Leon McCarron is walking for 1,000 miles through the heart of the Middle East. His aim is to Walk the Masar (‘path’ in Arabic) collecting stories of what he finds, meeting the people that live along his route and immersing himself in the amazing landscapes. He is currently 600 miles through the walk and has been recently joined by Sean Conway. We catch up with him in Wadi Rum in Jordan.Where are you right now?
I am in Wadi Rum – the largest and probably most famous wadi in Jordan. It’s always been a natural thoroughfare through the desert from the southern port city of Aqaba north towards Amman (and previously Damascus). It’s most well known in the West for it’s connection with Lawrence of Arabia – this is where he was based during the Arab revolt of 1916-18, and where his book ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ takes place. I’m in the resthouse in Rum village – out the door I can see Jebel Rum, the second highest mountain in the country, and a single tarmac road stretching north through the desert, back the way I came. It’s just after midday, so most of the details of the mountains are bleached out. I’ve walked about 600 miles/1,000kilometres, and I’m nearly finished my journey in Jordan. From Aqaba, the next stop, I’ll catch a boat across the Read Sea and continue walking across Sinai.
Why did you decide to walk across the Masar? What attracted you to the area?
The masar is as much a concept as anything else. I’ve been walking on new hiking trails that are developing in the regions I’m passing through – the Masar Ibrahim in Palestine, the Jordan Trail here, and the Sinai Trail coming up next. I’ve been travelling to the Middle East for a few years, and I wanted to design a journey on foot that would take me off the beaten track; into the mountains, wadis and deserts, and allow me an authentic experience of the places I was passing through. I know from past trips that the area is one of the most hospitable and beautiful in the world, but that that rarely comes across in mainstream media. This walk is an attempt to show another side to the Middle East.What are the challenges unique to the Masar?
Walking is always hard – here my biggest challenges are Arabic (I’m learning, but far from fluent), terrain (some days I’ll climb the equivalent of Ben Nevis three times and cover 20+ miles) and scarcity of water (at times I’ve had to carry two full days worth of water, taking my pack weight up to 35kg and above.
What has been most useful to you recently?
Over the last week of so on this trip I’ve been very thankful for two things. The first is the Bedouin hospitality; in the desert, it’s tough work plodding through sand with a heavy pack, but I know that when I see a Bedouin tent in the distance I’ll be welcomed for sweet tea, conversation and shade. That’s worth a lot. I’m also looking forward to a friend arriving soon to join me for a few days of walking; partly to see them, and partly because they’re bringing a new sleeping mat that my sponsor has sent out!What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
I spent quite a lot of time on my own in some of the more remote sections of the trip. I went a long time without speaking English to anyone, and would only see one or two shepherds a day. I think I went a little mad.What’s surprised you most during your journey?
The variety of terrain is the biggest surprise. The north of Palestine and Jordan are so green and lush – it feels more like the southern Mediterranean at times. Then there is the Dead Sea – low, hot and balmy – and the fertile mountains that lead into the big, 1,000-metre deep wadis in central Jordan. Sandstone and granite canyons take over, and eventually lead to desert in the south. Every day, everything changes.
What was the last thing you ate?
Falafel and hummus. If you’d asked me yesterday, when I was carrying all my own food, it would have been instant noodles.What did you learn today?
In Wadi Rum, there are 4,000-year-old Petroglyphs on boulders at the foot of the mountains.To someone hoping to embark on their own adventure what advice would you offer?
Just go! Commit to it and do it. Set your guidelines/parameters in place, and set a date. Don’t wait for things that’ll never all line up – you’ll probably never have enough money, enough time, enough kit, enough experience, the right expedition partner etc. Just do what you can do with what you’ve got – or what you can get in a reasonably amount of time (how much can you save up in six months) and go do it. You’ll regret not doing it way more than the other way round.My message home is…
I’m alive mum!