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  • Writer's pictureTomás S. Ó Ceallaigh

Atay Maghrebi: Hendrix Myths on The Road to Sidi Kaouki

Updated: Jan 5, 2019

The familiar washed-out and salt-tinged ocean air coloured the sky, lending it a soft pastel-blue light as I sat and tried to recall what I had been doing the day before.

The familiar washed-out and salt-tinged ocean air coloured the sky, lending it a soft pastel-blue light as I sat and tried to recall what I had been doing the day before.

I hadn’t been feeling one hundred percent since eating a weird tasting kefta tagine in a Marrakech establishment (that shall remain nameless), but I was beginning to feel little more like myself after a few days of freshly cooked food at the Atlantic Hostel.

As I sat on the sofa at the highest point of the roof terrace, my red Moleskine in my hand, I spotted to my left a pile of blankets and thought nothing of it. That is, until it started moving and a young man who looked like an Amazigh version of Captain Jack Sparrow emerged, greeted me in French and stumbled down the stairs.

After a few coffees, I went searching for some light breakfast and a short walk away from the Hostel, on Rue de Hajjali, found Le Patisserie Driss. 

None of the pastries or cakes seemed to have a sign, but using a combination of pointing, French nouns and Arabic determiners, I opted for what looked like a mini pizza. It was in fact a small pastry ring topped with a tomato and herb sauce, some tuna and sprinkling of finely grated cheese. It was just what I needed and so cheap at 5dh each.

In the early afternoon, following a quiet morning, I started talking to a Canadian called Amy. She was from Toronto, but had spent a fair amount of time travelling: The Philippines, Balkans, somewhere I’ve forgotten and now Morocco. She’d just finished her second degree and was preparing to start Medical School.

A short while later, Couscous could be heard having what sounded like a heated conversation with some of the hostel staff. It transpired that someone had written a negative review of the Atlantic Hostel on Hostel World’s website. I guess that in the world of keyboard warriors, people are becoming less and less likely to challenge problems they may have at the time, in favour of addressing it on a review site like TripAdvisor or on the booking site later.

Couscous is seldom unhappy and seems to make a point of bouncing off the walls with excitement and positive energy most of the time, for the sake of his guests if nothing else. It is no wonder that, having appeared on national TV and achieving a rating of 9.3 on Hostel World, being unable to directly address issues a guest may have had might be frustrating.

To try and lighten his mood on what was supposed to be his day off, I offered my English writing skills and drafted a model response for him to use in such eventualities, should they arise in the future. This followed on from my job of writing the menu board the day before and earned me yet more atay and coffee.

That afternoon, to make the most of his day off, Couscous said he was going to drive to a little spot “on the beach”. He invited Amy and me to join him.

On the way to the car, we stopped off at a small bakery down the narrow Rue Ibn Khaldoun. Here Couscous ordered some msemen (or rghaif), a sort of pancake crossed with a flatbread stuffed with tomato and onions, that we would pick up on the way back later on. They are also eaten as a breakfast dish in the mornings with honey, jam or amlou, but with it being the afternoon, the lady making them had switched over to a more savoury filling.

Once in the car, and after just a few minutes of driving, Couscous said, “actually, maybe we’ll go somewhere further. Maybe 30km. Is that okay?”

“Of course,” Amy and I agreed and off we rumbled along a dusty track through Diabat, in the direction of Sidi Kaouki.

The route took us past the location of one of the area’s popular myths: The ‘Jimi Hendrix Visited Essaouira’ Legend. In reality, there’s a number of strands and variations to the myth, rather than a singular myth. 

We drove past two sites in Diabat connected to the legend. The first was the ruined remains of a house. The house is allegedly where Hendrix stayed in 1969 when he visited the area. The second site is Borj El Baroud, a ruined castle on a rock in the surf of the Atlantic, visible from the house, that was apparently the subject of the song ‘Castles Made of Sand’ from Hendrix’s Axis Bold as Love album. 

Of course, when you actually look into the myths and legends surrounding Hendrix’s hippie trip to Essaouira, and the many websites that attempt to debunk them, the dates just don’t add up. That said, legends are meant to be a bit fantastical and the idea of Hendrix, sat by the ruins of this coastal castle writing “castles made of sand, fall in the sea, eventually,” is much more inspiring to the wannabe wayfarer.

After rejoining a main road, taking a right near an argan tree filled with goats, and driving along a long straight road listening to gnawa full blast, Sidi Kaouki appeared: a small town clinging to the Atlantic Coast.

Looking around the side of an old building that sits right on the edge of the sea, commanding views over the hazy ocean.

The town, with a just a few eateries, hotels and a hostel spaced out along the seafront, wouldn’t take anyone long to explore. What it is noted for, though, are its waves. The place is, amongst the beach-dwelling camels, horses and dogs, something of a surfers’ hotspot. 

After a quick stroll, we sat down at La Trattoria Pizza Verona, had a decent pizza and a few coffees in the hazy afternoon sunshine, the ocean roaring effortlessly in the background.

The three of us chatted a bit about life in Essaouira and before long the conversation turned into a brainstorming session on how to improve aspects of the Hostel. For Couscous, a new oven was a priority, for me, curtains for the beds (something I’d seen in Copenhagen) and for Amy a small library.

By the end of the conversation, Couscous was offering us jobs – sometimes it is a shame that teaching gets in the way.

That evening, after picking up the msemen, the closest thing to a plan we had was to go for a walk with Sophie and Hannah to watch the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean. The purpose of the walk was really to take a few nice photographs, and follow it up with a shawarma, but we were thwarted on both fronts.

The same mist that had descended on my first ever evening in Essaouira back in 2016 had returned in earnest, leaving nothing but a dim orange glow in an otherwise darkening sky.

Returning to the hostel without our sunset shots, Amy got enlisted by Couscous as a sous chef and the promise of pasta with ‘special sauce’ put an end to our need to head out for further food.

Couscous, clearly enjoying his day off, finished preparing the pasta meal, served it to a select few along with the msemen we’d bought earlier and then disappeared, having clearly missed his hammam appointment from earlier on.

Lessons Learned

  • I need to visit more small towns, especially along the Atlantic coast, and worry less about how I’m going to get there and back.

  • Whatever the manufacturers say, smartphone cameras are woefully inadequate for the types of pictures I want to take.

  • I’m not sure how many of the goats climb the trees of their own volition.

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