Leave No Trace

The Middle East is home to an incredible density of natural and historical attractions, as well as a fast-growing population shaped by a rich and ancient heritage. While these are the unique attributes that cause so many to come and experience the region, interact with the culture, and learn about its history, they also raise a host of environmental concerns related to both the impact of tourism and the effectiveness of local stewardship. Keeping this in mind, it is particularly important to develop tourism economies that both preserve this diversity and still open the region for travelers to experience.

Long distance walking trails have long proven to be great tools for accomplishing this. Bringing walkers in personal contact with the land and the people who live there reminds locals and visitors alike of the value of preservation. Traveling by foot is an opportunity to develop a deeper connection with places that are often overlooked in an increasingly urbanized society, and this connection is something we see every day on the Abraham Path.

Boyscouts spend a day cleaning along the path in the Nablus Region.

Boyscouts spend a day cleaning along the path in the Nablus Region.

This hope that a deep connection to the land, people and heritage will provide a foundation for environmental stewardship is fundamental to the goals of the path. We have partnered with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics to formalize this commitment to minimizing impact on the landscapes, wildlife and heritage sites as we help develop sustainable tourism in the region. We highly recommend that all hikers pay close attention to The Seven Leave No Trace Principles as a framework for responsibly enjoying outdoor activities in the Middle East and elsewhere, and we look forward to continuing to promote environmental considerations as we engage communities along the path.

We hope to see you out there.

Seven Leave No Trace Principles:

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

 

 

Trail-Scouting Dispatches: The Goat Rescue

One of my favorite trail encounters on the Abraham Path centered not on people, but on a small goat. My co-workers have insisted that I write the story of it up as a blog post, while I’ve been concerned that it will come off as me just talking about what a swell guy I am for helping goats. I seem to be in the minority opinion here, though, so you be the judge.

This past April, I was out scouting a section of trail in the Craters Region by mountain bike. At the western rim of the Large Makhtesh, I had finished the day’s work and was sitting in the Negev sun, eating some snacks. Suddenly, the desert silence was interrupted by a forlorn bleating. Nearby, half-hidden in the scrubland, was a small, staggering kid (ed.: a baby goat) with no other goatkind in sight. 

This is unheard of; when there are goats, there are generally either zero goats, or a crowd of more than fifty. I ran to the nearest hilltops to scan the immediate area, in case a nearby flock might have shed a member, but there was nothing. I concluded the kid must be from a large flock I had seen about 3 kilometers down the wadi I’d come up, and had somehow gotten separated.

As the saying goes, “with small goats comes great responsibility.” This little guy clearly did not belong out here, and, as far as I could see, was thoroughly lacking in survival skills. Whether by dumb luck or by the act of some caprine guardian angel, I was now tasked with discovering where the goat belonged, and seeing it safely there.

With a pat on the head, I befriended it, and soon had it following me – but not very fast. It was only around 3 kilometers to where I’d seen the shepherds and flock, but at the rate I was going, it would have taken over an hour to get there. After a painfully slow few hundred meters, I decided to stash the mountain bike and carry the goat. Aside from the occasional loud, agitated bleating and spasm of kicking, this seemed to be working. 

As I went on, the kicking grew more desperate, so I tried having the goat follow me again. Soon it seemed to become more reluctant to move on its own: each time I set it down, it would follow me for ten meters or so, then hold its position and start bleating in sadness or defiance, if those are ways in which a goat can bleat. 

Getting fed up with this, I decided I was going to have to carry the thing the rest of the way. I gave it many more chances to walk (especially whenever it got squirmy) but this seemed futile. So we continued in an awkward alternation of carrying, switching arms, bouts of kicking and squealing, deposition of goat upon ground and subsequent scooping up again. 

