We joined Bro. Bo Sanchez’s “Receive Your Miracle” 10-Day Pilgrimage to the Holy Land last February 2014. It’s a life-changing and blessed experience that every Christian should do at least once in their lifetime. It’s best to go with your special someone and a great opportunity to renew your vows.
This Holy Week, I’ll be sharing with you a photo essay of our day-to-day experience throughout the pilgrimage. May these photo essays bless you and inspire you to go to Holy Land one of these days.
Let’s start with the beginning of our journey, from Manila to Israel…
A week before the trip, we had a pilgrimage pre-departure orientation at the Century Plaza Hotel, which started with the Holy Mass.
Bro. Bo highlighted the mantra throughout the trip: “I am a Pilgrim, NOT a Tourist”. A Pilgrim is on a prayer quest to discover the Lord and His message for him in his life by following Jesus’ footsteps in the Holy Land, while a Tourist is on a trip to see the sights, sounds, and flavors of Israel.
A simple merienda with coffee and tea was served during the orientation.
The Pilgrimage Travel expectations and itinerary were discussed. The plane tickets, song books, and travel guides were given with freebies from the travel agency, Executive Resources, Inc.
NOTE: I was pleasantly surprised that there is no VISA required to travel to Israel.
We were a total of 140+ pilgrims and were grouped into 3 buses — Blue, Green, and Orange. We had a chance to meet our Blue busmates, who became our friends during and after the trip.
MANILA ✈ HONGKONG
We took the closest direct flight to Israel via Hong Kong. PAL flight PR300 leaves Manila at 08.00am and arrives in Hong Kong at 10.15am. Some would usually go via Egypt or Dubai, which is relatively cheaper but also a bit longer.
The pilgrims are a mix of religious people, married couples excited to renew their vows, and families who want to experience the Holy Land together.
We were blessed to go on this trip with Bro. Bo and his beautiful wife Marowe Sanchez, and our broker friend Ethel with husband Lito de Guzman.
After arrival in Hong Kong, we proceeded to the W1 EL AL Airline transfer desk for the security checks before boarding our flight to Israel.
It would take a couple of hours for all the pilgrims to be processed at the transfer desk.
We were warned about the strict security measures implemented by EL AL. They would interview you about who packed your bags and your travel itinerary.
TIP: You can also register for the frequent flyer program of EL AL online at elal.co.il.
A case in point, the travel agency gave a free travel bag to all the pilgrims and EL AL insisted that we check those in, probably because there were a lot of bags that looked alike and they were given by someone else.
NOTE: Since there is no travel visa needed for Israel and because of their political situation, their security measures can be characterized as extreme in nature. Better safe than sorry.
You have to make sure that your bags are checked in all the way to Tel Aviv and not just HK. Otherwise, you would have to pickup your luggage and check it in manually at the EL AL desk.
After you get your EL AL boarding passes, you can proceed to the boarding gates in the departure area.
The boarding gates are located in Hong Kong International Airport Terminal 1, which have boring shops. Sadly, there’s no time to go to Terminal 2.
So we decided to go to the paid premium lounge because I needed to publish a blog post about Valentine’s before our Israel trip.
The Plaza Premium Lounge on Level 6 of Terminal 1 costs HK$ 400/person, with decent Chinese meal options available and most importantly, a reliable and fast WiFi connection.
Before we left for Tel Aviv, we had a pilgrim community prayer and worship for a safe voyage.
HONG KONG ✈ TEL AVIV
Here’s the economy seat view of EL AL, which is the flagship carrier of Israel. EL AL Flight LY076 left Hong Kong at 9.00pm and we braced ourselves for the 10-hour and 55-minute flying time.
The seats were a bit cramped, the video screens small, and the movie selections just OK. I was expecting a more hi-tech cabin from a flagship carrier.
Make sure you read the lifestyle articles in Atmosphere magazine and bring your own book to accompany you throughout the trip.
We were served dinner upon departure from Hong Kong, with the usual fruits, vegetables, bread, dessert, and main dish.
This is my first certified kosher meal for the trip, a good preview of what food in Israel is all about.
