Simply.Just.Walking

peace is every step

Author: gwwien (page 1 of 24)

The Blue Elephant

It is Martin Luther King’s day. Annabella and Benjamin do not have school. They stayed overnight in our house and are now ready for an adventure – hiking the Hieroglyphic Trail. It is a 3-mile path through the Sonoran desert to the Petroglyphs done by the Hohokam tribe, Native Americans who lived in the Phoenix area between 500-1450 AD.

Benjamin is well equipped – he wears real hiking shoes, hiking shorts and a cotton shirt. Four-year-old Annabella is not used to hiking yet and does not have an appropriate outfit. With her tight light blue leggings and her long sleeved shirt she looks more like going to a playground. But this is what we have. I take my pack bag with two water bottles and their favorite food for a picnic – organic crackers, cream cheese, bananas, blueberries and raspberries, nuts, carrots, cheese sticks and two little whole wheat desserts.

After a one-hour drive on the freeway and a country road, we arrive at the parking place. It is totally full. Three sheriffs watch the entrance.

“Where should I park?”

“There is no parking available, Mamm! We are here to tow wrongly parked cars. Do not park beside the road. You either can wait in line for people to leave or drive to Peraltra Trail nearby. “

I decide to wait, as I am the fourth car in line and the kids are well behaved. It does not take long to get a parking place. Everybody is excited. Benjamin finds my hiking stick and wants to take it with him. “You have to always walk with it!” I tell him. “I will not carry it”. It is too much responsibility for him and he leaves it in the car. But Annabella wants to take her blue elephant. Even when I tell her that she cannot loose it and I would not go back and search for it, she wants her Cutie to come with her.

We start to walk. Annabella’s little legs constantly wiggle over the many uneven rocks and her face soon becomes red and hot. “When are we there? I am tired!” I hold her hand and ensure her that it is not too far. The first Palo Verde Tree spreads a little shade and we sit down and rest. Other people pass by, many with little kids. They seem to be more used to hiking than Annabella. The path up to the canyon becomes a path of endurance. Benjamin breaks off a needle from a Prickly bear Cactus and Annabella finds a rock she wants to take with her. At least they can focus on something else than the desert heat! However, the rock is too heavy. We negotiate that she can leave the rock at the side of the trail and take it when we come back. Benjamin puts a black dot on the stone with a marker he secretly took with him. “People will believe that a bird pooped on it”, he says with a smile. Little Cutie is all the time with us, dangling from Annabella’s left hand.

After a nearly two-hour hike we arrive at the site. It is a paradise for children and full of people. We look for a shady spot opposite the petro glyphic rocks and eat our picnic lunch. Several little ponds with dark, green water are located on the bottom of the canyon. A Frisbee lands in the murky water and cannot be found. The rescuer gets all the attention of the crowd.

Soon Annabella and Benjamin slide down the slippery rocks, hide in caves, climb the boulders and copy on a piece of paper the drawings of the Hohokams. They have forgotten the heat, the tiredness and the “strenuous” path.

But we have to go back.

The January afternoon heat burns down on the dried out vegetation with even the Saguaro Cactus suffering from not getting enough water. We urgently would need water, but only have a little bit left in the small water bottle. Annabella emptied in an unwatched moment the other one on the rocky floor.

For encouragement, I let the kids run a bit forward to hide beside the path underneath a rock or desert bush. They love to shock me with a “booo”. Soon, the desert has nowhere to hide anymore and I start to carry Annabella on my back. The backpack is now in front of me with the blue elephant still tangling in front of my face. Annabella’s face is so hot that I gave her my hat and she accepted it. But she wants to walk again.

We ration the water and everybody only gets one sip. I decided not to drink anything. Annabella says that next time, she wants to stay at home when I am hiking. She now says she hates hiking. There is water in the car, she says, and she will drink everything alone. It does not faze her that it was she who emptied the bottle. Also something hurts in her left shoe. I look and see a little blister. Poor Annabella! But I have to tell her a lie. “I do not see anything!” Soon she forgets the blister and walks more. Finally, we are at the parking place. When we step into the car, she suddenly remembers her blue elephant. “Where is Cutie?” I have no idea. Maybe I packed it in my pack bag? But he is not there. She starts to cry. “I want to go back and look for Cutie” she says, “I want to have Cutie!” It is impossible to go back, it is far too hot and we are all exhausted.

