Alex In Wanderland http://www.alexinwanderland.com Working and playing around the world Mon, 15 Sep 2014 08:37:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Stumbling Upon A Summer Festa in Valleta http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/09/12/stumbling-upon-summer-festa-valleta/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/09/12/stumbling-upon-summer-festa-valleta/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=30327 Summer Festa in Valleta, Malta

“What should we do this evening?,” I asked Anders as he flopped down on the couch after work. I’d been working on writing projects all day and was eager to get out and explore. We tossed around a few ideas while I absentmindedly flicked around online, and eventually stumbled upon the perfect solution.

We were going to a summer festa in Valleta.

Sunset on Valleta, Malta

Valleta, Malta in Black and White

Festas are a huge part of the summer season in Malta, when villages honor their parish’s patron saint with parades, fireworks, and over the top festivities. It just so happened that on the night in question, Valleta was hosting its annual celebration.

I had yet to step foot in the tiny nation’s capital, and this was the perfect excuse to do so.

Beautiful Valleta, Malta

Beautiful Valleta, Malta

Beautiful Valleta, Malta

We had absolutely no idea where to go or what we were looking for, so just decided to take a wander around the romantic walled city, and surely we’d stumble upon a clue. Our first stop was the Valleta waterfront, where we gazed over the channel to Vittoriosa.

Though we were losing daylight fast and I felt a little guilty for not seeing more of the city in all its brightly-lit glory, the soft pinks of sunset convinced me we’d come at exactly the right time.

Beautiful Valleta, Malta

Valletta, Malta

Valletta, Malta

Valletta, Malta

Valletta, Malta

Valletta, Malta

Gardens in Valleta, Malta

Eventually, we tore ourselves away from the gardens in search of the festa we’d come to see. After wandering down many quiet streets with not a soul in sight to ask for insight, we started to wonder if we’d misread the schedule.

Colorful Streets of Valleta, Malta

Colorful Streets of Valleta, Malta

And then we heard it. Rounding a corner, we pinched ourselves at our luck. We’d arrived just in time to see the pious procession being — the state of the village saint was carried with great ceremony out of one of Valleta’s beautiful churches. The crowd was intense, but between Anders’ height allowing him to see over people and mine allowing me to duck around them, we managed to get some great views.

Summer Festa in Valleta, Malta

Summer Festa in Valleta, Malta

Summer Festa in Valleta, Malta

We followed the crowd down the winding cobblestone streets, not a clue where we were going, and not a care either.

Summer Festa in Valleta, Malta

Summer Festa in Valleta, Malta

Summer Festa in Valleta, Malta

When the fireworks died down and the crowd dispersed, we were left with the warm glow of knowing we’d been lucky enough to stumble on something special.

Do you seek out local festivals when you travel?

This post was brought to you by the iPhone video editing app Together.

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See the Mediterranean Sea: Diving in Malta http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/09/11/diving-in-malta/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/09/11/diving-in-malta/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 15:50:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=30190

Quick note before the post begins: The world may have me, but New York has my heart, today and every day. We’re never forgetting.

. . . . . .

The best diving in Europe. Unmatched in the Mediterranean. That was just some of the hope-lifting praise I’d read and heard for the dive sites ringing Malta and Gozo. And considering I was there visiting a dive instructor who’d been raving to me about the quality of his new offshore office, there was a lot to be lived up to.

I was itching to get in the water by the time we took a little road trip over to Gozo, our trunk loaded with tanks and dive gear. Our destination? Two of the island’s most famous underwater attractions — the Inland Sea and The Blue Hole.

Diving Gozo Blue Hole

Normally, they are completed as two separate dives. But as a divemaster and an instructor working in the area, both extremely comfortable in the water and good on air (for non-divers, that means we breathe through our tanks slowly and can stay underwater longer), we felt comfortable visiting both sites on one dive. We’d enter through the Inland Sea, swim along the coastal wall, and ascend through the Blue Hole.

We nabbed as close a parking spot as we could manage, suited up on the pavement, and waddled our way down to the Inland Sea.

Diving the Inland Sea, Gozo

Diving the Inland Sea, Gozo

The Inland Sea

There, Anders dropped our car keys with an ice cream vendor he’d made friends with, and we started preparing to descend. I hadn’t been diving in the Mediterranean since a trip to Ibiza many moons ago and I was anxious to see how this highly-hyped destination would compare.

We began our dive by cautiously making our way into the narrow channel, watching for boat traffic overhead.

Diving the Inland Sea, Gozo

Diving the Inland Sea, Gozo

Diving the Inland Sea, Gozo

It wasn’t long before we hit open ocean. Thus far I was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable the water temperature was — I was feeling fine in a 7mm wetsuit.

Diving the Inland Sea, Gozo

Diving Malta

Jellyfish in Malta

Visibility was good but frankly, there wasn’t much sealife to be seen. That did make the sightings we did have — like a flowing jellyfish — all the more special, and in the meantime we enjoyed the watching the waves crash dramatically into the wall as we moved along the edge of the ocean.

Eventually, Anders signaled to me that we had reached our destination — we were at the Blue Hole, one of Europe’s most famous dive sites. I could see why. The topography was like a diver’s playground with swim-throughs, arches, and shallow caves to explore.

Diving with Maltaqua

Diving with Maltaqua

Diving with Maltaqua

Diving Gozo

Despite stretching two dives into one and taking our sweet time doing it, we surfaced long before hitting low air. Nope, I had finally given into my teeth — I have a receding gumline, and I was experiencing shooting pains from the regulator rubbing against my biteline. I vowed to get to a dentist as soon as I hit Bangkok (and I did!), but in the meantime, I just kind of dangled the reg halfway out of my mouth like I was trying to dive and chew gum at the same time. Ain’t nothing keepin’ this girl out of the water.

As we made our way towards the entrance to the Blue Hole, Anders indicated that we were passing under the infamous Azure Window. My eyes crinkled with a smile, seeing such a notorious landmark from such a completely original angle.

Diving the Blue Hole, Gozo

Diving Gozo

Diving Gozo

The hardest part of diving the Blue Hole? Walking back to the parking lot over those sharp rocks with a full set of gear and weights! But it was worth every labored step. While there wasn’t an overwhelming number of fish to admire, the topography alone would have kept the reg dangling out of my mouth (had my dental issues not been doing so already). The Blue Hole indeed blew me away.

But my Maltese diving adventures weren’t over. A few days later, I tagged along with Anders at Maltaqua, his employer on the island. This time, we were headed to shore dive in Ċirkewwa harbor. One sign of how seriously Malta takes its scuba industry? There’s a special driving lane plus dedicated parking for divers.

