The Jerusalem Series, Travel

The Secrets of the Wilderness – Hike with Dan

Wadi Darga and the Caves of Bar Kochba

This hike has it all. Adventure. Danger. Panorama. History. Spectacular views. Isolation. 

On the Northwestern side of the Dead Sea is a canyon system called the Nahal Darga. The word ‘Nahal’ means dry riverbed. The Nahal Darga  is a very deep, rugged, dry riverbed that flows into the Dead Sea. I gave this place a nickname. The little Grand Canyon. The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth at over 1400 feet below sea level. It is truly desert. The rainfall is less than 2 inches per year. Normal daytime temperatures exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. My kind of hike. I cant wait to start.  I did not know all this the first time I hiked here. That is the thrill of hiking somewhere the first time. One never knows what is around the next bend.

I was alone the first time I explored this section. I have since trekked into this area more than any other. 

I left Jerusalem very early on the morning of May 4, 2014. The public bus system in Israel is incredible. There is a bus stop right on the Dead Sea highway at Metsoke Dragot Junction. From there, with my very detailed topographical map in hand I began the climb up the access road to the top of the mountain which is a climb of  about 1000 vertical feet. At the top of the mountain, the road turns into a dirt track for another mile or so. I found the trail and began the descent into one of the most spectacular places I have ever seen. Down, down, and down. Not a technical descent, but steep enough to put the fear of God in you. One misstep and you would be seeing God. The trail snakes its way almost to the bottom and then turns to follow the canyon upstream. Not too far along is a sign which indicates another trail up. This one is technical. There are handholds put in for safety, but this trail goes straight up the cliff. At the end of an exciting climb are two very large caves. The Bar Kochba caves. 

Simon Bar Kochba was the leader of  a Jewish revolt against the Romans in 132 AD He was such a charismatic leader that many thought  he was the messiah. He was not. And so the Romans under Hadrian defeated this revolt in 135 AD. Most people know of the Jewish revolt of 66 AD with the ensuing Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. It is interesting to note that when Hadrian put down the Bar Kochba revolt in 135 AD, the destruction was greater and the numbers of Jews killed, far exceeded what happened in 70 AD. The estimate of Jews killed exceed 580,000 by the end of 135 AD.

In the early 1950’s archaeologists discovered letters written and signed by Bar-Kochba himself in these very caves.  These caves were one of the last strong holds of the Bar Kochba revolt. I can see why he chose them. They are very hard to get to and very easy to defend. But, I am also sure that by the time Bar Kochba arrived to these parts, the  had reached a location of last resort. 

I very carefully descended from the caves. 3 of every 4 climbing accidents occur on the way down.

From there I continued to the bottom of the dry stream bed and climbed up the other side of the canyon.  Once up the mountain, I was treated with more spectacular views, and a level track straight through the desert to the top of another  descent back down to the Dead Sea. I always plan my hikes as a circle, and not an out and back. 1000 vertical feet down to the outskirts of Mizpe Shalem.  If you have ever used the Dead Sea fashion product called Ahava, you should know that they are produced at Mizpe Shalem. 

What can we learn? We put our faith not in man, but God alone. 

Psalm 65:5,6  I depend on God alone. I put my hope in him. He alone protects and saves me. He is my defender.

Take Care and God Bless.

The Riyadh series, Travel

Riyadh’s Most Beautiful Historical Secret: Old Diriyah!

“We were meant to explore this earth like children do, unhindered by fear, propelled by curiosity and a sense of discovery. Allow yourself to see the world through new eyes and know there are amazing adventures here for you.”

Laurel Bleadon Maffei

Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia, is filled with interesting and unusual things to see. From quirky restaurants to interesting historical sites, this rich city offers something for everyone. With the new tourist visa opening last year, the Saudi government has a goal of radically boosting tourism in the next ten years.

If you ever find yourself in Riyadh, or find yourself planning a trip to Riyadh, I reccomend that you pay a visit to the one and only Diriyah.

Diriyah (الدرعية) dates back to the fifteenth century and was the original home of the royal family of Saudi Arabia. It is located on the banks of Wadi Hanifa and it was the original capital city of Saudi Arabia. Now Diriyah is recognised for it’s historical value and beautiful surroundings.

