Archive for October, 2013

28 Oct 2013

The Beach II

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Packed and ready to go - Coco Loco included

It was a weekend reminiscent of Alex Garland's novel The Beach.
Preparations were made; we (Linda, John, Lotta, Paul and I) hired wetsuits, bought head-torches, packed tents, dog, food and alcohol. We planned to trek to a remote beach and make our way, swimming through calm waters, to a concealed underwater entrance to our very own pirates cave.
Okay, first I should point out that Paul and I are back in Mallorca again. If nudity offends you perhaps you should look elsewhere, but you should know it is perfectly legal to walk down the street in the nude in many parts of Spain (though probably not recommended) and all the beaches in Spain are nudist beaches to varying degrees.
We trekked for twenty minutes with all our gear, laid our towels down on the beach and went off into the forest to search of somewhere to camp. While nudity is permitted, camping is not. A little way in we stumbled across a makeshift campsite with hammocks strung between trees, in treetops, and in bushes, the occasional tent and the strong but not unpleasant waft of ganja thick in the air. Most of the inhabitants had been there for weeks or in some cases months. They welcomed us to their digs with open arms — food, cups of tea and magic puff. A Colombian Rastafarian, a Polish girl who had cycled solo all the way from Montenegro to Spain and had an aversion to clothes. Some Germans who were living the dream and a dozen or so others. All of them sweet, pleasantly stoned and would be all the more lovelier after a hot soapy bath.
In the evening we were handed drums, castanets, assorted other wooden instruments and joined in the merriment. You can hear us here.
We prepared a Spanish barbecue — cooked on those tiny tinfoil self-contained instant barbecues bought in the supermarket — and after an extraordinarily long time we ate almost cooked chicken kebabs with a strong paraffin aftertaste. At least the salads were good.
Sleeping in a rocky hilly campsite with not a single flat surface, in a wafer-thin tent — without even a camp mattress — with a sharp rock protruding and threatening to tear me apart, will not go down in history as one of my most comfortable nights, but it will go down as one of the more memorable. We drifted off to the sounds of rasta-man singing ode to marijuana for the twenty seventh time.
And in the morning we woke to the sounds of rasta-man singing ode to marijuana. It became an earworm, stuck in my head and wouldn't bloody leave.
We went down to the beach where an early morning naked tantric sex ring-a-rosie was being performed in the water. Elsewhere a yogi was meditating in the nude much to the irritation of a girl who was dancing wildly in front of him — she was in a world of her own, as was he — trying unsuccessfully to distract him. We swam and ate some more. A few of the dudes had set up a slack-line and were taking turns at performing an impressive array of aerial acrobatics. A couple of men appeared hauling large cool boxes and resurrected their illegal bar on the rocks — under a canvas sail — selling mojitos, beer and chilled vino to all and sundry. We swam some more. As the morning progressed the beach began to fill with bodies emerging from the bushes, day trippers tripping in and even the odd catamaran cruising by.
When this got too much we grabbed our wetsuits, helmets and head torches and set off in search of our cave. On the way we got lost, couldn't find the path and ended up on a rough bush track. In the process we scratched ourselves to threads on all the spiny bushes. By the time we made it to the cliff top, our cave forty metres below was being smashed by strong waves. At this point, tired, sun-whipped and sober, we unanimously agreed it was probably not a sound idea to begin with and commenced the long trek back.

Lying down on the job


Best practised on soft sand


An experienced yogi is not easily distracted


Aromatic Spanish barbecue


Campsite on a hill


Ode to Marijuana - Take 45


Early morning naked tantric sex ring-a-rosie love circle with makeshift bar in the background


Nice catamaran


The end of the road - our pirate cave below


Even Coco Loco has had enough



21 Oct 2013

Some Kind Of Blue

6 Comments Malta

We trekked north to Gozo, Malta's second largest island. It was a half hour ferry trip. The island is less developed, less heavily populated and a natural paradise: a small inland sea where you can take a boat ride out through an opening in the cliffs to reach the ocean and the Blue Hole. The water is a blue so rich (not aquamarine, something else), milky but at the same time with a clarity that astounds.

I wanted to dive in but the boatman said You will turn blue, and then what?

A blue Alpaca of course. Kind of obvious (and slightly appealing). He was not amused.

Later we found a natural rock ledge with a small ladder and climbed down to where the shelf fell away into a different inky blue sea. After an hour in the water I came out hoping for just a tinge of blue — I would have settled for violet — but alas I am still the same ol' 1970s bank clerk brown.

The Azure Window, clambering over the rocks to watch the divers and take in its natural beauty. You shouldn't swim directly beneath the window because one day it is going to collapse; when it does is anyone's guess.

There are churches like the beautiful Ta Pinu high on a hill on an isolated part of the island, standing proud against a heavenly backdrop, a sea and sky awash with blue.

And finally after the sun had sunk at Xlendi, leaving the harbour painted in all manner of hues of pinks and blues, I paused, caught in thought over catching the ferry back to Malta, my final days in this strange but wonderful country, and suddenly I too felt a little blue.





16 Oct 2013

Around Malta In Eighty Minutes

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View across St Paul's Bay from the apartment terrace


Another glorious bay


Okay, Malta is nicer than it first appears.

It feels more Northern Africa than Europe, even the language does, being gutteral and Arabic in its intonations. The sing-song Italian is absent, at least to my flip-flop ears. It is a harsh dry landscape and appears unwelcoming, but step away from the chaos of the bland apartments that flank St Julian's and Sliema and you can find pristine bays with crystal waters, an ancient city, 'M'dina – the silent city' in the centre of the island, old fortifications, quaint fishing villages and plenty more. There is a lot to see. The one thing we really wanted to see, the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, a series of circa 3600BC subterranean passages and chambers has more forward bookings than a Ferran Adria restaurant (see previous post) and unless you know someone, the President for example, you won't be going until well into 2014.

