Wyatt Emmerich: Adventures on my way to hike the Jesus Trail

Wyatt Emmerich

Editor’s note: This is the first of a series of travel log columns by Mississippi newspaper publisher Wyatt Emmerich from his trip to hike the Jesus Trail in Israel.

BILLIONthe hardest part of traveling to an exotic destination is getting someone to go with you. So when my friend Jeff Weill asked me to hike the Jesus Trail in Israel I said yes. I mean I’m 63. If not now when?

This trip is different because we are hiking and backpacking. Everything we need is carried on our backs. I am experienced at this, with about eight months of backpacking under my belt. Problem is, that was 37 years ago. With some rearranging, I got my borrowed high-tech backpack down to 15 pounds total.

Perhaps the most important item for international travel today is making sure your cell phone works overseas without putting you in bankruptcy. The way to do that is to buy a local SIM card.

I used the Internet to shop for a great deal on an Israeli SIM with 50 gigs for $30.

We had to have five documents: A negative COVID test, vaccination cards, passport, proof of medical insurance and a complex, computer-generated Israel arrival form. Rather than buy special COVID travel insurance, Jeff and I both went to the Mississippi Blue Cross Blue Shield website and printed out a free proof of insurance. (Jeff and I compete to see who can be the cheapest and we figured that would get us through.) Nobody ever asked us for the proof of insurance documents.

Both Jeff and I took smaller daypacks on the plane with enough essentials so we could continue on our trip even if our luggage was lost. Jeff bagged and taped our backpacks so we could check it as one bag and save money.

The total affair was $1,160, which is pretty darn amazing to go one-third the way around the world.

All our documents checked out in Jackson and we boarded our flight to Dallas. After a perfect two-hour layover, we boarded our 10.5 hour flight to Helsinki, Finland. Documents checked again, no problem.

As it turns out, the flight to Helsinki was almost completely empty. I guess this is what happens when the government is your major Shareholder. Every passenger was able to lay out over three or more seats and even then nine out of 20 rows were empty. I have never seen anything like it. It made me wonder if the Russian-Ukraine war was a factor.

We had an eight-hour layover in Helsinki (the airport was stark, clean and elegant) so we decided to do a quick visit of downtown Helsinki. We asked the guy at passport control if this was OK and after checking our documents, he said “no problem.”

We Googled “most scenic restaurant” in Helsinki, picked the finalist and caught the train into town. We had to walk about 20 minutes, but it was through the heart of downtown Helsinki. Snow was on the ground and we were wearing light jackets.

Helsinki is just what you would imagine: a European city with a slightly Eastern European/Russian feel. It was developed and prospered, approximately equal to the US It’s what Ukraine was becoming before falling victim to this hideous war.

As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Finland, already in the EU, may soon announce plans, along with Sweden, to join NATO. Russia has invaded Finland multiple times, most recently in 1939 but the fierce resistance of the Finnish people has protected their independence. The war in 25,000 Finnish soldiers dead and 150,000 Russian soldiers dead.

After a delicious lunch surrounded by a scenic view of the Helsinki harbor, we took an Uber to the magnificent Helsinki Cathedral where one hundred or so decked out youngsters were taking senior prom photos. The young girls were in fancy dresses and the boys in elaborate tuxedos. The chilly breeze didn’t seem to bother the girls’ bare-backed formal gowns. The kids were friendly and we chatted about life in Helsinki.

We Ubered back to the airport. We had plenty of time, but we got lost in the airport due to horrible signage and had to exit and go through security a second time.

We still had 15 minutes to spare when a newbie at the Finnair flight desk noticed an error in my Israel entry form. The Israelis do dates with the day, month, year. My form has month, day, year. In the old days, I could have just corrected this with a pen but in the computer age, it meant the whole form was invalid, and I couldn’t get on the plane.

I did a Google search, found the form and, with shaky fingers and pounding heart, completed it just in the nick of time. I now had a valid Green Pass and could get on the plane. I was on my way.

PS: You can go to the Northside Sun’s website and click on the Friends menu and follow my journey down the Jesus Trail. My posts are public so you don’t have to register or be my friend to view them.

Wyatt Emmerich is the editor and publisher of The Northside Sun, a weekly newspaper in Jackson. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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