God knows why we chose the desert. The chance to go out to the unknown, ride camels, drink coffee and smoke cigarettes in the blistering heat perhaps? The image of it is hard to ignore. Maybe the desert chose us? It’s winds calling from afar. Why are we here for Christ’s sake? Not out of any sense of altruism that’s for certain. Any economic gain made by the local community is surely accidental. Why? Why? Why? We’ve got to crack the spirit of the place… it’s just so… interesting maaan. we need to delve deep, vampirically suck up the culture and leave. Why are we going Mallory? ‘Because it is there’.
And here we are, hightailing into it at 100 miles an hour. Behind us a dust trail, our only contact with the stench of humanity that we’ve abandoned. Battered by yet another sandstorm we’re left considering our folly. This collision between nature and man further adding drama to the predicament we find ourselves in. Our hard won cash spirited away by the all consuming greed of that louse of a taxi driver. 250 euro for a promise of a fare to the desert. How dare he exploit us like this. What were we thinking? Our arrival seems more unlikely by the minute. A few hours in and the bastard hits the brakes at a nondescript mountain village, grabs most of the cash then deposited us in another car, sauntering back to his lair. Who are these people? What’s their game? The souk paranoia sets in afresh. Bloody Marrakesh has tainted our judgement. Will we ever get there? Forgive them for they know not what they have done.
The taxi plunges into the night, sandstorms replaced by rain, torrential… we’re crawling along at a snail’s pace. 10 hours on the go or has it been longer, not for the first time the clock is warping before our eyes. under such conditions uncertainties dance freely round your mind and our stress levels are rapidly rising. In search of a rest from this self inflicted chaos we call time, running a reconnaissance mission into a small town to collate our thoughts. Claustrophobia, worry and mistrust slink away as we step out of the taxi and find solace in a small cafe. Coffee and tea refresh the mood, we find little else of value and push onward. more storms, more doubt and more miles pass. After a lifetime, true to his word, we arrive. What’s wrong with us, why did we doubt him, are we racist? Surely not. Students after all are the moral backbone of this world, the pseudo intellectual elite. we’re greeted by grey hairs, scruffy beards and unfamiliar, unfriendly faces. Falling towards our graves with renewed vigour we step out into the night, collapsing in a pile at the earliest convenience. On morning inspection, we survey the landscape, we find a pool, swim for a while and contemplate our fate. the day passes. At last, in the evening, our chariots await. we mount our dromedaries and head to the dunes with a mixed bag of feelings ranging from western guilt to incredulity. Three nights in this barren sandy land. Are we really doing this? Why are we really doing this? Our guides seem able to walk this terrain bare footed and here we are, sat on camels like pompous overlords, ‘this is no way to assimilate into this culture maaan‘.
Night follows evening and we arise once more in this barren land. Days already blurring. We trek across the dunes in the early morning cool. It’s too hot for such activity now. Midday heat. Scorching. 40 degrees? yeah and the rest. For now, we’re trapped in a mud hut in the back a beyond and boiling, lobsters of the desert. Everything’s starting to get to me. The flies, the stray cats and the ice cold water presented to us. Ice cold? Some home comforts clearly still remain. Anything for these culture vultures, scavenging their life embellishing stories at the lowest personal cost. ‘Christ the negative energy’s building maaan’. Got to escape, been here too long. Need to cool off, slow down, you’re moving too fast…
Why did we come here? From what were we escaping? What’s wrong with real life? The pen used to jot this mindless drivel grabs my attention. “Sheffield Parties”, stamped uniformly its side. some hack freebie. Still want to join real life? “Sheffield Parties”, the anti Christ, the phonies rave. Organised fun for the uninteresting masses. The Real parties a million metaphorical miles away. I was part of the scene maaan, the real scene. Been there done that, given up, lost the fight, left my line in the sand. What a line. rocket fuel, sending you straight for the moon.
The real Sheffield parties; where your staircase turns to a Florida swamp, chasing away the daylight as the walls melt. But as daylight starts to fall through the curtains, the dust settles and your brain reboots, the descent down the rabbit hole begins. The mind falls apart. A glance in the wrong direction, a drag on a cigarette or a misplaced though and suddenly the tide races in, pushing you tight up against the rocks, trapped, powerless to break free. Funny, who would have thought a disregard for mental health would have such consequences.
He enters a microcosm of his own existence, shapes become dimensionless and colours drain from the world. walking down the street his mind races, he stumbles down the road. Passing people in the street he cowers, the whole world is watching his every move. He suddenly awakens, just for a moment, to find himself about to step in front of a bus. Diving back to the sanctuary of the street he manically reflects, anxiety has got the better of him, he’s barely functioning now. Clearly something is a foot, he’s gone wrong somewhere. But where, how to retrace through six months of excess to find sanity? with no memorable norm paranoia begins to bloom and mania blossoms until sleep becomes impossible. He paces the room desperately trying to escape, possessions strewn everywhere he surges through them, pacing, scrabbling for his exit, the door to re-join humanity. It’s been a week now and the cycle continues. By now the sheer volume of stress has caused him to lose his vision. life slows until every second becomes a lifetime. Unbearable, he is brought to tears. Stress feeds stress and the wheel keeps on spinning. Finally, he collapses. Accepting defeat, he turns his back on Sheffield and flees for sanctuary, never expecting to return.
