Israel: Pedalling along the sea of Galilee

By Patrizia Schlosser

The Sea of Galilee is a must for any tourist on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. After all, it is mentioned frequently in the New Testament.

The view across the Sea of Galilee. Photo / Thinkstock
The view across the Sea of Galilee. Photo / Thinkstock

After 90 minutes on a creaking, squeaking mountain bike the first doubts start to surface. Perhaps it would have been better to have taken the bus for a tour of holy sites on the shores of Lake Galilee? Instead of that it's a case of sweat pouring off the body. Touring the lake by bike is certainly a way of getting to know this landscape really well.

Incline for incline and metre for metre. After pedalling like this for a while the shade of a church is pure joy - in any case, this bike tour has more to do with a pilgrimage than a busload of tourists.

Jesus is said to have held his Sermon On the Mount close to the shores of the Sea of Galilee and the apostle Peter was a fisherman here. However, only a tiny minority of visitors choose to navigate around the lakeshore on a bicycle.

The pilgrimage trail starts right behind Tiberias, the largest town on the lake whose modern name is Kinneret. Magdala, only a few kilometres further on, is said to be the place where Mary Magdalene was born. At Ginosar kibbutz lie the remains of a fishing boat which is said to date back to pre-Christian times.

Marketed as a "Jesus boat,'' it naturally attracts pilgrims in their droves.

"The whole spectacle is just part of the game,'' said Eduardo. The Israeli with Argentine roots is showing a group of pilgrims from Portugal around the Church of the Primacy of St Peter in Tabgha on the north-western shore. He too has travelled around the lake by bike.

"The eastern bank is not quite so hilly,'' he says and pulls a laptop from his rucksack. "I've got the Bible stored on this for the pilgrim group.''

Located on a small hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee and two lakeside churches near Tabgha is the Mount of Beatitude. This is where Jesus is said to have spoken the most famous sermon in history, the Sermon on the Mount.

Those who tackle the switchback turns up to the summit are rewarded with a panorama of the lake. At this moment, however, the farmer who tends the fields around the mount has little time to admire the view. His date plantation is on fire. With tires screeching he stops his car next to the coach and dashes off across his fields. A small aircraft can be seen approaching and it dumps water on the fire.

The Sea of Galilee tour continues meanwhile in a clockwise direction. The apostles Peter and Andrew were said to have lived in the former fishing settlement of Capernaum. At Beitseida on the eastern shore of the lake is the place, where according to New Testament tradition, Jesus performed his famous miracle of feeding the 5000 with five loafs of bread and two fish.

The area used to be hard for pilgrims to reach and so in the third century AD the location was summarily switched to the more user-friendly location of Tabgha on the western shore where the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes stands.

Once back in the saddle, the view extends to the foothills of the Golan Heights. Behind these mountains lies Syria. Lizards dart into the undergrowth along the way in order to avoid the path of the bicycle tires while now and again a truck or car rumbles down the road to one of the beaches. Cyclists have the hard shoulder more or less to themselves.

After a journey lasting five hours it's time for the home stretch towards Tiberias. On the southern shore, at Deganyia, close to Israel's very first kibbutz, is Yardenit.

Here, where the Jordan River flows into the lake, is the spot where Jesus almost certainly was not baptised. Many pilgrims do not seem to care - around a million visitors come to the site every year.

- AAP

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