I had heard many things about Diriyah from both my Saudi and Expat friends, so one afternoon I decided to pay a visit to Diriyah. After drinking a lovely cup of tea in the Tea Club, we left Riyadh Park mall and drove to Diriyah. It took approximatly eight minutes to drive there.

The biggest problem that we faced was parking: this is something that could be improved, as we found there to be very little parking space. We did manage to find a parking spot about fifteen minutes away, but this may not have been suitable for everyone.

After we found a space everything else was plain sailing. We walked down the road towards Bujairi and we could see Diriyah in the distance. As it was Friday, locals were out in full force to eat together in the park: I really love the way Saudis picnic together!

It is worth noting that Bujairi is filled with lovely coffee shops and it’s the perfect place for an afternoon stroll or wander. Please remember thought that like many places in Saudi, the shops and restaurants will remain closed until after 4pm on Fridays because of prayer.

When we walked through Bujairi, the sun was slowly setting which somehow made the Saudi architecture seem even more beautiful. There is something magnificent about the clean cut stone walls against a pale blue sky.

After walking for just under ten minutes we were able to see the Old city of Diriyah and it was beautiful. Unfortunatly, we were unable to enter Diriyah but we heard that is possible to enter after obtaining permission from an office in the Diplomatic Quarter.

Have you visited Diriyah? Let me know if you enjoyed it in the comments below. Please also write any questions that you have about Saudi Arabia, I would love to answer them for you.

Charity, The Amman Series, Travel, Uplifting and Encouraging

Hands on Hope – A Friend to those facing dark times.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

– Martin Luther King JR

In 2017 I spent six months in the incredible country of Jordan. As a student based in Amman, I was quickly overwhelmed by the generosity and hospitality of local Jordanians. The country is filled with beauty, from the glorious countryside to the bustling cities. I would certainly recommend that you pay Jordan a visit. Throughout my time in Jordan I came into contact with the organisation Hands-On Hope and I would love to share with you about their projects to help local Jordanians.

Hands-On Hope is a local Jordanian NGO based in Amman. Founded in 2015, the NGO prides itself in being committed to helping the poorest of the poor, no matter what the nationality. Under the leadership of Jacki Scott, the organisation seeks to provide critical support to those suffering under hardship.  Jacki and her team of volunteers pride themselves in taking time to invest in the current and future generations of Jordan by providing support with the aim of helping people become self sufficient.

One thing that I personally appreciate about Hands-On Hope is the feeling of community. Supporters and volunteers come together and unite as one to make a difference; this feeling of community is something truly unique and special. The Hands-On Hope community is in reality a family.

Some people say they work to help needy people, but I think we work to help ourselves: we are the needy people! We need the feeling of joy that they give us when we help them. They need money or food maybe, but we need something more important: we need happiness!

– A quote from a volunteer from Hands-On Hope.

The Hands-On Hope team is a perfect example of ordinary people coming together to make an extraordinary difference; for that reason I would like to encourage you to support their amazing projects.

January bread drive

One such project is the monthly bread drive. A bread drive ensures that families receive enough bread: a major staple food of the local diet. It also serves as a way to ensure that children are eating foods of nutritional value.

Hands On-Hope are requesting support so that they can extend their drive further in order to reach more communities throughout Jordan. Can you help with this incredible project? Even a small donation goes a long way.

Baby formula provided to the children

Another project is the baby formula drive; a new project designed to provide families with nutritional baby formula with the aim of preventing malnutrition and anemia. This baby formula helps the children get the vital nutrition that they need.

If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed just one.

– Mother Teresa

If you are interested in learning more or if you feel that you can donate to this incredible organisation, here are some ways to get in touch.

First, contact Jacki Scott at jkiscott@gmail.com to find out more information about upcoming projects or required items. Jacki would love to talk to you about her vision and would love to connect with you.

Then, become a member of the Facebook community; share your support and encouragement and celebrate when people receive the aid and support that they require.

Join the Facebook community: web.facebook.com/HandsOnHope/ 

If you wish to contribute to Hands-On Hope and their projects, you can send a payment to Jackie via pay pal: jkiscott@gmail.com

Finally please spread the word and share about Hands-Of Hope. With your support lives can be changed and a real difference can be made in the community. Please share this organisation with your friends, colleagues and the community and together let’s make a positive difference to impact the lives of many people in Jordan!

