Hiking The Middle East
Cover image: Ein Gedi Trail overlooking the Dead Sea. All images: Lina Thompson
This fall I embarked to the Middle East to hike.
The idea to hike in Israel wasn’t new to me. I spent the first 19 years of my life in the Middle East, which gives me an advantage, as I am familiar with the culture, languages, political situation, and geography of the land. Since I left the Middle East 18 years ago, Israel’s network of trails grew to cover almost every corner of the country.
At approximately 640 miles, the Israel International Trail is the country’s longest, but I did not have time to complete that challenge. So along with my friend Mike, who I hiked the Georgia Section of the Appalachian Trail with last January, I opted for the Jesus Trail, a three-day, 40-mile route that runs from Nazareth to Capernaum.
Tell people you’re hiking in the Middle East and their first question is whether that’s safe.
Question #1: Safety
Questions Mike and I got: “Aren’t you afraid of getting killed?” Mike would answer, “I hope not, Lina’s job is to keep me safe.” Joking aside, there are obviously political tensions due to the long struggle between the Israeli government and the West Bank. But we were comfortable that those tensions were not targeted toward tourists. Put another way: knowing that the entire Israel/West Bank economy relies heavily on tourism, we felt comfortable with the level of risk.
Intensive planning commenced as soon as I returned home from hiking the Washington section of the Pacific Crest Trail last summer. Passports, airline tickets, visa requirements, hostel reservations, shuttles, gear list, weather forecasts and more logistics all had to be planned in less than two weeks.
The actual planning of the trail routes happened when we arrived in Tel Aviv. Israel has a network of hostels that caters to hikers. On our first night in Tel Aviv we stayed at the Abraham Hostel and met one of the owners, a young man named Maoz Inon, who is also co-founder of the Jesus Trail. His insight was invaluable.
The Jesus Trail
A wilderness walk this is not.
Our trek started in Nazareth as we ascended a few hundred steps in an alley full of school children walking back home from school. The trail markers were painted on electric poles, rocks, and pretty much any structure that seemed solid, but not on trees.
We spent the next three days going in and out of towns and sleeping at hostels along the way. With each town we passed through, I pointed out the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian territories and the spoken language for each (Hebrew or Arabic). In every town we passed through people co-existed peacefully. Or so it seemed to us as we walked through their lives, our feet delivering us to a new world every day.
Wild Ibex resting along the Israel International Trail in the Negev Desert.
After the Jesus Trail, we traveled as far south as we could go through the Negev Desert, stopping along the way to hike sections of the Israeli National Trail and other trails recommended to us by locals. And also as far North as we could go through the West Bank, where we were only able to scratch the surface of the 164 miles of the Abraham Path “trail” which stretches from Hebron to Beit Shean.
In all, the trip was a success and I recommend it.
Follow thru-hiker Lina Thompson on InstagramTwitter at @0ff_the_face.