“It is a demanding hike, but what we see around us just repays all the efforts,” said Nasser Kaabneh, our bedouin guide from the area of Jericho. I looked around me, taking in the distant landscapes of grayish-blue hills merging with the dusty sky. Then I glanced under my feet, noticing golden lizards squeezing in amongst desert rocks. I could only agree with Nasser’s words.
The silence and solitude of the wilderness between Jericho and Bethlehem encourages spirituality. I noticed fellow hikers closing their eyes, letting a pleasant gust of November’s wind to cool their faces. This is a place where any bit of shade, cave or rock is a sanctuary where a person could sit, relax and meditate.
We’re not the only ones. This atmosphere has long attracted religious leaders searching for exclusion, settling the area and establishing spiritual centers of various faiths. Our path today brings us to two of these: Nabi Musa, a 13th century Islamic shrine dedicated to Prophet Moses and Mar Saba, a 5th century Christian monastery initiated by St. Sabas.
As we left the domes of Nabi Musa behind, we prepared ourselves for the nearly twenty kilometers of desert trail ahead. But the landscape around us gave a boost of a energy that helped us walk faster and further, always curious about the views waiting beyond the next hill. Each time we arrived to the top, the pleasant feeling of accomplishment was obvious on everyone’s face, particularly when we were rewarded with the sight of the desert fortress of Hyrcania. We explored the fortifications, examined the scattered cubes of an ancient mosaic floor. Some of us were even brave enough to visit fortress’ underground chambers.
Finally, the spectacular sight of the Mar Saba monastery met our eyes. We stopped at the edge of the valley, admiring the breathtaking sight of jagged cliffs, a narrow river gorge and . a clustering of ancient monastery buildings huddled precariously along the opposite canyon wall. The men were allowed to explore its intricate streets. Unfortunately the women could only enjoy the views on the outside – legend says that a woman disguised as a man once crossed the monastery’s threshold and caused a severe earthquake. We prefered to respect monks’ ancient rule.
When we reached our destination, a bedouin tent in the middle of the desert, we had a chance to enjoy our reward: a tasty meal complete with a red sunset and the rising of the night’s first star – another perfect place and time for a spiritual contemplation.
Author and Photo Credit: Beata Andonia/API
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