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.
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.
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 remainder of our time in Pai slips by under a warm haze of Tramadol and weed. The weather is stunning, and we laze by the pool, reading and napping the days away.
We scooter out to some underwhelming hot springs and laugh at the signs forbidding you from cooking eggs in them. Later we discover the pool where you CAN cook your eggs, and it is a curious scene indeed. You emerge from forest into a small clearing and are confronted with half a dozen Thai tourists. They crowd around the steaming pool, cooking eggs suspended in plastic bags that swing from the end of bamboo rods. We laugh some more, and photo bomb the chefs standing proudly with their cooked lunch.
Brother Fox and I go for an excellent walk into the mountain jungle and follow a river upstream for several hours. The forest is lush, and different enough from the nature back home that we constantly find ourselves pausing to admire a different mushroom or strange plant. Our lazy pace fits perfectly with our mental space and we yarn contentedly, reaching the rewarding depth of conversation that comes easily to kindred souls.