Nazareth to Jalame (J-26-?)
The Jesus Trail route numbered in the 20s forms the loop back from the Sea of Galilee to Nazareth, via a more southern route, then continues south out of Nazareth to reach the village of Nein at the foot of Mt. Moreh. The inclusion of Nein was so that the guidebook could include every place in the Galilee that Jesus is mentioned as having visited in the Bible. The trail more or less dead-ends at Nein, so hikers can take a bus back, but while I was in Nazareth, the idea came up of continuing that leg of the trail to connect it to Jenin, in the northern West Bank.
This could function as an add-on the the Nativity Trail, a route developed by a Palestinian tourism group, which is supposed to connect Nazareth to Bethlehem (but can't, as Palestinians can't come into Israel), and also create an option for an interesting two-day hike from Nazareth to Jenin. The idea is that a group could hike from Nazareth to Mt. Moreh the first day, and either camp out, or set up some kind of home stay option in Nein or Dahi (a village on top of the hill). The second day the group could hike down the mountain, down past Mt. Gilboa to the Jalame checkpoint at the West Bank barrier, and a few more km into Jenin, then stay in the guesthouse there.
That trip hasn't been run yet, but the potential is there. In any case, my project in the fall of 2010 and then a bit more in the winter of 2011 was to create the route from Nein to Jenin. I had a lot of fun doing this. The first step was to pull out the topographical map of the lower Galilee (SPNI map 3), and look at Google Earth satellite images of the area, to try and examine possible routes based on existing paths and dirt roads. I drew tons of lines on the map in Google Earth, then transferred those to a GPS unit so that I could follow them and hike each route I'd mapped on the satellite images. Only a small part of the route could be routed along existing, marked hiking paths (basically the parts on Mt. Moreh), and the rest would use farm paths, wadis, small dirt paths, and whatever else I could scrounge up.
The challenge was to construct the most interesting and scenic walking route possible out of what was largely featureless agricultural land. There were some nice views of Mt. Gilboa from much of the trail, but as you can see by looking at the satellite version of the map here, most of the terrain was awfully bland. Luckily, days of hiking the valley just south of Mt. Moreh revealed that there was a small, narrow wadi leading down from the hill's slopes to Rt. 71. The wadi was lined with eucalyptus trees and although tightly squeezed in on both sides by farmland, still had the feeling of a wild space to it. I came across jackals and other wildlife in some of my walks there, and by the time my route reconnected with a farm path, the farmland had given way to much more picturesque olive and citrus orchards.
After crossing Rt. 71, the trail jogged around to pass through Ein Yizre'el (Jezreel Spring), a beautiful, shady oasis amid a grove of eucalyptus. In a hot, sunny day of hiking, a rest there was a welcome break. Then the trail climbed a bit onto the western low slopes of Gilboa, tracked through more fields and orchards, crossed through the small town of Sandala, and followed the highway for a kilometer or so before reaching the checkpoint. After crossing, it was a short walk along dirt roads before reaching Jenin.
Once the route was finalized, I hiked it with Dave Landis and another Fauzi volunteer, Ben. We took our backpacking gear for a night of camping on Mt. Moreh and prepared to inspect the route.
The Kislot Valley's floor looks flat from above, but is actually full of rolling hills. Still, Mt. Tabor dominates
the views from much of it
Turning around, we had a great look back at the Nazareth ridge. The town at the bottom of the hill is Iksal,
and on top, you can see some of the apartment blocks of Nazareth Illit
Stopping at the little church in Nein, which commemorates Jesus' resurrection of a widow's son, we
chatted with the Muslim family who maintain it, and their geese
The small church doesn't see much activity - located in an all-Muslim town and off the tourist circuit -
but pilgrims come by now and then, ask the family next door for the key, and sometimes leave little
prayer slips on the altar, and small donations for the family in the basket
More shots of the geese
Mt. Moreh in Arabic is called Jebel ad-Dahi, and shares its name with the village at its top. Dahi was
apparently a guy who in the middle ages went to see the Byzantine emperor and tried to convince
him to convert to Islam. It didn't work, but Dahi got a nice hilltop burial and a little shrine for his
trouble. This is taken from the top of a lookout tower on the peak of the hill, which commands an
exceptional 360-degree view of the whole lower Galilee, and on a clear day, of the northern West
Bank as well. In the background of this shot is the valley we'd just hiked through - at left, the
Nazareth hills, Nazareth Illit, and Iksal; in the middle, Ein Mahel up on the hill, and at right,
Mt. Tabor and Daburiya at its foot
Mt. Moreh's western half is mainly covered in JNF pines (actually Aleppo Pines, a species of tree
that the Jewish National Fund is notorious for planting absolutely everywhere), but the
eastern portion of the hilltop is naked and rocky, with some olive groves lower down. This allows
for the great views over the Rift Valley into Jordan
Mt. Gilboa and the eastern Jezreel Valley from Mt. Moreh
The rugged top of Mt. Moreh
Dusk falling on the Jordan Valley
Olive groves on the mountain
We ran into a family harvesting their olives - this was October, olive season. They didn't look like
most Palestinians and actually looked very European. We speculated they might have been
Circassians, an ethnic group from somewhere in the Caucasus. A small number of them migrated
to Palestine during the Ottoman era, and the town of Kafr Kama near here consists mostly
of their descendants
The twilight views were enchanting. Even though the surrounding area is all cultivated land and towns, the
top of the hill was a quiet, isolated spot
The lumpy hills flow down from the plateau in Jordan to the Rift Valley and turn pink in the evening light
For some reason, I didn't take any pictures from this point on. We continued hiking for a bit, found a nice spot in the pine woods, and sacked out. Although the days were still hot, the nights were getting colder, and Dave brought along his camp stove (an MSR Whisperlite Internationale). He heated up some stew he'd brought while Ben and I subsisted on bread, nutella, nuts and other less satisfying dinner substitutes. This is what sold me on getting a camp stove. I eventually bought the same stove Dave uses and recommends, and it's been great for me.
This particular stove's selling point is that it can burn basically any kind of fuel, and is pretty bombproof, including functionality in very cold temperatures. The fact that it can burn regular gasoline from the gas station instead of special camping gas means you can fill it with a week's worth of fuel for under a dollar in the US, much less in cheaper countries. Using that kind of gas produces a lot of soot, but it's worth the versatility and the money saved. I do use a much lighter and more compact MSR Whisperlite on short trips, but for expeditions and lengthy journeys, the Internationale is the way to go.
During the night, while I slept in my hammock and the others in a tent, Dave heard something and stuck his head out. I was half-asleep for this and got filled in at breakfast - it turned out he'd encountered an Israeli soldier doing a training run up the mountain. There's a military base on the eastern edge of the hill, and this guy was practicing his night navigation skills by following traces left for that purpose. We saw a few stone cairns with little notes slipped in later in the hike, and I think that's what he was following. A few years later, I ran into a few army girls who were out blazing one of these trails for future navigation exercises. Not a bad job...
Earlier, while crossing the mountaintop on a marked hiking trail, we'd run into a military group who told us we had to go a different way. We managed to talk them into letting us through (escorted of course) as it would have been a huge detour otherwise, but they were very tight-lipped about what they were up to. Incidentally, being confident, stubborn and bullheaded really gets you places in a lot of situations over there - don't back down at the first sign of being told not to do something; you can often get away with it if you act like you really know what you're doing.
For comparison, here is the same region (in the Jezreel Valley, Mt. Moreh visible in the background) in
early winter, once the rain had begun to fall enough that plants were starting to sprout. It gets much more
green than this once spring really kicks in
The orchards along the route, also in early winter