Holidays in hell

I’ll always remember my first visit to Comino. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t cherish it. But I’ll remember it.

I’d spent a quiet weekend in Gozo with my wife, wandering through villages and down country lanes, and eating grilled fish in bustling seaside cafes.

We’d never been to Malta’s tiny third island despite having lived in the country for several years, and we were keen to get our first glimpse of the turquoise paradise that graced the cover of tourism brochures.

“Experience the magic of the Blue Lagoon”, they said, alongside photos of the clearest water I’d ever seen.

The short journey started well. Two sailboats bobbed at anchor below a sheer cliff crowned with a tower from the time of the Knights. A distant shoreline beckoned with empty vistas of sunbaked garrigue to explore. And the water really was as blue as they said.

The first wall of sound hit me in the chest as we rounded the corner in our small boat. Thumping bass was clearly audible over our engines, punctuated by the occasional drunken scream.

I wasn’t expecting Brad Pitt’s Troy; I knew this was a popular spot. But I wasn’t expecting floating discos either, armed with the sort of oversized speakers that broadcast their tedious beat all the way to Benghazi.

The stink of rancid oil came next. If still-invisible tropical islands announce their presence to sailors with a faint scent of vegetation, Comino makes itself known with an overpowering perfume of deep fried fast food.

This aural and olfactory assault was enough to shatter the serenity of the stone deaf, but worse was to come.

Imagine taking a beach vacation in Tokyo. Not at the popular entertainment district of Odaiba, an artificial island in Tokyo Bay, but right inside Shinjuku station, the busiest commuter station in the world. And then imagine every available space near the water that’s even remotely level jammed with the deck chairs and umbrellas of private vendors who demand payment for the privilege of sitting down.

“You can’t put your towel there!” I was told by a man whose sagging gut had escaped the confines of his t-shirt was slowly making its way to his knees. “You have to pay!”

I wasn’t willing to shell out €40 — €20 each — for two sweaty plastic chairs jammed elbow to elbow with dozens of other people, and so we made our way to the end of a very short path and started clambering up the shore.

The ground had been trampled to dirt by the endless dragging passage of flip-flops, and every possible space that wasn’t a prickly bush was draped in towels. We picked our way around the legs of tourists, stepping over couples with muttered apologies which were usually met with resigned smiles.

Our towels safely stowed on a rock just wide enough for our aching bums, it was time to go for a swim. This was easier said than done. To access the water meant lowering oneself down a precipitous slope in bare feet or flip flops, and attempting to slide into the water without coming to grief on submerged rocks.

I was drenched in sweat from the sun-blasted setting and the struggle for space, but the Blue Lagoon’s sea was bathtub warm and didn’t give relief.

As I sidled around bobbing Brits and pale Poles, I tried not to think about the placards I’d seen in the back yards of my parents’ friends: ‘Please Don’t Pee in Our Pool, We Don’t Swim in Your Toilet’.

We did eventually get far enough out that it was possible to swim a few strokes without ramming someone’s Aunt Martha, and the setting was beautiful if you faced away from what passed for a beach. Unfortunately, this was the point of entry for boats.

They slid into the crowded bay like clockwork: red-hulled Captain Morgan boats with thumping stereos fighting to drown out the shoreline speakers, their decks swarming with red-faced kids in pork pie hats busy giving their blood a vodka transfusion.

This would be followed in quick succession by ferries of various sizes crammed like clown cars, more party boats, and more Captain Morgan.

And what of us? We hauled ourselves up the rocky shoreline to our towels, had a walk around the interior to escape the mobs, and caught the next boat back to Cirkewwa.

A quick browse through Tripadvisor reveals hundreds of experiences just like ours.

“Nothing short of average at best…”

“…Blue Lagoon an utter waste of time…”

“If it was possible to give minus stars I would.”

I took some consolation in learning that the boat ‘tours’ are even worse:

“Proceed with caution an absolute scam,” one read. “We were practically held hostage on that boat for hours. The food was unseasoned and inedible. ‘Unlimited drinks’ were only available during lunch which consisted of half a cup of coke. Pretty sure the boat was overcrowded with multiple people clearly in the early stages of heat stroke.”

Moviment Graffitti has admirably sought to break the hold of Comino’s deck chair mafia by clearing out their overpriced chairs and liberating stretches of shoreline. Their first action back in June even prompted promises from government to rein in the rampant abuse. But this will be difficult in a country where, according to former foreign minister and full-time oracle Evarist Bartolo, “The rule of family and the rule of friends is stronger than the rule of law.”

The Shift revealed that the father and uncles of Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo own a company that runs daily ferry trips to the besieged island. (Don’t wur-ry, the minister’s spokesperson assured us, “clearly there is no conflict of interest”.)