Although this goat likely did not understand English, I found myself speaking to it as I would to an uncooperative child. I inquired as to the purpose of all this kicking, and whether the bleating needed to be so loud that it rattled my eardrums. I explained that, since the option of being left to die in the desert was off the table, the baby goat must choose either to walk on its own four feet, or to be bundled awkwardly in my arms. I explained how much I would appreciate it if the goat would make its choice and stop complaining. I promised we would soon be home with its family, and sooner if it would please shut up.

This latter promise was not made in entirely good faith: I had no way of knowing the flock would still be there when I reached the spot, nor even whether it was the correct flock. If it were a strange flock, I didn’t know what to expect – would the other goats ostracize it? Formally initiate it and raise it as one of their own? Cannibalize it? Treat it as an interesting curiosity? Give it a wedgie and steal its lunch money? I don’t know how goats live. 

However, right flock or no, any shepherd could eventually track down the true owner; there aren’t all that many people living out in this particular backcountry. And it was the middle of the day. Typically, a shepherd will bring their flock to a certain spot and graze the area for the day, not moving too far until later afternoon when it’s time to go home. So I slogged on, counting on the hope of finding an appropriate place for my passenger.

Finally, I approached the spot where I’d seen the flock. They had been here, as evidence by the tracks and livestock poop littering the valley floor, but there was neither sheep nor goat in sight. So I set the baby goat down and told it to stay put; then, ignoring the shrill unhappy noises it began to emit, I headed up over a hill to get a view of the area. 

The profiles of several sheep a few hills over showed me I wasn’t too late. With a new burst of energy I hauled the goat (which was getting more and more upset about being carried as we went on) up to the edge of the flock, and hoped that it would be drawn to the presence of its own kind. The newcomer and the herd began to bleat back and forth at each other, but the little guy was still standing in place, not making any headway toward the flock.

I plopped the baby a bit closer to the others and finally, it wandered in fits and starts up a hillside, to where a goat that could only be its mother emerged from the crowd and started licking it. Success! On seeing this, the elderly shepherd came over and immediately handed me some saj bread (a hearty Bedouin flatbread easily cooked in the field), presumably in thanks, and introduced himself as Salem.

The whole time I’d been carrying the goat, I’d been concerned I was being too rough with it – perhaps that was the reason for all the kicking and squealing. But Salem’s first reaction was to grab the thing by its hind leg, drag it over to him, and give it a big fat kiss on the top of the head. Luckily, he did not do the same to me. Instead, upon hearing my story, he summoned his daughter to take some photos of this unusual gathering.

I needed to leave in order to catch a bus, and in any case was eager for a shower to remove the smell of goat from me. I petted the goat one last time, shook hands with Salem, and departed. I hope he’ll enjoy trying to get people to believe his tall tale of the time a foreigner in a bike helmet emerged from the desert, hauling a reluctant baby goat back to its mom.

Water Etiquette in the Desert

We are always exploring new and exciting regions that are associated with Abraham’s heritage. Evan Bryant recounts his experiences on one such trip in the southern Sinai Peninsula: 

We arrived at Moiyet Mileihis (Mileihis spring), a magical oasis in an orange, red and yellow striped sandstone basin at the foot of Jebel Mileihis, on the third day of our 11-day trek in the Sinai Peninsula.

A single robust palm tree near a shady alcove in the sandstone cliff betrays the life-giving water flowing from the spring hidden behind it, filling a small manmade pool below. Arriving at this place was a very welcome treat after a long, hot slog through the loose sand of Wadi Mileihis – each step of the way only acheived 70% of what I’m accustomed to with firm footing.

Most of the others in my group were already sitting in the shade by the pool when I arrived sweaty and panting. I promptly dipped my hands into the cool water to splash my face.  Refreshed, I sat down beside the others.

After a short pause our local contact Ben said to our guide Musallem:

“Shall we take this opportunity to talk about water etiquette in the desert?”

Whether the timing of this question had direct reference to me or not, I didn’t know. But at that moment, a creeping embarrassment came over me as I realized that table manners had been nowhere in my mind since coming to the spring, and perhaps my birdbath didn’t quite comply with the desert standard.