“Omi told you that you have to take care of Cutie”, Benjamin reminds Annabella. With his six years, he is sometimes surprisingly responsible. After seeing how sad Annabella is, he continues ,“ I will buy you something else with all my love!”

There is no way I can rewalk the trail and look for it. We drive back to Phoenix. Annabella has tons of stuffed animals hanging like little bats from her bunk bed. They are all over the house. She will forget it soon. We stop for ice cream on the way home. Half way through the yellow face with blue chewing gum eyes, chin and fingers covered with melting ice, she suddenly says out of the blue “Omi, I love hiking!” Are we soon going again?”

In the evening I tell Susanne the story of the blue elephant and she is sadder than Annabella. It was Annabella’s favorite animal! She inherited it from Benjamin, it was his first stuffed animal. By knowing this, I decide to go back.

It is still early morning when I arrive at the parking lot. Only two cars are there. When I start to walk, my steps are much faster now. I love the cool air in my face. In the dawn, the Jumping Cholla Cacti look like lanterns with the new growth shining against the desert ground. Birds hop by and an owl hoots in the distance. Not far away from the parking lot, at our last rest stop, I see something blue between two rocks. It is the blue elephant lying on its side, the face directed toward the east.

After watching it for a while, thinking how much love Annabella has put into this stuffed animal, the first sunrays hit the tiny, scabby blue body and seem to awaken it. I am so happy that I found it.

Between the dry rocks

A blue elephant is waiting

To be rescued

What is a blue elephant for me? Where is my longing and love in life? For a short time, I am thinking of going back to Phoenix but dismiss the thought pretty quickly. I continue the hike. Soon, I am up at the petroglyph site and continue the hike through the dry creek above. The sun does not reach the canyon yet and the rocks are still cool when I pull myself up the boulders. Every step has to be done with attentiveness. The first sunrays hit the Ridge of Flatiron Mountain and travel down the valley. I hardly can stop walking.

Everything is alive and I am part of it. Maybe, the blue elephant does not have a material appearance and is pure life, love and connectedness what is with the whole body and mind.

 

 

 

Siphon Draw Trail: gorgeous and challenging

On my first day in Arizona this year, I met Sonal for the first time on the top of Squaw Peak (new name is Piestewa Peak) early in the morning. It was still dark. We connected immediately and decided to hike together on the weekend. She suggested to climb up to the top of Flatiron mountain, part of the Superstition Mountain Range near Phoenix.

We started at 6 am. In the pitch dark night, the moon was just a curved silver line. Under the starry sky, only a dim silhouette of the jagged mountain range was visible, An owl hooted in the distance. However, soon the form of the mountain became visible.

 

 

 

 

Soon the path was leading into a solid rock basin with a little pond in the shady corner. From there, no path was visible anymore. It was a climb over boulders and rocks, through crevices and tunnels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, I could pull myself up by the trunk of a Palo Verde tree and had to be careful not to touch the branches- they have sharp needles. Somewhere, I touched a Pricklybear cactus with my pants- ouch! Little needles were sticking into my right leg.

After several hours hike, we approached the top.

 

 

 

 

Jeff and Lisa, native Americans from the Navajo tribe, were leading us through a wild terrain of boulders and rocks to the highest point of the mountain (5040 feet).

 

 

 

 

 

From there, we had a view to Apache Lake and Canyon Lake, into the Superstition Wilderness and to the big Valley of the Sun, Phoenix.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The three mile climb down was more difficult than the climb up. There were a lot of young people coming up the trail now, some of them came with their dogs.  Sometimes, the dog was not brave enough to climb up the nearly vertical slope. One dog wore shoes.

 

 

 

Overall, we hiked 6 miles and came back happy and tired in early afternoon.

 

View back to the Superstition Mountains with the Flatiron Mountain top.