Diving with Maltaqua

Diving Malta

Diving Ċirkewwa

Starfish in Malta

We were spending the morning diving two separate wrecks in the harbor. With Anders busy with his students, I was free to flit about with my camera as I pleased — my favorite way to dive. Unfortunately on the first dive my camera decided to seek revenge for an unidentified wrong I committed against it and fogged irreparably. By the second dive we were friends again and the camera behaved beautifully.

Diving Malta

Diving Malta

Learning to Dive in Malta

Diving Ċirkewwa

Diving Ċirkewwa

Diving Ċirkewwa

I really enjoyed both wrecks. While the bottom time was short due to the depths the ships are sitting at, they are impressive nonetheless. And I was just as engaged, if not more, by the shallow reefs on the way back to the shore. The sealife I had been missing the previous day in Gozo? It was all hiding here!

Diving Ċirkewwa

Octopus in Malta

Scuba Diving in Malta

In fact, this octopus encounter was the best I’ve ever had in all my time diving. After almost spitting out my reg in excitement over spotting him (check out that camouflage in the top photo!) we eyed each other for quite some time.

And once I dragged myself away from the octo, there were even more swim-throughs, more shallow caves, and more inviting beds of sea grass to admire.

Scuba Diving in Malta

Scuba Diving in Malta

Diving Ċirkewwa

I ascended a happy diver. In just three (or four, kind of!) dives, I’d experienced some of the very best Malta had to offer. Haunted wrecks, curious cephalopods, glorious sunshine to surface to and some of the most noteworthy topography I’ve seen anywhere in the world.

Bottom line — don’t come to Malta without getting some bottom time in the Mediterranean Sea! And I can’t recommend Maltaqua more highly for when you do. They hire some darn cute instructors (Who, me? Biased?).

Diving with Maltaqua

Scuba Diving in Malta

Have you been diving in the Meditereannean? What did you think?

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Photo of the Week 170 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/09/09/photo-week-170/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/09/09/photo-week-170/#comments Tue, 09 Sep 2014 16:30:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=30189

I want to start by thanking you all for the outpouring of compliments and kudos on the new site — I’ve been walking on air reading them! I feel a lot of love from you guys right now and believe me, I’m beaming it right back at ya.

So, sappy stuff aside, how is it possible I’ve only been back on Koh Tao for just two weeks? It feels like my new routine — one that involves laptop time with delicious takeaway, a daily pick of yoga or Muay Thai, hectic nights out with the crew and lots of next-day giggles with my girls — has been in place much, much longer. Basically I’ve slipped back into a beautiful life here so easily it truly feels like I never left. And you know what? Leaving is seeming less and less appealing…

Photo A

Snake Eating GeckoSome of my new neighbors in Sairee (apologies to anyone with a weak stomach!)

Photo B

Aow Leuk Beach Koh TaoA stunning day at Aow Leuk

Photo C

Koh Tao Muay ThaiFight night at Island Muay Thai

Photo D

Paddleboarding Koh TaoMy girl Päivi killing it on the paddleboard

 Which photo is your favorite?

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Welcome to the New Wanderland! http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/09/08/welcome-new-wanderland/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/09/08/welcome-new-wanderland/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 07:30:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=30695

What’s that you say? Things are looking a bit different around here? A bit newer, a bit shinier, and dare I say, many bits more stylin’?

Alex in Wanderland

Welcome!

This new site has been a long time in the making. It started with a tragic misdirect a full eleven months ago, when I sunk a big chunk of change into a designer that turned out to be a complete nightmare. It was a huge loss of time and money, and made me wonder if I’d ever see my vision for Alex in Wanderland come to life.

Once I managed to pull together some funds again, I went to where I should have started right from the beginning: my wonderful friends Hannah and Lee at Further Bound.

Hannah has been reading my site for years, and over meetups in places as far flung as London and Lombok we became fast friends. Basically, the girl gets me — I knew she’d be the perfect person to design the new home of Alex in Wanderland. Together, we put our blood, sweat and tears into this site. And I mean that literally. Technological challenges reduced me to tears at least twice, there were plenty of times I didn’t have air conditioning and I think I remember Hannah telling me she got a paper cut at some point.

But the blood sweat and tears were all worth it, no? Every time I see this beautiful new site I am filled with joy, and I can’t thank Hannah and Lee enough for bringing it to life for me! Let’s take a look around, shall we?

Alex in Wanderland Blog DesignOut with the old, in with the beautiful!

What’s New in Wanderland

One of my biggest issues with my old site was its ridiculously poor navigation. With almost a thousand posts in the Wanderland archives, Hannah and I brainstormed big time about how we could help you all find what exactly you’re looking for, and give some of my favorite old posts some new life. A little explanation behind what’s new around here:

Destinations: My new and updated destinations page, modeled (with author Kristin’s blessing) off the genius version on one of my favorite blogs, Camels and Chocolate. Now you’ll be able to browse by entire countries, but also more specifically by states and cities. This will be especially helpful for countries like Thailand, for which I have written over 160 posts!

Obsessions: All my favorite photography gear, luggage, green travel and blogging products in one place — plus a new travel resources section.

Confessions: One thing I’ve noticed about this travel blog? You guys love when I stray a little bit away from travel! Here’s where you’ll find my reflections on topics like love, life, and caffeine cravings.

Departures: All my planning posts broken down into categories like budgeting, packing, and app and product reviews. There’s also all kinds of travel inspiration round these parts, from travel quotes to travel book reviews to my beloved Earning Abroad series.

Arrivals: Here you’ll find a breakdown of my posts about various travel styles, from festival hopping to wildlife chasing. You’ll also find a section dedicated to my many posts on adventure travel — everything from diving to hiking, from sky high fun (think ziplining, helicoptering, and hot air ballooning) to motorized thrills (think motorcycling, ATV riding, and snowmobiling).

Alex in Wanderland Blog Design

Share the Love

I’m so excited about my new logo and design that I wanted to be able to share a little piece of it with you! Check out my new shop for Welcome to Wanderland mugs, totes and stickers. Eventually I’m planning to add limited edition photography prints and postcards, too.

And Tell Me What You Think!

I absolutely can’t wait to hear your feedback. Have a poke around and let us know what you love, and if anything looks a little wonky — we’re still working out the kinks! Now that I have this gorgeous new home for all my travel stories and photos, I’m more fired up than ever to share them with you. As always, thanks for coming along for the ride.

