Wedding

Posted: July 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Photos, USA | 2 Comments »

Yes it’s true and it’s time: We are getting married!

All the details are here: http://www.lukebuehler.com/wedding

On the 24th of October 2010, in Pennsylvania USA.

We had the time of our lives! Thank you all for making it happening.

The bench.

Candles.

The dance to "The Scientist" by Coldplay


Back Home

Posted: June 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels | 1 Comment »

We’ve made it back to Switzerland! Hitch hiking most of the way, yey.

Hope the pics give a good account of our final stretch of the journey:

Direction Split


Beyond Jerusalem

Posted: April 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Preparing | 5 Comments »

It’s time to say goodbye to the city that we love so dearly and move on.

Before I made it to the city, I tried really hard to not get my hops up too high in case Jerusalem might be a letdown just like some other towns that we approached with great anticipation. One has to become a Jerusalemite to understand the following saying, “God gave ten measures of beauty to the world, Jerusalem got nine the rest got the remaining one.” There’s layer over layer of stuff to be discovered, and not only archeologically, but also spiritually, in its cultures, history and its diverse and divided inhabitants. I met many people that leave the place after being here a year or so, saying “it’s just too intense, I can’t take it!” It is intense here indeed: starting with the political situation, then that so many religions consider it their home, and also the different cultures that have immigrated here. To the beauty this stands in stark contrast and we have seen its fringes as well, but non the less I’m convinced that the city is rich in its own terms.

We spent our days here relatively relaxed, exploring here and there, but we could have done much more. Those who know about my experience on mount Athos are familiar with my attraction to Orthodox Christianity. Here, I was captured by its gravity again and subsequently spent most of my time exploring the Orthodox Church deeper. Often I visited churches and monasteries to talk to people that I have been referred to by the previous place. It became a treasure hunt that climaxed last weekend when I participated in many of the Easter services in Jerusalem. I saw a deep and beautiful tradition which illuminated me to see church life from a different perspective.

Tomorrow the real adventure starts!

We’ll leave our apartment and start traveling home: no airplane but everything else. Hope to see you soon.


Our Journey

Posted: December 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Photos, Route | 1 Comment »

Route2

This is the scope of our journey. Looking at the map like this, I remember how much fun it was. I will miss the walking. It’s about 6500 kilometres (about 4000 miles). Total walking: about 2500 Km. Including my first journey about 5000 Km.

(Click image for interactive Google Map. Every day of traveling is marked and has a small note.)


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.


We’ve made it!

Posted: November 30th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels | 3 Comments »

We have made it, thanks be unto God! Yesterday we’ve walked through the Lions Gate into the old city and then to the Holy Sepulcher where our pilgrimage/journey ended at the tomb of Christ. It was a peaceful feeling but at the same time a bit surreal as we walked through those ancient roads and houses that are so full of history and for us, after such a long time, full of meaning.
We are taking it all in and are resting a bit from the last week where we walked almost without exception 30+ km a day.

It was a long journey. We are in Jerusalem.

More soon…


Just a Perfect Day

Posted: November 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Thoughts | 1 Comment »

I just ordered a good tasty Starbucks size coffee in a hipster cafe somewhere in a modern Damascus district. As I took the first sip and the first centimeter of chocolaty foam vanished down my throat a little slogan appeared inside the cup, it said “just a perfect day”. Made me think, “yeah, what is a perfect day for me now?”, it’s a good place to reflect about the inner changes that this journey has brought about. First of all I’m a child and a slave of my home culture, I cannot deny it and I wonder if this will ever change. I prefer a European style cup of coffee to the Turkish and Arabic tea or whatever it might be and so I always end up searching for some piece of home in any place I go, even if it comes with quite a massive price tag. But traveling is so much about sensing other vibes and tastes, to drink at the fountains of different cultures, and walking is one of the most intense forms of doing so. So what have the cultures taught me that I wandered through, how much have they taught me to redefine what “a perfect day” is.

