Wednesday, January 03, 2007 Jordan Jordan / Syria Syria

Crossing into Jordan

Amman mosque [Enlarge]

By now we were old hands at long distance bus rides, and pretty experienced at border crossing, but we were still on edge for the crossing from Syria to Jordan because there's so much that can go wrong. If the Jordanian border guards decided they didn't want us, we wouldn't be guaranteed re-entry into Syria as our Syrian visa was only valid for one entry. In theory we could be stuck in no-man's-land, refused entry into either country. We wondered what actually happens when that situation arises.

We had chosen to travel with Damascus bus station's most luxurious bus company, Challenge, but when Glenn tried to wedge his six foot frame into the allotted seat space we realised that even they were an economy brand. When the woman in front sat down and immediately tried to recline her seat he was nearly crippled for life and at the first stop we swapped seats so that he could stretch out into the aisle. An overnight on this bus would have done serious skeletal damage! Luckily it was only a couple of hours to the border and another hour from there to Amman, Jordan.

It seemed like the bus driver was in as much of a hurry to get to Amman as we were. He drove well over the speed limit all the way and we were soon at the Syrian border. Exit customs was a formality again. The steward got a log book stamped at a check point and we drove on to passport control. Again this was a large, imposing building and again there was no queue. In fact, at the foreigners window there was no official and we were sent to the desk for 'diplomats'. The official took our blue forms and filled in a few details on his computer. Then he scribbled an Arabic number in Biro in the front of each of our passports, stamped them and sent us on our way. To be honest we were annoyed at the defacing of our passports, especially on the page about 'Her Britannic Majesty requesting and requiring etc.' It just seemed wrong, and we wondered what Her Majesty would do if she knew about it.

It transpired that our driver was an Iraqi (we saw his passport), but in spite of what is happening to his country he didn't hold it against us. Very usefully, he was also fluent in English. We made sure that he knew that we needed a Jordanian visa before we, and his bus, could successfully cross the border. At Jordanian customs we were given the same kind of search as we had had entering Turkey: everyone off, bags open on a bench and a bloke walks past and peers at them. A token gesture rather than a whole-hearted attempt to counteract smuggling. Presumably they figure that with luggage as pitiful as ours, we couldn't possibly be smuggling anything worthwhile.

Back on the bus and on to Jordanian passport control. The bus steward led us to a money changer who swapped our last remaining Syrian pounds for slightly more than the 20 Jordanian Dinars we needed for two visas. With the cash in our pocket and accompanied by the steward, a 20-ish year old Jordanian Chelsea FC football fan, we went into the main building and up to the window labelled 'Visas'. [Note to selves: we must learn some stuff about the strange game called football (US: soccer), where 22 grown men run around in a field either kissing members of their own team, or falling over crying when approached by members of the opposite team. The game seems to be a standard ice-breaker the world over.] There was another passenger on our bus who needed a visa too and we stood together waiting. There was no one at the visas window, but we made our presence known to some official looking staff in the office next door. One of them wandered off, we assumed to find the visa seller, but still no one came.

After a while the bus driver came over to find out how we were getting on. He made some enquiries and told us we shouldn't be standing at the visa window anyway. Apparently we needed to queue up at the passport stamping desk to get our passports checked, then go back to the visa window and buy a visa, then queue up at the original desk again to get it stamped. Crazy, especially when the two queues are about 50 metres apart at opposite ends of the concourse. Anyway, we went to the 'foreigners' desk as required, but there was no one there either. After another ten minutes we were shepherded across the room to the 'diplomats and journalists' desk. Our passport was examined and we were sent back to the 'visa' window where an official had miraculously appeared. He opened our passports at a random page and stuck in a sticker (upside down in Glenn's case), stamped an official stamp over the top and scribbled a few things over that. Then it was back again to the 'diplomats and journalists' desk for that all-important immigration stamp and we were done.

We are getting a bit annoyed that every border official seems to think he needs to start a whole new page in our passports for his stamp. Because lots of countries require a full blank page for their bloated visa stickers, at this rate we're going to have to come home for new passports before we get half way into our trip. Maybe we will be able to replace them at a British embassy en route. Who knows.

We walked back to the coach and waited for the other guy who had required a visa, who was now having difficulty with his final passport check. Seemingly either his Canadian or Iraqi lineage was giving the Jordanian authorities cause for concern. We hoped he wouldn't be turned back, but we were glad not to have been the ones to keep the rest of the coach waiting. He rejoined us eventually, and we carried on towards Amman.

The bus finally reached Abdali bus station at 20:20. Amman didn't feel any warmer than anywhere else on our journey had so far: a little above freezing, but not much. The first person we encountered as we got off the bus was a friendly taxi driver. We had read about friendly Amman taxi drivers—a common ruse is to tell you that your hotel is full, or has burned down in a freak lightning strike or something, then offer to take you to a good hotel, where 'good' refers to the commission they receive, not necessarily the quality of the hotel. We knew that our chosen hotel was only 100 metres from the bus station, but we humoured him to see what would happen.

"Wanna taxi?"

"Maybe, how much?"

"Which hotel?"

"The Select Hotel."

"No, Select Hotel closed for cleaning. I take you to nice hotel."

"We have a reservation at the Select Hotel, we phoned them last night."

"Oh, Ok—I take you there."

"I don't think so."

Unfortunately the last laugh was on the taxi driver because we got lost trying to find the hotel! It turned out that the bus had dropped us a bit further down the road than he should have, so we missed the turning that would have taken us straight to the hotel. Eventually we found the place, and discovered that not only did we have a TV in the room, but one of the three channels with watchable reception was the Jordan Movie Channel, showing non-stop English language movies! Just what we needed. We went to bed and watched Hilary and Jackie, which made Isla cry.

Map of Day 039

Day 039
Damascus to Amman

This map shows the route we took in this post. Click it to see larger maps of our whole route at flickr.

Maps are taken from the CIA World Factbook.