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.
The following is a short story, inspired by the experience of a mate overseas (cheers bro). It includes some dope illustrations from the enigma Bean Sewer and was originally published on lostravellers as part of their new feature “Tall Tales”. You can cop the story in its original setting here.
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.
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’s perhaps not unexpected, that over the course of a year adrift you might find yourself craving some familiarity. But I hadn’t expected it to come with the force it did, sitting on the toilet dry retching while I dreamed of home and friends absent. It felt like not much had happened, between Fez and here, but I no longer cared. I was sick and sick of it, and in my weakened state waned. Why the fuck had I come to Morocco in the first place?
Solitude is a strange beast, not really relevant until there is something to compare it with. The couples at my hotel in Fez, the pity from shopkeepers that I had no-one to travel with (not forced, I chose this), the self-consciousness that Ramadan intensified: these all conspired to fuel what came to burn as a numbing sense of solitude, enforced instead of volunteered for. But all men must do some time in the wilderness and Morocco was to be mine.
As the days slipped away I became less and less enthused with Morocco. The lack of booze made for quiet evenings and in the end quiet days too. Despite the coast’s reputation there was no surf to be had – one of the perils of coming in the off-season. I knew I should have planned more. But what could you do? At least it was cheap.
I had had my fill of “culture” (mosques, souks, hustlers and trinkety shit) and was content to take long walks along the coast and swim in the sea, finally embracing the absence of activities holidays are meant to be.
The novelty of hitch-hiking down the coast remained and my Australian partner and I had a few long days sitting in what shade could be found on the side of the road, waiting for the sound of an approaching engine. There, more than anywhere else, our occupation was travelling and we waited patiently, turning down paid rides time and time again, hoping for people who understood what hitching is all about.
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.