Malta Circumnavigation Day 4: Freeport to Blue Grotto

This was a walk I had not been looking forward to. I knew that the last stretch to the Blue Grotto would be excellent but that the way was barred by the industrial complex at Hal-Far. In addition to the Delimara Power Station and the Malta Freeport, a good deal of Malta’s industry is concentrated in the “deep South” of the Island. I suppose it has to go somewhere and probably the more it can be concentrated in one area the better. In the event I rather enjoyed the trek through Hal-Far, with the less pleasant aspects of the walk being more to do with guns and dogs than concrete structures.

With the daytime temperatures still being up in the 30’s Centigrade, I rose at 5:00am and was at the Freeport and on the road by 6:30am. Within a few hundred metres of the start I found myself surrounded by gunfire on both sides of my route. At this time of day and at this time of year (with bird-migration getting underway) the Maltese hunters are out in force, particularly in the more remote, less-visited parts of the Island. I briefly considered abandoning the walk for the sake of my own safety but decided to carry on. I reasoned that most of the hunters would be experienced gun handlers and well-schooled in safe practice.

Malta Hunters (Stock Photo)

There were a lot of hunters about, all carrying shotguns, and more than one gun had a bayonet attached! I’m still trying to discover the use to which the bayonets are put. I took fewer pictures than normal in this area as I was worried that the hunters might think I was trying to take photos of them or their vehicles. Although I have firm personal views on conservation, I refrain from getting involved in the hunting issue which is highly controversial here in Malta. I’m a foreigner, a guest in the country, and not fully aware of all the history and nuances involved. I feel it’s best for the Maltese to work these things out for themselves.

As it turned out, every hunter I encountered close up was perfectly courteous and responded to my greeting with a nod and a smile. I eventually began to feel more comfortable moving through their territory.

Palestinian Flag at Hal-Far? (See photo journey for explanation)

Hal-Far has an unfortunate reputation in Malta, perhaps associated with its being a major accommodation centre for illegal immigrants and asylum seekers and including the infamous “tent city”. My route took me through a dense industrial area on the site of the old Hal-Far airport, so important to the Island during the WWII defence of Malta. I actually found the many different plants and offices to be interesting, particularly the international nature of many of the companies operating from there.

Pharaoh Hounds (Stock Photo)

The dogs were something else. I have already had a couple of encounters with dogs on the Circumnavigation and have generally found that a gentle but confident word has been sufficient to calm them down. Not so today. On two separate occasions I was surrounded by a completely unsupervised pack of dogs. The first time was near Għar Hasan when there were five, two of which were particularly persistent Pharaoh Hounds. The Pharaoh Hound is the  national dog of Malta (known locally as Kelb tal-Fenek, or “Rabbit Dog”).  I kept talking to them while gradually moving away. I desperately wanted to get a photo of them but it wasn’t safe to get the camera out. Instead I’ve provided a stock photo to show how scary they look when unsupervised.

The second canine encounter was with three, much less imposing but no less intimidating, dogs at a farmhouse between Wied Hallelin (Thieves Valley) and Wied Bassasa (Rude name, you’ll find a translation in the photo journey.) Just when I thought they might be calming down they were further incensed by a new group of half a dozen who appeared on the roof of the adjacent building. Although I have so far managed to “talk” my way through these doggie encounters, I’m beginning to think that it may be worth bringing a trekking pole along on future walks, for use in defence as a last resort.  That would be a pity though as I’ve found that trekking poles really interfere with quick-fire photography so it would have to spend most of the time strapped to the day pack.

Once past the Hal-Far quarries, the countryside changes dramatically with some beautifully-kept farmland in the approaches to Żurrieq.  The Wardija Tower soon reminds you that you are still in the land of the Knights and the views across Malta from Żurrieq ridge are dramatic. Our Rabat apartment block can easily be seen from there and it was interesting to get close up to some of the landmarks we can see distantly from the front terrace at home.

The final phase of the walk is different again as you descend to the Blue Grotto. Although it is a tourist honey-pot, and massively popular with the diving community, it is still always worth a visit. I will spend a bit more time there at the start of the next stage.

Blue Grotto

To read the full account of the walk see the photo-journey.


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