Opinion: Travel Diary: Hiking the Jesus Trail
We arrived in Tel Aviv around 11pm after driving along the eastern border of Ukraine. Normally our flight from Helsinki would have passed directly over Ukraine, but the airspace is closed. The plane approached to about 50 miles.
It was a good thing we arrived late as Israel requires incoming visitors to go directly to a PRC testing center and then self-quarantine at their hotel for 24 hours or until the results of the test arrive, whichever is shorter. Remember that we already had to pass a PRC test 72 hours before departure. Talk about exaggeration.
Tel-Aviv airport was big and beautiful, but after 30 hours since we left, we were in zombie mode as we made our way to the temporary tent testing facility. Surprisingly our backpacks were there in the baggage claim area.
Watching hundreds of people line up to have cotton swabs shoved up their noses was dehumanizing to say the least. It’s just something to endure to achieve the prize of finally arriving at your destination.
It’s kind of crazy what you have to do to travel abroad these days. Security, passport control, baggage, Covid test, more security, more forms, another passport test. It goes on and on and on and on. We had to show our passports 25 times before we finally walked through the doors and hailed a taxi.
We were sitting ducks as we walked to the taxi rank. We were promptly greeted by a manager who then took us to a taxi driver and promptly loaded our belongings. We were just too tired to haggle and it cost us an extra $50.
The driver flew the highways of Tel Aviv at literally 100 miles an hour, arriving at our hotel near the beach in no time. We both took half an Ambien and crumbled like rocks.
The next morning was warm and clear and we set off with our backpacks and walked along the beach in Tel Aviv on the south coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The water was quite clear and the sand was beige in color with a fair number of rocks submerged in the waves. Pretty, but nothing compared to what we’re used to along the Florida Panhandle.
We walked about seven or eight miles and had a nice Mediterranean lunch at an outdoor cafe before taking the bus to Nazareth.
The signage at the bus stop was entirely in Hebrew or Arabic. We tried to buy a bus ticket, but were asked to download an app to our phones called Hop On Rav Pass. This application has proven to be essential for our ability to move around Israel inexpensively.
The app is basically an Uber for buses and trains. Tap where you want to go, it guides you on foot to the nearest bus stop, then creates your QR code ticket, tells you where to get off and the next bus to take then the pedestrian path to your final destination . It was incredibly easy. And you can chart your progress every step of the way.
This is where having good local cellular data coverage is essential. Getting a local prepaid SIM card has made all the difference in the world. Without it and the appropriate apps, we would have been fumbling endlessly trying to find the right bus to take.
We arrived in Nazareth after a two hour bus ride. We hopped off and headed to the hotel where we met the current Jesus Trail manager who gave us an hour long tutorial on how to navigate the trail by viewing maps and photos on his laptop . We gave him a healthy tip, checked into our nearby hotel and headed to the restaurant he had recommended.
Nazareth, a city of 77,000 people, is almost 70% Muslim and 30% Christian. Other nearby towns can be 90% Jewish and 10 Muslim or any combination in between. Birds of a feather fly together. There are specifically Jewish towns and specifically Muslim towns. The large Christian population of Nazareth was highly unusual since Christians make up only 2% of Israel’s population. It may have been an artifact from Jesus’ hometown.
Some basic facts about Israel: It has an area of 8,500 square miles, about one-fifth the size of Mississippi. Israel’s population is 9.5 million, making the population density about 15 times that of Mississippi. It’s 75% Jewish and 20% Muslim. The Mediterranean climate is mild all year round with summer highs in the upper 80s and winter highs in the low 60s.
Israel is wealthy, with an average GDP per capita of $50,000 (compared to the US at $68,000 and Mississippi at $42,000. Along the coast and most of the country it’s pretty and green with trees and forests.Only the eastern part is desert.
We walked to the restaurant along dimly lit old cobbled streets. A sign on the restaurant door reminded us that we were no longer in Kansas: “EXEMPTION: Entry to Alreda is not conditioned on the curse or condemnation of Churchill, the Queen, her father, her son or their mind. Well ok lair! (The food was outstanding.)
We had the hotel to ourselves. It was practically empty. There was a beautiful night view of the skyline of Nazareth with mosques and churches lit up. Being Ramadan, the largest annual Muslim religious holiday, the call to worship rang out all night from several loudspeakers atop the mosque’s minarets. If you’ve never been to a Muslim country, that’s quite shocking to hear.
The breakfast was to die for. At least 25 different delicious Mediterranean dishes like eggplant, hummus, tahini and others. All very fresh and delicious.
It was then time to get started. Luckily, the first hour of the hike was about 1000 steps to the top of Nazareth, which is built on a small mountain. My heart peaked almost immediately and stayed that way for an hour. Well, at least I don’t have angina, I thought.
The direct flight did not faze my companion Jeff Weill, whom I nicknamed the Walking Man. Many more stops and talks, but the walking man walks.
“You know what Nazareth means in Hebrew, don’t you? Jeff asked me as we climbed yet another set of stairs. “Not what?” I answered. “City of a Thousand Steps!” he said laughing. (A great sense of humor, that guy, I thought, panting.)
But I made it to the top, where we enjoyed a nice view of the pastoral countryside below. You could see beautiful meadows and forests dotted with hilltop towns.
Forty miles away was our destination, the Sea of Galilee.