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.
The story for this goes like so: I read Tourettes’ piece on Berlin and thought, sounds like he had a right old bender – wouldn’t it be cool if we could share yarns about what we did in the same city? We’re there at different times, with different objectives and friends, but still the city leaves its mark. And with Berlin, what a mark that is.
We hadn’t meant to drink. But with Redbeard and I it was almost an inevitability. One last night to see out our brotherhood and our livers could finally have the rest they cried out for. So there we were, back on the beers and dressed in our finest party attire: bucket hats and waxed mo’s aplenty.
The last two weeks had been a bit of a struggle, with waning stamina and the ill health that six months of self-abuse can create. But we pushed on, chasing the dragon, night after night. At this point we didn’t know really know anything else.
Tired bodies aside we were in fine form and lapping up the beautiful combination of sun, sand and skin that makes southern Spain such a magnet for tourists. Rise late, rub face and sneak past the cleaning lady – feeling strangely in the way given that I had paid to be there. Then the beach for countless swims and a touch of paddleball before hunger drove us back to Cadiz’s warren of shops and the now familiar booze aisles of the supermarcado.
The night was all we knew and we pursued it relentlessly.
Going on exchange is good for a whole host of reasons, including the significant amount of free time you find yourself confronted with. Being an avid tripper and having chosen to study in Holland (for obvious reasons) it seemed only natural to combine their readily available hallucinogens with a spot of sightseeing.
So there we were: my ever-keen friend Redbeard and I, chewing a handful of psychedelic truffles (White Diamonds – for the experienced tripper) as the bus left Tilburg. Our destination was Efteling: a fairytale inspired theme park nestled amid the green pastures of southern Holland. Notoriously zany, it seemed like the perfect place to combine the euphoria and other-worldliness of truffles with all the adrenaline of roller coasters.
Two weeks in Italy with the family was just the tonic to the ills of Rock Werchter and by the time Mum flew out of Rome I was back on track. Fortunately, because my next stop was another festival and all the glory and horror of four days in your own filth.
To celebrate being alone again I slept on the floor in Rome’s Fiumicino airport with the other temporarily homeless, before rising early to fly to Bilbao. Redbeard and I were soon reunited and back trying to figure out another unorganised festival set up. In contrast to the Belgian precision the Spanish were positively ambivalent. We wandered up the hill behind the stage and, with no one to tell us any better, joined the rest of the people trying to make sense of camping on a slope. While the view was spectacular the novelty of angled camping wears off pretty quickly when you are constantly sliding out the bottom of your tent.
Last night a packed Galatos was treated to some of the best international hip-hop has to offer with a stellar performance from the notorious ganja- toting Action Bronson. For those who have yet to hear the lyricism of this former gourmet chef, expect the best of eclectic sample inspired boom-bap, food laced lyrics, and a hearty serving of all the usual gangster trimmings: weed, women, the hardships of being a pimp, and did I mention weed? Lots of weed.
My final days in Holland arrived with the relentless speed of a Dutch train. Like everyone else I was caught, swept up in the temporal momentum and chaos of exams, last minute guests and goodbyes. What had I taken from this time? Would I ever be back to this cycle-mad place? Answers fell by the wayside as the days slipped away and then I was off for one last bike to the station, sweating under the heat of a continental sun and the sum total of my possessions.
A little feature I wrote for Lostravellers and their new (flash as) relaunch. Check out the original here.
As anyone who has travelled will no doubt recount, the nomadic life has an addictive quality. It is hard to pin a specific reason for this down. Is it the freedom of a transient existence, the lack of responsibility and obligation? Or is it simply the stimulation that derives from plonking yourself right outside your comfort zone and being forced to make do? After all we all like to get a bit on the lash, and everyone feels some sense of triumph at an adversary overcome.
While undeniable that these reasons contain some kernel of truth, is it possible that the spark that fuels the fire is more basal than mere escapism or endurance? While by no means a definitive answer I want to suggest here that it is creativity, or the act of being inspired, that drives the need to continue exploring.