Desert Trekking : Planning For The Perfect Adventure

The Middle East

Over the course of our lifetimes, we all want to experience various types of holidays. Travel is a chance to broaden your mind and do things that your ordinary life doesn’t allow. As such, most travel enthusiasts will have a bucket list of activities to complete. Desert trekking is easily one of the most common.

Desert treks aren’t an easy vacation, but the rewards are incredible. The holiday will provide you with memories that’ll last a lifetime. Ultimately, you couldn’t want anything more from a vacation. You will need to be well prepared, though. Otherwise, your holiday dreams could turn into a nightmare.

Here’s all you need to know.

Organize Basic Itinerary

As with any adventure holiday, desert treks rely on a number of factors. For starters, you need to be sure that you are traveling at the right time of year. Traveling at the wrong time could make your trek more dangerous. Or it may even limit the possibilities of what can be achieved. Research is your friend.

Meanwhile, you need to consider your personal situation too. This is one holiday type where you don’t want to leave it too late. Do it while you’re young and fit. Perhaps more importantly, you need to be sure that the people you travel with are suitable. Holidays are a common source of friendship breakups; the desert is a particularly testing arena.

As for the adventure, a little spontaneity is great. Nevertheless, great planning will reduce the stress. In turn, this will allow you to experience far greater enjoyment.

Be Prepared

Planning the adventure is one thing. But it’s equally vital that you are equipped with the right tools. Otherwise, your trek could become very uncomfortable. And possibly dangerous too.

When walking long distances, it’s imperative that you have the right hiking boots and socks. Furthermore, a desert survival kit should be included in your travel inventory. Quite frankly, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Besides, those items will make the trip far more enjoyable.

Finally, don’t forget to take a camera. The stunning sceneries are your reward for a job well done. Capture those moments forever, and it’ll always be a trip that you remember with joy.

Understand The Environment

The desert can be a harsh arena. Therefore, entering it blindly is not advised. Of course, protecting yourself with the right supplies is vital. But you also need to appreciate the various dangers lurking. This could mean watching out for plants or critters. Essentially, a little research will go a long way to keeping you safe.

Most trekkers, especially beginners, will be in a large group or with a guide. If this isn’t the case, though, you need to plan your days too. Knowing the right times to trek and the right times to stop is crucial. After all, treks can last hours or even days. Meanwhile, you need to consider the prospect of heavy rainfall and how that will impact the surroundings.

It’s a lot of hard work. But once you see those canyons and other spectacular sights, you’ll realize that those efforts were all worthwhile.

 

Renewing My Faith at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

churches, Israel, The Middle East

I arrived in the Holy City of Jerusalem with my faith already weakened. Years of disappointment and heartbreaks have admittedly affected my belief and relationship with God, making me question whether there is really a supreme being who guides and controls our fate.

With my faith already nearly non-existent, I have been used to relying solely on myself, asserting that I control my destiny and I can accomplish anything if I just put effort into it.

But when my mom suffered a stroke earlier in the year, I realized that I cannot control everything. It really pains me to see my mom try to standup and act normally even with her weakened physique. It made me cry when she failed to remember moments in her life, and when she’s having difficulties with her eyesight, a result of some damage in her occipital lobe.

With my trusted map, I made my way to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, the most important religious site for most Christians since the 4th century.

Entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Here in this complex lies Golgotha, believed to be the site of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and burial. The emperor Constantine ordered for the construction of the church in 326 AD from what was a pagan site dedicated to Venus. The tomb of Jesus Christ was supposedly found here during the construction. Constantine’s mother St. Helena, also found fragments of the True Cross here.

The original church was burned by the Persians in 614 AD and much of what was left was destroyed even further by the Muslims in 1009. The Crusaders implemented a reconstruction of the church complex and it was completed in 1149. Much of what can be seen from the church’s facade is from the crusader’s period.

