Each day I must wake, and I must walk. I must find a place to sleep before the sun drops past my right shoulder. These are the unbreachable rules of engagement but beyond that everything every moment of every day is a mystery. It must be. To know too much would be to break the spell.
This article from Wanderlust magazine is about a 1,000 mile walk from Jerusalem to the Gulf of Aquaba at the southern end of Jordan that Leon McCarron began in November 2015. After his walking partner, Dave Cornthwaite, suffered a stress fracture shortly before Christmas, McCarron continued the walk solo. Their aim was simply to walk through the heart of the Middle East and report back with a narrative different to that normally found in the mainstream media.
Crossing mountains, valleys. wadis, canyons and deserts they passed through the Jordan Valley, Jericho, the Roman ruins at Umm Qais, Amman, Petra, Wadi Rum and some truly beautiful and desolate landscapes. Travelling by foot enabled them to move slowly and to meet people on their way. Their encounters allowed them to learn about the fig industry, share tea with shepherds, and brought them hospitality in many forms including from the Iraq al-Amir woman’s co-operative society. As a result McCarron is able to report:
the world is a good place. People everywhere are just that, they are people. They share the same hopes and dreams and fears.The love their families and they work hard to survive. This part of the world is no different, despite what we might be led to believe.
The article appearing in Wanderlust, while worth a look, is only able to scratch the surface and doesn’t do the journey justice. The entries in the journal on the Walk the Masar website or McCarron’s Instagram feed are, however, a different prospect.
To begin with, both contain photographs of the stunning scenery through which they walked and the people they met. The website journal and Instagram commentary also go into much more detail about the reasons for the trip, the people they meet along the way, the hardships they experienced and also convey the journey’s satisfactions.
McCarron also writes about his personal motivation and fascination for harsh landscapes. In particular, how reading Shackleton’s South gave him a taste for adventure, Thesiger’s Across the Empty Quarter inspired his own journey to the Rub al Khali and how TE Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, echoes in his mind as he walks the deserts of Wadi Rum. From fantasising about far away inhospitable places from his “bedroom in green, rainy hills of Northern Ireland”, to undertaking adventures in Arabia, Iran and the deserts of Jordan, McCarron exemplifies TE Lawrence’s quote about day-dreaming:
All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.
So why suffer the pain, carry a 20 kilo backpack, clamber in and out of wadis, brave thirst and cold, cope with self-enforced minimalism and endure the absence of any human contact for days on end?
McCarron explains that it is necessary if we are to understand the world. Tempting as it is when we live in a globalised digitised society, he warns that we must not be be drawn into thinking that the world is small. McCarron has travelled slowly on foot and by bike across enough of it to know that it is not and that there is no substitute for travelling in person. His journal is a call to get out and experience the world in all its vastness, to move slowly across its surface paying attention to its changes and variety and to meet and speak to the people who live there. After all:
the riches of our planet are far too great to be reduced to the contents of a reporter’s dispatch (then skim-read by tired commuters through a 4-inch screen.)
After arriving in Aqaba, Leon McCarron crossed to Sinai and is continuing his journey in Egypt. As for me, although he is offline at the moment, I look forward to picking up his journey on Instagram when the feed starts again and so will make do continuing this journey through a 4-inch screen…