morning in a foul mood. Idk if it was just my own self doubt and insecurities, or if someone gave me the ‘evil eye’ like my mother would say, but the whole day was a shit show.
Well, ok not the whole day, but more on that later.
I had the weirdest sense that I should just stay home and work and plan my shit. But I made a reservation for a super sought out, super hard to get, tour of the Hypogeum and there was no way I was giving it up. The reservation was for 2pm. So, like a well organized academic world traveller, I sought out my bus route, timed my smoothie pick up at the corner of said bus stop, and headed out all fresh and cool as a cucumber. The smoothie was delicious, but for some unknown reason (I blame it on the jet lag) I got totally turned around. I say this with some embarrassment because truly there are only two bus stops by my b&b, and though they are a slight distance apart, it is NOT hard to get them confused. Once I got to the first bus stop I convinced myself I was at the wrong spot and crossed the street to get to the other bus stop.
I got on the bus. I sat down. Pulled out my phone to check my sm, and realized that the bus I was on MADE A U TURN and turned back to the bus stop I WAS ORIGNALLY AT!!!
“Breathe Carla,” I coached myself, “Who cares if he turned around (though I could’ve literally sat at the original bus stop without the sweaty walk down the street but ok) You are on the right bus.” I checked my phone to confirm, “Yes, I am on the right bus.” A sentence I would continually repeat in my head as stop after stop the stop I was looking for wasn’t coming. About 12 stops in I had to admit I must’ve made an error somewhere though for the life of me, even as I type this in the comfort of the roof top terrace of my hotel, I cannot figure out what.
So I decided to be ‘adventurous.’
“Be fucking adventurous,” I told myself, “Go with the flow!”
The flow was literally the end of the line for my ill chosen bus at the bus terminal of Bugibba Bay. I was literally marooned by my bus AT A PORT!
(Nope, it’s too soon, still can’t laugh about it.)
“Ok Mother,” I smirked at the sea, “Why am I here?” I spent some time leaning on the naval fence by the port, watching a few brave people who came out to sunbathe and swim despite the pandemic, and no answer came to me. In fact, the sea was so frothy, the waves so strong, that foam covered the lip of every rocky shore as though she really was saying to me, “WTF Carla, can’t you follow simple bus routes??” Guess not. 😝
I walked along the bay, taking pics here and there of the beautiful coastline, and treated myself to some Bailey’s Irish Crean and amareno gelato. The gelato was to diiiiiie for! I know traditionally gelato is best served in Italy, but sweet Christ, this was the creamiest, soft as silk, melt in your mouth gelato I’ve ever tasted. And I have friends who are gelato connoisseurs you see, and have dragged me to more gelato places than you might think exist back home. But nope, this is definitely one of the best ever.
Or maybe I was just frustrated and hot and abandoned at an empty bay, wearing jeans, sneakers and my Bob Marley T-shirt, totally not ready to jump in the mad, but still tempting, waves in an angry sea. 🤷🏼♀️😁
Sitting there feeling a bit sorry for myself, even as I was literally having the greatest gelato known to man, at the cutest table by the foaming sea, while most of the world is on fire or quarantined, I thought to myself: “I know the Hypogeoum says no changes or refunds, like ever, but let me see if they will take pity on a marooned tourist who jumped on the wrong bus.” Shooting them a quick and frantic email, I made plans to maybe try again in a couple of days after I gave myself a well planned day off. Less than 3 minutes later the Hypogeoum CEO (or someone equally important) sent me a reply saying they NEVER EVER do this, but they do have ONE spot left at 4pm if I wanted. Ahhhhh! You’re God darn right I wanted!
“Yes!” I replied. “I am jumping on a bus right now, I’ll make it, put my name down.” I know there is irony in the fact that I got lost on the bus, and would now jump on said bus, but hey, never give up! never surrender! and all that jazz.
Now. Do you think the bus station to take me to Paola from Bugibba Bay was actually close to Bugibba Bay? HA! Was it really that kind of day when things would finally go right for Carla???
No it wasn’t.
