Jordan

Entry Info

We used a "Service" taxi which is a sort of shared taxi arranged by the accommodation to go to Damascus from Amman. With the 3 girls I met in Dahab and Petra, we set off to the North again.

The Syrian Visa Issue

Thinking of Syria, visa issues often come to mind. According to the information from the net, it would be a very hard work to get a Syrian visa after departure from Japan. Perhaps, the embassies in Istanbul or Cairo could grant it. Nevertheless, the current situation seemed very different from the info. The guy from my Cairo accommodation told me that it is impossible to get a visa from the embassy. The travellers from the North that I met in Dahab said they could get the visa at the border without any problems. Besides these, the guy of Amman's accommodation assured us that the Syrian border would issue the visa to the most foreigners except for Americans. Anyway we had no choice but to trust their words and go to the border without the visa.

And the result was, it was a snap indeed! The driver who had many experiences guiding foreigners to here helped us a lot. He explained the detail of the immigration card which was written in Arabic only. After filling out the form, what we had to do was just submit the form and pay for the visa. They didn’t even ask any questions. The officer at the counter only said "Oh, Japanese, Welcome!" That's all. Maybe there are more questions and procedures to enter Australia.

There are two kinds of visa available for Japanese at the border, a Transit Visa for 48hours cost 8USD and a Tourist Visa for 14 days cost 24USD. But the officer at the border was quite amiable and even though one Japanese girl with me declared that she would stay in Syria for 10 days and go back to Japan directly, he somehow granted her aTransit Visa which is actually cheaper but only for 48 hours. He confirmed it will be fine in her case. For my case, I applied for a Transit Visa as I was planning to go to Lebanon on the next day and the visa was issued immediately.

However the prices and their attitude vary significantly according to your nationality. Just for reference, I asked people around us, Koreans had to pay slightly more than us and British and Australian were charged more than 100USD for a single visit visa. As far as I asked the Transit Visa was granted to Japanese only. I really feel privileged at being Japanese. I should keep and improve this good reputation towards Japanese during this trip with appreciating our forerunners.

Incidentally, the reason why Syria is so harsh granting visas to people from English countries is without any doubt related to the Palestinian problems. The founding of Israel and the big confusion afterwards were originally triggered by the British government's contradictary promises made with Jews and Arabs at the end of WW1. Well actually I didn't care about this story before this trip. Those history and geography topics had been just a lullaby in the classroom but once visiting the actual site, those stories became interestingly realistic.

Special Dinner at Damascus

For this occasion, I stayed in Damascus just for one night and headed to Lebanon on the next day. (Therefore I'll write about Damascus later). As the fellowship with the girls would be over here, we decided to go to a nice Chinese restaurant together. But according to a guidebook Damascus has only one Chinese restaurant in a luxurious hotel called Cham Palace. Though the book said it would be reasonable, the building of the hotel looked the real five star. A lobby with a big fountain, restaurants with formally dressed waiters, the 3 girls were bit overwhelmed with the situation. About myself, I wouldn't be touched with this degree maybe thanks to the first class trips.

The quality of the restaurant was not impressive unfortunately. The taste of the meals was good but the service of the waiters was terrible as if they misunderstood that luxurious means just snobby. Maybe our jeans looked too shabby but not having had my companions, I would've got out from the restaurant for their superior attitudes. The real luxurious services are usually full of hospitality. I suppose in the Middle East countries probably apart from Dubai, those expensive places rarely have their strong competitors and tend to neglect the quality of service. They should be able to make it better as they have a great culture of welcoming travellers.

Going to Lebanon

As mentioned before, I was going to Lebanon from the next day. It would be quite new in a way as I hadn't travelled alone for more than 1 month since Luxor.

Entry Info

10th (Thu)
Jun 2010

[day104] A Short Stay in Amman

This time, we checked in to the Mansour Hostel which is located in the middle of the downtown area. As usual, this accommodation is favoured by Japanese travellers for the Asian only special price. The dorm room with free wi-fi and breakfast costs only 3JOD. Though the shower's water flow was not really good, we shouldn’t complain for this price. What’s more, a local person who really loves Japanese people was helping there and he gave a lot of information to us. All in all, it was a reasonably comfortable accommodation though I wouldn’t stay long like Dahab.

