Off to Comino
island of refuge and bliss
It is late October, 2002. Waiting on a weathered concrete quay at Marfa, in North-western Malta, I am about to board the boat that shall take me and my friend Steve Farrugia to Comino. I can hear its engines chugging, as it approaches the quay. The arriving passengers alight, as we get ready to embark for the 30 minute journey to our destination.
Tucked between Malta and Gozo, the island of Comino has been mostly overlooked by visitors and residents of Malta alike. One can glimpse at it when on the Gozo Channel ships ferrying passengers between Cirkewwa on Malta and Mgarr Harbour in Gozo. Comino is indeed a place where time stood still, where one can find refuge from the hectic traffic on Malta. There are no hordes of holiday-makers, nor hard-selling timeshare agents or tatty bucket tour boards that line the promenades.
Modern transport has taken away so much fun from travel. The concept of experiencing the sea has been lost in many sea crossings. Not so in our case. We intend to enjoy our half hour journey on the deck of m.v. Comino, a 50-foot wooden vessel, as it crosses the Comino Channel and begins to hug the cliff sides on the eastern end of the island.
Brought over from Dublin to Comino, in 1963, I can visualize this former Irish trawler passing Bird’s Eye as it brought in the catches of haddock, cod and herring into Howth or Dun Laoghaire. Licensed to take 66 passengers in the peak season, it is certified to ferry up to 45 in the shoulder months. One is at choice if to stay on the stern’s open deck, huddle in the mahogany cabin, or take on the salty Mediterranean sea spray blowing on the prow.
Ganni Portelli, the chief engineer, is indeed proud of this craft. “Yes, we keep maintaining this boat, that has its own charm. It works on three engines, a Gardner L3 6-cylinder and two Gardner LXB 180hp. It has sported its azure coating and red livery since its arrival forty years ago”, he assures me.
We are beneath the towering cliffs, known as Ta' Praxxa, admiring the clinging tufts of vegetation, and hoping to get a view of the Levantine shearwater, Puffinus yekouan, and the Mediterranean shearwater, Calonectris diomedea, which, if left unmolested, can only bring glee to our faces. A bobbing 15-foot kajjikk, a traditional fishing boat, closes by, its two occupants busy fly-fishing for grouper or bream.
The m.v. Comino glides past a barren headland, Ras l-Imnieri, the idyllic Santa Maria bay, with its conspicuous pink edifice, finally entering San Niklaw bay, where our forthcoming days’ abode, the Comino Hotel, is located. Engine power is reduced, there is some reverse thrusting, while the mooring ropes secure the boat and fenders with the hotel jetty. We alight. Steve is back on the island after so many years, whereas I am still fresh from an August visit, sapping in the island during the peak summer season. With the motorized engines turned off, it dawns on us that sound interference is at a minimal level. It is just like arriving on Lundy, St. Kilda or The Blaskets. This is bliss. Welcome to Comino.
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