From outside, architecture influences from the Byzantine, Crusader and Ottoman period remain apparent. As of now, the church remains a major holy site for the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian Catholics.

Joining a sea of pilgrims from all over the world, I made my way inside the church.

From the main door, the first thing you will see is the tablet where Jesus died. Pilgrims wipe hankies, clothes, rosaries and bottles of holy water against the tablet hoping that these items will be imbued with Christ’s holiness.

At first, I didn’t want to follow these pilgrims but as I stand in the background, I started to talk directly to God. I thanked Him for all the blessings He has given me. I poured out what my heart really felt at that time. And after a few minutes of honest conversation with Him, I realize that despite years of not talking to Him, I can still feel His guidance, and He has remained a good friend to me.

Without hesitation now, I knelt in front of the tablet and immediately felt the importance of the moment and I prayed. I prayed for the immediate recovery of my mom. I prayed that she stay by our side for a long time.

I rubbed the rosaries I bought previously, against the tablet hoping that friends and relatives who will get it will be blessed as well.

After praying, I toured inside the basilica and could not help but admire the grandiosity of the church’s architecture.

I specially like the rotunda directly above the Aedicule, where Jesus’ tomb is housed.

The Aedicule has two parts, the Angel’s stone where a fragment of the stone that covered the tomb is located. The other side if the actual tomb.

I spent about 30 minutes inside the church and within that time, I can say that I was able to repair my relationship with Him. I may not have been the ideal follower all these years, but it is never too late to renew your faith and believe in Him.

After all, He forgives us for our sins.

The tablet where Jesus was laid

The Aedicule
The Aedicule

Me Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Facade of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

My First Shabbath Dinner in Jerusalem

Israel, The Middle East

When I made a conscious decision to be a travel blogger, several years ago, I made a promise to myself to be as adventurous and as open to new cultures and practices from other countries as I could possibly be.

Over the past years, I have had a lot of amazing experiences, and I have been exposed to a lot of new cultures, customs and history and I think I was able to fulfill that promise.

During my trip to Jerusalem this year, I have had the wonderful chance of experiencing yet another first, a Shabbath dinner.

Now, Shabbath, as everyone probably knows is a religious day for the Jewish people. Non Jewish people also celebrate Shabath but for the purposes of this blog, it refers to the Jewish custom.

Shabbath is derived from the Jewish word shavat or cessation of work. It depicts the seventh day when God supposedly had His rest after creatin heaven and earth.

Shabbath begins a few minutes before sunset of every Friday and ends when the three stars appear on Saturday evenings.

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On this day, every few stops working and indulges in activities of relaxation. If you happen to look outside, you will see the streets of Jerusalem completely deserted except for some non-secular Jews and toursits wandering around the Holy City. (the best time to visit the wall is right before Shabbath).

It is also an opportunity for families to partake in religious Shabbath dinner to give thanks to God.

As almost everything in the Jewish custom, celebrating shabbath dinner is steeped in tradition and history and one cannot proceed to the dinner without reciting prayers and observing some rituals.

The dinner begins with a kiddush or a sanctification over wine and then another blessing is offered over two loaves of bread called challah. These proceedings are held in a sacred manner, you will definitely feel the presence of the Almighty around you.

In a traditional Jewsih household, a Shabbath dinner is observed by preparing the best and prettiest meals and every member of the family will be gathered around the table wearing proper clothes. There will be a white tablecloth (mapah) and a Kos l’kiddush (kiddush cup).

Since I was staying at a hostel during my Jerusalem visit, my Shabbath dinner was somewhat different.

Right befor the dinner, all guests of the hostel were encouraged to help out. And believe me, there are lots of things to prepare for Shabbath dinner.

I was in charge of the tomatoes and the kitchen manager was careful to give me specific instructions on how he wants the tomatoes. He wanted it minced to a relish in small uniform sizes (ha!).

Guests from other parts of the world were in charge of meat, beverages and table set-up, it was really a team effort and it was definitely a great feeling to share a special meal with new people.