Winter Days in Tyrol

Deep  winter surrounds Innsbruck this year in December. The Nordkette is blanketed by steep  snow fields with nearly vertical rocks  reaching up to the sky. Sometimes you can hear explosions caused by artificial detonations for avalanche control. We choose mountains a bit farther away from Innsbruck for our winter activities. On the first day, we climb up with our snow shoes to the Mutterealm.

Icy wind blows in our faces. We are glad to find a protected place for  hot Punsch and cookies.

Anna-Sophie and Robert

We love the chilly harshness of the mountain. However, it gets dark soon and we take the last gondola down to the valley.

The next day we go skiing on the Axamer Lizum. Heavy mist makes everything disappear into a white field of unexpected surprises. It is a challenge for me to trust my skiing abilities, as I did not go skiing for years. I survive without injury. We finish our day with Jägertee in the Almhütte.

The weather is gorgeous when we go sledging on a 6km long slope down the Serlas Mountain in Mieders. Curves, bumps, and icy parts make it even more fun to slide down the mountain with incredible speed.

Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jericho

It would take less than two hours to drive from Amman to Jerusalem without the stop at the bordercrossing of the King Hussein bridge. I was warned by Lorenz. With aggressive  interrogation, he once was kept  for six hours at the Israeli border. I was lucky- nobody asked me anything, I just had to wait one hour for my passport to be cleared. Nevertheless, crossing the border is a confusing experience.

I met my sister Christi in the Austrian Hospice, where we stayed for four nights. The Hospice is located directly at the Via Dolorosa in the Old Town.

Austrian Hospice

The view from the rooftop of the Austrian Hospice is spectacular!

 

To the left is the 8th century Muslim Dome of the Rock. The place is sacred for Jews, Christians and Muslims.  King Solomon built the first Jewish temple over the sacred rock in 960 BC.

Herodes built the second temple, bigger and more luxurious. It is said that the walls were covered with gold. Jesus came to this temple to pray. The Muslims believe that Mohammed ascended to Heaven to meet Allah from the rock. All three religions feel entitled to own this spot.

 

Our favorite place was a cafe opposite the Hospice, from where we watched the life on the street. Often up to 12 young heavily armed policemen stood at the corner and watched the crossing between Via Dolorosa and  Hogai street. One time, a young Palestinian was pulled out of the crowed walking the street and searched with his body turned towards the wall and with his hands up. Nothing could be found.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Christian believer carrying the cross on the Via Dolorosa, the street where Christ was believed to have carried the cross.  We have heard that crosses like that were rented from a Palestinian.

 

 

 

The Hospice is located near the Damascus Gate.

 

 

I never have experienced a town like Jerusalem.  The walled in city with 8 gates was breathing out history from every corner.  Narrow covered streets were filled with smells of herbs, bakery, sweets and incense.  The ringing of church bells, the call of the Muezzin and the singing and praying of Christian pilgrims walking on the Via Dolorosa all had space, together with the early morning call of a cock near our window.  However, on nearly every corner Israeli soldiers were located, dominating and controlling the town with the power of their weapons.  A dangerous calmness filled the streets. I could feel the pinned up emotions of the suppressed population. Often, we talked with locals about a solution to this situation. I came to the conclusion that only a world government giving each group equal rights could solve the problem. Will it ever happen?

We walked a lot. However, this time I hardly took photos. There were too many attention grabbing details, so many interesting sites, people, situations.

 

One of many Suqs (shopping streets) in the Old Town of Jerusalem.  Many Suqs were covered with a vaulted ceiling protecting the people from the sun.

 

The visitors could only be in the outer vicinity of the Dome of the Rock for a short time. I had to wrap the scarf around my dress in order to hide my lower legs. A kind visitor was lending me his scarf to cover my shoulders.

 

We stayed in Jerusalem during the time of the Jewish New Year.  Many traditionally dressed Jews with fur hats, clothed in white or dressed in a black suit with black hat and two curdles dangling down from the belt rushed to the Western wall to pray and celebrate the New Year. We could only go to the right of the Wall, the place of the women. The left side is reserved for men. It was amazing to see the almost trance like states of Jewish men praying, dancing and singing.

