BEIRUT: Fifty-five hikers from around the world embarked on a 470-kilometer journey along the Lebanon Mountain Trail Friday afternoon, kicking off the LMT Association’s new “#hikeitprotectit” campaign.
“We’re calling upon the government of Lebanon and all local authorities to really recognize the trail as a national trail as many other countries do,” executive director of the LMTA Martine Btaich told The Daily Star.
“This trail represents thousands of years of heritage and it passes through important cultural and heritage sites that serve as reminders of Lebanon’s history. The trail also highlights the importance of our resources and value of our vast biodiversity.”
Split into two teams, each group will begin at opposite ends of the trail and make their way across in 30 days time. From the Akkar town of Andqit in the north down to Marjayoun in the south, hikers will be accompanied by local guides, sleep in guest houses and taste local cuisines. Also known as the “thru-walk,” the month-long trek is an annual adventure planned by the LMTA.
“After 10 years, the trail has really become a corridor for conservation [and] a corridor for economic development, because the purpose and idea of the trail was to create economic opportunities through responsible tourism,” Btaich said.
Fadi Baaklini and Kama Rizk, veterans of the trail and LMTA board members, will document their experience online to bring the hike to those who are not able to participate.
“We’re running a social media campaign to raise money for the trail by videoing and posting photos of our progress each day. We know not everyone can take a month off to walk through Lebanon, so we’re bringing it to them by recording our experiences” Baaklini said. “This trail is so important to protect the heritage and culture of Lebanon, and everyone should be able to experience it.”
With “sister” trails around the globe, the LMT is listed as a member of the World Trail Network, attracting many hikers to Lebanon solely for this unique experience. This year, half of the walk-thru participants are Lebanese, with the other half being foreigners.
“This is my first time in Lebanon,” 29-year-old Australian national Merinda Speedy told The Daily Star. “I’m interested in long-distance hiking so I’m always in search for new trails. I came across the LMT sometime while researching and said that’s something I wanted to do.”
After 60-year-old Barbara Adams and her husband flew from Canada to experience the LMT in 2016, they returned to Lebanon this year to live along the trail once again.
“I heard about it when I was hiking in Turkey in 2010. I put it on my bucket list, and we watched it from afar for five years. In 2016, we came to Lebanon to do it for the first time. This is a repeat of that hike, and my husband and I are so happy to be back again,” she said.
The LMT has also proven to be a point of attraction for the Lebanese diaspora, LMT ambassador in Canada Wafaa al-Osta explained. Osta, who is originally from Lebanon, spreads awareness about the trail to the Lebanese-Canadian community.
“The discovery for the Lebanese is something really special. Many have never heard of the Lebanon Mountain Trail and they’re discovering their country again,” she said.
Kevin Boueri, 28, echoed Osta’s sentiments before he departed for the trek. “As a Lebanese-American, this is a good way to discover my country that I don’t know well. But really, the LMT allows all Lebanese to better get to know their country. You think you know what tabouli is and then you get to a village and they serve you a tabouli that is amazing and entirely different.”