Malta – Ta’Dmejrek

Ta’Dmejrek – 830ft
Eric Gilbertson (June 18, 2011) and Matthew Gilbertson (November 13, 2014)

malta1Few people I know have ever been to Malta, let alone climbed to its highest point. Actually, nobody knows with certainty even exactly where the highest point in Malta is. I was not deterred.

I had a conference in the Netherlands on Monday but stopped in Malta on the way over. In case you don’t know, Malta is a small island country, 1/5th the size of Rhode Island, in the Mediterranean ocean between Italy and Libya. My plane landed at 3:45pm Saturday and I hit the ground running.

malta3I had done my research beforehand and outside the airport I immediately jumped on the #8 bus to Valletta. For only $5 you can buy a 1-day bus pass for the whole island, which is a pretty good deal. From Valletta I took another bus completely across the island to the town of Dingli, on the southwest coast. This was as close as I could get by bus to Ta’Dmejrek, so from here it was all walking.

The most difficult part about getting to the roof of Malta must be finding out which point is indeed the highest point on the island – no sources seem to be in agreement and malta2people in Malta don’t seem to care. Wikipedia says it’s Ta’Dmejrek on the top of the Dingli cliffs. Google maps shows three local maxima on the top of the cliffs near Dingli, with the westernmost labled Ta’Dmejrek. However, the Wikipedia coordinates point to the middle maxima. Further interweb research of actual trip reports say it’s the easternmost local maximum. The solution was clear – do them all.

I started walking down the road and soon walked over the first maximum, near a huge dome-shape radio tower. I only had to hike up about 50 vertical ft out of Dingli to get here, but it was an 800ft drop off the cliffs into the Mediterranean, so I still felt like I was on a big mountain. The road then descended slightly and rose up again to an old church from the 16th century – high point number two. I then descended and reached the final highpoint after about 2.5 miles. Malta was sure proud of this one: it was an old landfill. This was the spot all the other trip reports (well, the two reports I could find) had claimed was the true summit, and actually there were more dirt/rock piles here than in the pictures. I took several victory pictures here, as well as at the intermediate high points just to be sure.

malta_panoramaNow came the most difficult part of the journey – descending the mountain, or in my case, finding a place to sleep for the night. I would normally stealth camp somewhere, but Malta is just a big dry rock with no trees and has been settled for millennia so every square inch of land is somebody’s private property. I had decided to stay at a cheap hostel to play it safe, and Metropole Budget Hostel fit the bill. I even had an official online reservation printed out so I could just show up and go to sleep. Oh if only it had been so easy…

Matthew on the summit in 2015

Matthew on the summit in 2015

It was 6:30pm by the time I made it back to Dingli and I got back to Valletta by 7pm. I needed to catch any of the #62, #64, #66, or #68 buses to make the short trip to my hostel in Paceville, and with each bus supposed to leave every 7 minutes my expected wait time was basically zero. I got worried though when I saw 30 people impatiently waiting at the empty terminal that was supposed to act for each of those busses. I joined them in pacing around and looking at my watch until, at 7:45, I saw a few of them start walking over to a bus labeled “645”. They were all speaking Maltese so I didn’t know what was going on, but I got on that bus and quizzically said “Paceville?” to the bus driver. He nodded his head and I breathed a sigh of relief.

We drove northwest for about 20 minutes until the driver stopped at a sign labeled “St Juliens.”
“Last Stop”, he said in English.
As I was getting off I again asked him “Paceville?” and he nodded. I must have been mispronouncing the town name (I later learned it was supposed to be pronounced pawch-vil), and he was probably nodding just to keep me moving. St Juliens was the next town south from Paceville on my map, so I figured I’d just walk the extra distance rather than figuring out the buses. Of course none of the roads were labeled here, so I decided to head to the coastline to get my bearings, and follow that north til I hit Paceville.

I soon hit a water inlet shown on my map, and it looked like Paceville was just on the other side. I walked around it and eventually saw a few roads labeled. None of them were on my map, though.
“If I can just keep walking til I intersect Triq-il Waiga street, I’ll know where I am,” I thought to myself. But I was getting farther and farther away from the developed areas and deeper into suburbs. Finally I saw a kid walking on a sidewalk and asked him if he could help me. I showed him my map, but he had no idea. Then another lady came over who was more helpful.
“Oh, you’re in Pembroke! There are no hotels here,” she said.
Dang it! I had walked right through Paceville and not realized it!

It was 9:15pm now and well past dark, but I figured the hostel should still be open since it was a Saturday night. I turned back around and by 9:45pm spotted “Triq-il Waiga” painted on the side of a building. Yes! Only two blocks up this street and I’ll be at the hostel, I thought.

I walked up the road, carefully scrutinizing every building, until I got to the top of a hill at a five-way intersection four blocks away. I hadn’t seen any hostels. There was music blasting from three different night clubs, and teenagers roaming all over the streets looking for parties to go to.

I walked back down the road – still no hostel. I walked back and forth on every side road and parallel road – no hostel. Maybe the address in the reservation was wrong? I had seen two super fancy hotels in my search and figured someone there could surely point me in the right direction. None of them had heard of this mysterious “Metropole Budget Hostel”. I tried my GPS to see if it had anything. I had loaded the Europe maps on, and tested the malta map back in the US, but for some reason Malta would not load no matter how hard I tried.

It was 11pm now and I finally reached the conclusion that the elusive “Metropole Budget Hostel” in fact did not exist. I had three options now:
1. Pay several hundred dollars to stay in one of the hotels I had seen (ouch).
2. Walk around town all night without sleeping.
3. Sleep on a bench in town and hope the police didn’t care.
I ruled out option one immediately. Option two was also unappealing because I had just come off a red-eye flight Friday night and desperately needed sleep. So it was option three.

I started walking around looking for a suitable place when I stumbled upon a cheap looking place called the Euro-hotel.
“If it’s less than $50 I’ll take it, but that’s my limit,” I said to myself.
The guy at the front said he had one room left and it was $46. It even had breakfast included. Perfect! I accepted without hesitation.
I got a good night’s sleep and even had time for some sightseeing the next day before my flight left. Malta certainly didn’t let me claim its high point without a fight.

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