Tag Archives: Comino

On This Day – Ferry Ride to Gozo

Will lock down end soon? Will we be able to travel ever again? Who knows for sure but in the meantime I continue to go through my picture archives. On 5th April 1996 I was on the island of Malta and took a ferry ride to nearby Gozo.

The white ferry boats with blue and yellow livery run almost continuously during the peak summer months so after we got off the bus at a bleak functional strip of baking tarmac there wasn’t too long to wait for the first ferry to arrive and we joined the pushing impatient crowd to get on board and find a seat on the top deck in the hot morning sun and as soon as it was fully loaded it cast off and began the thirty minute crossing to Gozo.

Read The Full Story Here…

Entrance Tickets, The Red Tower at Mellieha, Malta

red-tower-mellieha-malta

The Red Tower, or to give it its proper name St Agatha’s Tower, is a large imposing watchtower in Mellieħa,  the sixth and most important of a coastal defence system of fortifications and small castles built by the Knights of St John during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

St. Agatha’s Tower turns out to be the last large bastioned tower to be built in Malta to provide early warning of attack and to alert the defence of the city of Valletta.

Knights of St John

The city of Valletta was built by the Knights of St John who were granted the island in 1530, seven years after being expelled from Rhodes by the Ottoman Turks.  Trouble with Turks however continued to follow the Knights and in 1565 the Ottomans laid siege to their new home on Malta with the intention of establishing a base from where they could conveniently advance into Europe.

But as in Rhodes and at Bodrum the Knights proved a tough nut to crack and the Great Siege of Malta which lasted from May until September ended with the defeat and retreat of the Turkish army.

The rest of Europe was so grateful for this stoic resistance that it began to provide funding for the Grand Master of the Order, Jean Parisot de Valette, to plan and construct a new fortified city that was to be called Valletta in his honour.  Although it was designed principally as a fortress city with great battlements and armed bastions the architects also found time and paid attention to good design and within the walls they built a Baroque style city with churches, palaces and fine mansions, laid down gardens and designed grand plazas at the intersections of the grid pattern of the streets.  It was certainly worth protecting.

Mellieha Malta Red Tower

Saint Agatha’s Tower was built between November 1647 and April 1649 and consists of a square castle with four corner towers.  Cannon ports in the turrets gave interlocking fields of fire commanding the base of the walls and the gateway, with other large artillery ports in the faces of the main tower.

The tower is situated in a commanding position on the crest of Marfa Ridge at the north west end of Malta, overlooking the natural harbour and potential enemy landing site of Mellieħa Bay, with clear views over to Comino and Gozo, and also eastward to the line of watchtowers along the north shore of Malta that linked it with the Knights headquarters in Valletta. It was the primary stronghold in the west of Malta, and was manned by a garrison of thirty men, with ammunition and supplies to withstand a siege of forty days.

It continued to have a military purpose throughout the British period, and was manned during both World Wars. From the British period it continued its military function being used as a radar station by the Armed Forces of Malta.

The Red Tower Mellieha Malta

Although the children would have preferred to stay at the hotel and spend all day in the swimming pool I thought it was important for them to get out a little and learn something about Malta.  The girls weren’t too keen and Patsy (the clever one) feigned a stomach ache to get out of it, Molly (not so clever) didn’t think fast enough to find an excuse but William is rather fond of forts and castles so luckily he was enthusiastic about the visit.  Molly was dragged along complaining.

St Agatha’s Tower on a previous visit to Malta in 1997…

Red Tower 1991

It was just a short walk but it was all uphill so, in the heat, it did become rather a drag by the time we reached the steep flight of steps which took us to the entrance.

There are some good displays inside and some imaginative reconstructions but the best bit is the climb to the roof and the reward of sweeping views in all directions as far as Victoria on Gozo to the north and Valletta to the south and it was easy to understand why they chose this spot for the tower – no one was going to slip in unnoticed that’s for sure.

It didn’t take long to see all that there was to see and with the promise of an ice cream down at the beach after the stroll back there were a lot less complaints on the return walk.

