Holy Land Day 4: Jordan River, Jericho, Mount of Temptation, Qumran, Jerusalem

The day started departing Tiberias at the Sea of Galilee shortly after sunrise as we made our way along the Jordan River to the site thought to be very close to the Baptismal Site of Jesus Christ. Many pilgrims among our group commemorated their baptisms in the Jordan.

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From there we stopped in Jericho for some camel riding before we took the cable cars up to the Mount of Temptation where we toured the Greek Orthodox Monastery impressively built into the cliffs of the mountain.

Afterwards, we were treated to views of the Qumran Caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by Bedouin shepherds in 1946. We learned that the texts are of great historical, religious, and linguistic significance because they include the second-oldest known surviving manuscripts of works later included in the Hebrew Bible canon. The group then enjoyed a dip in the Dead Sea to experience the extreme buoyancy and rejuvenating properties of the Dead Sea minerals.

From there we were not far from Jerusalem so we drove on into the city to get settled at our hotel. After a much-needed break, we walked into the old city at Jaffa Gate to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We witnessed the centuries-old nightly ritual of the locking and handing over of the doors of the Sepulcher. Since the 1400s a Muslim family has been entrusted with the safekeeping of the key and the responsibilities of locking and unlocking of the door each morning and evening. This allows for keeping the neutral status of the site between Christian denominations. We then enjoyed pizza and wine at Jacob’s Pizza.

We then walked through the dark walkways across the city to the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter. Quite a day!

Holy Land Day 3: Sea of Galilee, Magdala, Mount of Beatitudes

My day started early with a gorgeous view of the sunrise from the Scotts Hotel in Tiberias.

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After breakfast, we embarked upon a boating excursion on the Sea of Galilee where our guide showed us how fishing was done in the time of Jesus. Pastor Chris Seay shared with us from the account of Matthew’s Gospel describing Jesus walking on the water and Peter’s struggle with his faith to follow Jesus onto the water. The sunny but hazy conditions created for some interesting light for photography.

We then headed to an active archaeological site called Magdala, the site of at least two places in ancient Israel mentioned in the Jewish Talmud and possibly a location mentioned in the Christian New Testament. They have discovered an ancient Jewish Synagogue which would have been active during Jesus’ time. Pastor Chris told us is almost 100% certain that Jesus would have visited this Synagogue. A chapel is also located at the site with a beautiful view of the lake. The Irish Catholic priest was very passionate about the site and shared with us many insights into the importance of the find. He said the discovery is on par with the Dead Sea Scrolls in historical importance.

Later we enjoyed an extravagant meal at the Auberge Shulamit where the owner personally introduced us to the menu and helped serve with a very friendly staff. It was a great experience with a beautiful view of the Sea of Galilee and all several local towns lit up along the shore. After dinner Pastor Chris led the group in an after-hours visit to the Mount of Beatitudes where he read us the entire Sermon on the Mount at the location it is traditionally believed to have been preached by Jesus. The night sky was very clear. It was an unforgettable evening.

Holy Land Day 2: Nazareth, Tulip Winery, Cana

Continuing our tour with Ecclesia Houston, guided by Breaking Bread Journeys, today we visited Mary’s Well, which is believed to be located at the site where Christians hold that the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she would bear the Son of God, an event known as the Annunciation.

Found just below the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in modern-day Nazareth, the well was positioned over an underground spring that served for centuries as a local watering hole for the Arab villagers. The actual well-spring is difficult to see down a dark passage, but I did manage to get some shots of the beautiful interior of the Greek Orthodox church; Greek iconography is one of my favorite art forms.

Be sure to follow my fellow documentarian Giovanni Arias for his perspective on the journey, including some great videos, like this one at Cana today.

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For lunch we spent the afternoon hearing the beautiful story of Tulip Winery. The Israeli winery employs special needs adults who make their home in the village of Kfar Tikvah where the winery is located, in the Haifa District. We met some of these wonderful people whose lives have been transformed through the healing of having a job they love, where they are appreciated and valued. We were treated to a delicious lunch and an unforgettable wine tasting. We were blessed by our host who we could tell was very enthusiastic about the cause behind Tulip, which employs 39 special needs adults who live in the village where the winery is located, a former kibbutz. The village’s name appropriately means “Village of Hope.” This was my 5th visit to Tulip, but today was the first time I had noticed their horse stables and rabbit hutches. Today we learned that they keep various animals for the purpose of therapy for the special needs adults. In my opinion, horses are majestic and beautiful animals and I love the rare chance I have to photograph them.

