Oh man, the last leg of the hike. I rarely set goals for myself, especially not physically challenging ones, so this was an exciting day for me. I had already walked three quarters of the way around Gozo Island, Malta. This section was supposed to be the hardest, the longest, and one of the sites I was most excited about seeing, Calypso cave, was on the way. My cold was feeling better, I had tons of water and food, and I was out the door hours earlier than the previous hikes so I could take as long as I wanted to and really get some good pictures.
I took the bus to Marsalforn and set out towards my starting location on day one, M’garr. I had everything plugged into google maps (I had no other option but to give her another chance, even after that major betrayal). I was stoked to kick some hiking trail ass and get some more amazing pictures.
But when I got off the bus and got going, it seemed to take an awful long time to get to an actual trail. The first maybe 45 minutes to an hour was along a pretty busy road. There was no scenery around, cars were flying by me and there wasn’t a sidewalk for me to walk on so I just kind of hoped that people wouldn’t smash me with their vehicles, dust from the cars was flying up into my face. It was a great work out, and Lord knows I could use a little uphill cardio, but where were the beautiful views I got right out of the gate on the last three hikes? Not what I was looking for in terms of the final day of a hike that I had really hyped myself up on.
Finally I started to see signs for Calypso cave. This is the cave, from The Odyssey, the famous 9th century poem. The nymph Calypso seduces Odysseus and keeps him as a a prisoner of love for seven years. This is the site that I was most looking forward to (along with the Azure window, which collapsed last month). AND IT WAS CLOSED. I walked an hour and a half up some miserable, dusty road with no scenery to find out that I wasn’t even allowed to go into the cave, or to the viewing platform above.
That combined with a crappy beginning to the hike was enough to really harsh my mellow. And the trail after the cave was just more stupid, dusty roads with no scenery. I was over it big time. And this was not an easy hike, so to be doing all that work without any sort of reward was only making my mood worse and worse.
At one point I think I was just climbing up this steep ass road, cursing under my breath like some female version of Joe Pesci’s character in Home Alone. I was getting hangry, but I hadn’t even seen a place along the way yet that I thought had a nice view that I would want to sit and eat my sandwich at. I had been spoiled the last three hikes and I wanted to sit and stare at the sea while I ate my PB&J dammit! Eventually I gave up and found a random bench to sit on and eat.
I sat down, pulled out my sandwich, and looked over and saw the biggest pile of dog shit I’ve seen in a long time. Great, I thought as I rolled my eyes, who needs a sea view when I can stare at dog shit? I turned away from it and started eating when a man approached me.
He walked up in his dusty coveralls and flashed me a huge smile, showing off the gaps his missing teeth had left behind. “I saw you in Victoria on Monday, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, probably!” I said, trying to conjure up some enthusiasm through the ice cold mood I was in.
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from the United States.”
“America, I’m from America.” Anyone else notice how you’re an idiot if you say you’re from America (there’s tons of countries in both North and South America) but when you’re abroad that’s all anyone wants to refer to the United States as? Anyways…
“Ahh, yes. I really love America. I was in Colorado for a little while”
And we talked for a while about how he had been fishing today down by the water, and then he was going to go peel some potatoes, and he was going to make a ‘fantastic dinner for his wife if he caught some fish today’.
He was just such a nice man, and so happy with what he had going on that day, that I started to feel my mood shift. Crazy how that works right? I truly believe that your experience when you visit a place is made or broken by the people you encounter there.
Eventually we ended the conversation and he told me to have a good day and that he hoped I enjoyed Malta. I said thanks and started to pack up my stuff. But as he turned away he stepped right into that massive pile of dog shit. Just directly into it.
“Oh, God…Oh no. You just stepped into a huge pile of dog shit, sir. I’m so sorry”
He looked down and just started hollerin’ laughin’. Like a hard laugh, straight from the gut. And everyone knows those are more infectious than the clap so I started cracking up too. We just laughed and laughed, while he occasionally made exploding bomb gestures with his hands towards the pile he had stepped in. He would catch his breath occasionally just to say “I cannot believe how much dog shit I have just stepped in!” or “How did I not see that much dog shit earlier?” We just laughed for maybe three minutes about the most immature thing ever but I couldn’t stop laughing because he wouldn’t stop laughing.
I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.
He headed back towards the water and waved goodbye over his shoulder, and I could still hear him chuckling as I walked away down the road. I’m sure he could hear my laughter trailing off as well. That totally turned the hike around for me. If that guy could get that much enjoyment out of stepping in dog shit, there was absolutely no reason I couldn’t enjoy the rest of this hike.
Four days of hiking and contemplation and a talk with my best friend (love you, Renae) made me realize that I’ve kind of lost track of why I started this blog in the first place. I think recently I have been a little too wrapped up in the Instagram likes and the page views and the retweets, and I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to get the most perfect, most hashtag-able pictures I could get. I would see these other bloggers with 50,000 followers and 1,000 likes per post and just feel like I needed to somehow make my travels seem as perfect as theirs in order to get my blog to reach as many people as possible (we all know that Instagram page, with the photo of the beautiful girl leading the person behind the lens by the hand to some magical landscape). It’s too much pressure and it’s ruining my travels and my blog for me.
When I started that hike and realized that day four, the last day, wasn’t going to be the perfect, grand finale I imagined it was going to be it really got in my head. No mythical nymph cave? No crushingly beautiful sea views? Who wants to read something like that??
But travel doesn’t always look like a perfect sunset in an exotic bay. Sometimes it looks like an old man with a few teeth missing. It doesn’t always taste like a lavish cocktail on a swanky cosmopolitan rooftop bar, sometimes it’s a smashed up PB&J from the bottom of your backpack. Sometimes it smells like dog shit and not a meadow full of wildflowers. For every time that you hear the Mediterranean sea crashing against a sea cave, there’s the sound of a crappy old car driving past you and blowing dust in your face. But there’s beauty and excitement and laughter and awesome memories to be found in all of those situations, not just the glamorous ones.
I realized on that hike that I was missing out on so much because of this blog and the way I was misusing it. How did I let that happen? This was meant to be an outlet so I could share my travel stories with people without having to wait until I got home to tell my friends in person, or write massive paragraph long posts on Facebook. And now I’m researching SEO tactics and stressing out about whether total strangers like me or not? Ugh, Jax, you have fuckin’ changed girl.
So no more whoring myself out for likes. My posts from now on are probably going to be a little more scatter brained unfortunately. They’ll be a little less helpful as far as travel information goes (of course if you ever want to ask me about any of the places I’ve been just do it, I’ll answer any questions you have), but I’m looking forward to treating this more like a genuine collection of my travel stories and the badass photos I take and less like an informational, vanilla flavored, perfected version of my life with a heavy filter over it.
I went to the store before I wrote this
because I was craving gin because I wanted to have something to toast with. So cheers to authenticity, and me having more of it from now on. Cheers to me actually setting a goal for myself for once and following through with it, I feel like a badass and I don’t care how conceited that makes me sound. And cheers to traveling for every glam experience and every grimy one too. They’re all memories worth collecting and they’re all experiences worth traveling for.