Backpacker Magazine on the Jesus Trail

The Jesus Trail crew was excited to welcome Backpacker Magazine senior editor Dennis Lewon and acclaimed photographer Jason Florio to the trail this March.  The two came to walk the trail for a story for Backpacker Magazine scheduled to come out in 2012.  We couldn’t have asked for better weather for the six days of exploring, walking and photographing the Jesus Trail.

Dennis is an experienced and seasoned journalist, editor and adventure traveler who has worked with North America’s outdoor industry-leading magazines Backpacker and Outside.  Jason ( captures amazing images from all around the world, including taking portraits of local leaders on his 900-km trek around the perimeter of the Gambia, and documenting Somalian pirates and Burmese freedom fighters.  We really enjoyed the opportunity to learn from these experienced adventurers, and also to share the sites and friendships along the trail that we value so much.

Each day we were met with friendly faces from across the diverse ethnic and religious spectrum that makes up the Galilee.  At one point, Jason mentioned that walking the Jesus Trail feels like being inside of a “cultural washing machine,” with new diverse experiences each day.  From the beginning we’ve believed that the Jesus Trail is a world-class hiking route, and continued experiences such as the ones we shared with Dennis and Jason only confirm this to us.

We’re looking forward to seeing the story in print in the coming year.

Highlights of the journey:

  • Two days in Nazareth, visiting the local sites including Nazareth Village, the Basilica of the Annunciation and the White Mosque and hearing the story of the Fauzi Azar Inn and other local businesses.
  • Walking to Cana via Zippori, enjoying the ancient Byzantine mosaics and the hospitality of Arab Christians Sami and Suad Bellan in Cana.  Several couples from various continents were renewing their wedding vows at the Catholic Wedding Church at Cana.
  • In Ilaniya, the privilege of meeting with local historian Estie Yankelevitch, who took us to ruins of the Arab village Shejera, and showed us an ancient synagogue, wine presses, and tombs including an ancient tomb with a menorah on the wall from the Jewish town during the Roman era.  We shared a Shabbat meal with Avie and Estie’s family at Yarok Az Ecolodge.
  • Walking over the Horns of Hattin with a marvelous clear view and explosion of wildflowers in every direction.
  • At the Nebi Shu’eib shrine we met with Shafiq Tarif, a Druze leader, who told us more about his little-known religion.  Nearby at the ruins of the village of Hattin, a Christian family from Bar’am was having a barbecue.  They invited us to eat a pork sandwich with them– the first pork those of us who live here have eaten in a long time!
  • At Shavit’s Arbel Guesthouse, owner Sara Shavit told the story of her parents’ miraculous escape from the Holocaust and shared her pride and happiness in now having a large family of her own and a family made up of the guests she hosts daily at their B&B.  Her husband, Israel, prepared a sumptuous feast of lamb casserole and many fresh and tasty salads and spreads.
  • The final walking day took us down Arbel cliffs where we met a friendly group from Sakhnin also hiking, who invited us to visit their village.
  • We finished the walk at the Sea of Galilee, with a visit to several churches and the ruins of Capernaum.

View photos from Backpacker Magazine’s visit on Facebook


Nazareth's Old City Souq

No visit to Nazareth is complete without a visit to the Old City Souq (market). Six days a week (Sunday the market becomes still and at rest) the winding streets just below the Fauzi Azar Inn and surrounding the White Mosque are crowded with sellers and buyers, locals and visitors. A visit may reward you with a 6 shekel pita pizza (dripping with tomato sauce, cheese, olives and a sprinkle of za’atar) or a bag of apples, peppers, or avocados from the roadside vendors.