From Tulip Winery we made our way to Cana, where, according to John’s Gospel, Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine for a wedding celebration. Married couples from our group took the opportunity to renew their wedding vows in a very moving ceremony in one of the gardens of the Franciscan Wedding Church.

Holy Land Day 1: Tel Aviv, Jacob’s Well, Nablus Old City, Samaritan Village, Har Bracha Winery

Again I have the unexpected honor of traveling with Ecclesia Houston on a very special tour of the holy land with Breaking Bread Journeys, led by Pastor Chris Seay. We’re hearing from all sides of the complex issues that face this land and its diverse population, while we also visit sacred sites and enjoy local foods and wines prepared by those we’re hearing from. This is my fifth Ecclesia group to shoot for; it’s an absolute thrill to be with them again.

Our journey began in Tel Aviv yesterday where we caught a breathtaking sunset. A local friend told me it’s only this clear about 2 days of the year. We caught the sky at a good time after recent rains.

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We started our tour by making our way from Tel Aviv to Nablus in the West Bank of the Palestinian Territories. Our first stop was to the Greek Orthodox Church that sits atop the two-millenia-old Jacob’s Well. I was pretty thrilled that they were actually allowing photos of the well today!

Next, we made our way into Nablus city to tour an olive oil soap factory that’s been making hand-cut soap for 180 years. It has made Nablus famous throughout the middle east for its soap.

We then began walking through the old city of Nablus to sample various snacks, spices and sweets of the merchants. We were also invited to tour a famous Sufi mosque where were able to hear from the local Imam, a moderate Muslim who campaigns for peace. Our pastor is making plans for him to visit our church in Houston in the interest in inter-faith dialog and peace.

Next we arrived at an event prepared by Slow Food Nablus, the culinary school for The House of Dignity which is an empowerment and education program for Palestinian women. The women of this community are incredibly joyful and were so happy to serve us. Our meal was an unbelievable feast we will not soon forget. After the meal, I wandered around the dining hall to capture some more local street scenes. If you haven’t noticed, I have a slight obsession with doors.

Next up, we visited a Samaritan museum on Mt. Gerizim. This Samaritan Priest explained to us much about the Samaritan faith and its deep history in the region. After that, we were treated to a breathtaking view of Nablus and environs from the top of the mountain. Next, we were able to hear a Jewish perspective, from a winery owner on Mt. Gerizim who allowed us to sample his award-winning wines at Har Bracha Winery.

Alaska Day 3: Chugach National Forest

Today was my last day of my all-too-brief visit with dear friends John & Heather. I was fortunate enough to get a tour of the stunning Chugach National Forest south of Anchorage, where we explored a few trails and drove to various scenic vistas. The weather was amazing, in the high 30s; sunny yet still quite invigorating for this coastal Texas boy (I consider anything under 45f “freezing”). We took the Seward Highway from Anchorage around the fjord-like Turnagain Arm toward the town of Hope, Alaska. The morning fog soon lifted to reveal brilliant cloud-dotted blue skies. Heavenly.

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Alaska Day 2: Road Trip to Matanuska Glacier

Had another amazing day in Alaska. We drove north from Anchorage up to Matanuska Glacier, making several stops. The scenes all along the way were breathtaking. We got back to Anchorage just in time for a spectacular sunset over Cook Inlet. I barely had time for speed edits on these, just throwing them up so I can make way for today’s adventures. Hope you enjoy. Click/Tap on any image to start a slideshow. 

Alaska Day 1: Hatcher Pass

I’m here in Alaska visiting old friends who have been gracious enough to plan some excursions for me. Today we made our way up Highway 3 to Hatcher Pass. There we took a day hike up past Independence Mine to Gold Cord Lake. The views were breathtaking. Once we got higher up it started snowing and it was just a beautiful scene at the lake. Here are a few of my favorite shots from the day. Tap/Click on any image to start a slideshow.