The Real Maltese
by Milene Cabral
I didn't know much about Malta, perhaps because this island is very different from its more famous Mediterranean neighbors.
I had heard vague rumors about a strange language and left-hand traffic, but the only clear picture in my mind was a beautiful beach still safe from crowds.
Once there, I quickly realized that I would get much more than white sand, blue sea, tanned bodies and nights spent under the spell of cold drinks and loud music.
I didn't find manicured resorts ready to answer to all my demands, but I always felt welcomed and excited to spend another day discovering cities and tiny villages, that have staged ancient struggles and managed to survive both historic invaders and modern tourists. Built by people that remain a bit weary of strangers, but open to those who make an effort to listen to them.
Malta is like an open book, full of surprises and twists, difficult to follow and understand, but written in a language we all share: it might not be obvious, but somehow is easy to distinguish in the buildings and landscapes, and all the colors and smells that tell the different stories about the people that have lived on this island.
I had heard that the buses in Malta are special and indeed they are.
It was hot. Really hot! We would leave the hotel by the sea and walk to the bus station.
Shaped like a 60’s surf van, painted in bright yellow and orange, the bus looks like a piece straight out of a museum, but there is no need to worry because the driver is also a highly qualified mechanic, ready to deal with every single whim of this antique.
Air conditioning? Why when you could have the door wide open during the entire journey, making the dry, hot air slightly more breathable?
In the first minutes it is impossible to fight the feeling that we are on the wrong side of the road and about to crash with another car.
But that is the least problem for a continental visitor, since talking on the phone is a very common activity among bus drivers. Along with sending texts, talking and gesturing with the passenger on the last row and eating, while the bus keeps miraculously on the road, rolling towards some millenary city.
Let’s be honest, it is scary ... but we got used to these wild journeys. It’s not like we had a choice ... there is no tourist friendly version of the Maltese public transportation system.
On the contrary, each detail is genuine because each bus is a true work of art, a unique expression of the driver´s personality, preferences and manias: crucifixes dangling from the rear mirror, family photos plastered on the dashboard next to posters of football teams, making it a mirror of the Maltese way of life.
From monumental Valletta to Sliema or St Julian´s Bay, from Bugibba to the fish market in Marsaxlokk, we found these old friends in every place in Malta.
No, let me rephrase that: not old, but vintage!