Day 2 - Hagar Qim and Mnajdra

When you are traveling, the reality of a place is often very different than what you expected. In the days of pre-trip planning we imagined ourselves being efficiently and inexpensively transported from place to place on the public bus system. The guide book made it sound so easy.

Our destination on this day was the megalithic temples of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra on the south shore of the island. We headed out to the bus terminal near the Triton Fountain with 6 other members of the group who shared the same delusion regarding Malta public transportation. Our first task was to buy bus tickets which were supposedly available at ticket machines, but there were no machines in sight - only a tiny ticket office manned by two over-worked people. The office was barely visible because a disorganized mob of would-be public transit riders jostled for position in front of the ticket windows. There was nothing resembling a line so we joined the back of the crowd and began inching slowly forward. About 30 hot and thirsty minutes later, a member of our group made it to the window and purchased enough tickets for everyone.

The next challenge was getting on an actual bus. Fortunately, we lined up early because it turned out that the bus route also included a popular tourist destination called Blue Grotto so the bus was packed as full as it could be.

Then there was the ride itself, which was quite peculiar. When we passed near the temples, people on the bus yelled at the driver to stop as sun-baked people on the side of the road ran beside the vehicle desperately trying to flag him down. He ignored everyone and continued driving. It's true that the bus was full, but the number of people wanting to get off was greater than the number of people wanting to get on. The would-be passengers finally gave up and fell behind. The bus inched along the side of a steep hill and slowly coasted down to the Blue Grotto where the driver finally stopped and allowed an exchange of passengers. Then he proceeded across the hills and fields into a town which was, presumably, the end of the line, turned the bus around, drove back to the Blue Grotto, and returned to the temples where we were finally permitted to disembark.

This is what the countryside looks like around the temples.

These pictures are taken at Hagar Qim which is at the top of a hill overlooking the sea and the islet of Fifla. Mnajdra is at the bottom of the hill. The megalithic temples on Malta, built between 3600 and 3200 BC, are among the most ancient religious sites on earth. Large tents provide some protection from the elements.

The word "megalithic" refers to the fact that the temple is constructed of large stones that are not held together by concrete or mortar.

These are replicas of objects found at the site. The originals are safely displayed at the National Museum of Archaeology.

Looking down the hill to Mnajdra, and prickly pear cactus growing along the fence.

In the picture below, some members of our group are preparing to explore the Mnajdra temple complex.

One interesting thing about this temple is that it is positioned so the rising sun shines through the main doorway on the vernal and autumnal equinox and it illuminates the edges of the large stones at the sides of the doorway on the summer and winter solstice.

Some of the stones in this temple are decorated with small drilled holes.

Before heading back to the hotel, we enjoyed the 4D film at the Visitor's Center.

The day was hot and the memory of the bus driver who refused to stop was strong so no one was enthusiastic about returning to the hotel via bus. Fortunately there were several taxi drivers waiting around hoping to pick up riders. We piled into 2 of the cabs and experienced a somewhat hair-raising ride back to town. The prevailing driving style in Malta is much more aggressive than the laid-back island style we're used to, but the cost was only about $25 per air conditioned cab which seemed quite reasonable when divided among 4 people.

Although other members of the group later told us they greatly enjoyed riding the public transit system, we avoided it for the rest of the trip.