Where Is There No There There?

One of the things Jen worried about while we were getting closer to Jordan was the issue of the passport stamp.

Because this was a "Grand Egypt & Jordan Adventure," we needed to get from Egypt to Jordan. There is a ferry from Nuweiba, Egypt to Aqaba, Jordan, but apparently this was only for day trips to Jordan, not for venturing farther into the country. At least that's what we understood the case to be. Not a big deal in the scheme of things — it just necessitated traveling over the land route through Israel.

But owing to the vagaries of Middle Eastern politics, it is advised — by that great passive voice in the guidebooked world of leisure travelers — that if you travel from Egypt to Jordan by land that you ask that your actual passport not be stamped. Some people say "refuse," but that makes it sound so, I don't know, severe. Our Lonely Planet guide to the Middle East explains it on page 332:

If you have an Israeli stamp in your passport (or an Egyptian or Jordanian border crossing stamp, which shows you've entered Israel), you'll be denied entry into Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Iraq.

. . .

The best solution to this problem is to get all visas and entry stamps stamped on pieces of paper, rather than on the passport itself, or, just to be sure, visit Israel last on your itinerary.

Now I like looking at my passport stamps. I don't have that many, so I treasure the ones I do have. It makes me look like I want to feel — like a world traveler. Before we left, I told Jen that I might actually want an Israeli stamp.

Jen then scoured message boards and websites and read anecdotes of travelers being denied entry into this country or that because of an Israeli stamp — even after flying into whatever country it was. She perhaps wants to travel to Syria or even Iran one day, so she wanted to make sure her passport was clean. In short, it would be a nightmare if I got an Israeli stamp and then we couldn't go to this country or that. Under no circumstances was I to get an Israeli stamp in my passport.

"This is no problem," our Egyptian guide told us as we drove up the road from Dahab toward Taba. He had the requisite blank Egyptian visa papers for the border officials to stamp. He explained that we'd have them stamp the Egyptian paper, then have the Israeli border official stamp a separate Israeli paper, then when we got to the Jordanian border, the Jordanian border official would stamp a separate Jordanian paper.

Egyptian Departure Card

I didn't understand how someone could look at your passport and see one entry stamp from Egypt and one exit stamp from Jordan and not figure out that you stepped foot in Israel, Israel being the only route a traveler can take from one country to the other (I'm assuming one gets an exit stamp at the airport if one is flying from Cairo to Amman, for example).

Looking at maps, I'm guessing that it's about 15 miles from Taba to Aqaba by car. We rolled up to the border at Taba at about 9:41 a.m. and left the parking lot of the Aqaba border crossing at 11:31. That apparently is very fast, by the way. Here's what it looked like:

Dropped off at Taba Border Crossing, 9:45 a.m.:

Taba Border Crossing, Taba, Sinai, Egypt-Eilat, Israel

Walking through border crossing on the Egyptian side, 10:02 a.m.:

Taba Border Crossing, Taba, Sinai, Egypt-Eilat, Israel

Egyptian departure card:

Egyptian Departure Card

Walking through the no man's land between Egypt and Israel, 10:05 a.m.:

Taba Border Crossing, Taba, Sinai, Egypt-Eilat, Israel

Entering Israeli border checkpoint, 10:07 a.m.:

Taba Border Crossing, Taba, Sinai, Egypt-Eilat, Israel

Israeli entry-exit card:

Israeli Entry Card

"Why do you want a separate card?" the Israeli border official asked Jen when she questioned us at the desk. To go to Syria, Jen told her. "Why do you want to go to Syria?" For the shopping, Jen explained — which is probably true — she's also wanted a Iranian-made rice cooker for some time, and until recently assumed that the 30-plus-year embargo would prevent her from ever getting one (she discovered that you can buy a version of this now including here and here).

Entering Israel, 10:33 a.m.:

Taba Border Crossing, Taba, Sinai, Egypt-Eilat, Israel

A helpful hint: If you are on the Taba border, wait until you get to the Israeli side to go to the bathroom. Best bathrooms of the entire trip, Jen enthused.

Because Egyptian tour operators don't operate in Israel, there's a nice cottage industry that exists for Israelis who will pick you up at the Egyptian border, drive you the fifteen minutes or so to the Jordanian border, make sure you get across OK and then go back to do whatever else it is they do during the day. I don't know how much they get paid, but it must be a pretty good deal.

It's strange to be in a country for only a half hour or so. Eilat looked nice, especially after so much of Egypt looked so dilapidated:

Driving Toward Eilat, Route 90, Eilat, Israel

Jordan was pretty nice, but it didn't look as nice as Israel. This is not a political statement, just an observation.

Arava/Wadi Araba Border Crossing, 11:03 a.m.:

Yitzhak Rabin/Arava Border Crossing, Eilat, Israel

So two up, two down — all is good for us keeping our passports clean of any Israeli ink. No problems when we walked through the Israeli checkpoint — again, you have to walk — looks like how they depict a DMZ in the movies (I think we just watched the Angelina Jolie movie Salt on the plane ride from JFK to Amman) — just a long walk to the other side:

Approaching Aqaba Border Crossing, Aqaba, Jordan

So we give our passports to the Jordanian border officials and Jen hears some furious stamping. She pokes her head into the window and throws up her hands — ack! — they're stamping our passports.

"It just means you won't be able to go to Saudi Arabia," our Jordanian driver said, "But there's no reason for you to want to go to Saudi Arabia." Jen tried to tell him that she might want to travel to Lebanon or Syria one day.

There was a delay. It turned out that the border officials quickly figured out their mistake — it was just on one of our passports — mine — and made steps to correct it. This basically says that the Jordanian stamp they stamped is inadvertent, and not to be construed as proof that I was actually at the Arava Border Crossing:

Canceled Jordanian Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority Visa

We were then handed salmon-colored cards with Jordanian entry stamps (I forgot to take a picture of it before it was taken by the border officials at the airport in Amman when we left) with stamps from the Arava Border Crossing.

And with that we left for Wadi Rum.

Now, again, I ask you — besides the fact that I just told you that we were in fact in Israel, isn't it obvious from my passport?

Here is one entry stamp from the Cairo airport:

Egypt Entry Stamp

Here is one exit stamp from the Amman airport:

Jordan Departure Stamp

How do you think I got from Cairo to Amman?

Still don't get this one . . . don't know that I ever will.

See also the Big Map: Egypt/Jordan, December 27, 2010-January 11, 2011.

Posted: February 28th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: National Geographical | Tags: , , , ,

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