“Yes. Let’s talk about water etiquette,” said Musallem.

Ben continued:

“Do you see the teapot and the water bottle there on the edge of the pool? You always use those to take water from the spring. Never use your hands directly in the water. We all have to come to this one spot in the desert, so it’s essential to keep it pristine.”

Now my ears were red. Yes, partially because of the sunburn, but doubly so with the embarrassment. I felt like an awkward barbarian in the presence of Bedouin civility.

Up to that point the real significance of oases in the desert had never occurred to me. Throughout my life I’ve always packed in my own water or used modern filters and tablets for water purification. I’d never relied directly on Mother Nature for my water supply and certainly never in a barren wilderness like the Sinai where that survival necessity is so scarce.

Just then, sitting at the foot of that spring, I suddenly saw in my mind’s eye the centuries fly by and the thousands of desert dwellers and pilgrims who had come before me to that very place to fill their “ghirbes” (Bedouin goatskin water bladders). Who knows – Moses himself could have drunk from these waters!

I was humbled.

And a deep sense of gratitude filled my heart for the opportunity to learn the vital lesson of water etiquette in the desert––at the source.

– Evan Bryant

Photo Credit: Evan Bryant

“Things We Don’t All See”

A Profile of Osama Cori

As our group carefully picked its way down the wadi’s steep banks, I looked back and noticed that one white-hatted head had fallen behind. Crouched on a rocky outcropping, our companion gazed intently into the sky, apparently trying to focus his camera on some distant object.

“Osama, what are we looking at?” someone called.

Rising and striding toward us, he pointed at a cluster of large birds spiraling upward from the other side of the wadi. As we squinted into the distance, Osama flipped quickly through his bird manual, comparing the book’s images with the close-up photos he’d taken.

This happened frequently during our four-day hike; Osama was often drawing our attention to unique wildlife, plants, and constellations. As one of our group members put it, “He just sees things we don’t all see.”

As a child in Saudi Arabia, Osama had few opportunities to explore nature. He does remember watching a series of documentaries on African safaris with rapt attention, though. As the series was in French, he didn’t understand any of the narration; but the natural beauty and breathtaking adventures fascinated him. Reflecting on those years, Osama laughs in wonder: “Back then, I never thought my life would be just like the next documentary to watch; but that’s how it turned out.”

When he moved to Jordan some years later and began visiting its natural wonders, locals often assumed Osama was a foreign tourist; Jordanians never came to these places! As he considered this fact during his final year of university, he decided to begin a hiking group for Jordanian students. “When I started organizing these trips,” he remembers, “a lot of the people were going out in nature for the first time. So for me, the gift was when they say, ‘Oh, I never knew this kind of place existed in Jordan.‘  You really feel like you’re helping them to know more about their own country.”

In the years following his graduation from university, Osama continued leading weekend hiking trips.  Eventually, though, his goal of introducing Jordanians to Jordan led him to another place entirely.  Chosen by Jordan’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, Osama was sent to South Africa to study nature tourism and guiding.  Accepting the risk involved in quitting his successful engineering job for something unknown, he departed for five months studying at one of South Africa’s finest academies for nature training and another five months working in nature guiding and adventure in Malawi.

After ten months of new adventures and experiences, Osama returned to Jordan. Today, as he hikes through the country’s steep canyons and arid expanses, many sights and activities prompt a smile and a happy memory from South Africa; it was clearly a transformative experience. At the same time, Osama admits, “Even while I was in Africa, I missed hiking in Jordan. In Africa, you have everything – beautiful, exotic places, wildlife, everything. But I still missed the canyons in Jordan.”

From his time in Africa, Osama has brought back to Jordan an energized vision for the future of ecotourism: “The way they manage ecotourism in South Africa makes it one of the biggest sources of income in the nation, and a lot of local tribes get involved. So why can’t we as Jordanians bring this as a new field that can bring income for people here?”

