18 February 2014

Finding the Real?

So back in January, I went on a holiday again. It has been 5 months since my last long holiday, so I figured it was about time. This time, my destination was Malta. I spent 9 days there, and stayed mostly with locals through Couchsurfing. I won't blog about the sights I have seen for the moment (I still have a couple of posts being prepared with pictures from previous trips), but rather, at this point, I would just like to say that Malta is perhaps the first country where I feel like I saw more than just the pretty side of things.

See, perhaps one reason why this was possible was because of its size. Malta is small. In fact, when we were landing, since we came from the north, the plane gave me an overview of the whole country (with its three main islands). And in order to align with the runway, the airplane actually had to go past Malta and turn around. That hasn't happened to me before, at least, that I am aware of. So because of the size, I actually had plenty of chances to get to know the sides of Malta that most tourists do not see.

Another reason perhaps is because I stayed with local people. My first three nights were spent in Gozo, the smaller island. I stayed with a local there. He was in a small village, so I didn't have high-rise hotels surrounding me. The next three nights were in Malta, and again, I stayed with a local, in his apartment in the eastern side of the island. The last two nights were the only times when I was in a hotel, and to be honest, I didn't enjoy those as much. The clientele of the hotel were for the most part, elderly people from England escaping their winter, to the point that during breakfast, I felt like I was eating in the cafeteria of an English old people's home. The breakfast was definitely more British than Maltese, as come on, baked beans? For two straight days?

Perhaps because I stayed with the locals and pretty much avoided the beach, I was able to see more than the typical traveler. I saw so much infrastructure that was mostly geared for tourists. And since it was January, it was the low season, and most of these are shut down. Some coastal areas felt like ghost towns. And there were areas that felt like the British were still the ones running the place. Inland, however, is where you see the typical Maltese way of living.

And because of this fact, I got firsthand experience of what might be the side of Malta that most travelers do not see. Heavy traffic, no hot water, village life, pastizzis, and so forth. Most travelers stay in chic areas like Sliema and St. Julian's, while I simply passed by those areas. I wasn't a big fan of swimming anyway, so I stayed away from those resorts. To be honest, some of the places I have been to felt like a third world country. But I guess if you're only staying at the high rise Hilton, then you won't see that.

See, in the nine days that I have stayed in Malta, I got to learn about its social problems too. The Sicilian-style mafia, the hunters and bird-shooters, the bad roads, I have conversed with locals with these issues. Hence, I felt like this is the first country in which I feel like I have scratched more than just the surface. And to be honest, I feel ambivalent about it. My previous trips, such as Guatemala in 2012, or Armenia/Georgia in 2013, those trips felt like amazing. I loved those, it definitely juiced up my adrenaline. I saw pretty and awesome things, but to be honest, those were the sides that the country wanted its travelers to see. Yes, Malta isn't the most adventurous destination, so my adrenaline wasn't pumping as much, but what I am saying here is that I feel like I have seen aspects of the country as well, which are probably not the aspects that you would find in a travel brochure. And while I like the feeling that I have seen the "real" Malta, at the same time, I feel a little bit cognitively dissonant, as perhaps this is the first time I am experiencing this effect.

By the time my 9 days were over, I can't wait to get out. I felt like if I stayed longer, then I would feel marooned. After all, I miss the German orderliness. I am not saying Germany is a perfect country, all I am saying is that I have seen more of Malta than its pretty side, and so I felt like I already had enough.

That being said, I still enjoyed my trip, and I have learned a lot. As with any other country, things aren't perfect. There are good and bad things to a country, and of course, some visitors only see the good side.

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