We have moved for a few days to St Paul's Bay (pssst .. he thinks it is named after him … don't let on). It is sleepy. The view from our shared apartment is stupendous. The waters are tranquil. There are some nice caves I can snorkel to in the rocks immediately below my balcony, if I could only find a snorkel and mask small enough to fit,

And the people are friendly, well at least all those who don't work in hospitality. The Maltese are fiercely patriotic; I have not heard a single bad word uttered. Everyone has offered me tips and advice on favourite places to go. Advertising billboards often refer to the two main (and tiny) islands as “nationwide” and when thinking about this in comparison to the great expanse Down Under, I have to laugh.

I had a long chat yesterday with an old man swimming with his family down in my bay. He said he has a holiday home here and spends at least 4 months a year here.

Nice, lucky you. Where do you normally live? I asked quite innocently.

Oh, about ten-fifteen minutes down the road depending on the traffic, he replied.

This seems common, to own several properties on the island and flit between them.

I met another Maltese guy who said he has often talked of going to Sicily (96 kms away) with his wife. Perhaps one day they will!


White cliffs of Gozo. Malta's second largest island


Where the sea and the sky meet


Fishing boats at Marsaxlokk village


Within the walled city of M'dina


Cat M'dina


Doorknobs M'dina


Courtyard M'dina

11 Oct 2013

Wild Goose Chase

6 Comments Malta
Above: Street art and architecture. Our last day in Barcelona.

In a cruel twist of fate, Tickets was just around the corner from my apartment. We walked past it every day. The waiting list now stretches to five months and we hadn't booked. Tickets is the newish (2011) Tapas restaurant opened by the Adria brothers after the closure of El Bulli (the world's most famous restaurant and chef Ferran Adria). Unlike El Bulli, Tickets is affordable and a little less molecular. And then we find out our two Quebecer temporary flatmates by pure coincidence happen to know one of Ticket's chefs and we are in for this Friday — booked, like magic. Sob.. sob … we have to leave on Monday, four days before the booking. A once in a lifetime opportunity gone. I could almost taste it, real food, none of that foie gras gold-dust served over a sprinkling of air. We were that close!

We consoled ourselves on our last day in Barcelona walking around La Barcoleneta, the old fishing district which is now more bohemian-chic than fishy. It is like a giant outdoor laundry with colourful clothes airing over the street from every balcony. We ate a piece of overcooked salmon, skin on and tough as an old boot, and sobbed some more. Then strolled further afield admiring the public art and modern buildings and trying not to think about what could have been.

The flight out of Barcelona was unplanned. It was to have been somewhere else in Spain, but something had been itching inside for a while (I get that sometimes, a coarse woolly itch). And you know when something is bugging you, you need to do something about it. Every time I go to the cinema there they are, rolling along the aisles, down the tiers, underfoot, dangerous, chocolaty and icky sticky — Maltesers (those quite tasty chocolate coated balls). And I was determined to get to the bottom of it. Go straight to the top, Uncle Mal had said: visit the factory, go see the big boss and complain.

So we did.

Flying over the Mediterranean on a clear skied day, the island popped up out of nowhere with its rugged coastline. It is a mass of sandstone buildings, densely populated and relatively flat. From the air it resembles an ancient Arabic city.

We landed and I began my enquiries.

Maltesers in Malta, they laughed at me. Who told you this? (Uncle Mal). It's so hot here, they would melt in an instant. Never mind, we Maltese are friendly people; come and have a drink.

Malta is a flyspeck of an island and densely populated (450,000 people in slightly more than 300 square kilometres); with the island of Sicily immediately north and lovely happy-go-lucky Libya only 300 kilometres to the south. The capital Valletta occupies less than a square kilometre. There is lots of traffic and an unhealthy amount of road rage. They speak English which is refreshing and drive on the right side (left side) of the road. Depending on where you are it is either very beautiful, butt ugly or under construction. Mostly it feels a little tired. I am not sure whether I am going to like it or not. I'll let you know in a day or two.


Malta: View from the roof terrace at twilight. Valletta in the distance.





08 Oct 2013

The World According To Dog

3 Comments Spain

Puppy hasn't changed much since my last visit. He was his usual splendiferous self. Exuding youthfulness despite his prismatic patchwork-quilt exterior. I don't know how he does it, year in, year out. It must be something in the water.

And the Guggenheim never fails to impress, as much (actually more) for the Gehry architecture as for the art within.




We are in Barcelona (sans Gillian). This time we are determined we will avoid all cultural monuments, museums, pickpockets on Las Ramblas, and simply swing a camera over our shoulders and roam the streets, enjoying the good weather, the smiley faces and the multitude of cheap places to eat.

Barcelona is like Madrid; it never sleeps. Last night, Monday night, we went to a rather strange language exchange meeting in a bar with about 10 native English speakers and 70 Spaniards keen on learning English as fast as they can — que me explique la differencia between this, these and those — in the hope of securing a job abroad. It was a fun night and strange to be so popular, not so much for my affable puppetness, but for my flawless English, albeit with the quirky Aussie accent. After the bar closed it was a pleasant two kilometre walk home along Gran Via with its central wide promenade purely for cyclists, joggers and walkers. The number of people out jogging at 1:30am was astounding but it was the number of late night dog walkers that I found truly staggering.

Here puppy, puppy, no sleeping now, you have all day to do that!