Trekking in Israel’s Holy Lands

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The beauty of trekking…

Trekking is truly amazing thing and it probably seizes first place on my imaginary list of outdoor activities. It gives you unique chance to see things in slow motion (compared to road trips or bikes) and if you choose the right destinations, you can also interact with locals somehow easier. By right destinations I mean anything else than trekkers “highways” in notorious national parks or places close to any big cities. The best shot would be probably anywhere in countries, where people just don’t trek at all. Asia is a good try. Locals just somehow don’t like to walk. Unfortunately the offer of marked trails is also limited there. Luckily, there are exceptions too! My suggestion in this sense is geographical Asia with bit of Europe and pinch of the rest of the world too, but with loads of local specifics and beauties – the Holy Land of Israel and Palestinian territories.

Trekking trails in Holy Land

My aim is not to describe the difficulties of political and religious animosities there. This should be left for other people and places. I will simply focus on my trekking experiences, which were only positive, regardless of whom and where I met. I have to highlight though, that I got these experiences in 2014, so before the current unrests began. So folks, take care.  Better don’t run there right now, when the heads are hot on all sides. Situation in early spring of 2014 was bit cooler though. Back then I decided to trek a bit both in Israel and Palestine and discover and feel by myself this unique piece of the planet. Overall I did something around 120 km in 5 days, but it’s hard to say exactly. Whereas in Israel, all is marked and counted well, don’t expect many path marks in the Judean Desert of West Bank :) Both options are worth trying though. In Israel, you have a huge range of trek paths; from purely sport ones to those with a touch of region’s religious history.  Loads of them are intersecting or in some places, just going the same way. Nevertheless in 4 days and about 100 km, I met some other trekkers only once – a group of 3 young Israelis walking the Israel National Trail. My plan was way less ambitious than this 1000 km path crossing all Israel from north to south. I chose a mix of so called Jesus Trail and Gospel Trail, amazing treks up in Galilee, where you enjoy beautiful nature and where history is touching you nowadays with all those Biblical remarks around. You are also passing sites of crusades battles, remains of caliphate times’ palaces or marks of most recent local conflicts. Truly history textbook live!

Meeting the locals

Nevertheless, whereas the paths are marked really well (Jesus Trail with colored stripes and Gospel Trail with sign of an anchor) and maps are available for free in info centers in Nazareth, trekkers’ infrastructure is rather non-existing. For instance, from all water sources marked in the map, I was able to find just one. There are also no shelters or refuges along the way. But don’t take me wrong, this is not a complaint. It is more like a warning or instruction for any possible fellow trekkers. Simply, be ready and have plenty of water and supplies with you as well as a tent. On the other hand, if you run into troubles, locals are super friendly and helpful. When I ended up without a drop of water and a single bread crumb, a woman in local Arab village grocery store didn’t find bothering calling a relative who spoke English. With his help we were able to make my shopping list true. She also didn’t find bothering bringing plastic table and chair so I could enjoy my breakfast in style :) In another village and another grocery store I only mentioned that I am dying for a coffee, and there it was. Delicious one prepared in local way, grounded with cardamom.  And for free of course. Another example: at the end of second day I slightly injured my leg and felt desperate need of bed and shower to be able to continue to walk the next day. The only accommodation in nearby Israeli village was slightly above my budget though, so I went just for the bed, without a breakfast. But the landlady was so nice and brought me by herself some samples of crop of their family citrus orchard. First time ever I realized that grapefruits can be sweet as well! I slowly realized one thing. You don’t need to speak common language. You don’t need to go to the same place of worshipping as well. But if you smile and show your good, friendly intentions, you just cannot be left alone. I was therefore not surprised at all, when I was found by a camping site guard and instead of being thrown out of out-of-season, closed camp at the bank of Sea of Galilee, he suggested me to build my tent close to his booth to be safe. He also made me coffee, let me use a shower (what a heaven!) and gave me a lift to nearby Biblical site of Capernaum. To have the picture complete, I must mention Palestinian bus driver, who took me to his home, his wife made me opulent dinner and then we watched football match of Emirates league. He just didn’t let me to build a tent and sleep out alone. He somehow felt responsible for a safety of unknown person.

Power of a smile

I spent 5 days on my own on treks in foreigner country in supposedly risky circumstances. But I never felt there alone and I never felt there unsafe. I felt great resting in the middle of desert with Bedouin shepherd as well as among Israeli and Arab villagers. I believe that smile and positive approach always helped to wash away any possible barriers. I strongly believe that it can help any other trekker too. Actually, to be honest, this is not always true. Be aware of fellow foreigners. Smile didn’t help me when I was trying to politely run away from British self-proclaimed priest spreading his way of belief through biking around Holy land. Smile also didn’t help me to get permission to sleep on territory of Greek orthodox monastery of Mar Saba. They were OK to let me out in the desert. Well, the right denomination was more than humanity in this case. But not to be unfair, I have to mention that they admitted that the exception is possible. So folks, if you plan to sleep over there (which I believe must be just awesome), make sure that you get a pass from the Patriarch of Jerusalem in advance :)

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