At four in the morning some guy knocks loudly and insistently at the room next door, waking us all up. Skye manages to fall back to sleep but Sandra has to pull out her Kindle and read until the muezzin call for morning prayer. In the morning, none of us is too hungry and Ryo and Sandra have upset tummies, so we’re not too disappointed by the disappointing breakfast buffet.
We’re down in lobby at 8 sharp, Swiss precision obliges. We scan the room trying to figure out who is here to pick us up. A Palestinian guy stubs out his cigarette and walks over to the reception just as the reception receives a call: “You will be late? What time?” He says something to the Palestinian driver who stomps out of the lobby in irritation. An American woman soon shows up at the reception in a fluster: “I just called, our taxi is here but my husband’s gone for a walk, he should be back in 30 minutes”. The driver comes back in all stressed out: “But it is Easter Sunday, the border closes at 10am, we must go now!”
Now we’re getting stressed: where is our driver? The driver insists: “But I have pickup for 8am!” and the woman pleads in return “But nobody told us what time we were leaving!” The driver looks at her doubtfully: “But 3 people, yes?” “Yes, yes, three people, for Allenby bridge.” Skye’s ears perk up at this and he jumps in: “Three people? What name do you have?” The driver turns to look at the only group of 3 people in the otherwise empty lobby: “Sandra Logan.” (Skye does big eye roll)
We race out of Jerusalem, our driver cursing the time lost. We cross the wall marking Palestinian territory and enter a particularly dry stretch of land with scattered shacks, goats and camels. We start dropping in altitude as we plunge down the hills and finally reach flat land with palm groves, 300m below sea level! We skirt Jericho and then arrive at a checkpoint just after 8:30 with a long line of coaches, taxis and cars. The wait takes forever as the clock ticks closer and closer to 10 o’clock. Our driver is rather nervous and keeps hopping in and out of the car, smoking, asking around… Despite the agitation, we try to keep calm reading our Kindles while Ryo watches a movie on his tablet, and wondering what our backup plan is if we don’t make it through before the border closes.
Amid the animated Arabic chatter we pick up one word often repeated: فوضى (“fauda”). It means “chaos” which we recognized as it is the name of an Israeli series available on Netflix, worth checking out! An indeed the situation is complete fauda… we inch very slowly towards the security control, and at last at 9:59 (literally!) it’s our turn. After a perfunctory look at our suitcases, passports and a quick check under the car with a mirror, we are let through with a yellow slip. The driver races through the limestone landscape, across the Allenby bridge and we arrive finally at the border crossing. He hands over the yellow paper and then leaves us in the hands of some guys who take our suitcases and usher us into a building packed with people.
There are passport control lines everywhere and we find the booth were we can pay the exit tax. Luckily it’s not very busy and we are relieved to be able to pay by credit card because we’re short on cash. A few other westerners are hanging around not too sure what they are supposed to do. A pretty lady asks us in accented French if she is in the right lane to pay the tax. After paying about $150, we go to the end of one of the long lines for passport control. An Israeli woman pulls us out of the line and we fear for the worst: what line are we supposed to be in? It turns out that she saw that we have biometric passports and we’re taken to a sort of kiosk with absolutely nobody waiting: we must be the only ones with biometric passports. The machine reads our biometric data from the passport, and then does a facial scan to match the data, before spitting out an exit slip. Excellent!
We just have to show our slip at a final checkpoint and we’re out. There are two lines: Skye hesitates and chooses one. Wisely as it turns out: in the other line the guy who would have been in front of us suddenly raises his hand to his mouth and vomits generously over everybody’s shoes. We finally get out of the building, thinking we are through: just pick up our suitcases and find our next driver. Well we are mistaken, apparently this is not really Jordan yet, it is just the Israeli exit post, Jordan is still a ways up the road. Skye enquires, and it seems we have to take a shuttle bus to get there. We climb into one guy’s minivan, impressed by his voluminous moustache and captain’s shirt with official-looking epaulettes. We just have to wait until he finds 10 other people to fill up the van and we’re off.
