It is perhaps a cliché these days – to be young and into street art. But clichés are clichés for a reason, and there is something in the writing on the wall that speaks to the restless soul in me. Throughout my travels, away from the over crowded attractions I’d visited through a thousand postcards, I was drawn to discrete alleys and chipped walls, drawn to the transience and art of the city: the myriad of quirky and queer murals that adorn walls the world over.
From the infamous haunts of Berlin and East London to Italian underpasses and Morocco’s sandy shores, street art was everywhere – you just had to find it. It was the search that appealed, the short-term nature of graffiti combining with the human desire to capture and categorise. So search I did.
A combination of scorching summer temperatures and the topsy-turvy life imposed by Ramadan made my time in Morocco far tougher than I had anticipated. It was a strange time to be a tourist: many shops were shut and the lack of food and water had everyone on edge. It felt like things could blow at any moment.
We left our couchsurfing host’s house after a meagre two hours of sticky shuteye, arriving at the bus stop just before seven. While we waited two men manhandled a gaunt cow into the back of a dirty van, its protests ignored as the door slammed on its time in Beni Ahmed. Then our bus door slammed too and the day’s shuttle began: bus to Bab-something, then a combined taxi to Dad-something – my final goal the Imperial capital of Fez. The longer Arabic names just wouldn’t stick and the small towns blurred into a nondescript conglomerate of syllables, dusty streets and closed shopfronts. I never stayed long enough for it to matter.
Mohammad (our previous host) had assured us that buses from Dad-something to Fez came “all the minutes, yes, many buses”. Despite this there was an absent rumble of traffic and the two young lads at the crossroads swore the bus didn’t arrive until one. So we squished into a combined taxi to Ouzzeane, four deep on the sticky leather seats.
The days that followed Redbeard’s departure were a sombre affair. I walked the streets of windy Tarifa alone, and ate overpriced pizza in an empty restaurant. I drank a little, just enough to ween myself off, and made polite small talk with the other travellers – but it felt forced and my heart wasn’t in it.
I hadn’t anticipated this when I’d planned my journey – if the meagre prep we’d done could even be called that. Everything finished with Redbeard’s exit and I was adrift: unsure where to go next, strung out and lonely. I’ve talked of yin and yang before and this was the rebound I had earned. We’d pushed so far above normal levels of contentment that it was inevitable, or at least apposite, that there would be an equal but opposite reaction. Newton dictated it.
For all my melancholy it wasn’t all doom and gloom, or at least shouldn’t have been. I was still on the road and adventure beckoned, but I felt purposeless. It was as if I’d had my thrills, fulfilled any unstated goals I might have had and in a strange unprecedented way, was ready to go home. It certainly would have been the easy choice: back to the familiar routines of home and uni, never too far from my comfort zone. But this wasn’t meant to be a year of easy choices.