This feature was originally published in the November 2013 edition of High Times under the title “Kief in the Rif” – a typo mistaking the incredibly harsh Moroccoan kif for the luscious kief crystals that give Mary J her famous kick. But what are you going to do? It’s High Times for chrissake.
There are some cities you step into where every cliché you have ever heard rings true. Venice is one of those cities, so detailed in the common consciousness that to visit is to only make real a dream you’ve already lived.
It might surprise you to discover, but I am not Turkish. Nor am I on the hunt for a wife. But make no mistake, there are people of this ilk and their combination is one regarded with suspicion in certain Ukranian couchsurfing circles, or so I’ve been told.
If you’ve been following, you might have noticed that I was less than enthused with a lot of what Morocco had to offer. As I’ve unpacked elsewhere, it was a mix of a number of factors and it would be unfair to put the burden of my dissatisfaction on the country as a whole… Morocco is a fascinating place, bursting with colour and character – be it individual, architectural or otherwise.
Hopefully these photos help convey some of what my own personal experiences couldn’t.
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.
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.
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.
The bus slowly winds up the hill, breaking, as the driver prepares for yet another hairpin turn. The road from Chang Mai to Pai is known for its huge number of corners, and we are not disappointed. Our ride climbs higher and higher, and the verdant jungle of Chiang Mai gives way to sparser mountain vistas.
Pai is the very definition of laid-back, a small hippy town where life meanders by for the relaxed locals and backpackers that stroll the main drag. At night the street turns into a food and clothes market that offers a wealth of tasty snacks and tie-die, the samosas and banana pancakes winning particular favour amongst our number.
Our hostel hosts, the eccentric German, Peter, and his Thai wife, Darling, are hilarious and almost certainly on opium. Their response to our query for board is extraordinarily laconic and at odds with the tourist trail’s usual hard sell. We are eventually provided for: VIP accommodation no less, one room complete with four thin swabs spaced out on the floor. We are given a “special price” by a manically grinning Darling, who explains that it is because “you are tall, like my son, veery tall.”
Spirits were considerably lower in the days that followed the events at Vang Vieng. We struggle our way from the bus station into town in a dusty red songthaew, and I remember just enough to get us to a former hostel, which of course we can’t check-in to until lunchtime.
We wander while we wait for the promised respite of a room, and play some frisbee in the park. An old Thai man enthusiastically joins Fox and I, but he isn’t much chop and soon gives up. He heads on his merry way, unfazed by the complete language barrier that prevented us from explaining how to play.
Our serotonin slowly recuperates and we venture an excursion to the night markets. There is nothing unexpected: just more fake Rolexes, ray bans and vans; Thai-themed t-shirts and hippie pants – accoutrements for the travelling glitterati.
The following morning we decide to hire scooters and set off to explore Chang Mai from the road. The scooters are 110cc and fully automatic, and in no time we are blasting along, zipping in and out of traffic, speeding towards Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. We have no trouble pulling ahead of the locals as red lights turn green, their burdened 50cc steeds no match for our enthusiastic acceleration.
If you’ve done any travelling in South East Asia then you almost certainly have heard of, if not actually experienced for yourself, the mayhem of Laos’ hedonistic capital, Vang Vieng.
Once a quiet riverside village, as the story goes, Vang Vieng is now big business: big, underdressed, intoxicated Western business. While easily the most touristy place I have been in Asia, the village still attracts thousands of visitors every year; backpackers coming for the joys of getting loose in a rubber tube along the banks of the Nam Song river. A ramshackle collection of bars line the edges of the brown river, and the same blaring electronic pop that plagued us over New Year’s reverberates in the shade of the vast karst mountains looming in the background.
The town itself is small and almost completely full of Westerners. There are a plethora of restaurants serving banana pancake trail staples, with the main difference whether Friends or Family Guy is playing above the raised platforms and low tables. Many restaurants offer the addition of a “Happy Menu,” covering everything from mushroom shakes and weed pizza to speed. Despite the ubiquity of such contraband, Brother Barefoot and Phantom are caught smoking a joint in their room, and told to find replacement accommodation; a strange paradox in a town of arbitrary lines.