The first change about living as a nomad is that the event horizon shifts so much closer and life becomes really just about the current day or the next three days but not much more. Any plans that try to control more than a few hours just dissolve into a kinda cloud of uncertainty. To be realistic, this change is not permanent and will probably reverse itself once I’m settled again but it’s the crucial environment for a true traveler to learn the lessons cultures have to offer. The heart begins to beat in a different rhythm, which is the rhythm of the people one is living with. Suddenly there’s a freedom to reflect and step closer to oneself. Because if you are genuinely open to listen, the countless cultural differences just teach about all your quirks and strengths that were so well accustomed to your home and have blended in so well that your true character has no problem hiding. We all wear masks… So as a pilgrim I stepped into a life style that opened a Pandora box of the deepest self reflection I’ve ever faced. Don’t mistake freedom to reflect with freedom though. I’ve said already before that I did not find freedom in living “free”. More so it’s a burden. It’s no secret that if you step closer to yourself, first, all you find is ruins. Crystal and I call it the pain of existence, or simply despair (eternally thankful for Kierkegaard). Thus, being now only 12 walking days away from Jerusalem, I cannot say it will be a triumphal entry, more so an ascent to Golgotha, just as traditionally a Jerusalem pilgrimage ends at the grave church of Christ it is more in the spirit of death than of life. Until now it’s been an incredibly hard journey, walking so far is only an external analogy of the true hardship my soul is going through. If you know about my sickness at the beginning of this year and then the baby, I can tell you this has only been the beginning. So to tell you what now a perfect day is, I would say it’s a day where I feel I have faced this pain of existence and not avoided it. And this is how the pilgrimage has been helpful, at home I avoid myself and the means to do so have been sanctioned by our culture. Be it music, movies, friends, work or whatever that makes up the fabric of the “west” it’s hard to recognize how I hide in it and harder to avoid it.

The first part of the walk, from Zurich to Istanbul, was a slow dismantling of false hopes that I put into my future and possible vocation. I started off hoping to impress myself with this walk and others. The first great confrontation with myself came in the mountains of Croatia where I decided to abandon those ideas and to be completely plan less. Those who know me know how stubbornly goal orientated I am and how much of my life fuel exists of having something to achieve. To decisively abandon the hope to find meaning in a “purpose driven life”, in the way we westerners understand this phrase, was also my first break with protestantism and the way I understood religion all my life. A time of drifting freely began, wherever the wind would take me. Surprisingly it took me back home for one and a half years. It was and utterly hard time full of yearning for Jerusalem, or more for what this place had become a symbol for. The way led into ever stronger depression that hasn’t loosened it’s grip even until now. It’s deep under the hood so most people who meet me do not see it. I use the word depression because you might be able to relate to this word better than despair but the latter is what this is really about. I will spend more time to reflect deeper on the events that have caused the current state of my soul because I feel I cannot yet see clearly the whole path behind me. What is especially interesting are the specific cultural challenges that have continuously pushed me to face myself…

This post is left inconclusive intentionally since I have not made it to Jerusalem yet. I wanted to let you in on my state, and Chrystal’s experiences is similar, as we walk the final part of this pilgrimage. Remember us in your thoughts and prayers.

To be continued…


Road to Damascus

Posted: November 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Route | No Comments »

Walking through Syria is an experience in itself. Once across the borders of Turkey a culture of hospitality and simplicity welcomed us. As we crossed from the warm and cozy coastal line over the mountains to the desert we truly felt like we entered the middle east. The most striking thing about Syria is the hospitality. People have such a deep openness to strangers and a welcoming attitude that still no day passes without me being surprised by a act of kindness, a thing that was more rare in the previous countries. By now, we walk into villages with absolute certainty that someone will take us in for the night. There doesn’t have to be a hotel or guest house, we just know that a family will see us and wave us in. The challenge is more so how to decline the hospitality because if we would accept all offers for tea, food and sleep we would make only 10km a day.

The way led us mostly along the road, first down close to the coast and then over the mountains to the gate of the desert, a city called Homs. We were curious how walking through the desert would be. It turned out to be quite uneventful except that we had to finally face the winter. One morning, about two days walk into the dry area, we stepped out of the house of the family that hosted us for the night and had almost zero degrees wind and rain gushing against us. We were not prepared for this temperature shock, so we put on all our warm stuff and started walking anyhow. It was a though day but we still made it to our goal 30km further. In the evening I got a high fever which lasted for two days. The days before were already hard, my motivation for walking was nearing the deepest low of the journey, the sickness brought me to the bottom. Fortunately we were now just 15km away from a monastery that we marked as our most important goal in Syria. Once strong enough to walk, we took a taxi to the foot of the hill where the monastery was on and then hiked up. There we spend five wonderful days that allowed us to rest and regain strength physically as well as spiritually. Deir Mar Musa, as the place is called, is a place of deep spirituality and true communion with Muslims. What impressed and nurtured us most was the mass held every evening in the Syriac rite (catholic), there was such a presence of fellowship and genuine approach to the mysteries that communion felt truly like participating in the body of Christ.