Before dinner, some of the locals were singing songs of blessings and we gathered around them.

As soon as the blessings started, a hush fell and everyone was in complete silence as we listened to the prayers.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Shabbath dinners are not boring stuff. on the contrary, it is a time for merrymaking.

Once the blessings are done, everyone begins lively discussions with one another. I was sitting at a table with an American, 3 Germans and a Frenchguy.

Since we were all travelers, our conversation of course veered towards the places in Jerusalem we saw earlier that day and the places around the world we’ve been.

We talked about the ongoing Israel-Palestinian conflict and it was a refreshing experience to hear people’s thoughts and opinions on something that’s really important.

People who are not fond of traveling will never know what it feels like, but I, in that moment, was overwhelmed with awe and happiness in meeting and talking new people from other parts of the world and sharing my love of travel.

We talked about our first solo adventures and why we became travelers in the first place. It was really honest and poignant. Maybe it was the Negev beer or the solemn Shabbath prayers.

We may not become best friends in the long run, but during that specific time and place, we were sharing something special and for me, it was a memory I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Pray to the Father of the Universe at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

Israel, The Middle East

After several connections and a lot of travel time, I finally reached my main destination: the Holy City of Jerusalem in Israel. And the first thing I visited? The Wailing Wall.

I have long been fascinated by the wailing wall. This structure separates the Jewish and Muslim quarters in the Old City of David, but it is considered holy to all.

This is where you slip a piece of paper carrying your innermost desire/wish to the Father of the Universe.  Ever since I was a child, I have wanted to touch the wall and feel the presence of God. I was hoping that once I touch it, it would answer all my questions about life, religion and other profound things.

jerusalem1

In the days leading to my trip, I have prepared a lot of possible things I would pray for once I was finally in front of the Wall.

I considered wishing for something that would matter to a lot of people like world peace maybe, or that there be an end to famine and drought in Africa. I also considered the end of wars.

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Getting to the Wailing Wall 

The Old City of David in Jerusalem is a complex and really confusing network of paths alleys that connect the Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian quarters.

As discussed, the Wailing Wall or simply the western wall is located inside the Jewish quarter. The easiest way to get to the wall is by entering the Jaffa gate and traversing the labyrinth of streets and alleys inside the old city.

My advice is to arm yourself with a decent map from the information center.

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Before you enter the wailing wall square, you will encounter a checkpoint and you will be searched for suspicious items and metals. There are lots of time when you should question the necessity of checkpoint. This is not one of them. Due to religious and political sensitivities, they have to conduct a thorough check of all people entering the square.

After the checkpoint, its smooth sailing from there.

Around the square, there are bible scholars everywhere. You’ll spot them easily. There is also an information booth where you can learn about the wall’s tumultuous history. You will get you white cap from the booth as well.

If you want a more subdued and quiet atmosphere, go to the wall earlier in the morning and avoid Shabbat since most tourists and Christians take the relaxed atmosphere as an opportunity to visit the place.

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As I’ve said, I have dreamed of visiting the wall for so long and thought of heroic, dramatic wishes to make.

But as soon as I touched it, all my prepared script vanished into the air. The moment I touched it, I instantly fell the presence of something Holy and it reached out into my heart, making me wish what my heart ultimately desires.

I prayed for the speedy recovery of someone really important to me. I prayed that she be given more time with me and with our family. If possible, I prayed to God that she recovers speedily and gain back the confidence and courage to face life’s challenges. I prayed that she discovers her real self.

And I pray for her to be happy.

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Sensory Overload at the Shuk Ha Carmel Market in Tel Aviv

Israel, The Middle East

A wise elder traveler once told me, that to really get to know the people of a certain country. You have to observe and be immersed in the everyday rustics.

And one of the best ways to do that, he said, is to visit and observe their markets, where the common folks drop all pretense and try to procure what they need in as little cost as possible.

Being a member of the bourgeoisie, I couldn’t agree more.

