Into Jerusalem

Posted: December 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels | No Comments »

The last days of our journey were flavoured by intense mirth and a deep urge to make it over the finish line. Chrystal and I communicated little, so we could spend most of the time walking quietly beside each other. Images of the countless, priceless experiences emerged, sometimes we broke the silence with a recall of a random memory. “Do you remember singing Backstreet Boys songs with Phil under the noon sun in northern Turkey as we were waiting for someone to pick us up?”. The time was precious and a good preparation for finally reaching Jerusalem. I’ve been traveling towards this place for over 2 years, it was one of the few constants that guided all my decisions and for which so much of my energy burned. The city became much more than a travel destination, it became a symbol for my inner hopes. Many experiences became more than an adventure, they became synonymous with the reflections that the experiences brought about. This is why it’s still valuable to walk for a pilgrimage. The slow and hard ascent to the goal, be it Sant Diago, Jerusalem or wherever, transforms the physical goal into a spiritual one. A quick airplane or bus ride can’t substitute. You must walk to understand.

The last days in Damascus we realized that only few walking days would be left, for the first time we could actually count the exact days until Jerusalem: 12 more! Close to the Golan Heights to our right and accompanied by intense military presence, we hiked the remaining four days in Syria to the border of Jordan. The villages were quite outspread and sometimes we worried when the sun was already going down where we would sleep. They never proved true though, instead the opinion that the Syrian hospitality is outstanding was confirmed every night.

Jordan welcomed us warmly, finally mountains and hills again. A few days into the new country we changed plans to skip Amman and go directly to Israel, because we started to get really tired of traveling so much, another big city was not what would cure our tiredness. Living out of our backpacks and finding a place to stay every night along the road, definitely takes its toll on the long term motivation. Then the final descent into the Jordan valley took us to the first glance of the “promised land”, around us countless places with biblical annotations. Firs to the right, mount Nebo, where Moses saw his life long goal that he never reached, then the baptism site of Jesus, from here it would not end.

Early in the morning we approached the King Hussein Bridge hoping to cross the Jordan on foot, but that wasn’t allowed and we had to pass trough the no mans land with a bus. On the Israeli side of the crossing we were questioned for a while since we had Syrian stamps in our Passports, but after “only” 5 hours (it can be much worse) we found ourselves on the junction to Jericho in the Judean desert. Heading straight for Jericho we bumped into the first restriction and division that this country is suffering under. The road to Jericho cannot be passed on foot if you are not Palestinian. The guard at the checkpoint gave us the directions for the other way: “Just go straight here, and then right and then another right.” What we didn’t know was that each right turn came after 10Km. The rest of the day we spend circumventing Jericho and ended up at the “last right”, 12Km south of the city, in the desert. As it was getting dark already we got nervous about sleeping. A grumpy restaurant owner let us sleep in his unused garden. Surprisingly the temperature stayed nice and warm the whole night, then I remembered that we are 400 meters bellow sea level. Packed up in my sleeping bag, I watched the moon and reflected on the fact that tomorrow we would reach Jerusalem. I did not feel much, living like this had become such a routine, what finishing the journey would mean for my future I could not understand. The next morning we found ourselves in the usual routine: waking up, packing up, start walking. Fortunately we did not have to go to Jericho first, but could just continue on the main road. It was special to see road signs now saying “Jerusalem”.

Following the main highway we finally saw the outskirts of the city, then after a few more kilometres passed the checkpoint into Jerusalem. Ahead, a tunnel led through a small hill, the sidewalk was narrow and signs waved their finger not to even think about walking ahead. We did it anyhow, the air was sticky, trucks rushed by followed by gushes of wind that made us cling to the blackened wall. After half a kilometre two dirt pilgrims exited and found themselves presented to a great panoramic view of the old city. There the golden dome glittered and I pointed, “Chrystal look, we’ve made it!” That ripped her out of her thoughts and she looked up. Her response: “Wow…” Filled with excitement about the last few meters that were ahead, we climbed down a wall to leave the high way and crossed a field close to Gethsemane. Then up the hill, the old walls were now nearing with every meter, before we knew it we stood under the entrance of the Lions gate. I kissed the wall of Jerusalem and entered. It was a special moment that I will not forget for a long time, I was at peace and I sensed my emotions to be brisk. Relatively quiet only talking for navigation we followed the famous Via Dolorosa to the Holy Sepulchre. Kneeling at the grave of Christ this long journey ended. I thanked God who brought us through so many adventures and hardships to this place, then I asked for peace and that one day I might reach Jerusalem in my heat also.



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