Having experienced the renowned beauty of South African safaris, Osama remains confident in Jordan’s potential as a unique outdoor tourism destination. To develop this potential, he has plunged into a number of local initiatives – among them, the development of the cross-country Jordan Trail. “Jordan is a very small area,” he admits, “but it’s full of small pieces of everything. Put together into one huge mosaic, Jordan can provide a full package experience.”

“Believe me,” he says of the Jordan Trail project, “every day has a different personality!  Every one kilometer, you find yourself in a completely different place.”

But what is his favorite of these places?  When asked, he studies the rock in front of him for a moment; he then quickly lists a half dozen locations across the length of Jordan, almost tripping over the words in his hurry to name them all. Pausing, he shakes his head and laughs. “Really, it’s all, all amazing,” he says.

Abraham Path Initiative Receives World Bank Grant

$2.3 Million Grant Bolsters Economic Development on the Abraham Path in the West Bank

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Autumn 2014 has seen a bustle of new activities popping up along the Abraham Path between Jenin and Hebron. Girl and boy scout trail clean-up events, university photography competitions, guided weekly walks, homestay trainings, trail analysis thru-hikes, and educational meetings with Palestinian municipalities are just a few examples of the hive of activity that is energizing the path.

These activities are largely possible thanks to a two-year, $2.3 million grant from the World Bank State and Peacebuilding Fund for a project entitled “Abraham Path/Masar Ibrahim: Economic Development Across Fragile Communities.” The Abraham Path Initiative and Palestinian partner organizations will utilize the funds to engage more communities, bring more walkers, and increase job creation and income generation on the path, especially for women and youth.

“This investment by the World Bank allows one of the most innovative social change projects in the Middle East to grow to scale,” commented Stefan Szepesi, Executive Director of the Abraham Path Initiative.

The main elements of the grant include:

  • Investment in People and Institutions, including a comprehensive one-year guide training program by Bethlehem University and capacity building for local partner organizations
  • Path Development, including increasing trail distance in the north and south and improving maps and other practical hiker materials
  • Marketing, Business Development, and Communication, including outreach to tour operators, profiles on points of interest, and production of marketing materials
  • Action Research, including the publication of 10 research papers which analyze the impact of the Abraham Path and capture lessons about job creation through trail development

API partners with Masar Ibrahim al Khalil, a Palestinian nonprofit developing the path in the West Bank that is comprised of a union with the Rozana Association, the Siraj CenterPalestine Wildlife Society and Bethlehem University Institute for Community Partnership.

For more information on the World Bank grant, see www.worldbank.abrahampath.org. Follow our progress on social media!

 

Photo Credits: Sumaya Agha/API

“On the Abraham Path, I feel 20 years younger”

“I’m a smoker and I’m not a young man; but on the Abraham Path, I feel 20 years younger.” When travelers walk with local guide Abu Ayman today, they would never guess that he was not very confident in his walking skills on his first walk on a scouting trip between his village of Araba and nearby Sanur. “I wasn’t sure if I could walk all that way, so I was planning to duck out halfway through an olive grove and go home,” he jokes.

But when he arrived in Sanur, he thought to himself, “That wasn’t that hard.” And he began to think that if he was able to walk from Araba to Sanur, surely he could walk all the way to Nablus, and then to Hebron, and perhaps the whole way across the Middle East! He has begun walking to work every day, three kilometers each way, and has worked as a local guide on almost all of the walks in the northern sections of the Abraham Path.

One treat of walking with Abu Ayman is his knowledge of plants and herbs found in nature. One moment, he will hand a walker a springy, succulent sprig of wild asparagus; the next, a juicy, wild fennel bulb. Depending on the season, he is often gathering greens and herbs to take home for his wife to cook into tasty traditional dishes. “We learned about nature as children. We spent a lot of time outdoors, learning about the plants and animals and landscapes,” he says.

Abu Ayman enjoys getting to know people from around the world who come to walk the path. “I want travelers to know that people here are not like what they see in the media. We are kind and welcoming people, with culture and traditions. This is a beautiful area and we invite people to come experience it with us.”

