TOURIST MURDERS IN MOROCCO

 

Speaking to Norwegian broadcaster NRK Maren’s mother said “Her first priority was safety. The girls had taken all the precautionary measures before embarking on this trip.”

While the murder of Maren Ueland,  28 and her Danish friend Louisa Jespersen 24, is beyond tragic, what were two young blondes thinking to camp out in Morocco?

No denying that Australia has not experienced attacks on young woman backpackers, but a western woman sleeping outdoors in a country where women veil does not invite local respect.

I have visited Morocco many times since the 1960s when travel was indeed safer than it is today. And while I travelled the length and breadth of this beautiful country to research a book, my golden rule was to ensure I reached a safe destination by dusk.

My sincerest condolences to the families who have lost their lovely daughters in the most horrid circumstances in the High Atlas mountains.

But why didn’t a responsible person in Imlil, base for trekking in the Jebel Toubkal National Park, caution them about pitching their tent on the mountainside? We further learn their bodies were discovered by two French women. Also hiking alone.

Morocco was late in embracing tourism.

When my guide Morocco for the Independent Traveller was published in 1990, the country counted little more than a million foreign visitors.

Today it welcomes in excess of 10 million tourists and while it has not experienced the upheaval of an “Arab Spring”, discontent is widespread among the poor and at heart Morocco is a conservative Muslim society.

The effect of the murders is to damage the reputation of an unspoilt wilderness area. They have also shaken government authorities with tourism now Morocco’s second highest foreign exchange earner after phosphate.

As more and more western women are emboldened to visit developing countries, the salutary lesson, whether up a mountain or in urban Marrakech, is to never let your guard down.

While it is evident the Scandinavian girls did not take their safety seriously, no one could have imagined them being decapitated by rootless, radical followers of Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi, the faux-Muslim leader of the so-called Islamic State.

 

 

 

 

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I HAILED A HORSE CARRIAGE TO GET ME TO THE CHURCH ON TIME.

HORSE CARRIAGE CLIP-CLOPPING THROUGH CENTRAL LUXOR

Sightseeing by traditional  horse carriage is a pleasant way  to explore the old city of  Luxor in Upper Egypt. For less than five dollars you can clip-clop along the corniche where tall masted feluccas are moored on the Nile between the famous temple sites.

FELUCCAS AND A CRUISE BOAT MOORED ON THE NILE IN LUXOR

Spend a little more for an hour’s circuit through dusty back streets passing spice shops, perfume blenders, tailors and stalls selling alabaster busts of Queen Nefertiti, onyx statues of Anubis and other Pharaonic gods.

SEATED PHARAOH IN THE GREAT TEMPLE OF KARNAK IN LUXOR

I had flown to Luxor in order to photograph the Coptic easter rituals known as Shemen Nessim in Upper Egypt. Rather than take a taxi to the church, I chose a traditional horse carriage from the row outside my hotel. Placing my camera bag on board, I stepped onto the metal plate to climb up, but it came down on my legs, slicing them to the bone.

“Ambulance!” I shouted and seeing my distress, a French tourist called Florence, helped me to a nearby pharmacy.

A HORSE CARRIAGE WAITS FOR CUSTOM AT LUXOR TEMPLE: NOTE ITS METAL STEP

Florence (she was definitely a nightingale) asked the pharmacist for bandages to strap my legs and stop the blood flow.

“How much?” I took out an E100 note I had intended for the church collection plate.

“E15” he said. Then thinking better of it, he waved. “Nothing,  alhamdulillah!”

When a taxi stopped outside, with Florence supporting me, I slid onto the back seat and sped off to Luxor International Hospital.

Wheeled into Emergency, I had X-rays and blood tests and within the hour I was in theatre being stitched up by a local surgeon.

I spent three days in hospital and the following four in my hotel arranging via telephone calls with my insurer, to pay my costs and get me home.

Though serious enough —I required a further operation and skin graft back in London— my injuries were not life threatening.

“But they well might have been,” said Thomson representative in Luxor.