Moustache slowly rounds up other lost souls wandering about aimlessly looking for the border, and we end up an interesting bunch. The pretty lady from the queue who spoke to us in French boards with her tall (presumably) husband. Then a German Mom & daughter. And an elderly Arabic couple, who reveal that they know German. The pretty lady’s boyfriend chimes in with accented German, revealing that they’re from Brasil and Sandra jumps into the animated German conversation as well.
There is also another Arabic guy sitting next to us who speaks good English. When he surprisingly pulls out a Canadian passport Skye asks him where he’s from. Turns out his Mom is Palestinian, his Dad is Jordanian, and they moved to Mississauga when he was 5. With a couple of South African girls in the front we make for unlikely bedfellows for the few kilometers to the Jordanian border proper.
Here we get out of the bus and are separated from our luggage again, and have to pay for the transfer. Skye races out to the ATM which cheerfully says “thanks for your withdrawal!” before abruptly shutting down with an “out of order” message before spitting out any cash (we discovered later that certain machines don’t like the fact that Skye has a 6-digit PIN code). Skye races to the cash desk to change our last Shekels in Jordan Dinars, pays the bus driver, and then we can finally try to enter Jordan.
We are relieved to be greeted by a jovial French speaking Jordanian representative from our agency, because this border crossing is starting to border on ridiculous at this stage. There is a small hitch again, as our agency registered us as French and not Swiss on the entry papers. Thankfully our man is up to the challenge, and after several back and forth trips between the police and the immigration officials and several stamps later we are finally reunited with our passports and our luggage.
Our agent hands us over to Mahmoud, a somewhat French speaking driver (alas not conversation-grade) who takes us out of the compound off to Amman. We cross a fairly green valley before climbing up through mountains where sheep and horses are grazing. By 1pm we reach Amman: it’s bigger than we would have thought, about 4 million inhabitants and built around several hills (seven, represented by the seven-pointed star featured on the Jordanian flag).
We mention that we need an ATM and it would be good to grab something to eat. Our guide nods sagely and then goes straight on with our tour program. The first stop is a Roman amphitheater dating from the 2nd century when Amman was still called by its Greek name Philadelphia. It has a very steep incline and we have to use our hands to be sure not to fall when scrabbling to the top. Two small museums flank both sides of the monument and we have a quick wander through, still thinking about lunch.
The second stop of our tour is the Amman citadel, a fortified city built on the top of a high hill. There is a small shop and we purchase some water and peanuts and call it lunch, the guide be damned! The old citadel consists of ruins of Roman temples, Byzantine constructions, and an Umayyad (8th century Muslim) city and palace. Sandra impresses the family by noting that the Umayyads are the same ones who built the absolutely magnificent Alhambra palace in the south of Spain, which she visited in December. There is unfortunately not much left of this Arabic citadel, but the panoramic view over the city is impressive. There is also a tiny old fashioned museum with roman artifacts and Skye is amused by a small jug, officially termed a “juglet”, cute! A bit further we learn that in ancient times children were typically buried in jars, and Skye prods Ryo saying that we’d need more than a juglet for him! Ryo is not amused.
Our driver then brings us to our hotel, situated on a super busy road with a string of big chain hotels. Ours is a smaller independent one, not too far from an ATM. Once we are checked in, we head out to finally get some money. Skye’s card is rejected again, and suspecting it is the 6-digit PIN we try Sandra’s, this time with success.
Miracle of miracles, there is a liquor shop right next to our hotel. The lights are on but nobody’s home, so assuming the shopkeeper has just stepped out we continue on to a supermarket we saw on the map. Alas he supermarket has gone out of business, but on our way back we find a nice bakery where we buy ice cream with fun oriental flavours like cardamom and pistachio and mulberry.
We head to a corner shop for some hummus and pita, but the booze shop is still closed. It turns out that it’s closed because of Easter Sunday, so we resign ourselves to alcohol-free beer (a nice cold Moussy, anybody?) and head back to our room for our aperitif and further blogging activities.