If you stay for long in the Old City, you may begin to talk about “my” baker, produce vender, or shop owner. Sellers offer the visitor and the local resident a quaint, bustling community where one can find slippers, shampoo, onions, potatoes, cabbage, crackers, sweets, and fresh bread. If you wander early enough, you are likely to enjoy the early morning bustle of farm grown produce. You might step around village women selling all kinds of greens, farm fresh eggs, even farm cheeses in plastic tubs. Zigzagging past mats of greens on the cobblestones, the early morning shopper will also find the secret to local school childrens’ active brains: the shop selling pita pizzas to students on their way to school.

Traveling past the White Mosque the curious visitor will find winding streets with a variety of scarves, shoes, olives, books, umbrellas, suitcases, kitchenware and more. No need for a Mega shopping center here. Each owner proudly sets his wares out early each morning and by three in the afternoon is closing up and going home.

If you wander even farther afield, a cobbled street will bring you to the paved road that slips between a cemetery and a small door off the street. The door looks very unimposing. Many have walked by without curiosity, but one glance into the little door and you will be hooked. El Babour, an old mill, continues to offer baskets of teas, herbs, nuts, spices, dried fruit, lentils and grains of many kinds. You will want to find and enter the little door if only to soak in the delicious smells and cavernous, old world atmosphere available so close to the Old City Souq!

As you wind around the cobbled streets, you will find local restaurants also opening their cozy interiors and fabulous food for the hungry. During the bustle of the daily market, the curious may find walnut and cheese pancakes for sale right in the heart of vegetable stands, but after the vendors have locked away their produce and the baker has gone home for the evening, you can still find unique restaurants in several converted Arab mansions around the Old City. Old City food and charm welcome the visitor back again and again.

Changing Lenses in Cana

One never knows what an adventure will include.  Perhaps that is why we go looking for them.  Often, however, they find us before we are prepared to fully process them.  I find that my imagination and expectations are often too narrow for the fabulous adventures of daily life.  The Jesus Trail provides a framework for adventures, especially cultural, spiritual and physical ones, but the route varies from person to person, from day to day, from season to season.  I have found that the trail becomes an adventure in daily living; the trail becomes not so much an extraordinary out-of-life adventure, but a way to experience my real life by walking through the unexpected with curiosity and expectation.  All along the way I am being handed lenses with which to view my world differently.  However many times I walk the trail, the lenses reveal something unique each time.  Take Cana as an example.

Cana is the first night’s stop on the Jesus Trail.  A delightful guesthouse stands right on the path.  Only a few hops up the courtyard steps and one finds a house full of beds and delicious food.  From the balcony guests look right over onto the roof of the Catholic Wedding Church.  Some Christians believe the modern day town of Cana may be the site for Jesus’ first miracle, water to wine.  The Catholic Church and the nearby Orthodox Church each celebrate this miracle.  On a recent visit to Cana I followed a small group interested in seeing these sights.

As we walked across the cobbled courtyard, we followed tour groups from various countries, all excited to get their pictures taken where a miracle took place.  Following them into the church and down some stairs, we entered a room carved in the rock and housing a large but simple stone urn.  Money, prayers, and photos floated over the walls of the glass case and lodged in the stones of the cellar walls.  For many the thought of miracles brought mystery, renewed faith, and excitement.  Ascending once more into the church above, my husband and I were greeted by a lady speaking Italian.  We do not understand Italian, but gradually we realized she was fervently inviting us to come renew our wedding vows with about ten other couples gathered before the priest.  We declined, but watched with interest as the couples shared space with one of the most famous weddings in biblical history.

Our cultural experience was just beginning, however.  We stepped outside as the chimes rang along with the singing of “Ave Maria” by excited worshipers.  Rounding the corner of the church we found another group interested in marriage.  Not only were Catholics renewing their vows, but a group of Protestants were being challenged by their own marriage seminar in the courtyard.  Couples laughed and gazed into each other’s eyes while sharing a rose.  We debated whether or not to stay for the reception to follow (baklava, wine, and roses) but felt that we were outsiders at this wedding bash.  No water into wine that we know of, but our time at the Wedding Church provided us with new lenses with which to view cultures, faith, and the ever-continuing trail.