Morocco: Bold claim made of sand

By Graham Reid

Graham Reid walks in the footsteps of a rock legend who wasn't there.

La Caravane de Jimi, a cafe in Diabat, Morocco, dedicated to guitarist Jimi Hendrix. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user xoan
La Caravane de Jimi, a cafe in Diabat, Morocco, dedicated to guitarist Jimi Hendrix. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user xoan

A few kilometres south of the busy, breezy port town of Essaouira on Morocco's Atlantic coast is the dusty village of Diabat, famous for one thing. In mid-1969, Jimi Hendrix didn't go there.

Not that the owner of the local cafe would admit to that. Quite the opposite.

The cafe - which played an endless loop tape of Bob Marley while we had coffee and cake on a warm morning - is daubed with extremely poor likenesses of Hendrix's distinctive features and slogans about his visit to the area.

Inside, the walls of two tiny rooms are covered with equally bad Jimi images and slightly water-damaged photos of Hendrix.

Just across the mostly deserted road, where donkeys amble listlessly, and beyond the dunes and low shrubbery, are the remains of an old fort known as Bordj El Berod.

Despite what many people believe, Hendrix didn't write his song, Castles Made of Sand, about it. Hendrix had recorded it some 18 months earlier.

Yes, there's a lot of enjoyable Hendrix myth and misinformation in the dry air at Diabat.

On the day we visited - a 30 dirham taxi ride from Essaouira, about NZ$4.50 - local kids kicked a football on the empty road and a few workmen, perhaps from the site of the golf course and Sofitel being built near the Jimi Hendrix Hotel, dropped by to sit in the cool of the cafe.

A couple of senior Germans, curious like us, amused themselves by taking photos of the run-down, if colourful, cafe between sips of sweet mint tea.

Stories about Hendrix in Essaouira and Diabat abound and it seems there were once enough gullible hippies who romantically traipsed down here following his imagined footsteps in search of... whatever it was hippies were in search of.

The facts about Hendrix in Morocco are more prosaic.

He did briefly stay in nearby Essaouira according to the most reliable sources (not in the hotel which claims he did), but he neither made music there, nor fathered children there, as legend would have it.

He seemed to have had a pretty quiet time, then flew back to the States and got a band together for the Woodstock festival in August.

As Deering Howe, who accompanied Hendrix on his brief visit to Morocco, told Hendrix researcher and biographer Caesar Glebbeck, "The people of Morocco have never recovered from Jimi's visit and the tales are remarkable. Like George Washington, he slept in everyone's house around the Moroccan countryside!"

Hendrix never went to tiny Diabat, which must have been even smaller and more remote 45 years ago, let alone had coffee in the cafe or wrote a song about the ruin.

No matter, the Hendrix cafe is there and from its tiny kitchen - the oven not much longer than a guitar case - the owner prepares meals and excellent coffee. He's used to cameras being pulled out too. Quite likes the attention.

Later - because after coffee and photos there's nothing else to do - we walked to the beach past landfill, donkeys and goats, a putrid river and abandoned building sites. It was hot by the time we reached the broad, white sand strip so we sat and watched kite surfers and men with camels exhorting the few tourists to take rides.

It was a lovely, rather different day out in coastal Morocco and over coffee we had made a list of others who, like Jimi Hendrix, had not been to arid little Diabat.

No Beatles nor Rolling Stones, no Borgias, not Nero, a Pope or a US president, not Hitler, Stalin, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen...

When you think about it, dusty little Diabat has a whole lot more it could trade off when selling the idea of who has not visited.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Cathay Pacific has up to two flights a day from Auckland to London, via Hong Kong. Easyjet has regular flights to Morocco.

Further information: See moroccotouristguide.org or visitmorocco.com.

Graham Reid flew to London with assistance from Cathay Pacific but paid his own way to Morocco.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 26 Dec 2014 18:43:34 Processing Time: 867ms