Review: Hike along the Sea of Galilee
We took a bus from the end of our third day on the Jesus Trail to Tiberius, an all-Jewish city on the shores of the Sea of Galilee with a population of 44,000, making it the most big city on the small sea (really just a lake). It was named after Roman Emperor Tiberius who succeeded Caesar Augustus in AD 14, just as Christianity was beginning to flourish.
Since the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its temple and persecuted the Jews, you would think the name of the city would be changed. I guess Israelis either have more respect for history or less interest in political correctness.
The bus app that took us to Tiberius was truly amazing. It told you how to walk to the bus stop, which bus to get on and when it would arrive, created your ticket as a QR code, tracked your process to the next stop, told you when to get off and how to walk to the next bus stop and then plotted your way to your destination, in our case a rather drab hotel right on the main street of the Sea of Galilee.
On my to-do list is to compare the Israeli bus system with its amazing app with the JTRAN system when trying to navigate around Jackson by bus.
The Sea of Galilee is the lowest freshwater lake in the world at 700 feet below sea level. The Jordan enters in the north and exits in the south. It is 13 miles long and 8 miles wide. The water is quite clear.
The main pedestrian street along the bank was fairly quiet the evening we arrived. It was Passover Saturday night and most families were celebrating their religious holiday at home. We sat by the water in a beer garden and enjoyed a delicious whole native tilapia, locally called ‘St. Peter’s fish.
The next morning was Easter and Jeff Weill and I woke up before dawn to see the sun rise over the Sea of Galilee on Easter morning. No one was up or out. Israelis are not morning people. They get up late, eat late and go to bed late.
Watching the Easter sun rise over the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus recruited his fisher disciples, was something spiritual. To actually be where it all happened gave me some physical concretization to it all that was a missing piece of my spiritual puzzle.
The sun rose above the cliffs across the Sea of Galilee, the very cliffs from which huge herds of pigs jumped into the sea after Jesus cast out the demons of the local people .
After sunrise we found a small Presbyterian church right by the water. Only 12 people attended the Easter service, but those 12 represented five of the world’s six continents (all but Australia.) What a great testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit that a humble carpenter’s message had spread through the world years later. And we were where it all started.
That day we walked along the northwest border of Lake Galilee. The 2,000 foot elevation drop and a mini heat wave turned into the mid 90’s.
We were soon dying of thirst and sweating like pigs. The Jesus Trail was used by local tourists as a four wheel trail. Groups of smiling and waving four-wheeled tourists sped past, each time covering us with a new layer of dust and dirt. The Jesus Trail is not a big deal in this land of Jews and Muslims. As Christians, we were tourist attractions.
We walked through groves of almond trees, orange orchards and huge banana plantations. We got lost several times, ran out of water, and had to rely on Google Maps to find a gas station where the air conditioning and drink coolers quenched our huge thirst. I downed two bottles of orange juice and two bottles of water in about two minutes.
More hikes and a bus took us to the top of the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount. The beautiful monastery closed just as we arrived, so we decided to get off the trail and head down the side of the 2,000 foot hill on our own. Jeff was afraid that a nun would come flying towards us on a four-wheeler for trespassing. I was appalled to find an illegal dump. It was the steepest descent of our hike and the view of the Sea of Galilee was stunning at sunset.
We found a path here and a path there and returned to the Tabgha shore, where Jesus performed the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Four thousand hungry people had come to hear Jesus and he fed them with only five loaves and two fish.
There is a beautiful monastery there with quiet prayer areas right by the water. The gardens were huge and beautiful. It was a very spiritual moment and I prayed for a long time.
That night Tiberius was skipping. Thousands of Israelis had come out along the lake’s main pedestrian street to celebrate Passover. The family unit seems very intact in Jewish culture. Almost everyone was part of a large family and they wore their Jewish Passover celebration clothes. Very interesting.
Our seedy hotel has come alive with families and extended families. The hotel had a huge kitchen where you could cook your own meals. Families had come to Tiberius for the holidays and they were saving money by cooking in the hotel kitchens. It looked like a huge do-it-yourself dining room.
The next morning we took a bus to the Jordan River where it empties into the Sea of Galilee. We passed the large tourist baptism site, impressed by hundreds of huge stone tablets, each with John the Baptist’s Bible passage engraved in a hundred different languages.
After that, we arrived at Jordan River Public Water Park, designed around a Native American theme, complete with totem poles. We consider the Jordan River a holy place, but for Israelis it’s a great place to have a big family picnic, swim, and rent an Indian-themed canoe. The place was crowded.
We stripped down to our bathing suits. Although it was still morning, it was warm enough to take full advantage of the clear, cool water. Beautiful cypresses hung over the banks and their roots created great underwater swimming steps. Young people were swinging from ropes and jumping into the river. Laughter abounded. I dived as deep as I could, swimming underwater with my eyes closed. It was special. It was spiritual.
Jeff wanted to take a bus along the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee before heading to Jerusalem. All along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, people were heeling. It was a great Passover feast.
We got off at Ein Gev and walked through a stinking stockyard to an excellent fish restaurant whose specialty was, of course, John Dory fish. On the way back to the bus, the path was lined with huge beautiful flowers, ancient artifacts like a 2000 year old wine press, and small shops and stalls.
We pulled out our bus app, walked to the nearest bus stop, and were soon on our way to Jerusalem, one of the oldest cities in the world.