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On Trover, and Travel Planning, And Where to Go Next http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/09/03/trover-travel-planning-go-next/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/09/03/trover-travel-planning-go-next/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 15:32:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=29751

Have you guys heard of Trover?

If you’re switched on to what’s hot in travel, social media, or extremely addictive apps, chances are yes. (And don’t hold my personal track record for being switched on to anything hot against it, mkay? It’s not my fault no one told me what Snapchat was until mid-2014! And tons of people make the mistake of thinking Tinder is a brand of e-cigarette! Right! No? Guys?)

Trover

Basically, Trover is the ultimate travel planning tool and social media application for travelers. The photography-based app allows users to share visual travel ‘discoveries’, which fellow Trovers hoping to follow in their footsteps can then curate into to pinboard-like ‘lists’ for their own travel inspiration. Travel planning with Trover is intuitive and deliciously visual — and bloggers can’t stop talking about it. Caz at Y Travel Blog has a thorough guide to Trover’s many features, Charli at Wanderlusters has an awesome list of Trovers to follow, and Becki at Borders of Adventure has a great rundown of how to use the app for planning.

Trover

As I browsed through Trover and played with the various features I found I was subconsciously drawn to discoveries from two specific regions of the world. Unsurprisingly, they are the two regions that are currently pulling at my heartstrings and competing for the next big open space on my calendar. A few of you have started asking what’s next for me, and I’ve remained a bit coy about what’s on my mind. Well, I think we all knew that couldn’t last long.

Where will I spend the first five months of 2015 — Central America or Southeast Asia? I took to Trover to daydream.

Daydreaming Away on Trover

Initially, yes, I was drawn towards certain discoveries because they featured jaw-dropping photography — the kind that makes you think “I need to go THERE!” and next thing you know you’re booking a flight — but the great thing about Trover is that it goes below the surface. Unlike Instagram (where searching for a country name under hashtags will pull up a million duckfaced teenage selfies from that fine nation), and Pinterest (where searching for a country will bring up loads of drool-worthy images of places with zero information on how to get there), Trover goes deep.

In putting together my Central America inspiration list, I realized that I must do a yoga retreat on Isla Ometepe in Nicaragua, I scouted out the perfect cliff-side apartment rental on Lago Atitlán in Guatemala, I made a mental note to hit up the Smoky Mermaid bar in Belize, and I vowed to see the turquoise waters of the Santa Ana volcano in El Salvador. As I combed through the lists, discoveries and geotags of my fellow Trovers, I felt myself mentally packing my bags for another Latin American expedition.

Central America Travel Inspiration – a photo list by Alexandra Baackes

And then I started a Southeast Asia board. Um, I’ve spent a couple collective years of my life here at this point! How did I not know about the stunning hiking in Ninh Binh, Vietnam? How did I miss out on the mango alohas at Lazy Sundae in Pai? How have I lived without laying eyes on the tribal horses of Mount Bromo, Indonesia? (Thank goodness that I now realize I’ll have to arrive super early in order jokey for the best views of said mountain from the overlook at Gunung Penanjakan!) And how is it humanly possible that this train-loving travel blogger didn’t know about Goteik Viaduct, the highest railway bridge in Myanmar? Perhaps I shouldn’t start brushing up on my Spanish after all.

Southeast Asia Travel Inspiration – a photo list by Alexandra Baackes

Nope, it’s not all about the beautiful photos — the knowledge shared on Trover is what makes it so valuable. One sweet bonus? Many high quality bloggers contribute, and share links to helpful posts on their site for even further info.

Posting Discoveries to Trover

Now of course, once I read everyone else’s fab travel tips and soaked up all their inspiration, I wanted to get in on the fun too! (Me, wanting to overshare travel secrets and inundate the world with my photos? Shocking, I know.)

Posting discoveries couldn’t be simpler — you simply upload a photo from your computer or your Facebook account, add the geo-tagged location, and then dash off your tip, trick or treasured travel discovery. Then, sit back and watch the comments and “thanks” roll in — a thank on Trover is like a like on Facebook, but with better manners. Trover has a super interactive community of travel addicts, so don’t be surprised when they start piling up quickly.

View Alexandra Baackes’ photos on Trover

Room for Improvement

Obviously, Trover is only as valuable as the content submitted by its users. I found that there was sometimes a notably small volume of discoveries when I was searching more remote regions of the world — unsurprisingly, El Salvador is going to have less discoveries than San Francisco.

The solution? Time. Trover will continue to grow, especially with badass travelers like you guys — I know from all the fabulous tips and tricks you all give me on a regular basis that the Wanderland community is full of crazy good ideas. Share them by signing up on Trover.com and downloading the app on Android or iPhone — and don’t forget to #TroveOn with me, too.

Trover

In Conclusion

I’m no closer to knowing where to go next. But I’m having a ton of fun — and learning so much about this big beautiful planet! — while contemplating the question with Trover. Speaking of questions…

Are y’all on Trover yet? If so, are you loving it as much as me? And where the heck should my next trip bring me — back here to my beloved Southeast Asia, or back across the world to adventure-filled Central America?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This post is branded content brought to you in collaboration with Trover. As always, you receive my honest opinions, thorough review, and consistent non-Southerner abuse of the term y’all.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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Going Gaga For Gozo http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/09/02/a-road-trip-around-gozo/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/09/02/a-road-trip-around-gozo/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 18:10:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=30187 Wied il-Għasri, Gozo

The nation of Malta is actually made up of three distinct islands — Malta, Comino, and Gozo. A few days in, and in spite of its diminutive size, I’d seen only a small fraction of what Malta had to offer. But when Anders was blessed with an unexpected day off of work, he didn’t hesitate over what we should do with it — a road trip around neighboring Gozo.

A Day Trip to Gozo

The first step? Catching the ferry. I have a horrible condition, for which there is currently no known cure, which does not allow me to arrive for scheduled transportation within a non-panic inducing timeframe. Despite many valiant attempts, it appears it is physically impossible for me to arrive at an airport more than ten minutes before check in closes, or to rock up to a bus or boat more than five minutes before the doors swing shut. Doctors are currently searching for answers as to what causes this terrible travel disorder.

True to form, we made it with no time to spare, and as soon as our heartrates returned to normal, we were off to beautiful Gozo.

Ferry to Gozo

Ferry to Gozo

The Port of Gozo

At under 42 square miles in size, we were confident we’d be able to squeeze in most of the island’s attractions in one day — including an underwater viewing.

Yup, we were going diving in my favorite way possible — a couple tanks in the back of the car, and a local expert in the driver’s seat. We decided to start the day with our scuba adventure and set off straight for the Inland Sea. But of course, I couldn’t quite let Anders drive through adorable San Lawrenz without hopping out of the car to grab a few photos, could I?