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Coming from a family that never really suffered, but didn’t splurged either, I have been exposed to the need to get value for your money. You have to fight for what you think you deserve for the cost you are paying. On the contrary, vendors are out to get as much profit with as little effort and expense possible.

This everyday struggle makes for colorful haggling and lively discussions in the great markets of the world. No wonder, the market places are a common tourist area no matter where you go.

The same is quite true with Ha-Carmel Market in the heart of Tel Aviv, Israel.

Even before my plane took off to Israel, my interest has already been piqued by this market. All the major travel sites such as TripAdvisor, Fyodors, and Virtual Tourist have good things to say about Ha Carmel and they weren’t wrong.

Located along Allenby avenue and stretching up to Nahalat Binyamin street, Ha Carmel markets is one of the most colorful and lively spots in this gorgeous city.

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At the market’s facade, several stalls are selling humus and falafel ( the staple food here) and some Yemenite dish. So try to have a meal here to get a good feel of the place.

In Ha Carmel, you can buy the freshest fruits from Europe and from Kibbutz farms. You can buy some and have them blended into fruit milkshake.

Spices that have come from as far as Turkey and India, also find their way to this market. Sweets and candies, sold in pounds and kilos are available as well.

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Strolling along the alleys, I saw vendors selling dates, olives, prunes and other Middle Eastern fruits. Stalls selling vegetables such as beans, chick peas are endless (a lot of Israelis are vegetarians).

There were also kitchen items available and several clothing stalls.

Vendors vie for customers by yelling louder than one another, adding to the liveliness of the area.

The smell of the freshly picked fruits and vegetables will also overwhelm you.

Indeed, visiting Ha Carmel will give you a sensory overload and you can’t help but love it.

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But just like any other market, some vendors are in a foul mood and won’t let you haggle. Some, also try to sell their wares at a higher price. Also, while Tel Aviv is quite a safe place, you should always be wary against pick-pockets.

All in all, you should definitely consider a visit to this market if you’re visiting Tel Aviv. It could a be a fun-filled hour.

What To See in Old Jaffa (Yafo) in Tel Aviv

Israel, The Middle East

Most of the visitors to the country of Israel have Jerusalem, specifically the Old City as their main destination.

But the city of Tel Aviv, which I feel is oftentimes overlooked by tourists, also has a lot of things to offer to visitors from all over the world.

From the busy streets of Allenby and Rothschild, to the gorgeous and upscale neighborhood of Neve Tzedek and the unforgettable beaches facing the mighty Mediterranean.

For me, however, no visit to Tel Aviv is complete without a tour of the quiet but historical city of Old Jaffa or Yafo in Hebrew.

Located in the southern part of the city, Old Jaffa is one of the main attractions in Tel Aviv. And in a relatively expensive such as this, it is of great comfort to know that touring Old Jaffa is free, In fact, there are free tours of the area, every day, at 9am, beginning at the Clock Tower at the main center.

In this part of Tel Aviv alone, there are already lots of places to check out. But I am giving you my favorites as a history and culture geek.

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The Clock Tower

According to historical data, this structure located in the center of Old Jaffa, was built in 1906 at the fading years of the Ottoman rule. It was built as a gift to the then ruler Sultan Abed Al-Hamid II as a gesture of goodwill for the latter’s 25th anniversary in power. Now, the center is one of the most famous landmarks in Yafo. Nearby, there is a rotunda filled with flowers. Also, the clock tower is very near the flea market. As mentioned, this is also the starting point of the free Old Jaffa tours.

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Jaffa Hill

If you want to get a good bird eye’s view of the Tel Aviv beaches, take a hike to the Jaffa Hill. Here you can also see Napoloeon-era cannons, the Jaffa Museum and several churches including St. Peter’s Church and the Immanuel Church. This is also where you can find the visitors information center which is a great resource for everything Old Jaffa. Jaffa Hill is also the location of the 3,500 Egyptian gates and several awesome gardens.