The children celebrate the end of the walk and return to the swimming pool…

Celebrating Mellieha Malta

Malta, Tony Oki Koki ‘Mr Crazy’ Banis

The weather had been gloriously hot ever since our arrival so we had agreed that a boat ride to Comino would be a nice way of avoiding the heat for one day and we booked up for a sea journey with Captain Morgan’s cruises which operated out of Sliema on the opposite side of the bay to the capital Valletta.

On the day of the cruise we took one of the island’s iconic yellow, orange and white buses that once operated across the island and drove the twenty kilometres or so to the embarkation point and joined the other passengers on the red and white cruise boat and selected a chair on the open top deck and looked out at the boats going backwards and forwards into Valletta harbour with its tiers of honey coloured churches and houses while we waited for departure time.

Valletta Malta Grand Harbour

Eventually the boat cast off and sailed out of Sliema and began the two and half hour journey along the coast towards our destination.  It has to be said that after only a short while this became a bit tedious because to be honest the coastline of Malta is not the most picturesque in the Mediterranean.

There are no dramatic mountains, no green forests, not really very many beaches, just kilometre after kilometre of monotonous pepper grey sandstone shoreline, the occasional township and the odd fishing boat.  After we had passed by the unremarkable resorts of St Julian’s and St Andrew’s  and then St Paul’s Bay we began to realise that this was just about all there was to see and this was going to be a long trip.

Jonathan was so bored that he feigned sea sickness just for something to do.

After about an hour and a half however there was a bit of activity when a white speedboat caught up with Captain Morgan and began to put on a show of slalom turns and nautical acrobatics all the while churning the sea into dramatic white foam and spray.  The driver was a middle aged man with a deep suntan, inappropriately tight Speedo swimming trunks and a tousled mop of unruly curly hair, he had a microphone and was shouting and waving to the passengers on our boat.

This it turned out was Tony Oki Koki ‘Mr Crazy’ Banus, a living legend in Malta who runs an independent and entertaining speed boat service for tourists.

After a while he sped off and we settled down again to the rhythmic chug of Captain Morgan’s more sedate engine, more boring coastline including a lump or rock where St Paul was supposed to have landed in 60 AD and then a quite unremarkable buffet lunch before we arrived and dropped anchor in the Blue Lagoon at Comino.

Comino is a chunk of barren rock half way between Malta and Gozo and with nothing to do especially except wander along the dusty paths we sat on the rocks like seagulls and took an occasional dip in the clear waters of the lagoon and watched the Malta to Gozo ferry pass regularly by and fretted about the two and half hour return journey.

As the time to leave began to approach there was a sudden roar of an engine, the tranquillity of the bay was shattered and Crazy Tony returned in his speedboat.  As we were queuing to get back on the boat he came alongside and reminded us just how boring the journey was and for a reasonable price offered us a faster return journey and a bit of fun.  We didn’t have to think about this for very long and we handed over the money and clambered into the boat and were thankful that the Captain Morgan experience was over.

Banana Boat Malta

When he had filled the boat he uttered his catch phrase ‘Hoki Koki’ opened the throttle and we were away.  We didn’t leave the Blue Lagoon straight away however as first he took us into some caves that surround the bay and played a well rehearsed trick of supposedly catching a bat and releasing it amongst the squealing passengers.

Once Captain Morgan was under way and making its sedate return journey he caught it up and over the microphone taunted the passengers who had rejected his exciting return alternative.  Jonathan’s sea sickness had completely disappeared by now and he forgot all about it when Crazy invited him to the front of the boat and into the driver’s seat and he took us out to sea at full speed.  Crazy was in his element and he cracked jokes and performed tricks and we were soaked with the spray and thoroughly entertained.

And then things began to go wrong!  About half way back the sea became much rougher and the waves much higher and then the roar of the engine began to fade to a whimper and there were alarming spluttering and coughing noises as it was clearly struggling to keep going.  We knew there was trouble because Crazy went quiet for the first time and I think his suntan faded a couple of shades as well.

Finally the engine stopped altogether and we were stranded about half a kilometre out to sea without power.  Crazy made radio contact with someone on shore but was unable to restart the engine and eventually we had to row to the chunk of rock where St Paul had landed two thousand years before and wait to be rescued.

