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.





About Travels with My Hat

Australian photojournalist and author. Used London as a base for nearly forty years while freelancing in the Middle East, Arabian peninsular, Africa and South Asia. Have written and illustrated more than a dozen books and travel guides. Operates a well regarded religious images stock photo library: Live in Leura in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney.
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  1. Colleen O'Brien says:

    Deeply shocking but not surprising, I too traveled the Moroccan roads in the early 70’s, with a female companion, I knew immediately when we crossed the border the place was different to anywhere else and while we tried our best to maintain a low profile and did not encourage familiarity we had 1 or 2 close calls in fact on one occasion in the markets we were followed by a very troubling group of youths, personally I think we escaped in a measured manner and then jumped into our van and made a clean get away much to the surprise of our stalkers…..all too sad and deeply horrifying way to die.

  2. Paul Gapper says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Love Morocco, but as you say there is a lot of poverty there of which many are open to Isis propaganda. So sad, deepest condolences to the families who must of had the most awful Christmas imaginable, words can’t describe.

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