The engines roared and the plane pulled up off the runway. I settled in for the flight and as Morocco fell away my mood lifted. I was still a bit shaky, but the prospect of some friends and Eastern Europe’s notorious nightlife had me well on the way to recovery. I transited through Madrid and, with a full day to kill, walked tentatively down her wide boulevards, still not entirely trusting of my stomach.
It was hot work and I was soon hungry, seeking shelter in the air conditioned aisles of a supermercado. The Spanish on the shelves was too easy after Arabic’s unfamiliar script and I felt strangely at home. I grew bold and, in what could well have turned out to be a foolish move, purchased a beer to have with lunch.
I sat on the steps of one of Spain’s ubiquitous squares and slugged it down greedily, thankful for every bit of beer’s thirst quenching power. I thought of Redbeard and what he would have made of all this. It was a comforting notion: to know my fine friend would have done the same, risk of relapse be damned. I took another sip and smiled at the familiarity of his imagined company. I was on the mend and even the absence of my brother could not dampen my spirits.
My stomach was still uneasy and I was noticeably weak – but pushed through, rose at the ungodly hour proscribed by Wizz Air and promptly found myself waiting at the airport for four hours while they built our plane from scratch. Or something.
Finally we left, the delay just another blip in the transcript of my past as I navigated a new airport and the inevitable bus scam into Warsaw. (What’s this? A new airport with one exchange desk and an abysmal rate; and what? An extortionate fare into town?) You couldn’t ask for more, really.
My delayed flight meant I had missed meeting up with Mark and Ryan and so I set off for a walk round the old town with the other tourists, camera in tow. Warsaw was the furthest east I’d been and pretty enough, with the older buildings’ baroque facades considerably more welcoming than the more recent Soviet projects.
Back at the hostel I was united with friends and we set about unravelling the myriad yarns of our respective travels, helped in no small part by the copious supply of cheap pints. Morocco couldn’t have felt further away.
Before long we were steamed, or at least I was, and if nothing else can then I hope that offers some justification, if not exculpation, for what was to come. Weakened as my tolerance was from illness and lack of drinking I still feel like I should have been slightly more prescient – but once again it was all new and we were going with the flow (of beer, duh).
So when someone from the hostel took us to a bar and got us to pay the door fee for “Electro Ladies Night” no one batted an eyelid, not really. What were the other alternatives? We didn’t know where anything was or have anyone to meet; plus I liked electro, and ladies – what could go wrong?
Well as it turns out, nothing much. At some stage in the relentless rounds of beer the crowds of females thronging the bar got very very excited and, before you could say “I’m-too-horsed-to-know-what’s-going-on” in Polish, a gap had opened up in the dance floor and two military officers were getting down. Realisation was slow to dawn in my fuddled brain and I stood between them, beer gripped tightly, wondering why no one else was dancing.
Fortunately Ryan was more perceptive than I and pulled me from the floor just as the first items of clothing were removed. The crowd went apeshit and the rest weren’t slow to follow, leaving us to laugh into the bottom of our glasses at these muscle-bound Lotharios – gyrating to the beat in banana hammocks that left little to the imagination.
In the morning it was back to the familiar ache and dry mouth of a hostel hangover but I didn’t care. This was the shit I had come for, and I was happy. It was a relief, to have my illness and solitude behind me, and the anything goes attitude out east was the perfect anathema to the rigid discipline of Morocco.
Of course, not anything goes, and one of the Welsh lads from the night before pissed his bed and had to shamefully check out. Thank fuck he wasn’t on the top bunk… Despite his blowout I still had some sympathy for the guy. He was alone too and had been for sometime, having made it all the way there from New Zealand – without a single flight in the mix. Who’s to say I wouldn’t have been the same as him, given the strains of that much travel?
In dry Morocco there was no chance to disgrace myself; I now saw it from the other side. Perhaps no beer had been a good thing after all… It felt like my time in the wilderness had passed and I had survived, sober and unscathed.
We mobbed up, bound in our suffering, and schlepped to the bus station. The next stop was Katowice and more festival carnage, but for once I wasn’t overly fussed. Redbeard’s wise words came floating back: “You’re never homeless when you’re with a friend” – and it doesn’t matter where you’re going (when you’re with them).