Village of San Lawrenz, Gozo, Malta

Village of San Lawrenz, Gozo, Malta

Village of San Lawrenz, Gozo, Malta

Village of San Lawrenz, Gozo, Malta

My travel writing professor at NYU once tried to make us promise never to use the word charming in our prose. I let the man down often, and I’m going to do it again: San Lawrenz was one of the most unassumingly charming towns I’d ever seen. And it was barely 11am.

Gozo Road Trip

Gozo Road Trip

Arriving at coastal Dwerja, we found the crowds I’d been expecting for a beautiful day in the midst of Malta’s summer high season. But immediately I could see why they came.I’ll save our diving stories and photos for another day, but suffice it to say that between the Inland Sea, the Azure Window, and the Blue Hole, Dwerja is a mind-boggling highlight that should not be missed. Basically Earth is just showing off at this point, right?

The Inland Sea

The Azure Window, Gozo, Malta

The Azure Window, Gozo, Malta

All that diving made us hungry, and we glanced at a map trying to imagine what would be the most idyllic place on the island. We settled on Marsalforn, a former fishing hamlet turned Gozo’s main holiday resort village. This being Gozo, “main holiday resort village” means there is more than one hotel within eyesight of another. It was perfect. We were drawn in by the guidebook’s promise of a sleek waterfront wine bar, but found it shuttered.

We ended up at a nearby spot serving the usual uninspiring “international” cuisine — but hey, no complaints with a view like this, right? (I mean, if you want to get technical about it I can complain under a vast array of conditions. But let’s pretend I’m a perpetually upbeat person.)

Marsalforn, Gozo, Malta

And then we were off again, this time towards a somewhat mysterious destination. A Maltese friend had raved about a tucked away spot called Wied il-Għasri, but the guidebook was a bit vague on how to get there. It’s a small island, we assured ourselves, and took off along another stunning coastal road. Along the way we passed more mysterious geological formations, a few quiet stretches of sand populated by colorful umbrellas, and a vast patchwork of still-active salt pans.

The North Gozo Coastline

The North Gozo Coastline

The North Gozo Coastline

Gozo Salt Flats

Gozo Salt Flats

Gozo Salt Flats

And then we saw it — a tiny white sign pointing us towards a rough path that we hoped would bring us to Wied il-Għasri. We giggled nervously as we bounced along the dirt road, but eventually came across another car and a winding path down to the water.

It was a very close approximation of I’d expect Mediterranean heaven to look like.

Wied il-Għasri

Wied il-Għasri, Gozo

Wied il-Għasri, Gozo

Once a ground of kayakers passed through and our one family of fellow beach goers hit the road, we had the place totally to ourselves. We might have stayed all day had we not run out of drinking water. Later, I read the rocky cove was a hotspot for seahorses, and I cursed not bringing our snorkel gear down.

Finally, we made our way to Victoria, the island’s capital. We would our way up to Il-Kastell, the city’s walled citadel, but were disappointed to find much of it under construction. No matter — there was cold water for sale, and fabulous views from the top.

Victoria, Gozo

Victoria, Gozo

Victoria, Gozo

One cool discovery as we made our way back to the car was a World War II bunker turned art gallery — the dripping ceiling and musty smell won me over immediately. Talk about giving new life to an old space.

Victoria, Gozo

Even outside the citadel, “modern” Victoria is a bit like stepping back in time.

Victoria, Gozo

A Road Trip around Gozo

For our final stop of the day, napping was a necessity. We debated between heading to Ramla Bay or San Blas Bay but settled on the former as it seemed far more likely have ice cream vendors. We predicted correctly.

One interesting note about Malta’s beaches — while I went vaguely expecting the same kind of casual toplessness I’d found in Ibiza and other Mediterranean destinations, deeply Catholic Malta took me by surprise. Instead, stern warning signs forbade any version of nudity, and the statue of a saint plopped in the center of the sand watched gravely over the merrymakers.

Ramla Bay, Gozo

Ramla Bay, Gozo

As the day dipped into late afternoon, we started stirring towards the ferry. But before we pulled away from the beach, I insisted we make one more stop — to Calypso’s Cave, overlooking the very beach we’d just been on. As with many of our destinations for the day, the road could barely be considered a road — in fact, it felt more like we were traipsing through someone’s farmland — but the journey was as fun as the destinations.

View from Calypso's Cave, Gozo

View from Calypso's Cave, Gozo

View from Calypso's Cave, Gozo

Yes, Gozo wowed me. In fact, I wouldn’t even hesitate to say that our casual, itinerary-free day of road tripping around the tiny isle was the highlight of my time in Malta. With its manageable size and crowds and its gluttony of gorgeous sites, I can’t think of a better destination for a drive.

Gozo Road Trip

Gozo Road Trip

Gozo Road Trip

Where’s your favorite place to road trip?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Many thanks to the Malta Tourism Authority for providing me with a rental car for the duration of my stay. As always, you receive my most honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.

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Photo of the Week 168: Koh Tao http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/09/01/photo-week-168-koh-tao/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/09/01/photo-week-168-koh-tao/#comments Mon, 01 Sep 2014 18:57:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=30188 Diving on Koh Tao

I’m back on Koh Tao and life is good! Well, life is all kinds of busy and hectic, but the mayhem is currently happening on my favorite little island in the Gulf of the Thailand, so it is good indeed. I’m all settled in with an apartment, a motorbike, and all my clothes unpacked in a closet — a strange little thing that made this nomad so happy she took photos and texted them to the family. While I was mostly nesting and spending any spare moments catching up with friends, I did make time for one great adventure this week — Sail Rock Sundays with my friends over at Roctopus Dive. I’ll have a full post in the future about this trip, but enjoy this little preview (some topside photos — including the team in our Roctokinis! — will be on my Facebook page this afternoon).

And for now, I’m looking forward to the week ahead. I’ve got some great travel stories to share from Malta, the finishing touches are going into my site redesign, I’m finally going to get my inbox back in shape, and I’m going to be here on this beautiful island!

Happy Monday!

Photo A
Diving on Koh TaoThe island I’ve been dreaming of

Photo B
Diving on Koh TaoThis was an accident, and one I almost deleted before realizing I was in love with it!

Photo C
Diving on Koh TaoBig schools of barracuda and little baby shrimps

Photo D
Diving on Koh TaoA clown fish coming out to say “Welcome back!”

Which photo is your favorite?