In Jordan as well as in Jerusalem mythological stories as well as religious ones all are connected with a specific place.  In Amman, for example, the Roman temple of Hercules is connected to the story of the birth place of Hercules. In Jerusalem, the story of Jesus is always connected to a special place. This goes back to Empress Helena, the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine, who came to Jerusalem at the beginning of the 4th century in search for the most important places of Christianity.

Garden of Gethsemane with 2000 year old olive trees

Church of Holy Sepulchre is the holiest site of Christianity. Over the place where Jesus is thought to be crucified and buried in a tomb, emperor Constantine  built the first church. The recent church dates back to the 11th century. Many pilgrims touch the stone slab were Christ’s body is said to have been placed after his crucifixion.

Crosses in the Church of the  Holy Sepulchre made by the Crusaders who ruled the city for nearly 200 years (1099 – 1291). It was a gruesome history.

 

After two full days in Jerusalem, we took a bus to Bethlehem and a taxi to Jericho. On our way to Jericho, we saw many fortified Jewish settlements in the Palestinian areas.  377,000 Jewish settlers live in the occopied area. They isolate the Palestinian towns and force the Palestinians to  live in very crowded areas. Palestinians do not get permits to build new houses and if they build, they are bull dozed down.  This policy works as a slow depopulation of the Palestinian people. Many Israelis are upset about this behaviour too. The Israeli organisation “Breaking the Silence” collects stories told by Israeli soldiers in order to uncover the unjust and gruesome behaviour of the Israeli government. For centuries justice was a major topic of the people living in this area.  Hopefully, these voices will be heard  and peaceful change will occur.

 

In Jericho, we saw the ruins of the first Western town built 10 000 years ago. High in the cliffs above the town, Jesus is said to have fasted for 40 days. We visited the cave were he fasted and – as the story tells -was tempted by the devil. A monastery is built around this cave like a pigeon loft.

 

 A walkway connecting the different parts of the monastery

 

 

We enjoyed fresh orange and pomegranate juice in the cafe Sultan high up on the cliffs.

 

All the time, strict regulations had to be followed, starting already at breakfast. In the Hospice, a table for breakfast was assigned to us and we could not change it. The breakfast room was in the cellar and very hot and sticky. We wanted to take the breakfast up to the beautiful garden, but it was not allowed. These rules are insignificant ones, but typical for Jerusalem and surroundings. Strict, narrow visiting times, strict rules on how to dress were often enforced. When we wanted to visit the winter palace of Herodes (Herodium) in early afternoon, the Jewish guard told us that the site was closed because of the Jewish New Year. The Palestinian area is divided into three zones,  A,B,C, depending who controls the area. The Herodium is under Israeli control.

We visited the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem, translated as the House of Bread. Underneath the Church of Nativity, a crypt (cave)  is dedicated to the birthplace of Jesus. Many pilgrims kneel down and touch the glass protecting the exact spot where Jesus is said to have been born.

Reported spot where Jesus  was born.

 

Now that I have been in Jerusalem and surroundings for a few days and witnessed people of the different religions expressing their faith deeply, committed and convinced that their believe is right, it made me think about the word religion itself. In Wikipedia I found that originally, the word  derives from RE, meaning “again” and from LIGO meaning “bind, connect”.  For me, it is reconnecting with something above right and wrong, something that is integrating all different forces into a unity. It seems to me that this is the only way to real peace in Jerusalem.

Dana Biosphere Preserve

Two hours south of Amman and close to King’s Highway lies the Dana Biosphere Reserve. My son Lorenz and his wife Ale joined us for a two day hiking experience.

For the Wadi Dana trail (16km), we started in the almost abadoned 15th century village of Dana (1700 m), and walked down  to Feynan Ecolodge (50 m below sea level). At the start, heavy  mist covered the valley, wonderful relief from the burning sun.

 

Birds were chirping, a sound not so common anymore in Jordan. The area is home to 180 species of birds and 600 species of plants. Mammals like ibex, foxes and wolfes live here.

