I’m aware that I’m way behind and still need to post about Petra and everything else I saw in Jordan, but ranting takes priority.
Today was without a doubt my hardest, most frustrating day on the road so far. I planned to cross back into Palestine from Jordan through the King Hussein-Allenby Bridge border, then take the bus from the West Bank into Jerusalem to spend the night there before flying to Istanbul in the morning. I was a little hesitant about using this border because it’s known for being very crowded (it’s the only border Palestinian citizens are allowed to use) and has a reputation for being extremely slow… but it was by far the most direct route for me to take. It couldn’t be that bad, right?
Unfortunately, it was.
I woke up at 6 AM and was out the door by 6:30 to catch a cab to Abdali station, where I bought a ticket and hopped on the 7 AM JETT bus to the border. This is the only scheduled bus each day, unless I wanted to wait around all day for a shared taxi to fill up (hint: I didn’t). It took less than an hour to reach and I seemed to be the only tourist on board, the rest of the passengers being 8 or 10 middle aged men in military-esque uniforms who I thought must work at the border.
The bus spit me out in a parking lot with several unmarked buildings and the nightmare began. They don’t seem to believe in signage at this border, so I stood around idiotically until someone took pity on me and told me which building to go into. The first guard I encountered ran my bags through a scanner and then proceeded to stare off into space for a while, so I just picked up my things and guessed that I should go into the next room, since obviously no one actually felt like telling me.
Turned out to be the right choice: I joined the line that was forming there. While we were waiting, an official came in (smoking a cigarette the whole time, despite the huge “No Smoking” sign on the wall… welcome to Jordan) and kept asking us all if we had “papers”. Other than our passports, no one knew what he was talking about, and he seemed very annoyed but then returned with small slips of paper for us to list our names and nationalities on.
The official in Window 1 glanced at my passport. I had also been anxious about this border crossing because I thought I may have been given the wrong visa by accident. I had heard mention of a free Jordanian visa that is available only at Aqaba, but it comes with the caveat that you must exit the country through Aqaba as well. I never meant to get this one, but after I had entered Jordan I realized no one ever charged me for a visa and thought that must be what they had given me. So I was half-expecting them to turn me away at this different border and tell me to go back to Aqaba, or else I’d have to cough up the money for another visa.
Turns out I was worried for nothing, as the first official barely even looked at my entry stamp before adding it to a pile that he then pushed over to the man in the next window, then told me to step down and wait there.
Apparently that was incorrect information. I guess going from Window 1 to Window 2 would just be too logical, wouldn’t it? Instead I was supposed to go pay my exit tax of 10JD at Window 3, across the hall, before returning to the second window to wait. I never would have figured this out on my own, but luckily another woman in line tipped me off.
Back to the mob crowding around Window 2. The official there grabbed passports, seemingly at random, and called up whoever’s he was holding. He flicked through it, asked a couple of questions, took our exit tax receipt and other random slip of paper, and then set the whole mess aside in another pile. When it was my turn I crossed my fingers, then breathed a sigh of relief when he told me to get on the bus. Yes, I was not being detained for having the wrong visa! (If indeed that is what I had, since I’m still unsure.)
Outside, I purchased my bus ticket (7JD plus 1.5JD for my bag) and boarded. We waited a while for the bus to fill up completely, then another 20 minutes or so for an official to distribute the massive stack of passports back to their rightful owners. Luckily the one in charge of this was very friendly and kept making jokes, so the wait was almost entertaining.
I was told they only stamped the separate piece of paper for me, not my actual passport, but I fail to understand the purpose of that as I had an entry stamp already. Now it just looks like I never left the country. Besides, I don’t know of any countries with restrictions on travel to Jordan, though I could be mistaken.
Eventually the bus set off on its four or five minute journey through no-man’s-land. We stopped halfway at a police checkpoint where an officer got on, checked each of our passports again, and took one of our many scraps of paper.
Finally we reached the Israeli side of the border… only to see a massive line in front. Well, “line” is generous. It was utter chaos, basically just a huge, pushy crowd. I grabbed my backpack from where it had been unceremoniously dumped on the sidewalk and tried to be as patient as I could as we slowly wound our way through the barricades.