The two deck chair operators are connected, too: one the brother of a Labour MEP and the other an associate of Joseph Portelli, Scourge of Gozo and Labour Party donor.

No one’s keen to stop the questionable “development” works in the sensitive Natura 2000 site, either, or to order the removal of illegal kiosks — with the money these fast food vendors are making, it’s better for them to pay the daily fine for running an illegal operation without a permit than it is to get on the right side of the law.

I’m told the little island used to be different once. I knew an older photographer in Malta who had someone take him over each winter when the swimmers were gone so he could wander alone in the garrigue photographing birds.

Unfortunately, Comino is being ravaged by the same short-term greed that transformed Malta from an alluring Mediterranean paradise into something resembling a Brazilian favela.

I just hope for the sake of the tourist industry that word doesn’t spread. They can fool vacationers once, but they won’t be back a second time.

                           
                               
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carlos
11 days ago

Now that the corrupt ministers including puppet robert abela and the merry lot have stolen enough money to have their holidays away from this Mafia land, they couldn’t care less. Leave the hard working contribute to their extravagances and let them enjoy this shitty rock.

Greed
Greed
11 days ago

Comino appeals to the young who don’t care that they are up to their waists in urine and the rest of bodily fluids being there is no public toilets. These young eco warriors are the ones that leave their garbage all over the island then have the audacity to preach about the environment. Unfortunately these are the tourists we attract to us as we made way for them by pushing out the elder tourists who did spend money in our bars and restaurants and shops unlike the louts we get now. But hey that is what makes money for the friends of friends.

Arleen J Barlow
Arleen J Barlow
11 days ago

BRILLIANT, should be first page news on every Maltese paper , maybe then “SOMEONE” will take note and spread the news to every travel agent planning on selling Malta as a QUIET OLD WORLD RETREAT< WITH BEAUTIFUL ORIGINAL VILLAGES instead of construction EVERYWHERE with massive over development, tower cranes and ever bit of greenery being systematically destroyed

Joseph Tabone Adami
Joseph Tabone Adami
11 days ago

You are right, Mr Murdoch, absolutely and undeniably right.

BUT: There’s money in it all. Easy money and tax-free gains – and mightily plenty of both.

AND: Very obviously, no will at all by the powers that be to stop the whole thing one way or another.

I, too, remember Comino and the Blue lagoon as a tiny swathe of an extremely enjoyable and peaceful paradise – that was a little more than six decades ago, however!

Mick
Mick
11 days ago

Took the words right out of my mouth Ryan. This is where all the “quality” tourists are converging obviously, dumping all their imported rubbish everywhere and treating the island as an open air toilet covered in shit.”Operators” disguises the many thieves, liars crooks of every description all the way up to the Castille and it’s incumbent cabal. Mafialand where “Quality” tourism is a bye word.

makjavel
makjavel
11 days ago

This government has excelled in Hit and Run Tourists. Forget the quality feel the garbage.

Ian Borg
Ian Borg
11 days ago

This used to be a country. Now it’s nothing but a shit box!!

Michael Satariano
Michael Satariano
11 days ago

What a lot of people are not seeing is that when Robert Abela indicates that a middle ground solution needs to be found he is falling victim to the middle ground fallacy.

Let me explain. In negotiations between opposing sides, it is customary for both sides to look for some middle ground to try and achieve a consensus. While this would be perfectly acceptable if both of the opposing sides were equally within the confines of the law and/or what is reasonable.

The facts relating to Comino or different, on one side you have businessmen that have been operating on the island illegally, without a permit, and appropriating and exploiting public land which is not theirs. On the other side of the fence, you have the right of enjoyment of public land by the general public, an unalienable right.

Since the businessmen operating on Comino are doing so illegally, any solution to the problem other than having such businesses permanently removed from Comino would not be fair to the general public. Any middle ground solution would necessarily be to the detriment of the general public.

Enda
Enda
11 days ago

I like the fact that all this is being blamed on the tourists. The usual maltese way, it’s all the tourists fault. I have been to Comino and I have lived in Malta, for sure the tourists don’t help, but they are simply following the example of the locals who don’t care about the state their own country is falling into either.

Last edited 11 days ago by Enda
joe tedesco
joe tedesco
11 days ago

FIVE STAR HOTELS ARE FINDING IT MORE AND MORE
DIFFICULT TO ATTRACT QUALITY TOURISTS WHO ARE
SHUNNING JUNGLE MALTA.

Fiona Sullivan
Fiona Sullivan
11 days ago

This is why I have not been near The Blue Lagoon in over 10 years. Paradise no more!!

Joe Borg
Joe Borg
10 days ago

You not alone hearing all the time from Maltese tourist from Australia saying if it’s not for the relatives I won’t visit Malta again and that’s harsh! All they say Malta is a concrete jungle and Malta is finished no control as usual is who you know!

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