For a long time I have wanted to visit the secluded bay in the north west of Malta known as Fomm ir-Riħ – the wind’s mouth. I did try once or twice in years gone by, but the road I took from Mġarr would take me to the edge of a cliff, with seemingly no public passage down to the beach.
Then one day, a colleague from Baħrija told me it’s quite easy to reach Fomm ir-Riħ by taking the road on the right as you reach the village centre. Armed with this knowledge, and having the whole afternoon to spare while staying in Malta in late November, I set off to, finally, visit Fomm ir-Riħ.
I still managed to pick the wrong turn to the right. The street I chose went up a hill at the edge of a block of houses, in front of an open wilderness overlooking the coast. I decided to go look for Fomm ir-Riħ on foot. If I asked a resident they would surely be able to send me in the right direction.
I was too optimistic. The two men I asked had no idea. I tried the other road on the right from the village centre, this one leading down instead of uphill. A wizened old man pottering next to a garage or shed of some sort confirmed that I was walking in the right direction, but that I still had a good 20 minutes to go. This would suit me just fine and I set off with a strengthened resolve and a sure pace.
It was all downhill. Sure enough, 20 minutes later a beautiful cove came into view. The backdrop consisted of the far away cliffs of south-western Gozo perched on the horizon. Closer in, the clay slopes of Ġnejna, topped by a rocky plateau, tumbled down into a jumble of rocks at the shoreline. Beneath me, Fomm ir-Riħ Bay was a jumble of more clay slopes, large rocks, cliffs, soft limestone, pebbles and planted fields, the late afternoon western sun bathing the whole in a golden glow. It was so calm, the happy medium between warm and cool that I like to refer to as there being “no temperature”. Heavenly…
BANG! BANG! BANG!
Ah, yes. Those blasted hunters, the scourge of the Maltese countryside. Seriously, I couldn’t imagine at what they were shooting. There were no birds – they have all been exterminated by the brutes. Gunshots are such a common background to the Maltese rural landscape that they are considered part of the whole. People are used to them and carry on without taking any notice. In any case, the shots weren’t very frequent and it was mostly peaceful and quiet.
At the end of the road there were some parked cars, most if not all of them belonging to young couples looking for some seclusion. And there I went barging in taking pictures with my phone.
But I wasn’t the only one disturbing their privacy. There were other trekkers. A group of girl tourists kept walking most of the way down to the shore along a path on the side of the slope. It was too far for me to keep going – I still had a relatively long walk back uphill and it was getting late – so I watched them from afar, seeing how close they would get to the sea. They were, sort of, my guides from a distance.
Sorry. I couldn’t resist that.
My girl guides stopped at a small clearing, still not at the shoreline. I began to walk back. My path crossed that of two couples who had the air of seasoned adventurers seeking to spend the night in a camp somewhere in the vicinity. One of them, probably Maltese, was explaining to another one, probably a foreigner, about how Malta is consuming all its groundwater at an unsustainable rate, and that it has had to resort to desalination. I waited and watched to see how far down these adventurers would go.
They stopped at the same clearing too!
I tensed as a dog of substantial size approached me where I was standing. Its owners, yet another couple, also of substantial size, followed and the woman called out, “Don’t be afraid! He won’t harm you!” Except that I wasn’t sure whom she was addressing: whether she was reassuring her dog about me or the other way round. I asked them if they knew whether it was possible to go down to the sea from there. “Ah, when we were school children, we used to come swimming here so many times… I don’t know if the path is still clear nowadays. It’s been so many years since we’ve been here.”
It was time to start the climb back up to the car at Baħrija.
At the village, I recognized the wizened old man standing at a bus stop. He recognized me too.
“Did you get there?”
“Sure did. Tell me, is it possible to reach the water and have a swim there?” Every now and then, something becomes a bit of an obsession with me.
“Of course you can! So easy too, you just walk all the way down. Many tourists go swimming there in summer.”
So this clearly sets up a potential sequel to the saga: swimming at Fomm ir-Riħ Bay.