We left the boat while Crazy continued to work on the uncooperative engine and clambered over the black rocks that were now being pounded by an increasingly rough sea.  Things didn’t look good and we worried about how long we might be stranded.

After fifteen minutes or so and before assistance arrived Crazy was finally successful in coaxing the engine back into life and we were invited back on board.  It still didn’t sound completely healthy however and when Crazy offered the option of being dropped off in St George’s rather than go all the way back to Sliema we didn’t need to be asked twice.  The boat spluttered and limped back to the nearby town and were glad to reach dry land where we left the boat and wished good luck to those who had chosen to complete the ride.

It was a bit scary at the time but now that we were safe we had to agree that it had been a lot of fun and there was still no sight of Captain Morgan so we went for a drink and then caught the bus back to Mellieha Bay.

I have Googled ‘Crazy’ and I am pleased to report that he is still working and there is a Facebook fans site which describes him as:

‘If anyone in the past 35 years has been blessed with the Oki Koki experience then I am sure you will be humbled by this dedication to the charismatic legend known around the island as Mr Crazy the ultimate tour guide of the Blue Lagoon. After 35 years the founder of tours in the area has not lost his charm with the tourists and if anyone should be given an award for being the face of Malta it has to be HIM.’

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Some more of my boat journeys recorded in the journal:

Corfu-1984 Georges Boat

Motorboat Ride from Kalami to Corfu Town

Motorboat Ride from Kalami to Corfu Town

The Bay of Bodrum in Turkey

Rowing Boat on Lake Bled in Slovenia

A Boat Ride with Dolphins in Croatia

A Boat Ride with Dolphins in Wales

Gondola Ride in Venice

Captain Ben’s Boat in Anti Paros

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Malta – Ferry to Gozo and Trouble with a Taxi

Gozo Postcard

The four star Mellieha Bay hotel is situated at the northern end of the tiny thirty kilometre long island so this meant that it was convenient for the port of Ċirkewwa which provides a regular ferry crossing service to the neighbouring island of Gozo just five kilometres away via the Gozo Ferry Line Service.

The white ferry boats with blue and yellow livery run almost continuously during the peak summer months so after we got off the bus at a bleak functional strip of baking tarmac there wasn’t too long to wait for the first ferry to arrive and we joined the pushing impatient crowd to get on board and find a seat on the top deck in the hot morning sun and as soon as it was fully loaded it cast off and began the thirty minute crossing to Gozo.

The crossing took us close to the third of the Maltese islands in the archipelago, the tiny islet of Comino, which except for a couple of hotels is virtually uninhabited for most of the year.  We were to return here later in the week but for now we just watched it slip by on the starboard side of the boat as the throaty diesel engines kept a steady course for Gozo and the ferry cut a foamy path through the water.  On the top of the island we could make out the previous fortress of St Mary’s Tower that was built by the Knights of St John to protect the Malta to Gozo crossing from pirates and attack and which was more recently used in the 2002 film, The Count of Monte Cristo to represent the prison Château d’If.

There had hardly been time to settle down in our seats on board when the ferry began to approach the port of Mgarr and began to manoeuvre into position ready for disembarkation.  Mgarr was thankfully a lot more attractive than Ċirkewwa and in the shelter of the walls the iconic multi-coloured fishing boats of Malta, called Luzzu were swaying idly in the limpid water of the harbour.

Mgarr 1991

There was now an undignified rush to get off the ferry which was entirely similar to the lack of organization that accompanies a Greek ferry arrival in port and we were squeezed down the steps and jostled through the bow doors and into the car park where buses were waiting and taxi drivers were pestering for business.  We wanted to go to the capital Victoria but the bus looked crowded and so, because I knew it wasn’t very far, I foolishly allowed myself to be talked into a taxi by a persuasive cabbie.

It was immediately obvious that a short ride to Victoria was the last thing he wanted and he was looking for a much more profitable fare.  He lied that the capital was mostly closed today so we would be disappointed and he suggested an escorted island tour instead.  He was probably the brother of the Karrozzin driver in Mdina and had been tipped off that I was a bit of a pushover.  He ignored our repeated instructions and set off instead on his preferred itinerary and towards the east coast village of Xaghra where he promised windmills and Megalithic temples.