Since I hadn't been to such an urbanised city like Amman for a long time, I decided to go to a book café which many foreigners frequent. The café is on the upper floor of the stylish imported book store and surprisingly a security check with the guard is required in order to enter the store. The café is a sort of an oasis for the Europeans residing in Amman and its interior is absolutely cool. It reminded me of my favourite café in Tokyo. I just ordered a milk shake which cost 3.5JOD. I reckoned it was quite reasonable for the quality of their design and service but a glass of milk shake was indeed more expensive than a night in accommodation. Incidentally, the dinner on the day, full of Arabic meals, was merely 2JOD. In fact this was the most highest expense in Amman for me. Yet, it was also the most satisfying moment too. Thinking about this situation, prices are very thought-provoking. Well, I should stop this topic here otherwise I can keep pondering over this forever.

We decided to stay in Amman only 2 nights for a few reasons. Firstly, Amman is an Arabic city which is slightly more sophisticated than Cairo but according to the friends from Dahab, Damascus's old town should be more fascinating than Amman for its very long and complicated history. Also some people go to the Dead Sea starting from Amman but in terms of the Dead Sea, it's better to go from Israel side as it's cleaner and very importantly girls wearing bikinis are there! Therefore, we couldn't find any reasons to remain this city. The friend group from Dahab would be also divided to the one heading for Israel and another for Syria.

Incidentally, travellers planning to visit Israel on their Middle East journey usually go to the border connected to Jordan by King Hussein Bridge. As you know, Israel is still at war with some Arabic countries such as Syria and Lebanon and with the Israeli stamp on your passport, many Arabic countries would refuse to let you in to their lands. Especially, it is critical for the people who are planning to go up North by land as there are no way to avoid Syria and they have to fly in this case.

Hereupon the King Hussein Bridge is used for a kind of a trick. In fact Jordan has already normalised the diplomatic relationship with Israel and there should be no problems for coming and going. In addition to this, at only this border, you can ask "no stamp" to the officers and they put the all stamps related to the passport control on another sheet of paper. In this way, pretending not to enter to Israel, you can technically enter Syria afterwards. Be wary not getting the stamps from the Jordan side as well for the concrete alibi. Also some seals will be put on your passport and luggage for security reasons when you enter Israel and you must remove them very carefully as the officers at the Syrian border would inspect for the trace of the seals only. (This information is based on a story on April 2010. The circumstances could easily change due to the international situations. Therefore, please refer to the fresh information, especially from the travellers onsite, when you make an actual trip.)

Speaking about myself, I was planning to go to the other Middle Eastern countries first and fly to Israel from Turkey as I didn't want to be bothered by the complicated stamp process. Thus, I joined the group going to Syria. As a matter of a fact, I didn't know that I was going to have a little problem entering to Israel but please wait for this moment. I'll write about it later.

From Petra to Amman, we used a shuttle bus (5JOD) which comes in front of the hostel on the morning of the departure if we make the reservation beforehand. It's a snap isn't it? Dozing off on the bus for two hours, we arrived at the bus station located on the outer edge of the city. From here, we had to find the next transportation by ourselves and as usual started negotiating with the taxi drivers waiting there. They offered us 1JOD each person to any accommodations in the down town area.

Well, is it cheap or not? We didn’t have the faintest idea of the local market price and nobody would tell us about it. In this situation, the only thing I can rely on is in fact my own instinct. Although some people always try to bargain the price negotiating for hours, to be blunt, it's the same difference with 1JOD or 0.8JOD, just waste of the time. Therefore, for the less stressful negotiation, I always try to judge with only my values. Besides, I don’t want to exploit the local people by settling on a too cheap price. It is reasonable to pay 1JOD for transportation in an unfamiliar city.