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An Evening of Sand and Cities in West Malta http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/31/west-malta/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/31/west-malta/#comments Sun, 31 Aug 2014 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=30288 Sunset at Għajn Tuffieħa Bay, Malta

One of my favorite things about Malta is its diminutive size — the whole country is less than 200 square miles. This meant that it was easy to explore in bite-size segments, perfect for coordinating with the working schedule of my hunky host.

One afternoon, as Anders arrived home from a dive, I was waiting by the door with a beach bag packed and car keys in hand. “Take me to the sea,” I ordered, any my exhausted but obliging host drove us to Għajn Tuffieħa Bay. Its nearby neighbor Golden Bay is a more popular choice despite being more crowded and less scenic — Għajn Tuffieħa’s seemingly endless steps dissuade some. But we were more than happy to trot down the stairs in order to enjoy the island’s late afternoon glow from the perfect vantage point.

Għajn Tuffieħa Bay, Malta

Għajn Tuffieħa Bay, Malta

As we lounged on the sand I flipped through the inflight magazine from my Air Malta flight, which listed the country’s top sunset spots. Sitting pretty at number one? Għajn Tuffieħa Bay. When I showed this to Anders he immediately informed me that it was his plan all along to bring me to Malta’s top ranked, number one sunset spot! Suuuure it was, Anders.

Sunset at Għajn Tuffieħa Bay, Malta

Sunset at Għajn Tuffieħa Bay, Malta

When we eventually peeled ourselves off the sand, we nabbed a front row seat for sunset at the beach’s one restaurant, and enjoyed a laid back meal while watching the show.

Sunset at Għajn Tuffieħa Bay, Malta

Sunset at Għajn Tuffieħa Bay, Malta

Sunset at Għajn Tuffieħa Bay, Malta

Sunset at Għajn Tuffieħa Bay, Malta

While we were eating, I was playing around with the Sygic navigation app I was soon reviewing, and marveling at the short distances between Malta’s major sights. “We’re only twelve minutes to Mdina!,” I marveled. “Well, let’s go then,” Anders replied. And so, as soon as the sun dipped below the horizon, we hoofed our way back up to the car and made our way towards Malta’s most beautiful medieval city.

Mdina at Night

Mdina, Malta

I had gasped when Mdina’s majestic walls appeared in the distance on our drive, and I only grew more excited as we made our way towards the city from our hard won parking spot in Rabat (car traffic is extremely limited in Mdina). Nicknamed “The Silent City,” the peaceful and pristine streets were the Malta I dreamed of finding. The citadel, dating back as far as 1000BC, is so steeped in history it practically seeps from the hidden alleyways.

I’m not much of a history buff, but I am a photography nut — and the challenges of capturing this gorgeous city at night had me giddy.

Mdina, Malta

Mdina, Malta

Mdina at Night

Though the cities museum’s were shuttered and we were too stuffed to sample any of the restaurants, simply wandering the streets while still salty from the sea was one of the highlights of my time in Malta.

Mdina, Malta

Mdina at Night

Mdina, Malta

And yes — we had a bit of fun with some of the very un-Anders sized architecture.

Mdina, Malta

Mdina at Night

Mdina, Malta

Mdina, Malta

Mdina at Night

As we eventually wound our way back to Rabat, I sighed with happiness. Chasing late afternoon light to a beautiful bay with a name I could barely pronounce? Front row seats to the country’s top sunset? An evening spent wandering a hauntingly beautiful medieval citadel? It was the perfect impromptu Malta adventure.

Next up? Taking Gozo by storm!

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Earning Abroad: Doing Rehabilitation in Global Health http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/29/earning-abroad-rehabilitation-global-health/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/29/earning-abroad-rehabilitation-global-health/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 12:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=30321 Working in International Development_03

Earning AbroadWelcome back to Earning Abroad! In this series I’ll introduce you to some inspiring and ambitious friends I’ve met on the road — friends who have found viable work away from their home countries.

Today’s Earning Abroad subject, Wes, just happens to be one of my favorite humans on the planet. Wes and I are fellow Thailand addicts and though I’m no longer based in Koh Tao and he’s no longer based in Bangkok, he hasn’t been able to shake me yet — if all goes according to plan, I’ll soon be visiting him at his new place in Phnom Penh. But it might be hard to coordinate our travel schedules. Wes’ mind-boggling job keeps him on the road three weeks out of every month — the man has crossed 240 borders in the past four years!

And that’s why this interview, out of the entire Earning Abroad series, is the one that I personally most looked forward to reading. Because after all our time spent together in Thailand or chatting online from opposite sides of the world, I still didn’t fully understand what Wes does. In fact, my first draft of this interview was tentatively titled, “Earning Abroad: Doing WTF Wes Does.” And, true story, Wes once concocted an elaborate April Fool’s story about his development job being a cover for his true position in international intelligence for his native Australia, and I believed every word. Frankly, I’m still vaguely suspicious. Read on for what might be the most interesting interview to ever appear on this site — or perhaps another layer in one secret agents’ extremely elaborate cover story.

Working in International Development

AB: Walk us through a typical day on the job.

WP: Timezone differences between Western Europe and Asia are poorly designed if you ask me. My phone beeps all night, and if I feel like it, I’ll read emails as they come in. They’re usually pointless drivel – I’m cc’d to a forwarded cc that started from a bcc from some guy who mailed a guy who had something of value to say in the late 90s. But occasionally, I have to do something about them, and that’s where the trouble starts.

I’m in the business of health and disability in low-income and emergency situations. Specifically, I’m a technical adviser. Anyone who reads this blog will have a vague idea of humanitarian development. You probably think it’s sitting cross-legged in the dirt singing songs, or buying your millionaire uncle a conceptual goat to give to a family in a village somewhere. Both of those things do happen. But development is also about working with national healthcare authorities get organised to work with and for people with physical disabilities or chronic diseases, whether or not those people own an abstract goat. Somewhere, someone answers emails at 3:00am to fund, critique, design, troubleshoot or plan all this. Sometimes that person is me.

So a typical day on the job is roughly divided into three varieties. One is churning through the details. Working across 9 or so countries, 10 or so projects at a time, each of them with dozens of individual accountabilities – all done in the complex space of a medium-sized International Non-Governmental Organisation (iNGO), across multiple donors and different national partner organisations – tends to equal a lot of emails. Thankfully, my role is a technical one – that means other people are dealing with the administrative complexities.