Try to stay awake throughout the flight to adjust your body to Israel time and minimize jet lag.
Before arrival, they serve an omelet with cheese, vegetables, fruits, and bread for breakfast.
The flight arrives at 10.55pm in Tel Aviv. Philippine time is ahead by 6 hours.
TOUCHDOWN TEL AVIV
It was a bit cold when we arrived in Tel Aviv, with an estimated temperature of 9-16 C or 48-60 F.
At this point, I still couldn’t believe that my wife and I were realizing our dream to visit the Holy Land together.
I don’t usually like joining big tour groups because it’s harder to get to know everyone.
Fr. Jose Joel Jason led us in the Thanksgiving Prayer for finally arriving in the Holy Land!
This elevator was the first to greet us with “Welcome to Israel”. 🙂
As you walk along, you’ll arrive at this view of the shops in the departure area.
This is the long ramp down to the Immigration Area.
Make sure to travel with a good wheeled luggage.
This is the Immigration Area. Make sure to ask the officer not to stamp your passport.
You will be given a barcoded access pass…
…which you would need to scan to pass through these gates.
We were greeted by the tour guide from VERED Hasharon, which is the travel agency partner of Executive Resources in Israel.
Welcome to Israel! 🙂
This is where you claim your bags after passing through Immigration.
As you get out of the terminal, you’ll be greeted by this grand welcome lobby.
There is limited WiFi access throughout the trip, so you can get a local sim or WiFi access here.
We exhanged $100 for 324.30 shekels. We realized later on that we only needed shekels in Tiberias. It would be better to use Dollars in Jerusalem and throughout most of the trip so no need to exchange your USD. If you want to, just exhange $20.
We were eager to board our BLUE bus and check-in to our hotel.
Our bus was clean, comfortable, and has good leg room.
We met our funny Jewish tour guide who explained the expectations for the trip.
To manage the check-ins, they already gave us our key cards on the bus so that we could proceed directly to our rooms.
KFAR MACCABIAH HOTEL & SUITES, TEL AVIV
The art installation infront of the hotel reads:
Judah ben Teima used to say: “Be strong as the leopard, swift as the eagle, fast as the gazelle, and brave as the lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven.”
Donated by Marta & Guiora Esrubilsky.
In memory of the fallen in the wars of Israel, as heritage to our childen and grandchildren and as a mark of respect for our parents.
This is the main lobby of Kfar Maccabiah Hotel, which was the best hotel throughout our trip.
Luggage stickers were given for those who wanted to have their bags delivered to their room.
There was traffic going up to our rooms because of the small elevators so it was best to take the stairs.
The narrow hallway leading to room 409.
We had a nice spacious room with a queen bed.
They served dinner in the room, which was wasted because we were still full and it was midnight already.
The best restroom in our trip.
The toiletries in the room. Best to bring your own soap, shampoo, and conditioner.
The plugs in Israel are with the two rounded prongs so make sure you bring an adaptor.
WiFi is not free. I had to pay $20 for one day of reliable, fast, and stable internet connection.
P.S. The Next Holy Land Pilgrimage by Bro. Bo Sanchez is on February 10-19, 2015. For more info, you can email Tita Beckie at Beaconlighteventsfirstname.lastname@example.org
P.P.S. The pilgrimage tour costs P340,108 (exchange rate P44.65 – $1) for a couple, broken down into the following:
Tour Cost: $2,995.00 x 2 = $5,990
Airline/ Other Taxes: $495 x 2 = $980
Tip Fund: $100 x 2 = $200
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner: $130 x 2 = $260
Travel Insurance: $45 x 2 = $90
Philippine Travel Tax: P1,620 x 2 = P3,240
Airport Tax: P550 x 2 = P1,100
Note: There’s a $300/person non-refundable reservation for the trip, which is deductable from the total amount.
Overall, the Pilgrimage tour with Bro. Bo Sanchez is relatively more expensive than the other pilgrimage trips organized with Executive Resources. But it is the best experience for us because of The Feast (Community Worship Gathering) and the Feast Builders who make the trip awesome. 🙂
TIP: You can decide to book your own airfare if you plan to visit other countries after your pilgrimage.