Having lunch under a shady tree

The area of the preserve is rich in copper. 6000 years ago, copper mining started in the valley. Over 100 archeological sites document this history. The Jordan government does not allow copper mining anymore.

 

A taxi picked us up from Feynan Ecolodge. We were told that it is a two hour car drive to come  back to Dana Guesthouse (the place we were staying overnight.

Feynan Ecolodge, reachable only by 4WD

However, the car soon had a problem. It only  could only drive in the 4th gear without stopping. This worked OK in the Wadi Araba, the flat desert although there was no airconditioning and it was very hot. But as soon as we started to climb up to Dana, the car completely broke down. We had to get out and wait for a replacement.

With a sip of Whiskey, we enjoyed the sunset and the view to the Dead Sea. It took almost an hour for the next taxi to arrive.

The next day, we decided to hike the Al Ghuweir trail, a trail leading along a riverbed and through a Siq. Lorenz drove with his 4WD from Shobak castle down a windy, steep road to the entrance of the trail.

Soon the trail narrowed into the Siq. The shade was such a relief from yesterday!

We were prepared to swim through part of  the Siq, but there was no water at all. At one point, a rope was leading over a rock to the lower part. The place was described as the “waterfall”. Anna-Sophie climbed down and went farther into the Siq.

We had lunch and ate for desert a melted Austrian Zotter chocolate. Yummy!

In the evening, we picked up my car at the Shobak visitor center. After we drank tea with mint and sugar, the peope of the visitor center showed us typical Bedouine objects.

Between Petra and Wadi Rum

 It would take 6 days of hiking from Petra to Wadi Rum. Anna-Sophie and I hiked part of the trek for one day. We started in an area where heavy fighting took place between Israel and Jordan in 1967. A cemetery of fallen soldiers was speaking of this

 

We hiked down into a wadi with hardly any path visible. The uneven ground was scattered with many rocks and boulders and required utter attention. Our Bedouine guide Yusuf was looking for a dry stick for me to use as a staff. It helped. He could not speak English, but pointed to many interesting sites and plants.

 



In the middle of nowhere, a Beduine family guarding their goats invited us for tea. They were extremely nice and welcoming. When I asked if I can take a photo, they posed with their weapons.

 

Farther down the valley, we passed some places with water still in the creek.


Our host picked us up in the evening. He prepared  a typical Jordanian meal for us consisting of pieces of lamb, tomatoes, onion, potatoe, garlic and coreander. It was delicious!

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum, the biggest Wadi in Jordan, is located in the south of Jordan and dedicated as a World Heritage site. Because of it’s beauty, Anna-Sophie wanted to do some hiking in it. We were picked up by Obeid at the visitor center, a Bedouine owning the Bedouine Life Camp. We spent two nights in his camp, a wonderful experience!
We slept outside our tent under the bright milky way and the Andromeda galaxy. Our dinner called Zarb was prepared in a cooking pit. For centuries, the Bedouines cooked their food underground in earthen ovens.

Obeid inviting us to dinner

A year ago, I had a very unpleasant experience on a camel ride. The camel threw me off. In order to overcome my fear of camels, I decided to ride a camel again. We started at 6 am in the morning, just before sunrise.

This time, an experienced Bedouine was  leading the group of camels, which were connected by a rope. They were calm. Anna-Sophie was riding on a mother camel with the baby trotting close by.

We hiked through a wadi close to the visitor center. The newly married son of Obeid was our guide. It was hard to walk in the sand, the sand was constantly filling my shoes. When it was cooler, I took off my shoes and walked barefoot. It is not the Bedouine way!

 

 
Wadi Rum, also known as the Valley of the Moon,  is 278 sq mi. One has to use a camel or 4-wheel drive to get around. Obeid’ s son was driving us to different places.

At the place where the movie of Lawrence of Arabia was filmed in 1962, we stopped for tea. Down below you see Obeid’s son.

 


We also saw Nabatean petroglyphs and the place where Lawrence of Arabia lived for a while.

 

 

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