DESERT MUSINGS

I’ve never been captivated by the desert like so many British explorers. Notably Wilfred Thesiger, author of Arabian Sands, an account of his crossing of the great Empty Quarter, one of the last unmapped regions on earth. Or the Frenchman Rene Caille, the first European to visit Timbuktu, the fabled city in Mali, in 1828. Or even the Swiss woman Isobel Eberhardt known as “Androgyne du Desert,” a devotee of Islam, who lived with the Algerian Bedu, married a sheikh and drowned in a wadi, all by the age of twenty-six.

I having nothing but admiration for the innovation and fortitude of desert peoples such as the Bedouin of the Sahara. Or the Tuareg in central-west Africa, or Aborigine communities living in the arid Australian outback. But I find nothing in their water-less environment to inspire me to wax poetic.

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I find the eerie silence of the desert disconcerting. Yet I marvel at the adaptability of small creatures living in the sands. The almost spiritual quality of footprints left by their nocturnal wanderings in search of a blade of grass. Or a drop of dew. I was devastated in the State of Qatar —one of the most barren countries on the planet—to come upon a desert hedgehog squashed on the tarmac by a passing oil tanker.

Strange, I thought, when I was so intrigued by the desert as a child and had read of Sir Richard Burton’s journeys to hidden Muslim cities by the time I was sixteen. Well, I said to myself –—remembering  the occasion I was lost in the desert on the Red Sea coast of Egypt in 1964—I now prefer to just stand and look.

 

An account of my Egyptian experience can be read in my book Travels with My Hat.

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GOD BLESS JAMAL KHASHOGGI

2 October 2019 marks one year since Saudi journalist Jamal
Khashoggi was suffocated and dismembered in the Saudi Arabian
consulate in Istanbul. Two of the Saudi team involved were close
associates of the Crown Prince of Evil, Mohammed bin Salman, who
continues to deny ordering the murder. We will NEVER accept the
lies surrounding this heinous crime which clearly indicate this
medieval “kingdom” cares nothing for human life. Nor indeed for
customary diplomatic relations. And that the Saudis are self
appointed custodians of the holy shrines in Mecca must horrify
every Muslim irrespective of whatever branch of Islam.
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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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