The island of Malta measures less than 30 kilometres from one end to the other and the sea is never further than 7 kilometres away. If you think that is small, have a look at the map again. Malta`s neighbours Comino and Gozo, also part of the Republic of Malta are even smaller! Comino has has no permanent inhabitance, but Gozo does. 31,000 People, none of whom consider themselves Maltese. They are Gozitans, and proud of it.
I am spending my last entire day in Malta trying to make it to Gozo and seeing how the two places are different. Let me first of all mention that Gozo is the number one travel destination from Malta mainland. On public holidays, the population of Gozo is quadrupled by Maltese visitors who all praise the greenness of Gozo, its tranquility and the quality of its roads. On top of that, it is closer to Malta then any international destination. For foreign tourists who visit Malta, visiting Gozo is a nice one- or two day excursion.
..is a Gozo-Malta commuter
To get to Gozo, the first step is to take a bus to the northwesternmost tip of Malta island, which is about 30 kilometres away from Valletta. On a motorway, such a distance would take 15 minutes, but Malta does not have any motorways. It even seems like its maze-kind of lay-out intentionally makes the island look larger than it is. I cannot think of another explanation why there is not simply one way running from one side of the island to the other. Maltese roads circle along bays and across hill ranges. The sea is always within reach, the final destination of the trip seems to remain forever far away.
An hour after my departure from Sliema boulevard, I arrive at the Gozo Ferry terminal. I can see the island of Comino which hides half of Gozo from the view. Comino looks rather empty, while Gozo already reveals some villages and a giant church along its skyline. At first sight, Gozo indeed looks a lot greener than Malta.
Maltese vs Gozitans
My company on the ferry is a mixture of foreign tourists and Gozitans. No Maltese, as they have no reason to travel to Gozo on weekdays. The balance shifts on weekends and public holidays. At those times, the Maltese take possession of the ferry in a collaborative attempt to escape their hectic lives on Malta.
Walter (28) disqualifies any illusions that it takes a large country for people on one side of a country to feel different from the rest. `Gozitans may be Maltese citizens, they are not Maltese!`, he explains, `Even if they travel to Malta every day for work, which many do, they still remain Gozitans. We have a complicated relation with Malta. On one hand, we cannot do without them. On the other hand, we feel like they continuously disregard Gozo in whatever they do. Only if the government needs to test some kind of new procedure, they will take Gozo as a guinea pig.`
Like Malta, Gozo has been forced to submit itself to several different reigns. While Malta is relatively well-protected by its many fortresses and harbours, Gozo has traditionally had little defense against invading troops. Still, they always kept to their own values and traditions. At times alien occupants forced them to flee their island, they consistently kept returning to their native ground. According to Walter, the history of Gozo is one of the main reasons why Gozitans are seen both stubborn and smart by their Maltese neighbours: `We are sometimes called Jews for that. We can adapt to anything and always find ways to get what we wanted.`
`Some of the rich people in Gozo have more money than the Maltese government has budget. Many leading figures in Malta are originally from Gozo, but Malta usually takes the credit for their actions. Obviously, tourism is an important source of income for Gozo, but we also find our ways in business. Many products are by the way slightly cheaper on Gozo. We have Maltese people coming over to buy cars here, new or second hand. Which sounds strange, because those cars wouldn`t have got to Gozo if they hadn`t passed via Malta first.`
Sara (22, photo) travels back and forth to Malta every weekday: `I work in the main agglomeration, and I no longer have the flat I used to live in when I was at university on Malta. Fortunately, we Gozitans can count on reduced ferry rates for the crossing. The Maltese don`t come here to work anyway. They wait for weekends and public holidays to flood the island, marveling at how clean and well-organised Gozo is.`
`On the other hand, Gozitans do not like to travel on Malta for holiday breaks. Malta is associated with work, so during holidays, they will only get to Malta to fly out or take the ferry to Sicily. The alternative is to simply stay on Gozo. Many Gozitans have a winter house in the capital Victoria, while they live close to the sea in summer. Even while Victoria itself is only 10 kilometres away from the see.`
Sara can not entirely explain why Gozo manages to stay green and tidy, while the Maltese countryside is dry, rocky and polluted: `Maybe just because we are such a small island. It`s easier to organise these things.` As is often the case for relatively independent regions within countries, Gozo is counting on the EU to pay more attention to requirements on the local level. Sara assures me that `all of Gozo voted in favour of EU membership and we still think we will benefit from EU membership at least as much as Malta does.`
When discovering Gozo, it directly becomes clear why so many Maltese people adore the island. Gozo is very similar in the sense that it also has sand-coloured buildings and a wonderfully decorated church for every block of houses. Both islands have the same Irish-stile stone walls to separate property. Both have ancient fortifications, temples, wind mills and caves, and both not only number their houses, they also give them a name. Wind directions, foreign cities, Saints, virtues ? it seems like everything but football teams makes a good title for a house.
The difference is in the amount of traffic in the streets, which is much lower in Gozo. There`s also fewer people. Gozitans make more efficient use of their soil by using it for small-scale agriculture, which at the same time upgrades the visual appearance of the island. Compare that to the litter along the roads and in the fields om Malta, and the many empty houses there. Some have fallen apart since they were left abandoned, while other areas feature modern hotels that so far only reach halfway their completion. The comparison of Malta and Gozo shows that Malta is gradually spoiling its originality to accommodate requirements of modern-day package holiday. Gozo remains as the only evidence of what Malta once looked like, too.
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