Life on the Road

Oh thank heaven. The air con has just come on. I’ve been sitting here on the bus for the best part of an hour now, under the mistaken belief that it was the 11:30 CTM service to Tetouan, but of course it’s the local equivalent, complete with irregular timings, sleazy touts and the train of peddlers, preachers and beggars, all of them out to make a quick buck to a captive audience. This was an unexpectedly cheaper alternative, but right now I’m wishing I’d walked that 150m more and made for the pathetically-small CTM station just down the road. Rabat may be Morocco’s capital, but it’s bus stations are about as inconveniently located as its humanely possible to be.

Rabat this weekend. The opportunity presented itself and I took it, motivated more by my desire to see the old pirate republic of Salé than anything else. Sadly, despite its dark and fascinating past, there’s nothing to tell you about the city’s pirates. No museums, no street names, not even an information board. Just a few scraps of evocative graffiti.

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I might have known. Google didn’t turn up a thing. I was inclined to disbelieve that, but as is so often the case, Google was proved right. No sign of Murad Reis or his pirate republic anywhere. And there was me hoping that it was still possible to view the Web as a pack of lies. Perhaps that’s human history.

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Salé itself is a pretty seaside town. I’d say it’s a welcome antidote to the bustle of Rabat, but even Rabat isn’t a very hip-and-happening place. And that’s good. Maybe it’s antidote to Marrakech or Fes, then. The capital of Morocco just seems to shunt along at its own pace, unhurried, unharrying. True, Ramadan could have something to do with that, as ever, but compared to Amman, it’s a relaxing city break. And I’ve learned a fair few things for the book just from wandering around, so that’s good. It’s what I came for.

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It’s been a rather human weekend. What do I mean by that? I mean that I’ve spent most of it talking and making new friends, so much as is possible on the road. They’re always fleeting encounters; most of the travelers you find in Morocco are the spit-and-sawdust kind, the ones who bought a flight out and are musing along at their own pace; free spirits without a care in the world. One such wanderer, a New Zealand trader, had been wandering around the country for five months and more, learning Dārija, trading his belongings and doing odd jobs here and there to get by. The social skills of the Gods, truly.

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People often have me down, falsely, as a die-hard globetrotter. Perhaps that’s because of my self-professed love for the world more than my aspirations for a life on the road, per se. A firm knowledge of the world and its people is a great start for any adventure. But in truth, I’m nothing like these shaggy-haired, baggy-pants free spirits I so often meet on the road. They’re the ones who are quite happy to let go; to set out from home with no desire to return. There’s a fair amount of that fire in me, I guess – at least one of my ancestors was a merchant sailor – but I know where I belong. Some people spend their lives looking for home, a place that calls out to them, a special space. A sanctuary.

For me, that’s Spain. I’ve known that for years. I think I found my home too soon.

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Ignorance is bliss, but if I could look into the future, I might just risk that knowledge on a whim. Will I end up in Spain? Or will the hurricane of life carry me elsewhere, far from the lighted path? I’m my very good at putting my heart and soul into something and then watching it sail away on the waves, quite beyond my control, sometimes through no fault of my own, and sometimes so. Clubs, dreams, relationships… So many of them float away on the tide. Perhaps that’s what’s so captivating about sunsets: the end of one dream, the beginning of another.

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The air con has got me musing all over the place; the  air con and my frustration at the speed of this bus. Travel at one’s own leisure is a wonderful thing, but when you have a time limit it’s such a stressful endeavor. Here’s to that day when I find myself on the road again with no plans to return, at least for a month or two. Here’s to freedom. BB x

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