The Amman Series, Travel

Desert Castles in Jordan

As a little girl I spent time walking through the ruins of castles and forts with my family so naturally I had to do some exploring whilst in Jordan and to be sure, Jordan has many castles and ruins worth exploring.

If you are prepared to hire a car and drive for just over an hour from Amman to reach the dessert, then I highly reccomend a visit to the castle ruins in the dessert and the city of Azraq.

Qasr Amra

 Qasr Amra (قصر عمرة ), a UNESCO world heritage site, is possibly the most well known of Jordan’s desert castles. The castle was built by Walid Ibn Yazid some time between 723 and 743 before became the Umayyad caliph Walid II. The castle now stands alone on Jordan’s main East – West highway, roughly 85 kilometers away from Amman. Today the castle is considered a key example of Islamic art and architecture.

The remaining building is more of a remnant of a much larger luxury complex that included a castle: it did not serve any military function, it was merely a luxurious royal retreat.

My favorite part of the building certainly had to be the remaining frescoes on the ceilings and wall which tell the tale of rulers and hunters. Above one of the bath chambers lies the first representation of heaven painted onto a hemispherical surface. Constiliations have been ornately painted onto the ceiling and are accompanied by paintings of zodiac figures.

Qasr Al-Karaneh

Qasr Kharana (قصر خرّانة‎) is located 37 miles of east of Amman and lies in close proximity with the border of Saudi Arabia. Historians and Archaeologists believe that the castle was built some time before the 8th century AD. The castle however contains some Sassanid influences (read about the Sasanian Empire here.)

Qasr Kharana is very well preserved and is today one of the most visited desert castles in Jordan. Historians debate the original purpose of the castle: many argue that the building’s layout does not suggest that the castle had a military use but suggests the castle may have served as a resting place for traders. Other historians disagree as the castle is far from a water source and is not located on any major trade routes.

Qasr Hallabat

The complex of Qasr al-Hallabat is located in Jordan’s eastern desert. Historians believe that the castle was originally a Roman fortress that was built by Emperor Caracalla in the late second century AD. It is believed that the fortress was constructed to protect its inhabitants from the threat of Bedouin tribes. The castle is located on what was once the Roman highway connecting Damascus to Aqaba.

In the Eight century the Umayyad ruler Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik gave the order for the all Roman structures to be demolished and redesigned as grand Umayyad complexes. The new, renovated fort included a mosque, a complex water system and a bathhouse.

Today, the three wall sections of the mosque remain visible and intact. The palace itself is constructed of limestone and black basalt has a square floor plan with towers at each corner. The palace is decorated by beautiful mosaics of animals, frescoes and stucco carvings.

Qasr Al-Azraq

Qasr al-Azraq (قصر الأزرق‎) is a large fortress located in Jordan approximately 100km East of Amman. The Fortress was strategically built next to the nearby oasis; the only source of water in the region. The Romans were the first to use this site and later a mosque was built in the center of the grounds. The Fortress was renovated later in history by the Ayyubids, who used basalt to reconstruct the building.

During the years 1917-1918, T.E Lawrence based some of his operations in the castle.

The Jerusalem Series, Travel

The Secrets of the Wilderness – Hike with Dan!

Hiking in the Land of the Bible


What more can I say? I love to hike. It is a part of my nature. If  I see a mountain, I immediately want to climb it. If I see rough terrain, I want to challenge it. Combine that with the heat of the desert, throw in some of the lowest, most inhospitable terrain on earth and I am excited.  And what if this hike goes through land that has been talked about in the Bible for thousands of years? As a theological student and a student of the Bible, life doesn’t get any better than that!

Hiking with the Dead Sea behind me!


My name is Daniel. I have recently  lived in Jerusalem  for over five years.  On most free days, one could find me hiking somewhere in the desert. Mostly in the Judean wilderness, that swath of desert between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea,  the lowest place on Earth.

It is a geography that is unchanged from the days of the Patriarchs and the time of Jesus. 

As I explored this barren wasteland, it was often with the cherished biblical stories going through my mind. 