“I advise tourists not to travel by caleche but they take no notice,” she told me.

“You see families,  children sitting up with the driver, galloping along the corniche.  Accidents occur when they round a corner and are thrown off,” she gesticulated.

“The Tourist Police are attempting to crack down on scores of illegal horse carriages touting for rides outside Luxor’s hotels,” she continued. “All horse carriages require to register. So check there is an official yellow license plate on the back”.

Wanting details of my mishap, an officer came to interview me within hours of my coming round from the anesthetic. Did I get the driver’s name? Did I record the license number? Did I want to press charges, he wanted to know.

“No”, I explained in my limited Arabic. “In any event the carriage responsible is likely TO BE miles away by now.

Hoping to make a quick buck, many poor fellaheen bring their unstable horse carriages into Luxor which are literally lethal  weapons for unsuspecting visitors.

MANY POOR FARMERS BRING THEIR UNREGISTERED CARRIES INTO LUXOR

Locals use them. I saw one carriage with a family of seven squashed in like chickens going to market. But for bare-legged tourists, a carriage ride is an accident in waiting.

Like my own motives, most people want to use this traditional means of transport not only because it is a novel way of sightseeing, but because the fare will help to feed the horse.

Instead it is better to donate to the Brooke Animal Hospital which cares for Luxor’s tired old carriage horses rather than risk having your visit ruined. The moral being never forget to take out travel insurance…

THE BROOKE ANIMAL HOSPITAL IN LUXOR TAKES SPECIAL CARE OF CARRIAGE HORSES

 

Photographs: www.worldreligions.co.uk   and  www.amongbelievers.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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YEMEN & THE WAR THE WORLD IGNORES

The terrible war over who rules Yemen drags on to its third year. Yemen was always one of those off-the-beaten-track places, totally untouched by tourism. When I first visited the country in the early eighties, there was no national newspaper, only one international hotel and not even a McDonald’s. The old city of  Sana’a containing some 6,000 tower houses—many more than a thousand years old — was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1986. Since the outbreak of war in 2015, this jewel of the Arab world has been subject to ruthless bombing by the Saudi-led coalition. In fact not just Sana’a, but most of Yemen’s precious heritage has been largely destroyed. And an estimated 10,000 civilians, many innocent children, have been killed. I took the following pictures during peaceful times in 1981. Even then it was a difficult country to get around.

THE OLD CITY OF SANA’A IS A UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE
A CLUSTER OF TOWER HOUSES IN THE MOUNTAIN TOWN OF AL-HAJJARAH
A DONKEY-DRAWN PLOUGH ON A SMALL FARM ON THE CENTRAL PLATEAU
CONJOINED HOUSES IN HUTH ENABLE WOMEN TO VISIT NEIGHBOURS WITHOUT BEING SEEN IN PUBLIC.
HOUSES ON THE ROAD NORTH TO SAADAH SEEM TO GROW OUT OF THE GROUND
HOUSE IN AL-MANSAF MADE ENTIRELY OF MUD. WOULD MELT AWAY SHOULD IT RAIN
A SMALL OASIS IN THE OTHERWISE ARID WADI JAWF, ANCIENT TRADE ROUTE FOR FRANKINCENSE CARAVANS
SCENERY ON THE WINDING ROAD DOWN FROM THE CENTRAL MOUNTAINS TO THE COASTAL PLAIN
PICKING OKRA ON THE RED SEA COASTAL PLAIN KNOWN AS THE TIHAMA
SCENE IN THE OLD COFFEE PORT OF MOCHA
FISHERMEN IN THE RED SEA PORT OF HODEIDAH
TAIZ, THE OLD RASULID CAPITAL, IN THE YEMENI HIGHLANDS
A MARKET STALL IN TAIZ, THIRD LARGEST CITY AFTER SAN’A AND ADEN
WOMEN TRADERS SELLING HANDWOVEN BASKETWARE IN A MOUNTAIN TOWN
PASSING THE TIME IN A SEAFRONT CAFE IN HODEIDAH

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