Volunteers Waymark the Abraham Path in Ajloun

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson 

The newly waymarked section of the Abraham Path is the first waymarked trail in all of Jordan! This May, groups of volunteers from the local Jordanian Youth Organization, the Peace Corps, and the UK Friends of Abraham’s Path helped waymark the Abraham Path in the region of Ajloun. Led by local guides from the Al Ayoun Society and Abraham Path Initiative staff, the groups ventured out onto the trail with paint brushes in hand.

Walkers will now find red and white blazes painted on rocks and metal poles all along the route. More weekend groups led by the Al Ayoun Society and members of local communities went out throughout the month of May to complete marking the entire trail across the Ajloun region.

Between the city of Ajloun and the Jordan Valley, walkers wander from an Arab citadel past Byzantine mosaics and Roman ruins, through expansive forests and green wadis, happening upon megalithic dolmens and hot springs, enjoying the hospitality of villages in between.  In the village of Rasoun, walkers may visit theRoyal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) Soap House, Calligraphy House, and Biscuit House, all run by local women and showcasing locally-made products.

The Abraham Path in the Ajloun region is comprised of five walking stages or five days of walking, covering approximately 55 kilometers (34 miles). Trail surfaces vary from earthen farm tracks to rugged footpaths to paved roads in order to balance the Abraham Path’s connection to communities, nature, and historic and cultural sites. The route of the Abraham Path has been scouted locally by the communities it connects in coordination with partners in the Abraham Path network. Most of these walking trails are re-purposed ancient ways, familiar to locals and outdoor enthusiasts alike.

Many sections of the Abraham Path in other regions are currently also marked or are in the process of being waymarked. Waymarking is an essential tool not only for navigation and trail safety, but also for helping to focus environmental impact on one specific pathway. Waymarking makes the trails more accessible to people from both the local community and the global community.

The newly-marked Abraham Path will now be woven into the landscape of Ajloun for generations to come. 

Tourism in Their Own Back Yard

Rozana Association holds a hospitality training

By Anna Dintaman

Photos courtesy of Rozana Association and Konstantin Hoshana

“I get to host the first guests!” “ No, I get to host the first guests!”

A friendly argument broke out during a coffee break in a one-day hospitality training hosted at the Arraba Municipality in the northern West Bank. Thirty-eight women from local villages along the Abraham Path in the Jenin district gathered to learn about the Abraham Path/Masar Ibrahim, leadership skills, professionalism, food safety, and housekeeping.

Enthusiasm ran high as the women participated in lectures and discussions with the goal of preparing them to operate homestays for hikers on the Abraham Path/Masar Ibrahim. Trainer Malak el Masri encouraged participants to accentuate the positive and to view their home villages through the eyes of a tourist. Masar Ibrahim director George Rishmawi introduced the group to the highlights of the Abraham Path/Masar Ibrahim, and emphasized the way that the path connects the villages to each other as well as to world famous historical and cultural sites.

Upstairs, a group of 14 local men and women participated in a trekking guide-training workshop, with the topics of trails in Palestine, history, flora & fauna, and community based tourism. The goal of this training was to prepare local trekking guides to lead hikers through their villages and the surrounding landscapes.  Raed Saadeh, co-founder of the Rozana Association and the Network for Experiential Palestinian Tourism Organizations, presented about social tourism, including the Sufi trails in the Birzeit area. Dr. Walid Salim Basha of Jenin presented about the plants and animals of the Jenin area, with his love and appreciation of nature shining through in his energetic enthusiasm.

The participants from both trainings enjoyed a delicious home-cooked meal together, prepared by the Arraba Women’s Association. In spite of the chilling wind, many meaningful conversations took place over the rice, meat, stuffed grape leaves, chickpeas, salads, and dark Arabic coffee cups. The setting of the training, in the beautifully restored 19th century palace of Abdil Hadi, added to the ambiance and excitement around tourism in rural Palestinian communities. From the roof of the historic building, a magnificent view extends, inspiring participants to notice the beauty and tourism potential in their own back yards.