In the next several months I will be sharing some of these unique  hiking experiences from the Land of the Bible. Many of my hikes were solo. I loved going out with just a map, lots of  water, and the thrill of discovery around every bend.  As time went on and others knew about my hikes, I  would take people with me so they too could experience the land in a very almost intimate way. 


For now let me leave you with the following thoughts.

There is no place like the desert to remind oneself of your fragile humanity. Especially when water is almost depleted. Life’s priorities quickly become ordered. 

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.

Psalm 63:1 – A Psalm of David (When he was in the Desert of Judah.)

I look forward to sharing more of my experiences with you in the near future.

Until then, Every Blessing.

The Amman Series, Travel

Jerash

The small country of Jordan, in the Middle East, is well known for it’s hospitality, culture and historical sights. From an archaeological perspective Jordan contains some of the most spectacular sites in the world including the world renowned tourist attraction that boasts over 500,000 visitors each year: Petra.

On this occasion I want to talk about the beautiful and historical aincient city of Jerash.

Jerash جرش ‎  is an aincient city located in the north of Jordan, only 48 kilometres north of Jordan’s capital city, Amman. Otherwise known as ‘the Pompeii of the East’, Jerash serves as a fantastic day trip for both adults and children.

The city of Jerash dates back to the Neolithic times and incredibly rare ruins and artifacts have been found which have dated back to roughly 7500 BC. The current site of the old city of Jerash includes beautifully preserved ruins of places of worship and other buildings from the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and early Muslim periods.

Recommendations

When visiting Jerash you should wear sensible footwear; if you wish to see the whole site you will need to do a lot of walking.

Take a good camera with you; Jerash is an ideal location to photograph.

In the Roman theatre, two or three men will usually be ready to play wonderful traditional Jordanian songs as you walk in. The men will be happy to play songs for you, just be prepared to provide them with a tip afterwards as this is a cultural expectation.

Before going to Jerash, read about the history of the site, so that you can spend your time admiring the beauty of the ruins.

I would advise that you take water and snacks, just be sure to clear up after yourselves.

Travel

Wadi Rum

Jordan might be a small country, but it is filled to the brim with many breathtaking and beautiful sights. Whether you prefer the ancient ruins of the Rose City of Petra, or the hive of activity in downtown Amman, Jordan is sure to offer something to suit everyone.

If you ever find yourself fortunate enough to visit Jordan, I would recommend a visit to Wadi Rum – it is undoubtedly one of the most mesmerizing places on Earth.

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Wadi Rum  وادي رم‎  is a valley that is located roughly 60 km to the east of Jordan’s southern port city, Aqaba. Otherwise known as the Valley of the Moon, Wadi Rum is currently the largest valley in Jordan.

Since prehistoric times, many cultures have inhabited Wadi Rum such as the Nabataeans who left their mark in the form of rock paintings, graffiti, and temples. The West of Wadi Rum is most known for its connection with British officer T. E. Lawrence, who passed through several times during the Arab Revolt of 1917–1918. In the 1980’s one of the rock formations in Wadi Rum, was renamed “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” after Lawrence’s book written in the aftermath of the First World War.

 “The hills on the right grew taller and sharper, a fair counterpart of the other side which straightened itself to one massive rampart of redness. They drew together until only two miles divided them: and then, towering gradually till their parallel parapets must have been a thousand feet above us, ran forward in an avenue for miles.”  – T.E Lawrence (Seven Pillars)

If you wish to loose yourself and escape the world of phone calls, text messages and life’s demands then take a trip to one of the many Bedouin camps. The hospitality that you will experience undoubtedly will be second to none!

My Recommendations: 

I would recommend that you travel to Wadi Rum with close friends or family, it is such a beautiful place to make memories.

Be prepared to ask questions about the Bedouin lifestyle and culture, your visit will be the perfect opportunity to learn more and listen to some fascinating stories.

You really should book a guided tour of the vast dessert and explore some of the most amazing sites and hidden secrets that the valley has to offer.

Sneak away from your friends and family and take a few moments to sit under the stars, I am sure that you will find it a breathtaking experience. I enjoy sitting and listening to the echoes of the valley or watching the sunset whilst listening to a good playlist.

If you are able to, try to stay in Wadi Rum for more than one night, it truly is a beautiful place to escape to.

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