Finally, after walking the 2kms to find the bus station, get on the bus, then get off the bus to switch busses, it seems like maybe, just maybe, all is going more or less according to plan. But wait, dear friends, remember? It is not that kind of day.
While I’m waiting at the last connecting bus station, I can’t find my bus number on the bus sign. Hmm… so I cross the street to the other side and check out the bus sign on that side. Men are waiting there, presumably to take the bus, since THEY actually know where they’re going, watching me with curious glances. What is this blonde sweaty tourist, with the ripped sweaty jeans and the bright sweaty Bob Marley T-shirt looking for, they must wonder…
Nope, can’t find my bus here either. So I walk down to the next bus station. Nothing. Wtf! I need to get to the Hypogeoum in 30 min, the bus ride is at least 15min, and they told me under NO CIRCUMSTANCES can I be late. In fact, I should arrive 15 MIN EARLY! Sweet Jesus!
I flag down the next bus that runs through the station I’m just standing at, and ask the bus driver, “Where do I go to catch the bus to Paola?”
“Paola?” He says scratching his nose under his face mask, “No, you have to go down the road that way,” he points the way, “Cross at that big circle thing, then go to that side bridge. That’s where you catch the bus to Paola. Not here,” he points to the bus station I’m in. 🤦🏼♀️ Sweet Christ help me.
I check my time and I realize I have 3 min before my bus gets there. I run down the street to the big circle thing, cross the street go to the side bridge…. nothing. No bus stop. I am now so hot and sweaty my jeans are literally soaked to my legs and sweat is sticking my backpack to my skin through my T-shirt. I am just about to say fuck this, I’m walking home! when I have the brilliant idea to just google how far it is to walk from where I am to the Hypogeum. I mean it’s a 15 min bus ride right? How far can it be to walk? I know I’ll be late and probably will never see this incredible 5000 yr old underground burial labyrinth, but I have to try right?
Punch in the Hypogeoum in the gps, get directions, and lo and behold the road I have to take is UNDERNATH the road I am on now!! Scratching my head I think to myself, “What if the bus driver meant (BUT DID NOT SAY) go down the stairs on the side bridge and the bus stop will be there? Taking my chances, I’m not gonna make it anyway, I run down the stairs. In the almost 4pm reflection of the hot as hell sun I see the most beautiful sight: a fucking bus stop sign! And it has my bus on it!! And look it’s coming right now!! Sweet Christ I jump on that bus like my life depends on it, mentally urging the bus driver to go go go go!!
After a few insecure moments I see the “Next Stop: Paola 1” and almost jump out of my skin with joy! It is 3:47pm and I send a quick email to my CEO buddy (we’ve been through so much) saying please please I am on the bus and almost at the stop, please please don’t start without me.
Jumping off the bus at Paola 1, I gps the Hypogeum only to find that it’s a 6min walk from the bus station. I now know I could’ve stopped at the next bus station and been that much closer, but fuck it, I was on the rush of a successful bus trip and I was running!
Run up the hill, by some abandoned cathedral, turn the corner on some side street, is this the right way? All I see are houses and more houses, and this is a UNESCO world heritage sight for God’s sake. Did I tell you it’s 5000 yrs old?? Turn on the one street, than another, more houses. Just as I am about to lose my shit and admit defeat to all the locals watching some sweaty wet jeans, sticky Bob Marley T-shirt wearing, blonde hair dropping out of her ponytail tourist, running around talking to her gps, I see it!!
Nestled between some random houses is a cream stoned building with just the words Hypogeoum on it. I pause and look at it for 30 seconds cause my mind really can’t seem to wrap around the fact that this is it! Aaaand then I notice I’m at the wrong door. It’s the exit. But no worries, the entrance is around the corner! Rushing around the corner I see the red entrance door. Ahhh, I take a deep breath of relief! It’s 3:58pm and as I rush in to make sure they don’t start without me one of the Hypogeoum employees meets me at the door: “Ma’am,” she says, clearly taking in my appearance and heavy breathing, “Please wait outside with the others, the tour will start in a few minutes, we are running a little behind.”
“Right, right, no rush,” I smile at her like a giddy child, though at this point I’ve put on my mask, so smiling is useless, “I’ll wait with the others.”