Negev Hospitality

By Julian Bender

Photos: David Landis/API

A scouting trip in January took the Abraham Path’s prospective route further into the wilderness than it’s ever been—down to the Zohar and Mt. Sodom areas of the northern Negev, above the salt pools of the Dead Sea.

A long trek through Hemar Canyon led us to the shore-side village of Neve Zohar. Here, we’d been informed by an local contact, was a town where we’d be lucky to find even one person worth talking to. In the Abraham story, ten good people was more or less established as the lower limit for a city in these parts to be spared a fire-and-brimstone shower, so this town would seem to be really pushing its luck.

A 24-kilometer day of forging down desert cliffs, over boulders and through seasonal pools left us tired, sweaty and thirsty, so any sign of civilization was welcome. We stopped in at a regional government building for water, and so far, the town’s population seemed quite friendly. The people there happily shared information on the area with us, and one surprised me by being strangely familiar with the recent weather patterns in my hometown back in the US.

Camping out on the beach (incidentally, at the lowest-altitude campsite possible on Earth’s surface), we were approached by another local resident and his small pug dog. He expressed the usual mild surprise that we’d walked here all the way from Arad, and then offered to show us to his house where we could get the next day’s supply of drinking water from an outdoor sink.

Shortly after bedtime (namely, 8pm – long hiking days tend to shift one’s sleep schedule decidedly in the direction of “Grandpa”) I was roused from half-slumber by someone calling my name. It was Moti, the same guy—and he was announcing that he’d brought us food!

I struggled to get dressed in my cramped tent, and emerged to find David sitting out there with a container of hot Russian soup and a couple slices of warm bread—and Moti already gone. A paragon of efficiency, he’d deposited the food and vanished into the night.

We’d already eaten dinner, but our hikers’ appetites left no hesitation to eat another serving. As we feasted, we reflected on the radically different modes of hospitality one can encounter while walking across the Middle East. Middle Eastern hospitality is renowned for its overwhelming generosity and personal care—not only do hosts welcome guests for a long social evening and a lavish meal, they take pride in observantly watching to make sure the guest’s every want is met, and repeated emphatic declarations of welcome are made.

All this is great, and makes a person feel welcome and taken care of. But, particularly for the introvert, there’s really something to be said for the functional, to-the-point hospitality we got in Neve Zohar. Hikers tired out from a long day of walking are often just as inclined to wolf down dinner and fall asleep, as to talk for hours with their hosts—and being brought dinner in a simple act of kindness without any social obligations has its own definite appeal.

Weekly Walks on a New Section of the Abraham Path

We are excited to announce a successful start to weekly walks between Jenin and Nablus! February 7 and 9 API local partner the Rozana Association led two well-received walks on the new section. Twenty-eight people from around the world participated in the walks.
Keeping in the tradition of Abraham, the route between Jenin to Nablus is developed around historical points of interest, including Canaanite sites from the period Abraham spent in the region. At the beginning of the route walkers enjoyed hiking up the green Canaanite Tel Ta’anaek filled with almond blossoms, red poppies, and cyclamen in bloom. A group toured the Burqin Church, considered the third-oldest church in the world, and enjoyed a home-cooked lunch in an Ottoman era house in Araba. The weekly walks are a great opportunity to experience the landscape, history, and culture of the region.
This weekend walkers will continue to appreciate the sites, including the panoramic view from Jebal Hureish, featuring Mt. Hermon on a clear day, and Roman ruins in the beautiful village of Sebastiya. As is tradition with weekly walks, participating walkers will enjoy an afternoon lunch hosted by a local family or women’s association along the path.

Thanks to a generous grant from the USAID Compete project we are able to provide complimentary transportation and a local trail guide for each walk.

Walks between Jenin and Nablus will continue through March 9th. For the complete schedule and more information about walks on the Abraham Path, visit our weekly walks calendar.