The story about the shortest road one can take to go from Jerusalem to Beirut, is part of a bigger picture. It was a three months’ long trip of the Middle East – I had some group leading, exploring and relaxation tucked in the program. I started out in Syria, did Jordan and Lebanon, then flew from Syria to Egypt, from Egypt via Turkey to Tell Aviv, did a tour of Israel and Jordan, and ended up having a couple of free days in Jerusalem. Then the message came – we need you to lead a group in Sri Lanka, and your flight is Beirut – Dubai – Colombo.
So far so good.
I was in Jerusalem, and I needed to get to Beirut. Obviously, this wasn’t a straight-forward thing of just crossing the northern Israeli border, since there is NO crossing point there. Or rather, there are, at least two that I know of, but the crossing is not allowed, due to non-existent diplomatic relationship of the two neighboring countries. To keep the story short, I had to cross two other countries to get from Israel to Lebanon. These two other countries were Jordan and Syria.
I set out early in the morning, taking the bus from the main bus station in Jerusalem heading to the Dead Sea. I had King Hussein/Allenby border crossing in mind for entering Jordan. I got off the bus near Almog, before the bus turns right on road 90, and took a taxi going the other direction. He took me to the Allenby border where I left Israel behind and got on the border shuttle to cross to Jordan. The policeman comes to check the passports and I’m getting in trouble …
I cannot enter Jordan. The reason for this is that they don’t issue visa at this border, or rather, they don’t take money for it. So, I could not pay for my visa, and therefore I couldn’t enter. I did have Jordanian visa nevertheless – the one issued to be about three weeks ago at the Jordan Valley/Sheikh Hussein border, but it was the group visa and now I was alone. I don’t want to go into details about visa requirements for Jordan, so let me just say that I had to leave the bus, and board another one on the way to Israel. Back in Israel, they were surprised at how quick my trip to Jordan was, but I didn’t encouter any problem getting in the country again.
I took another taxi. This time, the journey was longer, it took over an hour to get to the other Israel/Jordan border crossing, near Bet Shean. I didn’t have much problems getting out of Israel either, and my entrance to Jordan (finally) was a smooth one. I was just a bit delayed – not really in a hurry for anything as my flight to Sri Lanka was still two days away. I did, however, want to make this trip in the shortest time possible, and I was not doing the best at this point.
Once in Jordan, there was a taxi that offered me a ride straight to the Ramtha/Deraa border, and I started to think: How am I going to do it with my two passports? I got the Jordanian entrance stamp in the passport with Israeli stamps. Then I have a second passport, for the Syrian and Lebanese stamps. This is where I need to get the exist stamp from Jordan, otherwise I am in trouble.
The ride to Ramtha takes about an hour, and some kilometers before the border I’m dropped off and pick up by a Syrian taxi. I have a fellow traveler now, a Palestinian girl, coming from Nablus and traveling to her university in Syria. She also has Israeli stamps in the passport (from Allenby crossing) but in her case it doesn’t matter, obviously, and I envy her.
I have to say that the Jordanian officers at Ramtha were really nice and understanding. I did get my exit stamp in the passport I was about to present to their Syrian counterparts. I just explained the situation, and they got the idea. There were not trying to make it hard for me, and it this wasn’t the only time that Jordanian border was merciful. Thank you Jordan.
The taxi takes me and my new Palestinian friend to the Syrian terminal. The officer, seated below the photograph of Bashar al Asad is reading my passport almost like a book, page after page. I smile, I am at ease, no Israeli stamp will be found in that passport. But he is looking for something else. When did I enter Jordan, and how??
Now, this is a tricky question because I did enter Jordan from Syria over a month ago, but then came back to Syria, flew to Egypt, and the last two times I entered Jordan, I came from Israel. The good thing is that there are way too many stamps in this passport, so he gets really confused, and frankly, I am confused as well. Too much travel.
He lets me go.
I board the same taxi again, and get off at the Deraa bus station to take a bus to Damascus. It’s well into afternoon now, and I have one more border to cross. Changing bus for a taxi again at Karajat in Damascus, I head over to Lebanon. This border crossing is the least dramatic one as far as my visa and passport are concernet, but! To make it just a bit more interesting, my driver from Syria is actually Jordanian, and there is some kind of a problem with his documents, so the Lebanese official keeps him waiting much longer than it would normally take. When the sun is long behind its horizon and the passengers of my taxi are starting to think of abandoning him and take a different taxi to drive us to Beirut, he is finally given consent to enter Lebanon.
The last hour of my today’s trip is quite uneventful, and I’m just resting on the back seat of the taxi. It’s been 13 hours since I left my hotel room in Jerusalem. Quite a journey, it can be done in a day even with some detours. Two passports are essential, and so is a bit of patience, lots of good mood and some snack. Saw four countries in the single day, got 8 stamps in my passport.
What a trip.