We began our last day of hiking with a marvelous breakfast at the Shavit family guest house featuring some of the cheese and fruit that they grow right there in the Moshav (a different sort of collective than a kibbutz). It was tasty and plentiful and fueled us up for what promised to be a long day.
The first part of the hike was a climb up Mount Arbel and into the national park where we said goodbye to Berndt and Edith, our German hiking compatriots who were heading back early to Tel Aviv. The view from atop Mount Arbel is stunning and vertigo-inducing if you’re afraid of heights, but it is most certainly not a regular route that Jesus would have taken. Indeed, like much of the route from Cana onward it seems like the trail loops around the natural routes and takes you to the most arduous climbs and descents possible–like, maybe the route Jesus would have taken had he had too much wine at the wedding of Cana.
The trail turns into a down-climb from the top of Arbel and involves a lot of scrambling and the use of hand and foot holds that are bolted into the rock wall. We got bogged down behind a group of Israeli middle schoolers who were doing more talking than walking (as middle schoolers are wont to do) but when they took a rest in a cave we shot past them and continued winding our way down to the valley floor, passing a group of Jewish students from America who were there for a Birthright trip–a ten day, expenses paid, trip to Israel for those aged 18-26 of Jewish heritage. Their busses passed us as we hiked up Arbel earlier in the morning and they celebrated their arduous vehicular passage at the top with unearned hoagies (or at least, after the climb, we believed that we had earned them more!).
Dropping into the valley floor we began to hike through groves of olive, pomegranate, and banana trees on farm roads before stopping for lunch at a roadside cafe that served the best pita falafel sandwhich I have ever had. We dined voraciously, given that the climb up and down had rendered our excellent breakfast moot, and drank orange Fanta, which I have become slightly addicted to on this trip. “Wanta Fanta?” Why yes, yes I do.
The rest of the day felt like a bit of a slog with lots of miles to put in and not much to look at. We kept our streak of making at least one wrong turn per day alive when we didn’t see a blaze (I assert that none exists) that would have sent us down the right side of the stream but we went when down the other side, finding ourselves in a banana plantation with lots of signs in Hebrew featuring a skull and crossbones, which I took to mean something like, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” A worker on the plantation gave us a disinterested look but otherwise we passed through unmolested. It took us some route finding to pick up the trail again near a major highway, but we finally got back on track and skirted the Sea of Galilee enroute toward Capernaum.
I wish I could tell you that this was a fun part of the hike, but it was rather disappointing and more of a slog after the previous day’s scenic adventure. The trail takes you beside some utility installations and a very depressing campground with picnic tables submerged in the lake and no one really present. It was like a Twilight Zone episode waiting to happen. Unbelievably, there was a little snack bar open, however, but for whom I don’t know. We took advantage anyway and refilled our water bottles for the final push.
We hiked past an electrical/sewage station that had more fences and concertina wire than your average military installation and then up over a hill toward Tabgha, the Church of the Loaves and Fishes. We had visited there with the group the previous week (which, at this point, seemed like it happened two months ago) so we didn’t stop there, nor did we stop at The Church of the Primacy of Peter (or as Chris calls it, “The Papal Propaganda Church”). Instead, kept pushing toward Capernaum as we were both footsore and ready for another Fanta. We passed another group of American college students from Grand Rapids, MI. They weren’t from Calvin College, where my daughter Hannah attends, but one was a student at Calvin Seminary. One of the girls asked if we were “professional hikers” which would be cool if that was a thing. When we told them we’d been on the Jesus Trail, they cheered for us which was a nice push for the last mile or so. The dead dog in the middle of the pilgrim sidewalk near Capernaum, however, offered us a different whiff than the sweet smell of victory.
We arrived in Capernaum, both of us kind of glad for the journey to be over. It was a little anticlimactic at the end, but we did get an appreciation for the fact that Jesus and the disciples had to have been in really good shape and really motivated to get somewhere. The truth is that despite all of our instant technology and communication, the gospel originally spread the fastest and had the most staying power when people took the time to walk it around to the towns and villages of the Mediterranean world. This journey has given me a new understanding of what it takes to follow Jesus on that sort of mission.
We called the taxi driver, Josef, who picked us up in Capernaum and deposited us at the Astoria Hotel in Tiberias. It’s an older hotel but the staff is very friendly and the food really good. It was great to finally peel off boots and socks, grab a hot shower, and relax in the air conditioning after a long day.
This morning we slept in a bit and, after breakfast, searched for a sherut or shared taxi that would take us to Tel Aviv. That’s kind of a unique way of transportation here–a van with 10-12 seats that charges the same as the public bus but takes you right where you want to go. The driver offered to take us straight to the airport and even though we got here about 8 hours early, it was worth it. Neither one of us was much interested in taking another long walk!
It’s been a great trip for stories–more than can be told here–but it’s also been a tremendous learning experience. I didn’t get what I expected, but I think I did get what I needed out of the hike. I’ll be thinking that through for quite a while. In the meantime, it’s good to be on the way home!