The last thing my teenage children wanted were windmills and Megalithic temples but once there he made the mistake of stopping and letting us out for a closer inspection and it was now that we took our opportunity to be rid of him and we told him that we no longer required his services, paid, what I am certain was an inflated fare, and the with a collective sigh of relief looked for a bus stop.

It didn’t take long for a grey and red bus (grey and red to distinguish Gozo buses from the Orange of Malta) with the sun glinting off of its immaculate chrome bumpers to come along and we climbed on board past the heavily decorated drivers seat which he shared with pictures of his favourite Saints and swinging rosary beads hanging from the window blinds, paid our fare and with unspoken relief found some vacant seats.

Jonathan in particular liked these buses but he had a preference for the older ones with a manual gear shift that required body-builder muscles to be able to select a gear and on one occasion he insisted that we reject a bus that he considered far too modern (it was clearly from the 1960s) and he made us wait a while longer at the bus stop until the growling engine of a 1950s version pulled up which he then declared suitable.

Victoria Cathedral Gozo

It didn’t take very long to get to Victoria which of course wasn’t closed, there was a lively street market and all the adjacent shops and restaurants were busy and open for business.  Victoria is an odd name that stands out amongst the villages and towns in Arabic sounding Maltese.  The reason for it is that in 1897 the British renamed the town to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee but some die-hard islanders continue to resent this and still call it by its old name of Rabat and Rabat, I think, sounds a lot more appropriate.

The centre of Victoria turned out to be rather too busy for me but the quiet backstreets were shady and quiet and we wandered around the maze of alleyways until we re-emerged back in the centre, visited the cathedral and walked the walls and ramparts of the old Citadel with its fortifications and old cannons and explored tiny side-streets until it was time to make our way back to the bus station and return to the ferry port at Mgarr for a late afternoon ferry back to Malta.

We enjoyed Gozo, it was different to Malta, quieter, greener and a bit slower and when I go back to the islands, as I am certain I will,  this will be a place that will definitely be on my ‘must return to’ list.

Victoria Gozo Clock Tower

Malta, Tony Oki Koki ‘Mr Crazy’ Banis

Writing about the day out on George’s boat on Corfu in 1984 reminded me of another memorable boat ride, this time on the island of Malta in 1997.

We were staying at the Mellieha Bay Hotel in the north-west of the island and the weather had been gloriously hot ever since our arrival so we had agreed that a boat ride to Comino would be a nice way of avoiding the heat for one day and we booked up for a sea journey with Captain Morgan’s cruises which operated out of Sliema on the opposite side of the bay to the capital Valletta.

On the day of the cruise we took one of the island’s iconic yellow, orange and white buses that once operated across the island and drove the twenty kilometres or so to the embarkation point and joined the other passengers on the red and white cruise boat and selected a chair on the open top deck and looked out at the boats going backwards and forwards into Valletta harbour while we waited for departure.

Eventually the boat cast off and sailed out of Sliema and began the two and half hour journey along the coast towards our destination.  It has to be said that after only a short while this became a bit tedious because to be honest the coastline of Malta is not the most picturesque in the Mediterranean.  There are no dramatic mountains, no green forests, not really very many beaches, just kilometre after kilometre of monotonous pepper grey sandstone shoreline, the occasional township and the odd fishing boat.  After we had passed by the unremarkable resorts of St Julian’s and St Andrew’s  and then St Paul’s Bay we began to realise that this was just about all there was to see and this was going to be a long trip.  Jonathan was so bored that he feigned sea sickness just for something to do.

After about an hour and a half however there was a bit of activity when a white speedboat caught up with Captain Morgan and began to put on a show of slalom turns and nautical acrobatics all the while churning the sea into dramatic white foam and spray.  The driver was a middle aged man with a deep suntan, inappropriately tight Speedo swimming trunks and a tousled mop of unruly curly hair, he had a microphone and was shouting and waving to the passengers on our boat.  This it turned out was Tony Oki Koki ‘Mr Crazy’ Banus, a living legend in Malta who runs an independent and entertaining speed boat service for tourists.

