Detained, Interrogated and Fast-Tracked!
25.01.2014 - 25.01.2014 61 °F
There was only one other tourist on the once-a-day 7AM Jett bus to the border. Chris was from Canada and we'd actually run into each other before in Wadi Musa and even shared a taxi with two others in Amman, but had never really spoken. Besides the two of us, there were just five local men on the bus. So far the crossing from Jordan to Israel was going smoothly. I'd heard a lot of horror stories about the King Hussein Bridge border crossing (also known as the Allensby Bridge), but this was a slow travel time, so mostly there was just a lot of waiting. Besides-- with the exception of Cuba-- I have always been waved through at immigration points; I'm a nice older women who doesn't attract attention.
At the Jordan border facility, we paid our departure fees and had our passports checked. They didn't give us exit stamps, but that wasn't a surprise given the politics of this border. Amman and Jerusalem are only 50 kilometers apart, but the politics can make it seem much more. After our first successful check point, we bought tickets for the shuttle that would drive us to the Israeli border. It is a short 5 kilometers, but no one is allowed to walk the bridge and the 'no man's land' between the two check point facilities. The shuttle cost 5 dinars plus 1.5 JD for each bag which made it just a 1.5 JD less than the much longer drive from Amman. The bridge shuttle leaves once every few hours or when it gets full; it only had about 9 people so we had another long wait. Only one more (a Catholic nun) joined us, so we left 'on schedule'.
When we arrived at the Israeli facility, I was shocked to see a huge mob of people, piles of bags, boxes and luggage, and a jam of luggage carts like a bad airport scene. Our luggage wasn't on the bus anymore and the bus driver had shooed us away, so we had gotten in line. This didn't seem right so Chris went back to the bus area. Our bags had been piled in the street a few lengths back from where we'd been let out. As one man near me in line summed it up, "This is so confusing!"
In control of our luggage again we prepared to wait as the line slowly snaked around the metal bar lanes. It was definitely chaotic. Piles of bags without owners blocked our way. We had to step over them and sometimes on top of them to eventually reach the counter where we showed our passports and got luggage strips printed with our passport info. The women at the counter perked up when I said her job must be a challenge. She asked if I was from Ireland which is indeed my heritage. She was very friendly. It was crazy, but didn't seem that bad. People were frustrated, but no one was angry or acting out...yet.
A guy in a bright yellow vest took my pre-printed luggage strip, attached it to my bag and gestured to the conveyor belt. I wrestled my bag onto the belt and it went off on its journey as the guy in the vest helped me over the pile of bags not yet claimed and tagged so that I could proceed to the next checkpoint. Chris was just a little ahead of me by now, but only one person was ahead of me in line so I knew I would catch up.
I gave my passport at the next window. The woman looked it over-- page by page (and it has a lot of pages)-- occasionally making a comment to her colleagues. She asked about a sticky spot where a travel insurance label had once been. Where was I coming from-- as if Jordan wasn't the only country that shared this border. Was I really traveling alone? Why had I gone to Jordan? What did I do there? What was I going to do in Israel?
She said something to the colleague on her left...she continued to scrutinize my passport and said something to the guy on her right. She looked at everything again and then looked off into space. She still seemed to have a problem with me being alone. Finally, she put my passport down just out of reach and told me to step aside. As I turned, I was approached by a man who showed me his security identification card and asked me to come with him (and his machine gun!).
Another man joined us and we passed through a door. Inside was the continuation of the line from outside. I was told to put my things in a tray. The people at the head of the line gave me dirty looks as they had to step aside and let me go before them. But my things went through the machine as I was led in another direction and someone else became my escort.
As I was walking, I was being questioned. Did I have a cell phone? Yes. Where was it? When I pointed out it was with my coat in a tray at the check point, they had me return to the conveyor belt to retrieve my coat and day bag. Then I was led inside a room where nice-looking Anton introduced himself and had me put my things on a small stool while I was to remain standing in front of him with a short podium between us as he asked his questions. Most questions were about my travel. Was I really traveling alone? What countries had I gone to? As I answered his questions I noticed he was starting to get off track and asking more personal info as to how I was able to do such a long trip...and he was getting that longing tone in his voice that I often hear when people find out I'm doing an RTW and they start wondering how they might do one too!
Then at some point, Anton gets back on track and asks me if I have any self defense weapons. Perhaps I am carrying something for somebody else?...but his heart doesn't seem into it anymore. He is now grinning a bit as he asks these last questions. Finally, he shakes my hand, wishes me safe travels and I am released. I can't resist asking why I had been pulled out. Of course he can't say. He tells me I am lucky as I didn't have to wait in line...I got the fast track. Ha! I don't think so...
I leave the room and head to the next station. Once again I show my passport. I don't see Chris anywhere. I assume he is already gone. I wouldn't expect him to wait for me. We barely know each other and I was with Anton quite a while.
I am further delayed at the next station, but eventually I receive my permission to stay for three months in the form of a card with my passport picture on it. Due to the politics, no one wants an Israeli stamp in their passport as this will get them barred from countries in disagreement with Israel....like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Iran, etc. Jordan and Egypt have made agreements with Israel and let people more or less pass through between the countries. The more militant countries look not for just an Israeli stamp, but for exit stamps from the border points between Israel, Egypt and Jordan. They will refuse entry even without the Israeli stamp; where else could you have gone if you exited the Egyptian or Jordanian at the Israel border?
My 'visa' card in hand, I show it and my passport to the next checkpoint. I'm a bit paranoid now, so when a women comes up and closes the gate in front of me, I am thinking what now? She's saying something...in Hebrew? A man behind me says that she is telling us to go around, but the metal bars block our way-- I'm not taking chances and duck between them. She takes my hard-earned visa card and starts to rip it up. Phew. She is just tearing it a bit to mark it as having been checked. Aurghh...when is this going to be over?
The one good thing is that while I was standing in that line, I saw my bag at the next station. I head straight for it, host it onto my back and walk across the room to get in line for yet another conveyor belt check of bags. Just as I lower my backpack to the floor, a guy across the way calls out to me and signals that I can skip it. I head toward the exit waiting for someone to stop me again, But I make it! Suddenly I am out the door and ready to buy my ticket for the transport into Jerusalem. I'd heard there were shared taxis and had planned to share one with Chris. As it turns out, there is a shuttle bus that is even cheaper. I don't have any shekels and there are no ATMs, but they accept Jordan dinars. I am the first one on the bus. I am surprised to see two older women that I had noticed when I first arrived. I wonder what delayed them. The wait begins. We'll leave when the bus is full. I would have liked Chris' company, but we weren't headed for the same hotel or anything. It was just nice to have someone to figure things out with for a change. I sit back and finally relax.
Someone taps on my window... It's Chris!... And right behind him is the Catholic nun that had been whisked ahead of us when we first arrived. As it turns out, my detention really had put me on the fast track...and I guess it added a bit of excitement to what could have been a long boring wait. I could still feel the adrenaline in my system. Now, I just have to find a place to stay when we get off the shuttle in Jerusalem. I have no idea where the shuttle is taking us-- somewhere called Damascus Gate. I chat in Spanish with the woman next to me and find myself looking forward to whatever comes next.