Urban explorer puts hidden Malta on the map

Pierre Farrugia and his friends have been exploring and vlogging historic sites and the natural habitats of the Maltese islands for the past two years

Għar ir-Riħ, limits of Birżebbuġa (Photo: Pierre Farrugia)
Għar ir-Riħ, limits of Birżebbuġa (Photo: Pierre Farrugia)

For over two years, Pierre Farrugia, an outdoor enthusiast, has been exploring the Maltese islands and vlogging his adventures. Armed with a backpack and selfie stick, he has trekked and kayaked the length of the Maltese coatline and visited countless natural and historical sights around the islands, showcasing curiosities found only off the beaten path – even inaccesible to most, lest they be ready to abseil into a cliff-hewn hole just to find out what lies inside... which Farrugia does.

He has visited places like Ras il-Waħx in Mellieħa, Fort Ricasoli, Wied Qirda in Qormi, Munxar in Marsaskala, il-Qarraba in Mġarr, Delimara in Marsaxlokk and many others.

But this passion for adventure was kicked off by a diet plan, that set Farrugia off on walks to keep in shape. “At first, I used to walk around the streets but eventually I realised that it was much more enjoyable to trek along the coastline or in the countryside, as the air is fresher and the views are much better.”

When he and his friends started vlogging their kayaking trips two years ago, it pushed him to explore further. Now he shares his adventures on his YouTube channel. “I definitely love exploring the underground tunnels and the caves that we have on the islands. I love the challenge that some places offer and discovering remote places that are not easy to reach.”

Ventuing with his partner Sharon or fellow YouTubers Vince Pukka and Angelo Caruana, Farrugia has made inaccessible places his speciality, and is always seen equipped with the right gear, making it a point to educate his audience on the challenges some places present and their level of difficulty.

“Some of the treks are doable for everyone but there are others that are definitely not suitable for young children,” Farrugia said. “When exploring caves, one needs to be well trained and equipped with the right gear for safety. Some of the caves we have visited are quite tight and we have descended into places by abseiling. These sorts of activities require specific training and a general know-how on how to best utilise the equipment safely.”

His favourites include Għar il-Friefet in Birżebbuġa and the Mġarr ix-Xini pumping station. Għar il-Friefet, in close proximity to the other well-known cave of Għar Dalam, is a unique cave with two levels as it sits underneath a building. “The abandoned water pumping station of Mġarr ix-Xini was a challenge as we had to abseil 23 metres down in its vertical engine shaft. Over there we found engine parts, a wheelchair, two rooms and a tunnel with a vertical shaft that goes down five metres into a gallery full of water.”

Other unhidden gems are Għar ir-Riħ, in the limits of Birżebbuġa, whose entrance is hidden well behind a rock, and Bieb Is-Salvatur in Kalkara, between the demi-bastion of Saint Lawrence and the bastion of Our Saviour, where a tunnel dug into the bastion served as the previous entrance to Kalkara.

Farrugia says he has been training before embarking on some challenging cave trips.“We have many plans in mind and we are currently training and preparing ourselves for a couple of caves, as these are quite dangerous and require specialised training.”

Hostility from private land owners

But Farrugia also says he has regularly found a lot of “red tape” when venturing in certain areas.

The 2016 Public Domain Law states that the coastal perimeter, internal waters and seas, the seabed and subsoil are automatically public domain. The coastal perimeter is defined as land which lies 15 metres from the shoreline inwards. Wherever the foreshore is surrounded by private property, the landowners can be obliged by the government to form a passage through their land, to allow public access.

Farrugia says it is private individuals who tend to forbid passage into these areas. “Sometimes it is understandable due to the risks involved,” Farrugia said. “Trekking along the coastline can be quite challenging because of certain landowners in Malta in Gozo. The issue is prevalent all over the islands. In my vlogs, I always try and push forward the message that people should be extra cautious when passing through private property and ensure that no damage is done to the rubble walls or crops.”

As he surveys all these abandoned historical sites, Farrugia also bears witness to the deterioriation of this historical heritage. He makes specific mention of Fort Ricasoli in Kalkara, that has regularly served as a backdrop for Hollywood movies like Gladiator and Troy. “I think that Fort Ricasoli does not get the attention it deserves, as parts of its exterior walls are crumbling due to sea erosion. Luckily some places are being restored, however, such a historical place truly deserves to be enjoyed in all its glory.”

“Another example is Fort Saint Rocco in Kalkara, which sadly fell victim to vandal acts and was left to rot away too. But a lot of good work is being done by Din l-Art Ħelwa,” Farrugia said.