After a while he sped off and we settled down again to the rhythmic chug of Captain Morgan’s more sedate engine, more boring coastline including a lump or rock where St Paul was supposed to have landed in 60 AD and then a quite unremarkable buffet lunch before we arrived and dropped anchor in the Blue Lagoon at Comino.

Comino is a chunk of barren rock half way between Malta and Gozo and with nothing to do especially except wander along the dusty paths we sat on the rocks and took an occasional dip in the clear waters of the lagoon and watched the Malta/Gozo ferry pass regularly by and fretted about the two and half hour return journey.

As the time to leave began to approach there was a sudden roar of an engine, the tranquillity of the bay was shattered and Crazy Tony returned in his speedboat.  As we were queuing to get back on the boat he came alongside and reminded us just how boring the journey was and for a reasonable price offered us a faster return journey and a bit of fun.  We didn’t have to think about this for very long and we handed over the money and clambered into the boat and were thankful that the Captain Morgan experience was over.

When he had filled the boat he uttered his catch phrase ‘Hoki Koki’ opened the throttle and we were away.  We didn’t leave the Blue Lagoon straight away however as first he took us into some caves that surround the bay and played a well rehearsed trick of supposedly catching a bat and releasing it amongst the squealing passengers.

Once Captain Morgan was under way and making its sedate return journey he caught it up and over the microphone taunted the passengers who had rejected his exciting return alternative.  Jonathan’s sea sickness had completely disappeared by now and he forgot all about it when Crazy invited him to the front of the boat and into the driver’s seat and he took us out to sea at full speed.  Crazy was in his element and he cracked jokes and performed tricks and we were soaked with the spray and thoroughly entertained.

And then things began to go wrong!  About half way back the sea became much rougher and the waves much higher and then the roar of the engine began to fade and there were alarming spluttering and coughing noises as it was clearly struggling to keep going.  We knew there was trouble because Crazy went quiet for the first time and I think his suntan faded a couple of shades as well.  Finally the engine stopped altogether and we were stranded about half a kilometre out to sea without power.  Crazy made radio contact with someone on shore but was unable to restart the engine and eventually we had to row to the chunk of rock where St Paul had landed and wait to be rescued.  We left the boat while Crazy continued to work on the uncooperative engine and clambered over the black rocks that were now being pounded by an increasingly rough sea.  Things didn’t look good and we worried about how long we might be stranded.

After fifteen minutes or so and before assistance arrived Crazy was finally successful in coaxing the engine back into life and we were invited back on board.  It still didn’t sound completely healthy however and when Crazy offered the option of being dropped off in St George’s rather than go all the way back to Sliema we didn’t need to be asked twice.  The boat spluttered and limped back to the nearby town and were glad to reach dry land where we left the boat and wished good luck to those who had chosen to complete the ride.

It was a bit scary at the time but now that we were safe we had to agree that it had been a lot of fun and there was still no sight of Captain Morgan so we went for a drink and then caught the bus back to Mellieha Bay.

I have Googled ‘Crazy’ and I am pleased to report that he is still working and there is a Facebook fans site which describes him as:

‘If anyone in the past 35 years has been blessed with the Oki Koki experience then I am sure you will be humbled by this dedication to the charismatic legend known around the island as Mr Crazy the ultimate tour guide of the Blue Lagoon. After 35 years the founder of tours in the area has not lost his charm with the tourists and if anyone should be given an award for being the face of Malta it has to be HIM.’

__________________________________________________

Some more of my boat journeys recorded in the journal:

Corfu-1984 Georges Boat

Motorboat Ride from Kalami to Corfu Town

Motorboat Ride from Kalami to Corfu Town

The Bay of Bodrum in Turkey

Rowing Boat on Lake Bled in Slovenia

A Boat Ride with Dolphins in Croatia

A Boat Ride with Dolphins in Wales

Gondola Ride in Venice

Captain Ben’s Boat in Anti Paros

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