Entry Info

Started Up North - PetraWith the four friends met in Dahab, I departed up North to Jordan. Firstly we had to cross the Red Sea by the ferry which runs between Nuweiba, Egyptian side and Aqaba, Jordan side. Mostly, foreigners are forced to use the "high speed ship" but it costs 60 USD(+exit tax 10 USD). By Egyptian standards, it's a super expensive transportation. It's more than triple my daily spending in Dahab! But thanks to the surprisingly clean interior, it was by far the most comfortable trip ever in Egypt as well.

Yet unsurprisingly the ferry was running on the Egyptian quality schedule. Although we were rushed to come to the seaport as the ferry was supposed to leave by the noon, there were no hints for the next movement on time and we had to wait the next few hours there. What's more, even after boarding the ferry didn't start immediately and it was already very dark when we arrived at Aqaba. At length, the time we exited the passport control was after 9 o'clock.

 

If I'd travelled on my own, I'd given up going further and tried to stay there one night but I was with my friends who were also very experienced travellers. We knew that it wouldn’t cost too much even if we used the taxi to Petra directly and therefore started negotiating with the drivers there. After a 15 minutes tough negotiation, one driver yielded to our request with 40 JOD(40 EUR) for 5 passengers, which was about half his first suggestion. Well, how wonderful that I have dependable company.

The roads in Jordan were very well paved and much cleaner than Egypt. Also the cars themselves looked in good condition and there were traffic signals too. Well, it sounds like we, who were so excited about these normal things, came from very countryside. After two hour driving on the wagon, we noticed it was a bit chilly outside and it was the arrival of Petra which is located on 1000m altitude. This time, we checked in at the"Valentine Inn" which is very popular among backpackers for their very affordable price. 3 JOD for the dorm room is a pretty good deal.

 

The next morning, we went sightseeing immediately. Thanks to the free shuttle bus from the accommodation, it took only 5 minutes instead of taking 30 minutes on foot. But there was a small pitfall with it. The bus was supposed to depart at 7 and 8. As we arrived there very late last night, we decided to join the bus at 8 and went to the bed straight away, taking it for granted that there is no time difference between Egypt and Jordan. However, there is indeed due to the day light saving. Not realising the fact, the Japanese group got together precisely at 9 in Jordan time. Though the guy in the accommodation graciously helped us to get there, we learnt that we must check the time difference after passing the country borders.

 

Started Up North - PetraThe entrance fee of Petra is in fact notoriously expensive. It costs 33 JOD, matching it to a decent theme park. What's more they are planning to raise the price to 50 JOD as of November 2010. What great confidence the Jordanian government has. Nevertheless, if I'm asked "Would it be worthwhile to go to this site?", I would still answer "GO". (At least, providing it is 33 JOD. 50 JOD is very high.) Actually, this ruin site is bigger than ordinary theme parks and takes more than one day to walk around the whole are. Plus, it would cost anyway the same if we go to on a one day tour.

 

Started Up North - PetraWalking along a flat road, sheer cliffs came into my view and making the way further a huge caved temple "Al Khazneh" suddenly appeared from the break in the cliffs. The BGM playing in my mind was of course the theme of Indiana Jones. Well, I did come here in order to see the temple. Although the atmosphere was slightly spoiled due to the number of tourists there, the huge temple was absolutely overwhelming. Also there are various ruins and theatres along the road, and looking at them, I moved on my way further.

 

Started Up North - PetraAfter walking for a while, I found a small sign in the middle of the cliff and it read "fortress" with an arrow. Although the other tourists simply disregarded the sign and went on the main road, I preferred less people and tried to go with the sign. Walking half an hour and following several signs, I found that I was on the route to the other side of the mountain. Though I could see so many tourists walking far beneath, there were only a few people on my course. Well, my sense of travelling worked well this time. It was nice to have less people for the photography indeed.

 

I guess I walked much more than 10 km in total. When the shuttle bus came to pick us up, I was so exhausted that I didn’t feel like going out afterwards. So, we joined the buffet provided by the accommodation and it was surprisingly tasty. The lack of proper foods since the previous day might have affected my taste though, I enjoyed the typical Arabic foods from them. Also playing cards with beer with the friends was so much fun too. As Petra doesn't have any special places apart from the ruin, we were leaving on the next morning to Amman.

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