To our surprise we also met the Swiss pilgrim Patrik again at the monastery and so continued the journey to Damascus with him. From Deir Mar Musa the way is called “the monastery trail” because there are so many historical monasteries, nicely spread apart by a days walk distance. It took us four days to reach Damascus but it was through gorgeous landscapes, mostly deserty mountains. A memorable stop was at Malula which is an ancient town where they still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Christians are definitely a minority in Syria, so christian towns just seem to be overloaded with churches and crosses.

The second last part of our pilgrimage ended with the three of us taking the road to Damascus, entering this city with great curiosity about the unique historical and holy places there. To give just a few examples: the grave of John the Baptist, the house of Ananias and the place where St. Paul fled the city over the wall.

Now we are getting ready for the last part of our walk which should not take more than 14 days.

Walking through Syria is an experience in itself. Once accross the borders of Turkey a culture of hospitality and simplicity welcomed us. As we crossed from the warm and cozy coastal line over the mountains to the desert we truly felt like we entered the middle east. The most striking thing about Syria is the hospitality. People have such a deep openness to strangers and a welcoming attitude that still no day passes without me being surprised by a act of kindness, a thing that was more rare in the previous countries. By now, we walk into villages with absoloute certainty that someone will take us in for the night. There doesn’t have to be a hotel or guest house, we just know that a family will see us and wave us in. The challenge is more so how to decline the hospitality because if we would accept all offers for tea, food and sleep we would make only 10km a day.
We spent a lot of time walking on roads and unfortunately they were often high ways or primary roads.

New Land

Posted: October 20th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Route | 3 Comments »

It’s been a while since I last updated you on our journey. It’s not that we’ve not been traveling, more so that we were having so many impressions meeting people and seeing places that the writing had to go back in line several times. It might continue so for a while, but for now here’s a short update what we’ve been up to.

After the St. Paul’s Trail we rested for almost a month in Antalya. We rented motorcycles and rode east to Kas to go to Mais, a Greek island where we could renew our visas, since they were only valid for 3 months. A few days after returning to the home base in Antalya Phil told us his plans to go on alone. It was a sad parting but all felt that it was also good and that we’ll see each other again hopefully sooner than later. With Phil gone, also a new chapter of traveling for me and Chrystal started, until now we walked as a team of three, now it would be only two.

From Antalya we walked and hitch hiked along the coast down to Antakya, the ancient Antioch. The time in that city will be unforgettable. A catholic sister founded a house of peace there with the aim to support inter religious dialogue. The house has become somewhat of a hub for spiritual travelers of any kinds. During our stay there, we met many incredible people including two independent pilgrims that are also walking to Jerusalem.

From Chrystal:
Then from Antakya to Syria, finally a new country. We waited 5 hours at the border and got the visas! But they took all the money we had! 75 dollars. we decided to take the challenge and go without money, the next bank was a three days walk away or an hour or two drive. We turned down offers for rides, but took offers for food and places to sleep. There are not near as many little hotels here as in Turkey. It is much different here in Syria than in Turkey. So for three days and two nights we ate fruit from the pomegranate trees, mandarin trees, apple trees, and asked for water along the way. People cooked meals for us and one family gave us their bed, where the parents slept, and the family of 6 slept on the floor! We are contemplating going the whole way without money! But we got a hotel here in the city, two nights bad sleep, one on the concrete floor with mosquitoes as our intimate companions, made the hotel irresistible (we searched for a monastery without luck), we slept 12 hours without waking once in a room facing the loud center street.