You can also find here the Wishing Bridge which has all the zodiac signs along its railings. Legend has it that if you stand on the bridge, touch your zodiac sign, and make a wish, it will come true.

St. Peter Church

This Franciscan church is one of the most dominant landmarks in Old Jaffa. The church was built in the 19th century. It was built upon the remains of a fortress/hostel where Napoleon supposedly stayed in the 18th century. This church is also an important site for the Christian community since it is supposed to be the site where Peter raised one of Jesus’s disciples from the dead.

Jaffa Port

It was one of the oldest ports in the world but was damaged several times. On a hilltop above the port, a lighthouse is located which was build in 1865. While the lighthouse is no longer functioning, it remains a an important navigational aid to to boats and its crew. Along the shore of the port, you can also see old locals trying their hands at fishing. One famous site in the port is Andromeda’s rock. This collection of black rocks is where Andromeda was supposedly chained naked as a sacrifice to the sea monster. The sea monster was sent by Poseidon who was angered by Andromeda’s mother Cassiopeia. Stories say that Cassiopeia was too proud of her daughter’s beauty and she even claimed than Andromeda is even far more beautiful than the nereids (water spirits/goddesses). Andromeda was then saved by Persue wbo eventually became her husband.

Mahamoudia Mosque

Located adjacent to the Clock Tower, the Mahamoudia mosque is the largest and most important mosque in Old Jaffa. Historical records showed that the construction of the mosque was started as early as 1730’s but most of the structure and its surrounding complex were built starting in 1812 under the supervision of the Ottoman governor of Gaza and Jaffa. It has a foundtain inside for pilgrims. Its gate is called the “gate of the governors”

Old Jaffa at Night

Well, old Jaffa is not just for history and culture buffs. It’s also for the young and party animals.All around the area, you will find small alleys filled with small pubs and clubs. most of them have live music players.One of the highly recommended bars in the area is called Shaffa bar, located along rabbi Nakman Street in Yafo.It’s quite close to the flea market so the atmosphere is always alive. The menu and its clienteles are also varied. From your usual falafel and hummus, it also served Jordanian and Lebanese food and some meats as well. It is also a popular alcohol joint at nght. Most of the customers are locals but a lot of tourists gravitate towards the area as well.

Nakman street

Visiting the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem, West Bank, Palestine

Palestine, The Middle East

One major travel achievement I am most proud of, is the chance to visit Bethlehem located in the West Bank, inside Palestine.

Getting to Israel is already a major achievement in itself, but getting farther, past the separation wall between Israel and Palestine is one travel milestone I will never ever forget.

There is so much to see in Palestine and if I had enough time and money, I would have stayed longer.

But since I was on a tight schedule and I was afraid to miss the bus crossing the wall, I spent half a day in Bethlehem and visited the highlights. One of them is the curiously, white Milk Grotto.

The first structure that you will see is the Franciscan chapel built on top of the grotto. The chapel was built in the 5th century.

The real Milk Grotto is located underneath the chapel and there is a steep stairway leading to the hollow cavern.

The Milk Grotto has a very special place in the hearts of pilgrims. This is the site of a former cave where Jesus, Mary and Joseph hid during the Slaughter of Innocent ordered by King Herod, before they traveled to Egypt.

It would be years after when the holy family would be able to return to Israel from Egypt following a message from an angel.

As to why the grotto is white, there is a myth told since the earlier centuries that while nursing the infant Jesus, a drop of milk fell to the ground which turned the place completely white.

Devotion to Mary 

While most pilgrims visit the Milk Grotto to pray to Jesus, there are thousands of visitors who visit the site for a completely different reason.

Nowadays, women visitors flock to the grotto to pray for the intercession of the Mary to heal their wounds and the wounds of their loved ones. Thousands of visitors believe that scrapings of the rocks inside the grotto will help their conceive children. They mix the scrapings to their drinking water and sometimes, they place it under their mattresses.

