One Man’s Quest To Walk The Middle East
There are many arguments for it being unwise to walk, mostly alone, through the Middle East, including war, terrorism and punishing heat, which is just one of the reasons why Leon McCarron decided to do it
For all the expeditions that involve climbing or sailing, riding or hauling, sometimes the most radical act possible is to simply go for a walk. If you follow the news it can seem like half of our world is a no-go zone, but putting one foot in front of the other can overturn such preconceptions.
For seasoned adventurer Leon McCarron, walking is more than just locomotion: it’s about curiosity, a desire to see over the next hill, and it’s also about connection. In 2015 he decided to step out into the Middle East to cross cultural, political and religious boundaries to explore realms with fascinating, buried histories.
Setting out from Jerusalem, he travelled through the West Bank and followed wild hiking routes tracking ancient trading and pilgrimage routes. onto Jordan’s legendary Wadi Rum. His journey’s end was in the depthless deserts of the Sinai, haunted by its Biblical past...
People always talk about the hospitality and kindness to strangers – it’s an innate part of the culture
Q: Was there a time when you thought you were genuinely out of your depth?
A: ‘The physical and mental pressures of hiking continuously meant that at times, in some of the tougher parts, I really wondered why I was doing this, and particularly doing it again – I’ve walked long distances before. There was some loneliness when I got low on the solo sections, and combined with exhaustion and cumulative aches and pains it starts to eat away. But that’s also just how expeditions work, and generally after a good meal, or sleep, or a random encounter with someone interesting, I’d feel much better.’
Q: Was there a place that you'd want more people to visit, if there wasn't such an aura of inaccessibility around it?
A: ‘The West Bank is one of my favourite places in the world. Palestinians are so friendly to strangers, and so welcoming to walkers in the areas I passed through. There’s a trail there – the Masar Ibrahim al Khalil – and I’d love more people to experience that.’
Q: What would you recommend we all could do to improve our understanding of the Middle East?
A: ‘I think just to have an open mind. Go to somewhere like Jordan which is accessible and easy to get to. If that’s not feasible then just try to absorb media from a wider range of sources. A lot of the misperceptions of the Middle East are also tied to misperceptions of Arab culture, and particularly of Islam, so it’s always good to engage with these closer to home. Having Muslim friends and eating Arab food shouldn’t have to be forced, but in general the more we know about other cultures from direct interactions, the more understanding we are.’
McCarron’s book on his walk, The Land Beyond, is available from Amazon and you can find out more here www.leonmccarron.com