“It’s walking distance”
This reply set off warning signals in all our heads. So we asked again.
“How do we get from the Israeli border to the Jordanian border?”
Then again, “it’s walking distance. Someone will be waiting for you when you reach Jordan.”
We did not have a map or internet to check the validity of this assumption of ability to cover an entire countries coastal region on foot, carrying 20kg backpacks. So we had no choice but to hoist our belongings over our already weary shoulders, clip up our waist and chest straps and enter the Israeli border security building. It wasn’t a particularly busy place, not at 0700. So the three of us shouldn’t take too long to clear customs and see what kind of country has an access to the Red Sea that can be taken at a leisurely stroll. Maria and I had never been to Israel before, or any countries that don’t recognise Israel as a country (not yet), so our bags went through the x-ray machine, and our passports flipped through with no drama. I decided to use the bathroom during my brief stay in Israel, preempting a less than walk-able walk. After exiting the facilities, a security officer indicated for me to sit on a stool off to one side and away from Maria, while our third member was being questioned.
“So this is your second visit to Israel in two weeks?”
“What is your business here?”
“So you have an interest in the Muslim religion?”
My head popped up like a meerkat. Our friend still had a pamphlet given to the tour group from a mosque visited in Cairo. He explained as much. The security officers still seemed suspicious as they emptied the rest of his bags and examined all his books. This was going well.
The rest of the group would not have this problem. They would be taking the ferry from Dahab to Aqaba, bypassing the need to enter Israel. This would also mean that they would have to leave Jordan the same way. The three of us had planned to leave Jordan from Amman, which meant we’d have to enter Jordan via land and hence, via Israel.
“How long are you planning to stay in Israel?”
Thankfully he had forgotten his book “the life of the prophet Mohammed” on the bus or this might take a little longer. However, fifteen minutes waiting to enter a suspicious nation like Israel seems a lot longer when it’s not your final destination and people would be waiting.
After repacking his bag we were on our way. Maria and I got a piece of paper stamped to avoid complications in Dubai and we had entered Israel!
There were no signs to the Jordanian border but it was suppose to be close. Walking distance even!
An hour later.
It can’t be that much further. We decided to see what was around the next corner and behind that mountain edge. Our bags were straining on our shoulders and the temperature was rising steadily. A few taxi’s and buses had past. A passer by that appeared stoned and sleep deprived could barely tell where he was let alone where we wanted to be. There was a city in the distance. A city we knew was still part of Israel and was not walking distance.
We hailed a taxi. We had no money but we needed to know where we were.
“Hiya, do you speak English?”
“Ummm, how far is the Jordanian border?”
My jaw drops and I stare vacantly at the driver. To him, there is either a giant spider on his face, or this news has not faired well with this smelly and sweaty tourist. I glance at the others and they seem equally disappointed.
“Can you drive us there? Errr…we have no money but if you take us past an ATM…?”
“OK, no problem”
The rest of my memory is a flash of one injustice and annoyance to another.
Walking distance! Now we have to pay for a taxi. The taxi driver was a nice guy and friendly but I’d rather not have had to meet him.
We arrive at the border and have to pay a leaving tax! We had also been told that all our Visa payments and fees were covered. But we couldn’t pay that at this window, we had to go back to the bank window to pay that tax. Then line up again. More bag checks. Expected but with the mood I’m in this is just another insult. I’m way more moody than I need to be. Entering Jordan, a long, slow line to have our passports checked.
A man near the front of the line looks us up and down. What now? We’re the only non-middle-eastern appearing people around. Yeah we don’t fit in, stop staring at us.
He gives us a sideways glance and a tentative point. “Travel Talk?”
Our tour company.
Our eyes light up. “Yes. Yes that’s us!”
He frowns. “Where have you been? There is a car waiting for you at the Egypt-Israeli border!”
If this was a party, the music would stop and everyone would get a chill down their spine like some shit was about to go down. Almost on cue the three of us inhale sharply and start letting out what has happened to us in the past 2 hours from being dropped off at the border and told to walk to Jordan. No car waiting; taxi. Not walking distance; taxi. No money; taxes. We’re tired, no idea what’s going on. We would have done better without being told what to do and just left to our own devices. We wouldn’t have started walking for an hour, we would have got in the first taxi we’d seen. I feel like a baby but I don’t care. My shoulders hurt and I want a nap.
But our dramas are over. The nice man who listened to us complain refunds all expenses we incurred, including taxi and taxes, and takes us to meet with the rest of the group in Aqaba. We recap our story to our new friends from the tour and eat some inexpensive falafel wraps and feel a whole lot better about ourselves. It didn’t even take us a day to look back on this experience with a smile. After all, that’s what travelling is all about. Stories to tell friends so they can become a part of the unique experiences you encounter on your journeys. A set of challenges that throw you out of your comfort zone so you can learn more about yourself and hopefully grow calmer and wiser.
This was back in 2013 on a long trip back home from London. Our journey took us through Egypt, Israel, Jordan, UAE, Oman, Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia/Borneo and Western Australia. I'll see if I can dig up some more memories and images in later posts. Thanks for reading!