Around the grotto, there are messages left by hundreds of couples who give thanks to Mary presumably after having children following their visit to the grotto.

During my visit, there were several women inside the grotto. I couldn’t be sure whether they were praying for Mary’s intercession but I saw in their faces that they were praying fervently for something.

Touring the grotto is a truly religious experience. You can just imagine the hardships suffered by the holy family during those dark days under King Herod’s rule.

Indeed, the Milk Grotto is a very spiritual place that you just have to visit when you’re in Bethlehem.

Tourist Profiling and My Tough Experience with Israeli immigration

Israel, The Middle East

Some people who know me as a frequent traveler have expressed bewilderment with my jet setter lifestyle, thinking that everything is easy and comfortable when you hit the road. There is some truth to that, of course. Those awesome moments when you see and experience something for the first time, those are something you just can’t get enough of.

But the truth is, there were a lot of times during my life as a solo traveler when I felt extremely uncomfortable and vulnerable. This is especially true when visiting richer countries that regard Filipino tourists as “suspicious”, given the track record of thousands of workers who jump ship and overextend their stay.

For example, during my first visit in Japan in 2005 at the height of the crackdown against illegal entertainers, some immigration guy approached my fellow travelers and I in a train station in Nagoya and demanded that we present our passports and tourists visa. All were sorted out but it was the start of many more uncomfortable encounters with immigration agents.

But I think, the most nerve wracking experience I had was during my recent travel to Israel.

I knew beforehand that getting through security and passport control was going to be quite tricky for a number of reasons:

the long queues at the passport control

1. Israel is one of the most politically volatile places on the planet because of its longstanding feud with its neighboring Arab countries and the Palestinian Authority which it controls. A week before my visit, West bank sent some missiles.

2. This country is a haven for Filipino workers and there are lots of workers posing as tourists.

All my pre-arrival fears were starting to come true as soon as I have stop-overs in Hong Kong and Zurich, Switzerland.

In Hong Kong, there were minimal problems knowing that it is a major tourist destination for Filipinos since there is no visa required.

But in Switzerland, all Arab-looking passengers were set aside and were screened thoroughly. I also experienced tighter scrutiny not as a potential danger, but as a potential immigrant. In the end, I got a free pass.

It was when I finally landed at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv-Yafo when all my weird experiences began.

As soon as I got out of the airplane, not a minute passed before two Israeli immigration agents approached me. Out of the more than 200 passengers on that plane, I think that only three people were approached outside the plane.

Everyone else was staring at us and I felt a bit humiliated.

arrival hall at Ben Gurion airport

The Israeli agent asked the usual questions. Why Israel? What are you going to do here? Where are you staying. Those easy questions, I handled very well. But when she dug deeper, I felt cold sweat trickle down my face.

Why are you traveling alone? How Long are you staying? How much money do you have? Do you know anyone in particular in Israel? She asked for the specific place I was staying and directions on how to get there. All the while, she was looking at my passport, certificate of employment, and she was also staring intently to my eyes.

After 10 minutes or so, I think after she was convinced that I was a legitimate tourists, she finally let me go.

Then came the further scrutiny at the passport control.

The agent informed me off the bat that Israeli is a good destination for workers. And that most Filipino tourists who visit are part of a tour.  Solo travelers from the US and Europe are quite common but not so common among Filipinos. I was gonna argue but decided to just keep quiet.

I asked for a separate stamp, since I read that Arab countries do not let travelers who have been to Israeli through.

She questioned me why, insisting that she can cross the border easily even with her Israeli passport.

She asked for my ID and certificate of employment and demanded that I explain what a PR manager/media relations person does in everyday life.

She asked some of the questions asked earlier by her fellow agent and when I gave her satisfactory answers, she let me go.

She gave me an entry visa valid for three months. It was in a separate sheet of paper, which you will use to get out of the airport electronic barriers.

It was tough!!!! and it was definitely one of the strictest passport control experience I’ve ever had.

