A Deeper Experience of the Holy Land
(Manila, Philippines – June 06, 2016 – by Anna Maria Alcantara) When you immerse yourself in your favorite book, you begin to get lost in its universe. You start to imagine what it’s like to be in that world, living there, relating your life in it, and sometimes ask yourself – will you survive there?
The most read book in the world is the Bible, and every place mentioned in it is part, or entirely is, the Holy Land as we know it. We may have read it once, twice or a few times in our lifetime, and have imagined how the world it was during those times.
Visiting the Holy Land is like stepping into a whole new world as mentioned in the Bible. It’s surreal at first – because it’s one thing to be reading the Holy Bible your entire life, and actually walking the same streets you’ve read about. You will see for yourself that this place has a timeless charm that appeals to all generations, young and old, where you get to experience for yourself the same land that they once walked on.
One of the memorable experiences in Egypt is climbing Mt. Sinai. Despite having to wake up early (or not sleep at all because of a 1 AM call time), you will look forward to catching a glimpse of the sunrise when you reach the peak.
Your journey to the mountain begins at 1am at the meeting place at your hotel, where you and your group will be brought to the foot of the mountain by bus. Once you are there, you will then walk about 15 minutes to where the base camp is – a camel holding area and where locals, called Bedoine, gather together, offering you a camel ride up or a hike buddy along the trail.
Unlike any hike-able mountain, Mt. Sinai offers 2 different ways to trek to the top – riding a camel two thirds of the way, or walk all the way to the peak. If you have opt to walk straight up the mountain, you will get past the camels and their owners, through the sandy base. Armed with your walking shoes, possibly a walking stick, deep dark sky and some moon shine. At this point, you won’t mind the walk/hike up the mountain at all, because it helps keep you warm in the cold early morning. As you look on to the night sky during the walk, you will be pleasantly surprised by the beautiful stars you can see. A treat for someone who lives in a city! Every so often you’ll find a kiosk that sells warm refreshments and some snacks, and at the last stop of the sandy and semi rocky trail, you will find the camels, those that you have walked with along the way, sitting down in an orderly fashion, parked like an SUV on a mountain parking lot.
On the other hand, riding a camel is an interesting experience. It is a trust exercise between you and the camel, as it walks easily on a pitch black trail. These camels have been going up and down the mountain every day (and possibly night) of their lives, and are very well trained. They pass through the outer side of the trail so those travelling by foot can stay on the inner side. While sitting on top of your camel, you will have quite a view of the foot of mountain down below. Occasionally, you might find yourself saying a prayer every time you look down, despite the darkness around you, and whenever the camel almost misses a step as it trails along the edge of the path. Don’t worry though – as of this writing, no one has actually fallen off of Mt. Sinai.
After about an hour’s ride and as you reach the end of the camel trail, you will part ways with your trusty camel. From that point, the trail or path starts to get narrower. You are nearing the peak, and at this point you need to do the actual climbing. The terrain changes from soft sand and rocks to solid stone slabs and steps. You will feel the rush to climb faster and to find a great spot for you as you see the sun about to rise from the horizon. As you slowly see the land below you glimmer, moving your eyes across the desert and the mountain, sun shining on the once pitch black land you have just traveled, you will soon realize how wonderful and grateful it is that you’re on the same mountain, which that man from Bible – Moses, once climbed. You may have seen a number of sunrises throughout your life, and you know it is the same majestic sun you have seen, but it is quite a unique experience seeing it on top of a holy mountain. As you look into the horizon and see the marvelous view of the sun rising through the mountain range, you will then realize that this moment, this very sunrise, will be engraved into your heart forever.
As you go back down the mountain, the place gets warmer slowly, the ground golden and yellow. You will then be pleasantly surprised how much you’ve travelled, the path you’ve walked that night and the trail where you and the camels crossed. By the time you reach the base camp again, you will wonder for a moment how you were even able to travel that far, and then feel the sense of accomplishment that you were able to climb the great Mt. Sinai.
Walking the streets of Israel and going around the pilgrim sites seems like a daydream. You have read or heard about the places and would have known exactly what happened in each town mentioned in the Bible. It would be a serene pleasure walking those streets and towns and putting a face or picture to a name of a place.
Starting off where it all began, you visit to the place where Jesus was born – The mange. Located beneath a medieval church in Bethlehem lies, a small cave of which, every inch of brick and wall is jaw dropping. As you take a moment of silence and prayer, you can easily forget that you are in a Christian sanctuary. Imagine Jesus’ parents (Mary and Joseph) travel and ordeals in order to get to Bethlehem, and how Jesus, our Savior, was born on a manger.
Moving north to Nazareth, you start to imagine how the young Jesus as an adolescent and wonder what He might have been doing, growing up as a young adult. The scenery includes most of his ministries – the Synagogue, St. Peter’s house, the Sea of Galilee, and where he first made a miracle – Cana.
Over to the east, you will see the Jordan River. Every pilgrim like you will always get the urge of wanting to touch its waters, and always gets the opportunity to do so. Being in the same body of water where Jesus was baptized gives a renewing and cleansing experience.
North of the river Jordan is the Sea of Galilee. A vibrant lake that provides water and fish to most of Israel, and feeds the Jordan river water straight to the Dead Sea. As mentioned in the Bible, Jesus did most his ministries around this body of water. As people are nurtured spiritually during his time, people were feeding from the great produces that the sea can offer. One of them is the St. Peter’s fish, a species of Tilapia, which you could have for lunch in one of the restaurants overlooking the Galilee.
Traveling back down south and into the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, you will feel the meaning and the stories of the Bible all the more. You might find yourself having goose bumps, hair rising as you walk through the last path Jesus has walked on Earth. From the room where Jesus had His last supper, walking through Via Dolorosa or the Way of the Cross, you wouldn’t imagine how narrow the streets actually were; and wonder how rowdy the crowd must have been during the time when Jesus was walking the same streets, cross on His shoulder and thorns on his head. As you make it through the zigzagging streets and finally entering the Holy Sepulcher, the last station of the cross where Jesus was crucified and was buried, your senses will be treated to a cornucopia of colors, scents, chanting and a variety of stone textures. You can see before your very eyes the very pillar of your faith – the tomb where Jesus was laid to rest, and where only a piece of cloth was left after three days. As you exit the small chapel enclosing Jesus’ tomb, unexplainable feelings and tears flood into you, as if you were Mary, Jesus’ mother, seeing angel confirm His resurrection.
In Israel, you walk where Jesus walked, travel where he traveled and share a meal of what he may have eaten during those days – a truly unique experience where you cannot find anywhere else in the world.
As you near the latter part of your journey, the excitement never stop and even as you in Petra, south of Amman, Jordan, it will still leave you speechless. Seeing the great façade of the Treasury will make you feel like you were taken back to the days of the Silk trade, remembering that this city was once part of the most populated areas of the Silk Road. As you walk along the old city you will be in for a surprise by the natural curvatures of the mountains and how different infrastructures still look great even if they have been tested by time.
On the east is Mt. Nebo, giving you a view of the Promised Land that God showed to Moses. A land that you know you have just seen and traveled to days ago. You look at the same desert, and while it is majestic to you as a tourist, it is the same desert that was once a source of salvation and hope for an entire civilization.
Finally, as you drive to the Dead Sea, you find yourself at the lowest point on Earth. You may opt to try the therapeutic and cosmetic products or take a dip into the sea, getting a refreshing feel for your body and soul. You can never feel as much connected to the world than this, being able to see the same land and the same trees that Jesus once saw, with your own eyes.
As you fly back home from the Holy Land, you might get a feeling that you have just stepped out of a fantasy universe from the Bible, only to realize that that universe and the one you are in are one and the same. Reading the Bible or listening to the Word of God will not sound like a foreign land to you now, but a familiar place that you have journeyed to. You will find yourself more in tune with the Gospel, as if you could re-live it with your memory. And with that, you will find that your memory of the Holy Land will stay within you and you get to experience it again and again, everyday.