Things got off to a dumb start. I arrived in London on the afternoon of Thursday the 25th of August, and I had an arseload of things to do before we flew out to Morocco the next day. Firstly, I had to go and get my travel vaccinations – two jabs at two different clinics. Yellow fever and typhoid. The typhoid was fine, but the doctor warned me that I might feel a little bit achy and woozy and fluey for the next few days after my yellow fever vaccine, as it is in fact a living version of the virus they inject into you.
“Don’t worry,” chuckled my nurse, who introduced himself as ‘Wally the Happy Vaccinator’, “the virus is alive, but it’s been given a beating.”
Feeling fantastically reassured, at 5pm that day I headed out to All Points East festival in London, with Sam and his little brother and his big sister. We got in free due to No Taste, the music journalism site Sam and I set up a few years ago. Tame Impala was the headliner, whole thing was a blur.
Friday arrived: the day of travel. I told Sam I wasn’t excited, just nervous. I never get excited about travel until my plane touches down. Before that moment I can never quite believe I’m actually going to arrive.
My pessimism was right, it turned out: everything that could possibly go wrong in an airport went wrong, right from the off. Starting out, our train to Stansted Airport out of Liverpool Street was sweltering, and I was sat in an unrepentant beam of oily sunlight by the window for the duration. I was sweating and cold at the same time, and my heart kept doing somersaults, and every few minutes the world would lurch horribly and nausea would bubble up in my stomach. The combination of hangover and yellow bloody fever was not sitting agreeably. My body started doing weird shit: pins and needles in my fingers, shooting pains in my thighs. Things came to a head when my throat closed up mid-sentence, momentarily choking me.
“Alright,” I wheezed, “breathing’s out. Need to find another way to get oxygen.”
“I’m gonna be honest, I’m really enjoying watching this,” said Sam.
We arrived at the airport and queued up to check in. We tried to check in online the previous evening but the app didn’t work. After queuing for 30 minutes, we were told that without our boarding passes we would need to go to customer service, who would likely ask us to pay a fine of £55 each for not checking in online. Yay capitalism.
At customer service, we braced ourselves for the worst. We were both wearing giant 65 litre backpacks, hoping to slyly bring them on as hand luggage to avoid paying for bags. However, beside the counter was a small metal box, with a sign beside it which read ‘Hand luggage size checker: if it fits, it flies’. We gulped; our bags would need a box twice the size.
Thankfully, things went our way – at least momentarily. It turned out that our check in app didn’t work because of a bizarre outstanding balance we needed to pay: 38 English pence. I paid the sum on my bank card, and we got our boarding passes printed without the surly customer service man mentioning the obviously-too-big rucksacks on our backs.
At the security gate, still a little dizzy from the yellow fever coursing through my veins, I took the liquids out of my bag, along with the electricals: something one hundred signs tell you to do as you approach. My bag passed through the x-ray without any hold ups. Sam, however, met me on the other side of the body scanner shaking his head.
“Fucked it man.”
“My bag’s going to get searched. Watch it. I bet you anything.”
As we watched, his bag was conveyed along the belt, and then swept off sideways onto the searching side.
As Sam’s bag was slowly unpacked in front of us, my eyes grew wide to see the objects they were removing: two pots of hair gel, an industrial-sized tub of suncream, a Kindle, Airpods, a speaker the size of a loaf of bread.
“What… part of… ‘remove all electronics and liquids’… did you not get?” I asked.
“I panicked alright?” said Sam.
Twenty minutes later, when they’d finished swabbing Sam’s bag for bomb dust, we made our way to the nearest bar to wait. One hour later, it was time to board. We got a bit carried away having one last pint, and consequently were the last ones to board. Or at least – try to.
“Fuck,” said Sam, as we approached the gate.
“I’ve lost my boarding pass.”
“Shut up, no you haven’t.”
His face was reddening by the second.
“I have. It’s not here.”
There was nothing we could do: the steward at the gate called us over, told us they were closing. I showed my passport and boarding pass, and stood aside to watch whatever Sam would try to do to get through. It turned out: absolutely nothing.
He approached the desk at the gate, and the girl asked for his passport. He handed it over, and then she asked for his boarding pass. Face red as a beet, he only looked at her. And looked at her. And looked at her. Sheer terror. My eyes were wide watching this display. Each second passed like an hour.
“Say something!” I called over.
Sam shook his head at the girl, his expression somewhere between bewildered, defeated and apologetic.
“I don’t have it. I lost it.”
Well, that was that. A fine adventure for Sam and Dan: a feverish train to Stansted Airport, a 38p charge, a rub-down by security and a swift train back to London. Nevermind, Moroccco – perhaps we’ll meet another time. I sighed and readied myself to be slung out of the airport and make the long journey home in shame. And then, incredibly:
“What’s your name? I’ll find you in the system.”
Both our expressions lit up as the steward typed Sam’s name into the gate computer. After a moment she was done.
“Okay, you’re in seat 18C. Don’t forget it.”
Smashed into a haze by this impossible wave of fortune, we drifted gown the gangplank and boarded the plane, last ones on. We laughed uncontrollably at our luck as adrenaline gave way to relief.
“How is that even possible?”
The flight was wank: some woman’s demon children were shrieking the entire way, while she chatted to her mate and did absolutely zero to placate them. And I don’t mean ‘the occasional cute baby yelp’ either. I mean ‘six-year-old little shit howling like a rusting iron door hinge for three hours straight because she doesn’t want to share the iPad with her younger sibling’. I’m talking the kind of freak electric shock yowls that shoot straight to the core of your brain and fry your eardrums so hard that your vision actually blurs for a microsecond.
Kids, man. Pas pour moi.
To occupy myself, I watched the world float by out of the window. I saw huge towering clouds hanging like temples in the sky, and microscopic oil tankers chugging across clear glittering seas. I could vaguely figure out where we were: the first bit of water indicated we’d left the British Isles, and the second, which eventually appeared on our right at some distance away, suggested we were flying down the west coast France. And then came the moment I was waiting for – the moment I’d been dreaming of for years. Spain and Portugal below us dropped away, and for a time there was nothing but ocean. And then, finally, it came into view: Africa.
A whole new continent. It felt like seeing another galaxy for the first time.
I don’t know what I’d expected, but I couldn’t believe how vast and arid the desert landscape was. Sandy hills and little sandy huts, sandy gardens, sandy motorways, sandy factories. Tiny brittle trees dotted here and there. Very few cars on the long endless roads.
We came in to land – with a bump, everybody screamed, lol – and Sam and I waited while everybody did that thing where they jump up immediately to grab their luggage from the overheads and then can’t move because the doors aren’t open yet so spend 20 minutes crammed into each other’s armpits.
Last off the plane, we stepped out into the close heat of a Moroccan afternoon, onto a hot tarmac runway hemmed in by distant palms and crumbly beige buildings.
“The airport smells different,” said Sam, as we moved through customs.
I was glad he said that. I remember arriving in India and saying the same thing. It was the first of a great many wonders.
Sam was grilled at passport control for his lack of a boarding pass, and then we were free: a quick ATM withdrawal, and out into the carpark. We fist-bumped.
“We made it, bro. Africa.”