The Mysteries of Naming Maltese Dive Sites
Malta has a number of very popular dive sites, but have you dived in 'The Hole of the Bedouin'? Or seen 'Peppercorn' island? Well, if you have ever been diving in Malta, it might surprise you to learn that you probably have.
A while ago a friend of mine took me diving in a cave, in Harq Hamiem valley, in Malta. It was a strange dive. To reach the cave we had to go down a small tunnel which opened into a large chamber and revealed a freshwater pool (haliocline at a depth of 15m).
I asked a Maltese friend what the name of the valley meant in Maltese (all names mean something) and he told me 'it means something like "burning pidgeon" '. Strange name for a valley, I thought. I hadn't seen any burning pidgeons down there. No burning animals of any kind in fact.
A few days later, and knowing that Maltese includes some Arabic words, I asked a Syrian friend of mine what the name of the valley might mean in Arabic. She said 'it means something like "the tunnel of the pool" '. That's more like it, I thought, and I wondered if I had ever been in the 'wrong' place before...
One of the most popular dives in Malta is the wreck of the Um Al Furoud. I love it and have dived it many times. It can be found just outside Wied Az Zurrieq.
A 'Wied' is a kind of valley and the local tour guide had told me that 'Zurrieq' comes from the Italian for blue (azzurro) because the water around Zurrieq is bluer than elsewhere is Malta, making this 'The Valley of the Blue'. Except, I thought, the water around Zurrieq isn't really any bluer...
Somebody else told me that Zurrieq gets its name because the local people have bluer eyes than elsewhere in Malta. Except... they dont.
I began to think 'blue' might be a red herring (sorry) and that I had been in the 'wrong' place again.
Luckily, I had been in this position before so I had an idea where to look for a possible answer.
Wied Az Zurrieq might not be bluer than other places on the West coast of Malta, but it does have more boats. There are, in fact, very few places on the west coast of Malta that you can get a boat down to the water, it's too rocky. Wied Az Zurrieq is one of them and so there are lots of boats there. And, my Syrian friend told me, the Arabic for boats is ‘Zuwaariq', making this, most likely, 'The Valley of the Boats'.
A good second dive after the Um Al Furoud is the bay of Ghar Lapsi, overlooking the island of Filfla. I had often dived there as well. Was everything as it seemed there I wondered... ?
This site is popular for its beautiful caves and (I was getting the hang of this now) I soon discovered that 'Ghar' meant 'cave' and 'Lapsi' meant Pentecost. So I had actually been diving in 'The Cave of Pentecost'.
And from the sublime to the ridiculous... From Ghar Lapsi I had often admired the island of Filfla. It's a marine reserve now, requiring special permission to dive. It's tiny and uninhabited, apart from a few birds. What could its name mean I wondered? What would they have called such a tiny place? Well... ever eaten a falafal? That slightly peppery Middle Eastern snack? Falafal gets its name from the Arabic for pepper: filfil. A 'filfila' would be one tiny peppercorn, which is what the Maltese, with their customary sense of humour, called this tiny island: Peppercorn.
As a reward for all this research, and exhausted by the complexities of Maltese place names, I decided I had earned a dive on familiar territory so I headed for Gozo (Malta's sister island) where the pace of life is slower and things seem more stable.
If you are on Gozo you can't do better than The Blue Hole at Dwejra for your first dive I thought. It didn't disappoint, it never does. I said as much to an old timer selling souvenirs. 'Yes', he said, 'it's beautiful. But, did you know we used to call it "The Hole of the Bedouin"?'
I had been in the wrong place again...