Working in International DevelopmentAnd all this is done working for the French. It’s great working with and for the French, but nobody ever accused them of creating simple, clear solutions where a complex one was possible. They argue that things are complex – the world is a dynamic, ever-changing place full of human idiosyncrasies, so our analysis of it should be like that. I argue that if it can’t be made simpler with a spreadsheet or a chart of some type, you’re doing it wrong. But we get along ok.

So this is the second kind of day. I get called in when there’s a problem with the way a project is designed, or we don’t know how to do something we promised a donor we’d do, or if what we’ve done before isn’t working. There are some pretty sharp people working in these projects, so by the time it gets to me, the problem is usually a bit of a mess. I’m the troubleshooter’s troubleshooter, so to speak. My boss, then, is the troubleshooter’s troubleshooter’s troubleshooter. Thankfully she’s French, and finds great beauty in this complexity.

The third kind of day is when I’m on the road, in a project or a program, looking at the stuff that’s happening. These days are good. It could be anywhere from a snowy Southern Afghanistan or Kashmir, or a baking hot Dhaka. These days I’ve pushed further east, so it’s also sometimes under Cambodian mango trees. When I look at the stuff that’s happening, I’m asking whether it’s working, whether it’s managed well, whether we are meeting our obligations to the donor, to our ethical standards and whether we’re doing things efficiently. I’m also usually asking how we can get organised to make sure we’re doing it better in 2-3 years, and whether we can make it bigger, or whether we should shut it down and do something more important.

To give you an example, my organisation supports about a dozen or so physical rehabilitation services in Asia. This is where people come for therapy or assistive devices (like wheelchairs, crutches, prosthetic legs, orthopaedic braces and so on) if they have musculoskeletal impairments. They have well trained people in them, so I’m trying to support those people to develop more skills to respond to future health challenges, like diabetes, heart disease, stroke. These places are not about landmines so much, anymore, but we’re not ready for these huge changes. Most of the clients in these places are road traffic accident survivors or were born with cerebral palsy or other disabling conditions – if you’ve traveled in Asia you won’t be surprised. But our colleagues are not always skilled in these areas, so that’s a big challenge for us. So I’m asking how we can better fund these services so they’re ready for big challenges. Our field isn’t funded too well, compared with the ‘big boys’. I bet you didn’t know that violence and injury alone kills more people than HIV, Malaria and Tuberculosis combined. Bill and Melinda Gates give metric shit-tonnes of cash-money to the latter, but we’re getting peanuts to prevent and treat injury and chronic disease.

But things are improving, and that’s fantastic.

How long have you had this position?Working in International Development_01

For this organisation in more or less my current role, about 6 years.

How did you come to work in development? What inspired you to find work in your field?

In Melbourne, Australia, there used to be a Health Sciences building in the funky but grimy bit of downtown. I took a train there when I was 16, mostly to check out physiotherapy, which I thought would be a good job. Physio was on the 3rd floor. I took the stairs – the school for Prosthetics and Orthotics was on the 2nd floor, and I never really made it to the 3rd floor. I got talking to one of the lecturers, and talked about opportunities to work in conflict settings. That seemed cool, so a few years later, that’s what I studied. I did a few months in Cambodia as a student in 1999, when there were more cowboys and less organic home delivery schemes and Bentleys. I then wound up taking a postgrad scholarship and set that sort of thing aside, opting instead for looking at graphs in a laboratory, which was a sophomore choice – wise and foolish at the same time.

Then, in 2003, someone with some research skills and knowledge of rehabilitation was required, and so I did some work in India on evaluating the response to the 2001 earthquake. Then I ended up in a job teaching students from Cambodia, Pakistan, Laos and Sri Lanka in an online program. This lead to another short evaluation, this time in Northern Iraq. I didn’t want to do this thing permanently, mostly because I didn’t want to leave my dog behind, but then more or less, I had to. The dog ended up with my friend, and in 2008 I took a more permanent job in rehabilitation.

Was it easy to find a job?

I’m not aware of anyone with the right qualifications and/or enough mojo who wanted to get into development, who didn’t. The job I have now has evolved a lot – partly to fit the times and partly to fit me. But there are all kinds of jobs in development. Some are sketchy ‘voluntourism’ jobs and I don’t really feel qualified to offer an informed opinion, but certainly, some caution is needed before you think you’re actually doing any good in those jobs. But, that is true of all jobs, in my mind, and especially so for development.

A lot of people come to this kind of work through large-scale emergency response type stuff. Haiti, for example, had hundreds of health professionals descend on it. Some will stay around and learn about development principles to complement their professional foundations. Those people might make a career out of it. Others might study development, international relations or similar. I didn’t do any of that, really. It’s just the luck of the draw in some ways. I just applied to a job I saw online. I had done some consultancy work for the organization before, so they sort of knew me – but gave me the job anyway.

How did your family and friends react to your initial departure?

Working in International DevelopmentNo big deal at all. My stepdad gave me the advice he always gives, which is very sound. “Don’t piss into the wind,” he said, and I have done my best in that regard. The toughest bit was leaving the dog.

How much money do you make? Is it enough to live on?

Much, much less than I would at home. But much, much more than my peers from other countries. It’s enough to live on, but I’m going backwards compared with my peers at home. But that’s the cost of not being a joe-boring with 2.5 kids and a mortgage. I work with some awesome people. People from all over the world. The are interesting, smart and fun. That’s priceless.

Development in general is usually like this – not lucrative, but enough to live on. There are exceptions. Consulting and some intergovernmental organisations pay pretty well, and have handsome retirement benefits and things like that. But NGOs, rightly, tend to be pretty modest. Still some would say we make too much, sometimes hundreds of times more than the average local. I don’t know what’s right and wrong, here. But anyone thinking about getting into development for the money should probably reassess their choice.

What kind of legal hoops do you have to jump through?

I’ve lived in 4 or 5 different countries in the last 7 years. They’re all a bit different. Some are complex and require complex legal processes and paperwork. Others, just turn up and rent a place.

Delhi was a great place to live for 2.5 years, then getting a visa became a bit too hard. There are plenty of interns and expats in India, so your mileage may vary. A stint in France could only go for 3 months because of the visa requirements – quel dommage! So then I ended up in Bangkok, another great place. After 2 years of that, I had to move to Sri Lanka for internal company reasons (of which I did not approve). Sri Lankan work permits are complex to get – but it was possible. The trouble was it took three months of planning and then about 6 weeks in Sri Lanka to sort it all out. My travel load means that is really just not feasible. So recently I moved to Cambodia – at least temporarily. I think it might become permanent. So far, so good. I’ve been lucky to live in these places – but I would like to be able to settle down a little bit. I haven’t had pictures on the walls since I left Delhi in 2010. There are still boxes of homely stuff like cushions and teapots in storage somewhere in India. I should go get them.

