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Published: September 30th 2017
The next stop on my pilgrimage to the Holy Land was a little different. A major turning point in Christ’s life was the forty days he spent wandering alone in the desert. I wanted to follow in his footsteps. However, upon further research I found out that the specific desert he wandered in was the Judean Desert, which is entirely in the Palestinian territories. I didn’t quite fancy this because one of the things I wanted to do was to really wander in the desert off track and away from all other souls. This did not seem like a wise thing to do there.
So instead, I began focusing on the Negev Desert in the south of Israel. I had seen pictures of this awesome Grand Canyon like crater next to the town of Mitzpe Ramon. The area was well set up for exactly the kind of wandering I wanted to do. The more I read and found out the more I knew that I had found my desert destination.
Since it was off the traditional Christian pilgrim trail there would not be a pilgrim house for me to stay in. So I settled on a hostel just a
short walk from the edge of the crater itself. I booked myself a private room so that I would have time to reflect and pray, but I would in fact be stepping back into my old life as a hostel going backpacker.
To get there I successfully navigated the Jerusalem Bus station and the Beersheva bus station where I had to make a connection. The signs in the terminal displayed a lot more Hebrew script than I had expected, but luckily my Lonely Planet guidebook was impressively on point with providing the correct bus numbers so I was able to find the correct bus.
After winding through what seemed like all of Mitzpe Ramon’s streets I arrived in front of the hostel. I pulled open the door and walked in. In front of me was a cute German girl in her pajamas sitting crisscross eating a bowl of cereal. Further back in the room were two Swiss hikers in their sixties sitting at a table. I asked where reception was. There was none, but eventually a woman appeared to check me in and provide me with a map. My room was perfect with a huge comfortable bed, but
I was eager to get out and explore.
I went out to find a grocery store for some dinner fixings. I made sure to take the scenic route. And wow it certainly was scenic. The crater, or the Makhtesh to be more exact, was impressive. I am not sure why it isn’t more famous as a tourist destination. It seemed to go on forever and oozed a “beginning of man’s story” kind of vibe. I also passed a number of Ibex, with their shaggy fur and curved horns, just wandering around at the side of the road.
Back at the hostel I stowed my groceries and rushed back out to the Har Gamal lookout to see the sun set. The Har Gamal lookout is a rock formation in the shape of a camel with a platform on top of excellent unobstructed views of the crater and the sun setting in the west. I stood atop it transfixed and listened to the song, Already There, as the sun set.
"From where You're standing
Lord, You see a grand design
That You imagined
When You breathed me into life
One day I'll stand before You
And look back
on the life I've lived
I can't wait to enjoy the view
And see how all the pieces fit"
As I walked back to the hostel I noticed an Orthodox Jew silhouetted by the sunset, black against a peach and lavender sky. It was perfect and soul stirring, and it was now time for dinner.
My typical meal at a hostel is always making sandwiches. It is easy and for some reason it seems to make friends. It gives you something to talk about and gets people’s attention. In the common area there was only one small four-person table to eat at. The Swiss hikers were still spread out there, but there was an open chair so I plopped myself down and immediately fell into a very humorous enjoyable conversation.
The two of them had been walking the length of Israel and were on their way to Egypt. They had stopped in Mitzpe Ramon for a a couple of days as one of them had a seriously bad foot. In his younger days, the other one had actually walked from Italy to Israel. They were surprised to hear that I was on a Christian pilgrimage. I guess you don’t find to many of us in the hostels.
They had been drinking wine and offered me some in exchange for some of my sandwich fixings, mustard, and chips. I happily said for them to take what they liked. However, I declined the wine. It was in that moment that I officially decided not to drink a drop of alcohol the entire trip. This was major for me as I have always been a big drinker on all my previous foreign trips. It would also be an interesting challenge for me. How to navigate the hostel life without alcohol. Even so with the shift in scenery I was ever so slightly losing focus on the pilgrimage. What would the next days bring?
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