Do not worry, yes this all sounds maybe crazy but we have been very safe. We have to be most careful walking along the road, as the cars pass each other very fast. We had some very long days, walking 40 kms (25 miles!) one day. I have learned my limits now. We like walking 25 kms, or 16 miles, and 30 k or 19 miles is OK, anything over that and blisters start forming, and the legs ache so bad each step goes by with awareness, no daydreaming. Also the weather is hot here, well humid on the coast and unlike turkey the roads are blacktop, so harder on the feet. Oh and the most fun news, we were inspired by the nun, who we met in Antioch, as she walked the whole way from turkey to Jerusalem by foot in 45 days with resting days. And also by two foot pilgrims who have been walking, one two years and the other 7 months, only walking! so we are trying, unless emergency to only walk. We also figure we will be in Jerusalem, now in around 45 days. Each family we stayed with told us to come back and please stay longer. They are so kind an hospitable, and they have so little. One family gave us a can of tuna they had and they ate only rice and yogurt. I need to sit down and write for myself a bit, my head is absolutely spinning and I have had no time to process the last 5 days. We feel ashamed of our flashy backpacks and high-tech sleeping bags and saying we have no money. So we are unsure what we want to do, we are thinking about it today. We just saw a side of Syria and traveling we know we would never have seen if we had money or took car rides. While just being here to some is crazy, when you have a livable amount of money and securities like transportation, you determine so much of how life goes.

One man was drilling us from the first minute we met him about how much money we have and how much money we will get from the bank and it felt so intrusive, I kept saying no I have minus money, debt, and trying to avoid saying how much Lukes account has on it (Syrian lira is 50 lira=1 dollar) and then we realized he has never seen a bank card or a visa card and he only wanted to know how it worked. He was the whole time asking how much it costs to purchase the card itself, not how much money we had. That was so amazing to realize, they are not at all begging for money and rather they refused anything we offered. One student showed us around the city, and he was so helpful, we assumed he was along for what he could get out of us (this happened many times in Turkey), but he secretly paid our meal, fresh falafel, mmm, and bought us ice cream! Syria welcomed us with a new level of hospitality.


Age-schmage -by Chrys.

Posted: September 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels | 3 Comments »

The most powerful thing about traveling  is that I left all that was familiar and the things I am supposed to do, the things I am expected to do,and these expectations are beginning to roll off my back like droplets of water. But with travel an other new set of expectations saddle up. One is of course, presumed to be free, right? you no longer have to go to work (not that I really had a job) at 9 or check the mail, but now you have to seize the day where ever that may be, by going to every ancient site, museum, village, mountain, “you have to go here and here and have you been here yet, oh you have to go”. As a passerby, you feel like your journey isn’t as rich unless you have seen absolutely everything.

Here is where I have to be honest. Nothing I have seen has changed my life. For me right now in this place, traveling has become about about being away from the familiar.

The most profound thing I learned in Antalya, was when I accidentally ended up in a Buddist-like “yoga” center in a room full of less than athletic looking people, who I figured out had not tried touching their toes since gym class thirty years ago, this wasn’t yoga as I had imagined. We were doing a mediation exercise, or I was giving off the appearance like I understood a word of the Turkish instruction. Relax, relax, I told myself and it flashed “age doesn’t matter”. I sat in awe.

I argue profound, you say really? Yes, listen to me. Age is this abstract calculation, this small math equation by which we have a specific measurement and put outselves on a scale and have a relationship to every other human based on this number- our age. However, along with this mathmatical scale, many other societal scales are formed and even if we are unaware we submit to these classifications. There are set ages and decades in which we are expected to acheive certain tasks and though it is unspoken there are sort of rules to follow as well. Some things if completed to early, like having childen, you are looked down upon, and others, if acheived too late, like finding a good career, also put you in a bad societal position. It is a difficult game, and I guess that’s a reason why we left. Trying to play the game is hard, and winning isn’t even fulfilling.

Well, well….once this little sentence popped in my head I felt a new sense of freedom. AHHHHH…ok, I’m not a failure of a 25 year old, without a job, with debt, living off Luke’s savings, I am a 14 year old girl in my heart, some days 6 though., always one or the other! As if life can been lived on an objective scale where all people are measured by the same stick. Suddenly, I am a bird flying. I am in a drawing class, because I’ve always felt like an artist had images in my head without a means of expression. I’m not too old and my brain is still capable of learning and transforming. I am singing, not because I have talent, but because it makes my heart beat stronger and I can feel the blood cycling through my webbed veins, the world get a little bit clearer when I sing. And I write, because I am an interesting person to have a conversation with and sometimes my brain needs a bit of prompting to materialize those ideas. I am active, not because I don’t want to be fat, but because I can really do what I want when I have energy. I have to ask myself everyday, in the quiet morning, “what do you really want to do today?” This is really my life, what do I want to do, I can do whatever I really want.

Goodbye. The ocean is waiting.