To be fair, I think they were strict to all at the passport control. But Western tourists and those belonging to travel tours got it easier.

So if you wanna visit Israel, anytime soon, you have to prepare yourself for some serious immigration security.

Stories of Pain, Suffering and Heartbreak on the Israel-Palestinian Wall

Palestine, The Middle East

April 14, 2002.

Barely 18 years old then, I was still young and selfish. I busied myself with dorm parties in the university and occasional trips out of town. I was completely obliviously to the fact that on that day, halfway across the globe, millions of people were crying and waging a war over a controversial barrier that would forever change the course of global politics and history.

It was the height of the second intifada or aggressive uprising against Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the construction of the West Bank separation barrier citing the need to protect Israelites from constant attacks from Palestinian extremists. Depending on whom you ask, the barrier is also called “the security fence” or the anti-terrorist fence”

The entire wall was envisioned to measure a total of 422 miles of zigzagging curves and loops. Most of the wall reach two meters with barb wires on top. It runs along the Green line, which marks the boundary between Israel and the West Bank and east Jerusalem as stipulated in the 1967 treaty.

During the initial phase of its construction, the wall was considered a reminder of Israel’s control of Palestine. It was also largely criticized for making the lives of Palestinians extremely difficult because it limits travels to places of work and livelihood.

Fast forward 12 years and the wall remains a symbol of oppression and isolation.

Visiting the West Bank wasn’t part of my original itinerary. I was supposed to just check out the Bethlehem square and the Basilica of the Nativity and that was it.

But a voice inside convinced me to take the extra mile and check out what lies behind the wall.

When you visit Jerusalem for the first time, perhaps it will surprise you to see a very progressive city with trams, extended buses and commercial establishments left and right.

Thanks to the continuous flow of visitors along the Bible belt, this city has become quite a marvel.

In contrast, when you take the a bus to visit the West Bank, which lies behind the barrier, you will see a more quiet and subdued place.

The buildings are not well maintained. in fact, some of the houses and buildings look older and dirtier.

Along the streets, you will see lots of Palestinians out to offer you services you probably don’t need. To give you perspective, I was traveling with two Germans and no less than 10 tour guides approached us, each one trying to win us over. Because there are fewer opportunities here and less means of income, one must try really hard to get ahead.

The casual people on the streets in Jerusalem are carefree and fashionable, but in Palestine, the people are more reserved and cautious and I don’t blame them. After years of being occupied, they tend to become more suspicious of others.

During our tour of the West Bank, we went to the Basilica of the Nativity, the Manger Square, the Milk Grotto, and the Sheperds’ Field.

Finally, the tour guide we hired took us to the West Bank barrier and my heart almost bled.

The Palestinian side of the wall is painted with stories of pain, suffering and survival during the height of the second intifada. There were also anecdotes of how the wall has greatly changed the lives of the people who live on either side of the wall.

The visit to the barrier normally takes place at the end of the tour of the West Bank and for a good reason.

Firstly, the Palestinian side of the wall is located near the immigration checkpoint and all visitors going back to Jerusalem will only have to take a 10 minute bus ride back after enduring the arduous immigration process. It’s quite easy actually for tourists. For Palestinians, not so much. They have to fall in line and endure long hours of waiting, that is they can secure travel permits.

The second reason is because of the heavy emotional toll it gives you.

Looking at the graffiti on the wall, calling for peace, friendship and the immediate stop to fighting will really break your heart. and when you read the featured anecdotes, it will make you stop in your track and sit still.

The ideal time to spend viewing the wall is about 30 minutes to an hours. Not that there’s a lot to see. But one must read the stories to get a full grasp of the pain and suffering of the people of both Palestine and Israel. It’s really an eye opener.

During my visit, I spend nearly an hour at the wall, trying to read all the stories, most of which are pleas and call for attention to visitors.

