Wadi Rum is a nature reserve in the middle of the Jordan desert, although it’s not a nature reserve like what you might think. There are no trees, or animals, or living things really. It’s a desert, with large rock formations and perfectly golden sand. It’s the place where ‘The Martian,’ ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ and a number of other movies were filmed. It’s a spectacular place, like something I’ve not experienced before.
But before we could experience Wadi Rum, we had to get there. And that’s a story in and of itself. We took an early morning flight from Tel Aviv to Eilat, which is still in Israel. The flight itself was quick, just 45-minutes and we were there. We landed in Eilat, took a taxi about 20 minutes to the bay, and had breakfast looking into the Red Sea. On our left was Jordan, across the way was Saudi Arabia, and a few miles to our right was Egypt. It was exciting to be close to so many different borders, and I had to hold myself back from trying to cross into each of the new countries, knowing all too well it would be a few new stamps in my passport.
After breakfast, we took another taxi to the border crossing from Israel to Jordan. The Jews and the Arabs don’t get along (they haven’t for many, many years) so crossing the border would have to be by foot so as not to have each countries vehicles crossing the border. Our taxi driver got us as close to the border crossing as he could. We put our backpacks on and started walking towards the terminal.
Other travelers I know had warned me that the border crossings in this part of the world would be, well, a little sketchy. I was prepared for shuffling and ordering back and forth, but not for what we had ahead of us. We approached the first line, which we found out at the counter was where we paid our Israeli exit fee. We had a few shekels (the Israeli currency) and some US dollars. I asked at the counter if the Jordan side of the border would accept shekels or US dollars for our Jordan visa and the woman confidently said yes. So, we proceeded on our way to the next part of the process, which was essentially a security check with metal detectors and x-ray machines for our bags. We exited the building with no instruction but there was a long path directly in front of us. On the other end was a sign that said ‘Welcome to Jordan.’
It was approaching noon, so the sun was hot and beating down on us. We walked the path to the entrance of Jordan thinking, well, this hasn’t been bad at all. We should be almost done. But just after the ‘Welcome to Jordan’ sign, we were greeted by three immigration officers who knew very little English. We were collectively able to communicate that they needed to see our Jordan visas to enter the country. I had read online that these could be obtained ‘On Entry,’ so of course, we had nothing to show. We each pulled out our passports, exit slips from Israeli, even our COVID vaccine cards to show that we had nothing. One of the guards pulled out his phone and showed us a website that we needed to visit to get our visas. We mirrored his action and showed him our phones with the websites entered, but we didn’t have a WiFi signal, so the page was blank. He nodded, said, “Ahh,” pulled up his hotspot, and let all three of us hotspot from his cell phone. I will never forget his name – Akef – as that was his hotspot name, followed by 1985, which I assume was the year he was born.
We each proceeded through the immigration form, which of course is never as easy and straightforward as what you would find in The States. The final page was the payment site. They accept Visa or Mastercard, not uncommon for most parts of the world. I entered my CapitalOne Visa number and got an error message. I tried again, thinking I must have typed in the numbers incorrectly. I never get errors with this card. Same message. Ok, well, I’ve not ever been to Jordan, so perhaps CapitalOne has blocked it. I pulled out my MasterCard debit card. Same error message. At this point I was convinced that both financial institutions had blocked my card. I asked Tony and Amelia how they are doing and they confirm they are getting the same error messages.
I proceed to open the CapitalOne app on my phone, thinking I can clear the block with a few security questions. But the app isn’t opening and my banking app is frozen. After all, there are three of us hotspotting from the same phone. I finally put down my bag that has been on my lap for the last 30 minutes and pull out my laptop. Maybe I need to get on a computer to login and clear this. So here we are, Tony sitting Indian-style on the concrete slab in front of the guard station, Amelia pacing back and forth as the sun moves and trying to stay within the shadows of the building, and me with a backpack of goods strewn about and a laptop connected to a cellphone that is hotspotting from the Jordan immigration guard. As my computer was connecting, I looked around and realized we had credit cards and money all over the place. The three guards were just sitting outside their station puffing on cigarettes and patiently watching as we struggled to find a credit card that the system would accept. After about an hour of trying, including some phone calls to the banks in The States, we gave up and just showed Akef the screens on our computer. He couldn’t read or understand English, so we tried to communicate that it wasn’t working. We entered the card numbers again as he watched and showed him the errors we were all getting.
Finally, he made a call on his cell phone and managed to communicate in a few words that we could pay cash; the website was down. Oh thank god! We pulled out all of our shekels and US dollars but he shook his head and wagged his finger at us. He only wanted Jordan dinar. There was a duty free shop within site and we asked if we could go there to exchange the money into Jordan dinar. He shook his head yes and one of his colleagues accompanied Amelia to the shop. She returned and said she didn’t have enough for them to exchange, or that they wouldn’t take the sheckels. We’re still unclear on what the issues was. None the less, Akef pointed to the Israeli border crossing building and we understood that we needed to go back to get the dinar that they requested. Tony stayed behind with the luggage as Amelia and I walked back into Israel.
We entered the building where the security checks were being conducted and one the guards approached us. “Have you been returned to Israel?” Returned to Israel…I guess that’s an accurate statement. He understood English perfectly well so we explained our situation and he helped us back to the cash counter where we were able to successfully obtain the exact amount of dinar needed for three visas.
We returned to the Jordan entry, thanking the Israeli guard for his kindness and understanding of our return. We collected our belongings and attempted to give our dinar to the guard, but he pointed to the building in front of us. We assumed that we would pay cash inside and collect our visas there. We thanked Akef profusely and he said, in some of the only English words I ever heard him say, “I’m sorry. It was my job.” He truly was a kind man, making every attempt to help us, and he left a lasting impression on me of what the Jordan people have to offer. Thank you Akef!
We walked into the next building and had to have stood out. Everyone was Arab and there wasn’t a Westerner in sight. We turned to the left which appeared to be the exit and as we were walking out, Amelia pointed out that we had yet to get visas and we needed to get a stamp in our passports so we could exit Jordan a few days later. Shoot, we hadn’t even thought of that as we shuffled through the process of immigration. We turned around, approached the counter, showed them our passports, which they flipped through, handed back, and pointed to another hallway. Here, we filled out a form, got a stamp, and felt like we had everything finally completed to get into Jordan.
We needed to get a taxi from this border crossing that would take us to the Wadi Rum camp that we would be staying at. We walked outside, and here in the desert, was one lone taxi. There were two men standing by it – one spoke English, one did not. We communicated where we were going, got in with the non-English speaking driver, and were on our way. As soon as we pulled away, Amelia looked at us, held up her hand full of money, and said, “Guys, after three hours of chasing down Jordan dinar for our visas, they never ended up collecting it from us.” We sighed and just chuckled. We had tried multiple times, handing it over with our passports each time. We wanted to pay what we owed. But they never took it, and thank goodness they didn’t. It ended up paying for the taxi we were in.