Six months down the line and he’s back, but only just. Torn apart he is a shell of his previous life as he swallows the doctors medicine, lamenting the days gone by, as he slips back into the grind of perceived mediocrity. Desperately running to the desert to escape the norm he finds himself stationary, inert, trying to conquer the same sepia mindscape from which he fled. Recovery never was going to be simple, why did he think a jaunt in the sand would hide these problems? ‘Well at least you’ll look cool’. when will it end? sanity or street cred, it was always going to be a tough one, this battle between man’s ambition and his mind.
eventually the inner noise peaks and fades to be replaced by the evening wind. released from the wretched heat we escape to the well. Water is drawn, cool, and launched into the atmosphere. It hits the body with the delicacy of a fridge hurled from afar. Instantly the bad karma is vanquished. ‘feeling groovy’. we’re on the same level this desert and I. ‘feel it’s cosmic vibrations maaan’. Evening sets in and we are fed again, couscous. Wish they’d stop giving us so much meat, ‘vegetables are the best part maaan’. Drums play and we settle down for a night under the stars. It rains, try harder next time pal, these traveller clichés are hard won.
Another day, and we’re on the move again. Plotting a course perpendicular to the rising dunes we arrive at another desert dwelling just before the heat lays us out for six. We’re in luck, Eid Festival, the indirect cause of our taxi hiring woes. Food and frivolity all around. Quick, slaughter the lamb. A grizzly affair. The convulsions of the lamb are hard to ignore, too proud to look away, yet repulsed by the sight ‘I’m a ‘ard man me’. Around this time, providing a timely distraction, I’m offered the helm of a motorcycle. Freeing me from the spectacle. Now the bike, the bike is another matter entirely, not the flashest piece of kit but hey, just feelin the breeze in my hair maaan. Drop the clutch, flint flies, sands a shifting. Up through the box, the bike squirreling underfoot trying to find traction in this desolate land. The bikes speed increases and things start to get a bit wobbly, premium tarmac this is not. Has he got the bottle for more? Running out of a suitable high speed surface he arches back towards the house the bike swings into a swooping curve. Will it hold? one foot out. Arthropod, steady now, Downshift. Down again. Steve McQueen he is not.
The bike is quickly removed from my grasping talons, the Lamb cooked and presented. Sheep skewers, the authentic kebab. We are well fed and well fed again. Thankfully we were saved the flame grilled head. Spit roasted eyeballs aren’t my scene. Sitting down to digest and contemplate the western guilt chimes again. These people are too kind. Not like THEY think, those mail reading, ukip supporting closet racists, humanitarian anti-matter. But I know better, traveller extraordinaire, with my eyes peeled for signs of danger in this foreign land. Clearly the overpowering heat in combination with the food has made me reflective. Time to leave. We hit the dunes for the final time. Complains about the heat have become the prevailing source of conversation. Many miles of plodding, the food is not sitting well and the endless rocking of the camels has an adverse effect on my mood. Ships of the desert they may well be; my seasickness certainly feels real enough.
At this point not much more can or will be said, we eat and sleep under the stars, sky clear this time, before returning to our start point. We sit down in the shade and smoke ourselves death, relieved to be out of it all. But out of what, objectively we haven’t been anywhere. With no noise, no people, just nothingness It’s the mind that has been inescapable. The open vistas let it run wild. It’s no wonder hedonistic excess is so appealing, anything to subdue the hated mind, ‘just give me a break maaan’. There’s little time for such thought though and soon we find ourselves heading back towards civilisation. Once again the travelling takes a turn for the worse… After an arduous 10 hours cramped up on a coach we enter the mountain passes, the final hurdles blocking our way to Marrakesh. Content until now to plod along the driver’s posture begins to change. The bus accelerates, taking each turn on the very edge of control and wallowing from corner to corner, the bus hanging over the abyss on each, solid ground 200 metres below. The glee in the devil’s eyes is unmistakable. The bastard’s enjoying this. Swerving to avoid a bike we miss a head on collision by milliseconds. It’s too much. The sickness starts to grip our less travelled friends. Vomit starts to flow freely, cascading down the passes towards the medina’s, the souks and the scammers. Each bout of sickness only seems to encourage our deranged guardian, cackling away he floors it once more. Finally, the stench becomes too much and he concedes defeat. Pulling in to wash the bus down he relinquishes control just long enough to allow his passengers to run, stumbling away to regain some dignity. Is all this it really worth it? Who knows? Amongst the sickness, vomit and general turmoil, the question still lingers, did we find what we came for? just a bit of a holiday at the end of the day really maaate…’