There was a story on how st

The people behind the wall want their stories to be heard around the world in hopes of taking action and finding a solution to the decades long Israel-Palestine conflict.

Reading the stories on the wall also reminds you to keep on seeking peace. There may be no peace between Israel and Palestine soon, but one day, if all of us try to understand one another, there may be an end to all the fighting and hostilities.

I Cried At the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem

Israel, The Middle East

I was not ashamed. It was not a sign of weakness.

But barely 10 minutes into the main hall of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, tears started flowing and I couldn’t help but sob.

What I was witnessing was one of the darkest periods in the history of mankind and the pictures, videos and other memorabilia are just too much for anyone to witness. The holocaust was just too much for anyone to comprehend.

I went to Jerusalem determined to visit Yad Vashem. After all, any visit to Israel and Jerusalem would not be complete without a visit to this infamous landmark.

Since its opening in the 1960’s, Yad Vashem has been a living testament to the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany to Jews all over Europe. It is believed that six million Jews perished during this dark moment in history, all for the craziness of one man, whose name I won’t event mention.

Israelis go here to pay respect to fallen friends, relatives and ancestors. The rest of the world go here so they may understand the depth of suffering people went through at the hands of the Nazis. They need to see so they will be constantly reminded of the things we should not do.

Children’s Memorial

After weeks of preparation, I thought that I would be prepared for what I was going to see. But all my courage and strength of spirit, fell apart as soon as I grasp the depth of pain and hardship people went through.

Jews, regardless of age, and gender were pulled from the homes, loaded into train and sent to concentration camps. There, each family is given a loaf of bread that was supposed to nourish them for the week.

They were made to do a variety of manual labor, too strenuous that people started fainting due to sheer exhaustion and hunger. These continued for so long that people were already skin and bones at the end of their lives. Mass graves were made for thousands for each camp.

If you feel sad after reading that, that is nothing compared to what you will feel when you see the videos and the pictures.

I finally broke down when I saw a video of dead people being backhoed to a mass grave. That was just too much for me. People were staring at me while I was crying and I know that they were feeling the pain too.

Hall of Names. Photo courtesy of yadvashem.org

Other items in the museum include measurement tools used by Nazis to identify jews. In their absurd and twist logic, they were able to identify Jews by the color of their iris, sizes of their noses and faces.

There were also shoes, and clothes of the fallen.

At the earlier section of the museum, there were books written by Jews. If you remember your history, the Nazi regime asked all Jew-written books regardless of topic, to be burned at town halls. That’s the subject of “The Book Thief”.

But I think the main highlight of the museum is the Hall of Names. There, you will see the faces of the millions of people who passed away over a twisted concept of superiority. It gives you a reminder that we should not tolerate any form of discrimination or abuse against others.

After viewing the galleries, you will exit the museum and you will have good view of the mountain. I thought that that was deliberate so that somehow, the pain felt by the visitors will be assuaged by the gorgeous view of Mt. Herzl.

Looking back, I knew that I was gonna be in such a roller coaster of emotions as soon as I entered the main hall.

From the chaos of the visitors area/reception, a hush always falls over the crowd as soon as they enter the museum. They are not told to be quiet. there are no museum personnel telling them that. People automatically fall silent as a show of respect.

Visitors are discouraged from taking photos of the museum interiors since the galleries are quite controversial. But you can take photos outside of the museum.

Memorial Tower

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum is a powerful place.

It gives you a glimpse of how evil humans can be. Whether we like to accept it or not, humans are capable of atrocities beyond your wildest imagination.  But those were in the past. It is up to us now to stay vigilant and wary against any effort to promote hate and discriminate.

I have visited Yad Vashem and it has a powerful impact on me. It changes you. And one thing is for sure, all the things I have seen, I will carry with me always.

Getting there

Take a tram from Jerusalem going to Mt. Herzl. You won’t get lost since it is the last station. From the rotunda, take a hike towards the mountain and there are pathways leading you to the museum.

A View of Mt. Herzl