Hiking through Israel with Bob Peoples

Excerpt from longer article by Rebekah Price originally appearing in Elizabethton Star on January 11, 2016

bob in israelRebekah’s quote regarding the interview was: “Wish I could have spent the day hearing more of Bob’s stories. When Bob Peoples tells a story, books write themselves.”

Hampton resident and hiking legend Bob Peoples, 72, returned this Fall from a venture of Biblical proportions. Hiking through Israel, he followed the Yam el Yam (Sea to Sea) trail and then took a bus to Nazareth and hiked the Jesus Trail, each of which ended at the Sea of Galilee. He covered about 100 miles by foot and visited over 25 churches and numerous historical sites. The high temperature was below 100 degrees Fahrenheit on only one day of his three-week journey.

Of all the sites and experiences along his route, he said the most outstanding element was the friendliness of the people. “The thing that amazed me the most was the kindness and generosity of Arabs. They couldn’t give enough to you; they were absolutely super to me,” said Peoples. In a number of circumstances he was aided and made welcome by locals helping him with directions or accommodations.

More than once, Peoples had to overcome confusion with the varying colors of trail blazes, and at one time, even descended a mountain on the wrong side. He was hiking along the Yam el Yam and at the top of Mount Meron, the trail blaze switched, his trail turned right and he continued straight down the National Scenic Trail. When he realized his blunder, he confronted a couple loading grapes onto their truck to go to market. He showed them his map and pointed to where he was supposed to be, and they showed him where he was. In the heat, and even though he consistently carried five liters of water, he could not make the trek back over the mountain. Because their truck was small and loaded down with grapes, they could not give both him and his backpack a ride, but they did allow him to stand on the back of the truck to ride to town. “They were tremendous people,” said Peoples.

In another instance, he was planning to stay at the Arbel Guesthouse, but because of a holiday, it was completely booked. The woman managing the hostel invited him to tent camp for free by their swimming pool where he obliged, enjoying the flowers growing in plenty all around. On one day hiking, he said four men in their early twenties stopped and shared their lunches with him, which he said were much more delicious than what he had packed.

One park ranger attempted to assist him with directions, but did not know that a trailhead had been moved. After Peoples walked for six hours into a reserve, where camping is not allowed, he realized he would have to camp there and would not have time to hike out. “I put my pack against a rock and my hat on my head, but when I woke, my hat was gone,” he recalled. “Whatever creature it was — I have no idea — but I believe it was going after the salt in the sweatband.”

This was not his only encounter with wildlife. One of his maps showed a short route off the Jesus trail where he planned to camp along the Sea of Galilee. “Stealth camping” is permitted all around the freshwater sea, but some of the land is privately owned. In this case, the black trail blaze indicated private land, on which the farmer had moved his livestock to graze the greener area during the drought. So Peoples bushwhacked his way to the waterfront and made camp. Two hyenas came for a drink of water and surprised Peoples with their size. “They’re big critters, much bigger than I thought they were,” he said.

bob in israel2Another thing that was unexpected was the number of churches devoted to Mary Magdalene. He did not realize how important of a figurehead she was in other branches of Christianity and said he found one of the churches devoted to her the most beautiful. The church of Saint Mary Magdalene, on the slopes of the Mount of Olives in the Garden of Gethsemane was built by the Russian Czar Alexander III and his brothers in memory of their mother in 1888.

He visited numerous sites of religious and historical import including the site in Cana of Jesus’ first miracle, the conversion of water into wine. He was impressed to see that the jugs stood about five feet tall, and the wedding party must have enjoyed around 50 gallons of wine. Towards the end of his journey, he continued along the Sea of Galilee past the end of the Jesus Trail and camped where the Jordan meets the sea, near the birthplace of the Biblical figures Peter, Phillip and Andrew. He also visited Old Jerusalem and the Tower of David. He was astounded to find that an archeological dig was underway at David’s tomb by the University of North Carolina Charlotte.

“I would definitely recommend this trip,” said Peoples, who made the venture including airfare and gifts for under $4,000. If the hiking is too difficult, he said many of the destinations along the way are accessible by bus or car. Part of the Jesus Trail coincides with the ancient Silk Road and the entire trail, as well as the Yam el Yam, is estimated to take four days. During the hotter summer months, they may take up to eight days, as was the case for Peoples. “It’s a learning experience; we are taught stuff that we accept, but to see and realize how many players there really are — it’s good for people to see what it really looks like.”