What skills do/did you need for this job?

Working in International Development_01There are two kinds of people: those who can extrapolate and find missing information. I try to be the former.

So, for my job specifically, it’s a mix of analysis, policy research and planning. I’ve learned the ‘development’ bits on the job. I think that’s the way it needs to be. Things are so specific to the situation that you really need to learn the context on the job. Employers know that, so the career path takes that into account. For anyone thinking of a career in this space, there are roughly 4 types of job. First is the leadership and direction – for that, people come from technical and project management backgrounds, many with higher degrees in international relations, management or human resources. Then there are the admin people. These are regular admin people, with the specific added value that they intend to make themselves redundant by training local people how to do that job. This works well. These are people like accountants, human resources people, logisticians and so on.

Then there are the technical people, like me. It could be engineering, health, policy, law, education – whatever. Through internships and perhaps a volunteer contract or two, you gradually get the skills (and attitude) to make a career out of it – or decide it’s not for you. These days I have a higher degree, but it’s not really related to my field. It’s handy for quick credentialing to senior authorities, but that’s about it. There isn’t really specific training to do what I do – in fact it’s one of my ambitions to create some, or be involved in developing a course where my colleagues can get qualified in this kind of work.

Another avenue to this work is the specific emergency response type people, who really sort of supplement the national workforce when those skills are just too scarce locally. Sometimes they transition into development work once the early emergency response stabilises. These people are technical people, maybe medics or other health types, but there is a need for engineers, water and sanitation experts and a swag of niche specialists plus people to manage and get them organized.

What were the best and worst things about working in your field?

Working in International DevelopmentThis is a great job. I can’t imagine a better job, really. I have seen some amazing things, both at work and alongside it. I have fantastic peers and colleagues. It’s a small sector, so everyone knows everyone, from basically all over the world. This is easily the best bit of a great job. The worst bit, or at least the bit that anyone reading this should think about, is what it means for your career long-term. It’s not always consistent with your ideas about career back home. The more specialised you get, it may get further away from a neat fit into wherever you might like to work back home, if that’s where you want to be. But if you’re worried about that at the start of your adventure into development, get back in your car, fill it with gas, drive to work, and a good day to you.

The other thing that bothers me a bit is that there are some pretty big egos. Most readers will know about the “backpacker Olympics” – the game where someone says something they did, and the next person one-ups it. It’s boring and stupid, and in development is no different. “You were in Mozambique in ’92?! I was there in ’91 living off leaves and twigs.” It’s boring and these people are morons. Many wear zip-off pants and as a consequence, should be set on fire.

What would your advice be to someone seeking to do the same?

If you have no experience or contact with development, then the first thing to realise is you probably don’t add a lot of value right away. You might be excellent at whatever you do at home. But so is someone in whatever country you might end up in, and all you’d be doing is taking their job. But with broader skills – in training for example – then maybe you can contribute to your peers in other countries. This keeps me on my toes – I know I am doing my job well when my colleagues feel confident and skilled to take over. I then need to be entrepreneurial, and find new techniques and approaches in which to work and take our organisation.

It’s also important to remember that a lot of people reading this might be interested in working in development in their own country. It’s not all about expatriates working abroad. Countries that we think of as low-income countries are still pretty cosmo – there are some outstanding training programs and the talent pool is massive. Thankfully, the days of one-way traffic from wealthy countries to poor countries are ending – many of my colleagues working ‘abroad’ are themselves from low-income countries with lots of development activities. Their path might be quite different – starting work in their own countries, before contributing what they know in other places. I’ve got colleagues from India, Nepal, Nigeria, West Africa, The Philippines as well as countries where you can drink the tap water. Of course, people working in social services in their own country are contributing at least as much, and probably a whole lot more, than those of us with fat passports and chips on our shoulders. The distinction of ‘abroad’ is artificial, and the work doesn’t get more valid because it requires a visa and quality shoes.

I think the best advice is still to start by volunteering. People further along in their career can network a bit and try and find specialised areas to work – either as a volunteer or as a consultant of some type. A lot of countries have nationally funded volunteer programs. Volunteer Services Organisation (VSO) in the UK, Australian Volunteers International, and the ‘Peace Corp’, whatever that is. Sometimes these are for people between 18-30, and others for short-term contracts for highly skilled experts to do particular, specialised things. This is still the right way to go.

Working in International Development_08Others just show up and go and help. This happens a lot around teaching and in orphanages. I don’t really know about those sectors, but I don’t think it’s any more appropriate to turn up to an orphanage and think you have anything to add than to do the same thing at Google. You might have something to add, but they’re the best judge of that – not you. For people reading this who live in countries where there is development work, please apply. Socially motivated, committed professionals are always sought. International development work is not always easy, but it can also be a great way to learn and do some cool stuff. I don’t think there’s anything wrong if part of your motivation is about traveling and seeing something different. But if that’s your main motivation, you’re not going to have a great time when you’re living in a bedsit in Northern Iraq with no money to do anything but ride your bicycle (it’s 46C outside) to the office and use their dial-up internet to search the job market for something better.

What do you know about the world that you wouldn’t have learned as a tourist? How did working in these regions change your experience there?

I just honestly have no idea how to answer this question. Meeting people in some pretty far out places comes to mind. Some people are cool, some are not. It seems pretty childish to say that people are all pretty similar, but it’s true. There are Afghan hipsters, Cambodian beat poets, Nepalese Rastafarians and Thai surrealists, just as there are English Buddhist nuns, American Saddhus and Bangladeshi Sushi restaurateurs. The world is not neatly divided into ‘home’ and ‘traveling’. I’ve never thought of travel as a recreational pursuit in itself. Go somewhere. Do something. Don’t ‘do somewhere’, which is both grammatically clumsy and so vapid it makes me want to flip tables.

What are you doing now? What are your plans for the future?

I wouldn’t mind dabbling in some kind of other job, some day. Maybe do a bit of research with a university. But for now, I have no complaints. Status quo is alright for a while yet. I flirt with the idea of being a divemaster for a while, and sort of freelancing, but I never really go far with the idea. I recently rode a bicycle from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, and I wouldn’t mind doing that again when it’s not the hot season, or maybe from Indonesia to Melbourne, or something. Maybe a B&B might suit me, but I don’t have the scratch.

But right now no particular plans. No reason to stay, no reason to go. Perfect.

What question should I have asked instead?

What do you do when you’re not working? You can follow my instagram ‘shocrates’ or check out my flickr which I tend to update reasonably reliably.

