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.
I had committed and with two and half months left in Europe had a long way to go yet. Still, I felt indecisive and opted not to backtrack, choosing the mystery of Morocco over a pretty girl in Malaga and more Spanish drinking. Was it the right choice? It was what my liver wanted at the time but hindsight, ever keen to emphasize the shortcomings of logic, suggested otherwise and there were plenty of nights where I wondered what might have been.
Morocco was to be arduous and testing; a fact of which I was blithely unaware as I sunned myself on the edge of the Straits of Gibraltar. Africa loomed and I dove in blindly, sans plan or guidebook, determined to start a new chapter and put the Spanish segment to bed.
The ferry had barely docked when my first tout approached. Despite my weathered pack and haggard appearance the gleam in his eye told me that he was sure of a sale, as certain as he was of the sign in neon pink flashing ‘FRESH MEAT’ above my head.
“Hello my friend, how are you today?”
This old routine. I smiled inwardly, sure I could stave off this hyena, keeping my face blank and walking with purpose. Undeterred, he tried a new tack.
“Salut mon ami, comment ça va?”
I tried not to smile, focusing on the bustle of medina in the distance while trying to remember the directions to the bus station I had googled last night. Just. Keep. Walking.
He dug deep. “Hola? Guten tag? Bonjourno? Where are you from my friend?”
His sincerity was too much, as postured and fake as it was and a smile erupted at his scrambling. He jumped at the chance, cut straight through me and the game was up.
“Ah my friend, you are playing games? Do you like to play games? Come come, I will show you the medina.”
Busted, I continued to play dumb, but he was just as confident that he could break me as I was that I could ignore him. This charade continued on as I struggled uphill in the heat until finally, at my umpteenth assurance that I wasn’t going to pay him jack shit, he departed, back to the ferry terminal and the next load of suckers. Thank fuck. Say what you will about the Moroccan perps’ methods, but there is no denying their persistence.
A sweltering bus ride and plenty more touts later and I was ensconced on the roof terrace at my hostel in Chefchauen, trying to figure out how best to smoke the mammoth lump of hash I had overpaid for. The call to prayer rang out over the blue washed roofs and Iftar provided respite for Ramadan’s hungry devotees. I hadn’t been fasting with the rest of the Muslims, but it had been a big day and I hungrily gulped down the watermelon doled out by the other rooftop dwellers.
One of them lit a monster spliff and I stretched back in my chair, content with what was to come – in the next few minutes if not the next few months.
And that was I all really needed, then.