Tiny island nation of Malta; do I love you, baby … or do I not?

Times of Malta

April 30, 2018

So I’ve been going places – again; this time to Malta. You only live once right? For the less knowledgeable nomads and what have you, Malta with its 450,000 inhabitants is a tiny island nation down in the Mediterranean. To be more exact, it’s 100 km (60 miles) below Sicily, Italy and more or less 300 km (185 miles) from Libya, North Africa.

The Times of Malta is an English-language daily newspaper in Malta.
The Times of Malta is an English-language daily newspaper in Malta.

I knew all this, of course. I knew it would be far down south, near the desert sands of Africa. But, I had expected it to be greener. A real shocker to see virtually no trees on the three Maltese islands. Cactuses yes, but you can’t sit underneath those when it gets hot.

Cactuses on Gozo.

Agriculture in the tiny island nation of Malta.

The above three pics were taken on Gozo, the second largest island. The annual rainfall here averages around 500 mm.
The above three pics were taken on Gozo, the second largest island. The annual rainfall here averages around 500 mm.

The only places where I saw actual trees were at this colossal cemetery, (they seemed to blossom there quite well), and at this picnic ground where they were somewhat dusty and dried out. It was interesting to see that at the latter place all ten trees – each – had like twenty family members clinging to it.

At first I thought these desert-like conditions had to do with a lack of water and fertile soil and so on. That it was the sole reason. But when I googled it later it turned out that the islands used to be “fully” covered with pine trees. Centuries ago some wise man thought it’d be good to put all this wood to use in and on the water, in the shape of warships; just to keep the Muslim invaders out.

The Lascaris War Rooms.

Tunnel in Valletta.

Malta, baby, I love you, but please show your pass.

Map of the islands.
During World War II, the defense of the island was conducted from an underground complex of tunnels and chambers (the Lascaris War Rooms).

This might’ve been a smart call, Malta is still over 98% Catholic, but when I visited this April it felt a bit dusty and yellowish; like I was on a big barren rock. Obviously it doesn’t help that especially the main island has loads of concrete structures (=condos and churches) and hardly any open spaces.

Tower cranes everywhere in Sliema.
Tower cranes “everywhere;” Malta’s growth rate has been forecast to reach 5.6% in 2018 and 4.5% in 2019.
(Source: Times of Malta)

Malta is pretty much last place when it comes to tree cover in Europe. Less than 1% of the islands (as percentage of land area) is covered; compared to for instance 11% in the Netherlands and 50 or 60% in Sweden. Who would’ve thought I could miss trees and green lawns so much. It could be related, at least partially, but I didn’t see any birds either. And birds need trees no?

This lack of birds could’ve had something to do with the hunting season too. Each year in April the locals “lock and load” their guns on the chance that they can blast them – “Bang-bang, you’re dead!” – right out of the sky.

Plenty of cars in Valletta, Malta's capital. Parking here can be very time-consuming (=an absolute nightmare).
Plenty of cars in Valletta, Malta’s capital. Parking here can be very time-consuming (=an absolute nightmare).

Sad or not, I do love the tiny island nation of Malta. It’s only roughly one-third the size of Hong Kong and half the size of Singapore. So … not big at all if big is what u need, but it has this unique something. I think in the end it all comes down to if you feel welcome or not. And I did. I think the Maltese are quite welcoming.

Rooftop view in Sliema, a resort town on the east coast of the main island.
Rooftop view in Sliema, a resort town on the east coast of the main island.

Whether it was the bus driver, grocery store clerk or the lady walking the dog … you can feel it. It’s not paradise, but it could be. All they got to do is to green it up. To make the birds and trees feel welcome too. And maybe, while we are at it, “chop down” some condos too.

Thank you Malta,

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