Working in International Development_03

Many thanks to Wes for taking a break from his busy days of email responding to share with us! All photos in this post are Wes’s wonderful photography — click to enlarge. As always, feel free to leave questions or high fives in the comments below.

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Malta Like a (Temporary) Local http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/27/malta-like-semi-local/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/08/27/malta-like-semi-local/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=30192 Cafe del Mar, Malta

As I settled in for the three hour flight that would bring me from the rainy UK to the sunny Mediterranean, I flipped through the Lonely Planet guide to Malta, hoping it might bring some insights into the island I was about to arrive on. Because frankly, I was clueless.

I’d booked the trip for one simple reason — Anders was there, working as a dive instructor. He accepted the job around the time I was planning my trip to Europe, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to see my favorite Dane while I was in the region. The bonus was, I’d have a new country to explore. The double bonus was I’d have, if not a local, at least a temporary local, to play tour guide.

Malta Like a (Semi) Local

Upon landing, I took a deep breathe, gathered my rental car, and prepared myself for navigating opposite-side-of-the-road driving to my base the other side of the island. I only knew one other traveler who’d been to Malta, and when I told her I was staying in Buġibba, her response was, “Hmm. Don’t judge Malta by Buġibba.” She also warned me about the driving.

Half an hour later, as the coastal road curved to reveal St. Paul’s Bay, I laughed in memory of the comment — she was right. The town appeared to be a shrine to cell-block, 70′s style architecture in various shades of crumbling beige. But I didn’t mind a bit. I knew there was plenty of beauty awaiting me — and there will be many upcoming posts that prove it!

Malta Apartment Building

Malta Rental CarDon’t worry — I’m not the one driving!

July and August are peak season on the tiny island of Malta, when the population of just over 400,000 (the tiniest in the EU!) swells to accommodate a flood of tourists seeking blue waters and sunny skies. I arrived right in the middle of it, and Anders warned me that he might not get even a single day off work during my week long stay. No worries, I assured him — I’d work or explore solo during the day, and we’d take the island by storm in the evening.

And by “take the island by storm in the evening” I clearly mean dinner on the cheap at home and falling asleep by ten, for at least half the nights I was there. What can I say? While for many Malta is all about the nightlife, Anders was exhausted from work and I was detoxing from London, and we were happy to leave the foam parties and the nightclubs to the hoards of British merrymakers. But for my first night, we fought the call of the pillow and made our way to nearby St. Julian’s for a sunset dinner at the harbor.

St. Julian's Bay, Malta

St. Julian's Bay, Malta

Cafe Cuba, Malta

Cafe Cuba, Malta

St. Julian’s is not much more charming than St. Paul’s in terms of pure appearances, but what it lacks in beauty it makes up for in atmosphere. We ended up here often, meeting friends for dinner or a drink or strolling along the waterfront.

Downtown St. Julian's, Malta

Downtown St. Julian's, MaltaWhile my day trips around the island deserve posts of their own, on the days I wasn’t exploring, I was working. After one day spent  cooped up in Anders’ apartment, I knew I needed to find a better office for the next. So I grabbed my laptop and made my way to Cafe del Mar, where the 15 entrance fee (about $20) was well worth it for the view and the wifi. While tame during the day, the stylish pool turns into an upscale nightclub in the evenings. I happily worked the day away here, stopping occasionally for a delicious lunch or a swim.

While for me it was a blissed-out temporary office, I’d recommend an afternoon here to any traveler in Malta who needs a break from sightseeing. It is a diamond in the rough of St. Paul’s Bay.

Cafe del Mar, Malta

Cafe del Mar, Malta

Cafe del Mar, Malta

Cafe del Mar, Malta

Cafe del Mar, Malta

Cafe del Mar, Malta

My time in Malta was a bit different than I’d expect most travelers’ trips to be. Instead of spending my days on the beach I was often on my laptop, instead of spending my nights partying I spent them playing catch up with Anders, and instead of a hotel or hostel I bunked in with three busy dive instructors. Those parts might not seem so fun to the casual observer. But there are serious benefits to seeing Malta like a (semi) local.

One such example? Circumnavigating the island of Comino on the private speedboat of a Maltese friend. Small world story alert: Miles, one of Anders’ co-workers at his dive shop in Malta, was a fellow underwater videographer from my days in Koh Tao. Back in Thailand, Miles had fallen for Erica, who was doing her Divemaster training on the island. Eventually, he decided to follow her back home. I had met Erica and two of her Maltese friends briefly when I was back on Koh Tao last year — imagine my surprise when I rocked up on Malta and found a whole Koh Tao crew there! Erica and Miles were kind enough to take us out on her family boat one afternoon for a blissful day of swimming and snorkeling around Comino.

Day Trip to Comino

Boat Trip Around Malta

Boat Trip Around Malta

Day Trip to Comino

The country of Malta is actually made up of three islands — Malta, Gozo, and Comino. Comino is not much more than a small, barely inhabited slab of limestone wedged between Malta and Gozo. But it holds many beautiful surprises, from hidden caves to dramatic sea cliffs to one very famous Blue Lagoon. As we threw out the anchor on the east side of the island and swam from cave to cave, clamoring through the interconnecting tunnels and swimming through the cobalt channels, I cursed myself for forgetting my underwater camera.

Making our way to the other side of the island, we approached the Blue Lagoon, creator of thousands of postcard images of Malta. From everything I’d heard and read, while stunning, the bay was seriously overrun in the summer and not quite as idyllic as the postcards portrayed. As we approached, I was mesmerized by the turquoise waters. As we got closer, the pounding music from the other boats got louder, and we debated whether or not to drop anchor. The decision was made for us quite dramatically when, to our great horror/amusement, a human turd floated past. With peals of laughter, we peeled out of there and made our way to less poopy waters.

Boat Trip Around Malta

Malta's Blue Lagoon

Malta's Blue Lagoon

It’s not hard to find a beautiful place to drift for a while around Comino.

Day Trip to Comino

Day Trip to Comino

Boating Around Malta

Of course, the best part of the day was the company. I loved catching up with Miles about all our mutual friends back on Koh Tao, chatting to Erica about growing up on Malta, and listening to the boys banter about work and island life.

Boating Around Malta

Boating Around Malta

Day Trip to Comino

Boat Trip Around Malta

Day Trip to Comino

I didn’t see Malta like a typical tourist — and I couldn’t have been more pleased.

Stay tuned for plenty of posts about my road trips through Malta and Gozo,
and my dives in the Mediterranean Sea!

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