The Other Face of the Middle East

By Stefan Szepesi

Today it is 10 years to the day that the idea for the Abraham Path was born. An anniversary we celebrate by publishing the first all-path guidebook online: www.abrahampath.org, with nearly 400km (250 miles) of walking trail across some 30 communities in a region where few imagine themselves traveling, let alone walking. The Arab Spring has not yet brought images of a blossoming region. In the first years of turmoil, it has harnessed the pre-conceived image of the Middle East as uninviting, unattractive and unsafe. But even if they are not tweeted and televised with the same vigor, the blossoms are there too: if you look past the news headlines, if you experience the region through travel, if you take on the humble act of walking through its communities.

This online guidebook highlights where that can be done and how. It is a work of passion, modesty and honesty, far from perfect, and shining a light both on what is and what can be. The first long distance walking trail across the Middle East is taking shape footstep by footstep, community by community; it is neither complete nor fully contiguous or all way-marked; the AbrahamPath is the opposite of a polished off-the-shelve tourism product, but an experience in which each host, guide and traveller helps create the path. The stories, blogs, video and photography featured here aim to show both the other face of the Middle East and the face of the other. Not to deny the stories of struggle, misery and conflict that so dominate our frame of mind, or to distract from issues of human dignity, liberty and justice. On the contrary, to share these stories is to say with conviction that a different, beautiful, kind, safe and hospitable Middle East also exists.

Highlighting stories does not mean we leave traveling the path to the poetry of your imagination; by all means, it is the poetry of the feet that makes the path real, that causes the encounters between guests and hosts, between nature and culture and that provides the cadence of conversations and thoughts that only occur when walking across a different land. For this poetry of the feet to occur, we need to provide travellers—local and foreign—with practical information and links that make the path accessible, and with technology that overcomes some of the hardest and long-existing practical problems of traveling and walking in this region. This online guidebook, apart from hopefully inspiring people on the idea of the path, aims to do exactly that: through guidance and advice, free open source stage maps, GIS coordinates, and contact details of guides, hosts and tour operators. It aims to serve both the growing body of travelers that plan and journey independently as well as those who seek the comfort and guidance of organized group travel.

So in front of us is version 1.0 of the first online guidebook to walking across the Middle East. It would never have come to life it was not for the communities, the trail hosts that guide people along the trail, and the homestay hosts that open up their houses to the wandering travellers. The work is a dedication to them, the people of this beautiful region.