In March 2014, Nazareth Project board member Bruce Stauffer and volunteers Ernie and Lois Hess joined a group of hikers eight other hikers from Ireland, Scotland, England, and Switzerland for the first Jesus Trail fundraiser. Generous donors gave over $10,000 in response to appeals by the U.S. hikers.
Donations helped to support the Chaplaincy Department at the Nazareth Hospital.
Bruce’s description of the Hike
The eleven hikers arrived at Nof Ginosar Hotel, a Kibbutz on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, late in the afternoon of March 8th. They enjoyed an evening boat ride on a placid Sea of Galilee watching the sunset and reflecting on the Gospel accounts of the Sea of Galilee in Jesus miracles.
The trek began the morning of March 9th on the Mount of Beatitudes, the traditional site where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. The trail descended to Capernaum, the seat of Jesus ministry on the Sea of Galilee, then continued along the shores of the Sea of Galilee before crossing over a hill onto the Ginosar Plain, a lush agricultural plain that grows citrus orchards, olive groves, banana plantations, wheat fields, figs, and almonds. A late afternoon rainstorm thwarted plans to ascend the steep cliff trail to Mount Arbel, so a jeep transferred hikers up to Moshav Arbel to the first night’s lodging at Shavit Bed and Breakfast.
The 2nd day on the trail began bright and cool with a sweeping vista of the Sea of Galilee from Mount Arbel. Plans to descend the cliff were scrapped because of slippery rocks so the group descended a treacherous steep, rocky, and muddy trail to the Arbel River gorge, and then hiked up the gorge to Nebi Shu’eib, the most holy site of the Druze religion. The trail continued a steep ascent past flowering lupines and grazing cattle to the Horns of Hattin, an ancient volcano with an incredible panorama of the now distant Mount Arbel and the Sea of Galilee framed between the cliffs of the Arbel River gorge. The Horns of Hattin is where the Crusaders were defeated in 1187 by Saladin, founder of the Ayyubid Muslim dynasty. The day ended at Kibbutz Lavi, a religious commune with first class hotel accommodations.
Day 3 began with a guided tour of the Kibbutz Lavi. Back on the muddy trail, the trek continued through woods carpeted with flowering cyclamen and anemone to the Yarok Az (“Green Goat”), an organic goat farm in Ilaniya. Free range chickens scratched and pecked bugs in the vegetable garden and newborn energetic kid goats jumped about in their pens. After lunch, the group was transported by van about 15 miles south to the base of Mount Tabor, to ascend a steep 1,000 vertical foot mountain trail to the summit which offered expansive views of the Jezreel Valley below. Beautiful artwork in a Franciscan church commemorates Jesus transfiguration on Mount Tabor. After hiking down the twisting winding access road, the group returned to Yarok Az for an overnight stay in two oversized geodesic tents. A braying donkey, yipping jackals, a chorus of barking dogs, and rain pounding on the tent roofs were unable to deprive the tired hikers of their sleep.
The 4th day on the trail encountered more rain showers and muddy hiking conditions. The trail wound up and down hills past olive orchards and flowering wild mustard to Cana where Jesus performed his first miracle changing water into wine at a wedding feast. The Catholic Wedding Church in Cana is reported to be an international matrimonial destination, with weddings occurring daily throughout the year. The church basement has a thick-walled stone water jar on display, similar to the water jars in Jesus time. The trail from Cana continued up a steep hill through the Arab town of Mash’had where friendly children heading home from school greeted the hikers with repeated calls of “Hellos” and “Salaams”. At the entrance to Zippori National Park, a late afternoon hail storm forced everyone to duck under trees for cover. Overnight lodging was in cozy two bedroom cottages at Zippori Village.
The final day on the trail started out with a rainy tour of Zippori National Park. Zippori was once a major Roman and Jewish town located midway between the Mediterranean and Sea of Galilee on a trade route to Asia. A well preserved section of the ancient Roman stone roadway has well-worn rutted cart tracks and a Jewish menorah carved in one stone. Excavated ruins with beautiful tile mosaic floors can be viewed in the “Nile House”, “Dionysus House”, and a synagogue. Zippori ruins include a Roman amphitheater and aqueduct. The muddy six mile hike from Zippori to Nazareth was relatively short, but the uphill climb to Nazareth seemed unending.
A delicious meal consisting of traditional food items from Jesus’ time was served to the group at Nazareth Village followed by a tour of the agriculture village that recreates life at the time of Jesus. The hike concluded with a worship service of thanksgiving and Holy Communion held in the Hospital’s Chapel. Each hiker took a moment to reflect on their experiences during the 5-day hike. According to Bruce, “the experience was spiritually enriching, culturally rewarding, and geographically inspiring. It was a blessing in so many dimensions”.
See more Day 5 pictures
Learn more about the Spring 2014 Hike: