Today we hiked one section of the Jesus Trail to prepare for a group we’re leading in April. From Nazareth’s souk (market) the hike meanders through modern Nazareth and across small farms to the entrance Tzipori National Park. The hike is a fascinating glimpse at a modern Israeli city inhabited by a mix of Jews and Arabs. Christian church bells are almost as common as the Muslim call to prayer. New construction rises on hilltops just a kilometer beyond the Ottoman-era Old City. Leaving the city, the trail meanders through olive groves, cypress tress, and flocks of sheep – reminiscent of the land that Jesus traversed some 2,000 years ago.
Inside the park, ruins dating from the first century reveal impressive mosaics, a Roman theatre, and a booming city that goes oddly unmentioned in the Christian Bible. And there is an ice cream stand.
Today also happens to be a Friday, and Shabbat begins at sunset. We knew this as set out for our hike and planned accordingly to catch the last bus back to Nazareth at 3:13 in the afternoon. What we did not know was how long it would take to walk from the national park to the bus stop. “Two kilometers,” the park ranger promised. After a good 7km hike up and tour of the park, we ate our ice cream in leisure, leaving more than 30 minutes to walk the two kilometers to the bus stop. We walked, and walked, and walked. “Maybe around this next bend,” we thought, picking up our pace and checking our watches. From three hundred yards we saw the bus shelter. It was 3:12. The bus stopped, and before we could reach it, was gone again. Always hurry for the bus.
We walked to Tzipori. We could walk back. But with sore feet, we decided to call a taxi. From a small gas station, I called the local cab company. They could barely hear me and they understood my English even less. When the dispatcher finally said “goodbye,” I assumed we were out of luck. We waited for a few minutes, mustering the will power to hike up the steep incline that stood between us and our hotel. Three quarters of the way up the hill we turned to take in the view. There, pulling in to the gas station far below us, was a taxi. Always wait for the taxi.
During the endless trek from the park to bus stop, we noticed several cars pulled along the shoulder with individuals and families a few meters away in the grass. One gentleman near the shoulder appeared to be picking something from among the weeds. Perhaps wild onions; earlier the air had been pungent with their aroma. “Shalom! Marhaba!” I called, unsure whether the man was Jewish or Arab. “Shalom,” he answered. Where language fails, sign language works wonders. With a few gestures, I inquired about what he was picking -perhaps dill? Unable to find the English word, the man offered us a sample. One nibble revealed the familiar taste of fennel fronds. Rounding the next corner, we spotted three farm workers loading fennel bulbs into a pick-up truck. We got an unexpected glimpse at a local way of life. Always talk to strangers.
We made it safely back to the inn, cracked open a couple of local beers, and smiled as we recalled our little adventure.