Customs on Heat - An interesting border crossing into Israel

Posted by Lisa Pagotto

Heading to the border
Heading to the border

Flying into the hustle and bustle of dusty Amman, we pile into a taxi, hoping for relief from the heat in an air conditioned cab. No luck. We stick to our seats as we make our way toward the King Hussein Bridge – apparently the easiest border crossing from Jordan to Israel. Not being too familiar with our new currency, I tip way too much (about $11AUD) to our driver who beams at me like I have presented him his first child.

Peeling ourselves off the worn leather seats, we begin our mission to cross into Israel. We are escorted by military personnel in fancy uniforms with important looking badges as sand whips our faces and we push on against the hot desert wind. Our bags are snatched from our hands and tossed onto a conveyer belt to be scanned. We are hustled through to the Jordanian departures area where we wait for around 40 minutes for a bus. It is the middle of August. We are standing in the searing sun and have no water or food. Where is this bus? Why is there no shade? I glance around. Children happily play in the dust with sticks, mothers covered from head to toe don’t bat an eyelid at the searing heat, the smell of middle eastern spices floats through the dry air. My stomach growls.

Typical border scene
Typical border scene

Finally, what I assume is a bus, (it sort of resembles the shape of one and does have four wheels) rattles up in front of us. It groans and sighs as we climb on-board only to not start once we are  loaded on. The ‘bus’ more like a trodden on tin can, coughs and splutters for 20 minutes and then with a lurch and a shudder, we are off. We cross a bridge – I assume it is the King Hussein Bridge. It’s nothing fancy. Just a bridge. We are now in no-man’s land. Patiently, we wait, dripping with sweat, another half an hour before we are shuffled through to the Israeli side of the border.

We are filed into single lines and are told to present our passports. Females sit behind the desks wearing the latest trend of bullet proof vests and the men flaunt semi-automatic rifles, casually slung over one shoulder. We slink through the two boom gates to what we think is possibly the exit. Nope. Not yet. We join yet another line for more waiting where we witness the most shocking customs clearance I have ever experienced. We are marched into another queue and line up again in the 40c heat with hundreds of people pushing and shoving each other. People’s sweat flings us across the face, we are squashed into sweaty armpits and against slimy, damp bodies as we try to keep our balance.  Our luggage is roughly snatched off us and screened yet again. We loiter awkwardly waiting for our luggage to be returned. We are suddenly yelled at in a foreign language – not yet sure if it’s Hebrew or Arabic and we are jostled into another room. “What about our bags?” I try to say. I am ignored and shoved forwards. Bye bye bags.  Thank god for travel insurance I think to myself. We have now reached a hand luggage screening area which is surprisingly quick and efficient. We enter another room with no air conditioning. The air is heavy and damp and musty. This cramped room, is filled with at least 1000 people trying to get their passports stamped.

Israeli entry slip
Israeli entry slip

We clearly state to the girl at the desk that we need our Israeli stamp on a separate piece of paper and not in our passports to avoid any problems in the next lot of Middle Eastern countries we are going to be travelling through. And when I say girl, this ‘government official’ looks about 12 years old. She politely smiles and then disappears with our passports. This process takes another 40 mins and we still have no idea where ours bags are.

Battling jetlag, dehydration and fatigue, we drag ourselves into a room the size of a primary school hall. The floor littered with luggage. Bags are tossed from a nearby door straight onto the floor. No worries. It takes us a good 20 minutes of stepping over backpacks, dodging flying luggage and hurdling suitcases before we find our backpacks.

About to die of starvation and heat exhaustion, we spot a convenience store and grab a quick sugar fix from a familiar Snickers bar. Elbowing our way through the crowds, we manage to pre pay for tickets in a shared taxi and we are finally on our way to Jerusalem.

We hit the road. There is nothing to see. No sign of life let alone a shrub.  Just white, rocky and dusty. Lunar like.

Every now and then we pass a camel or donkey, even a crooked shanty town with family’s living under tents and bits of broken wood.

Border friend
Border friend

We fly over a steep hill and then right before us is the most beautiful city. The outskirts lined with flat roofed mansions and old sandstone walls embrace the old town.

We walk through the vibrant David Markets which are bursting with colourful cushions, carpets, leather Jesus shoes. We reach our accommodation and begin our hike up never-ending stairs until we are at the summit. The rooftop. We have a simple mattress on the rooftop and the most spectacular panoramic view of Jerusalem. The Gold Dome is right in front of us, minarets pierce the skyline and the call of prayer welcomes us as it rings through the ancient city.

We wander through the Jewish Quarter. Men with their kippahs pinned to their heads and miniature cowboy type hats with their long perfectly curled sideburns bouncing as they wander past. We have finally arrived in Jerusalem and it is beautiful. The nightmare of the border crossing is behind us. The city before us yearns and begs for us to search and uncover its secrets. This historically rich and culturally fascinating city, tugs at our hearts to explore. It’s time to discover how beautiful this city really is.

Golden Dome
Golden Dome