It was even worse up front. The “line” split and I had no idea which way to go. A man in a fluorescent vest kept telling me to put my bag on a conveyor belt, and it was immediately whisked away into the bowels of the building. A moment later I realized that all the other bags that were going in were tagged with barcodes like that the airport, and people were crowding around one window to get the required stickers. Oh, crap. I joined the mob and tried to be very aggressive about holding my space, but several people still managed to cut me. I was beginning to see that the concept of a line is not very well understood here.
Finally at the front, I did my best to explain my predicament to the single man working the luggage counter that hundreds of bags were now passing through. He initially went to look for my backpack, but at least 10 minutes had passed and it was probably on the other side of the building being searched by now, so he soon came back, slapped a sticker on my passport, and told me not to worry about it.
I joined the next line I saw. Once again, a single window open, dozens of people pushing and shoving. After what felt like half a lifetime, I was up. I repeated the process of pushing my passport through a slot in bulletproof glass and smiling hopefully, for what seemed like the hundredth time that day. After I answered a few basic questions (name, date of birth), a different sticker was added to my passport and I was told to go inside.
The line for the metal detectors wrapped around the entire room — once again, only one lane open. It had dawned on me quite a while ago that I hadn’t gone to the bathroom since I left my hostel in Amman that morning, and I’d had quite a bit to drink since then. Now, I saw a very welcome restroom sign off in the distance, shining like a beacon behind the metal detectors. Could this line move any slower?
Because apparently I hadn’t been through enough yet, my sandals set off the metal detector, and I had to go back through it again barefoot. Finally I was given the all clear, rushed to put my shoes back on, and dashed off to the bathroom before proceeding to the worst part of all: passport control.
I may not have realized it, but it had all been a cakewalk up until this point. A horde of us were made to stand in a holding area, watched over by a teenage girl who was ostensibly supposed to feed us one by one into the different lanes, but she lacked the proper authority. So each time she told one person to go ahead, a crowd of 10 or 15 people bum rushed her. Each time I tried to sneak along with them, her death glare stopped me, and I thought my good behavior might get her to select me next (since it’s not like we were actually in any kind of order) but no such luck.
A stout Palestinian grandmother basically leaned on me until I shifted slightly (I guess even an inch of personal space was too much to ask), then cut in front of me and half the line. Several others then did the same. It was total chaos.
The same thing occurred once I was finally moved to the line for Window 9. The father of a family of six cut me in line and then stared daggers at me when I tried to cut him back. A teenage boy in the next line over decided he’d rather be in front of me as well, but by then I’d learned — when he tried it, I stuck my elbows out and wished they were sharper. No way, no how, buddy. There were multiple crying babies, as well, just to make it an even more uncomfortable environment.
I realized why it was taking so long once I reached the window. Here was the notorious Israeli interrogation I’d heard so much about. The woman started off with simple questions — name, date of birth, once again — and continued from there:
Why did you go to Jordan? Where did you go in Jordan? How long were you in each place? Is this your first time in Israel? When were you here before? Why? What is the purpose for your visit this time? Aren’t you afraid to be here? What city are you going to now? How long will you be there? When is your flight out? (She even made me provide proof by pulling out my phone and showing her the email confirmation for my flight to Istanbul.) What are you going to do in Turkey? What is the name of the friend you are meeting? What is your father’s name? What is your mother’s name? Are you Jewish? Are you planning to travel to the West Bank?
Just when I was wondering how much longer this would go on, she handed me back my passport, paper visa tucked inside, and told me to enjoy my visit.
Free, free at last! But first I had to find my backpack among the piles of luggage that were practically thrown all over the next room. Eventually I found it tucked in a corner under the baggage carousel and managed to dig it out.
Finally I was on Palestinian soil (as manned by the Israeli Airport Authority). I purchased a Diet Coke from a vendor (desperately needed after that ordeal) and a ticket for the minibus, and after waiting a few minutes to get a complete load of passengers, I was on my way back to Jerusalem.
For the record, I left Amman at 7 sharp and we were at the border around a quarter to eight. It was past noon by the time I boarded the bus to Jerusalem on the other side. More than 4 hours to pass through the border. I’m glad I allotted an entire day, and happy that nothing went wrong to make it more than a time suck, but still. What a day.