Palestine and Jerusalem!
Trip Start Feb 10, 2005
53Trip End Jan 05, 2006
As luck would have it, the main highway was closed due to the Dead Sea Marathon and we had to take side roads so we didn't arrive at the border till 8:45. To leave Jordan, you first have your bags searched, pay 5 Dinars ($7) for your exit Visa, get on a bus, pay 2 Dinars for the bus ride, pass through 2 more Jordanian checkpoints, travel through 2 miles of no-man's land including bunkers and barb wire, then you cross the Allenby Bridge over the Jordan River.
The Jordan River is where John the Baptist baptized; in fact he did so only a couple miles from where we were, but the Jordan is not much more than a creek today
The first checkpoint includes a military inspection of the bus, including mirrors under the vehicle to look for hangers on. The check point is manned by on-alert serious-ass soldiers. Finger-on-the-trigger, do-not-mess-with-us Israelis. They were impressive, but cameras make them nervous so I have no pictures.
After the military checkpoint the bus drives through a gate to an Israeli Immigration/Customs building which looks like an airport without the airplanes. You wait on the bus until the cue clears, get off the bus, and are then separated from you bags. A barcode is placed on your bags and on your passport so you can be re-united with them. You proceed through a metal detector just like at the airport. After that you fill out your landing cards and proceed to passport control.
I should add, standing watch at all times are Israeli security personnel in casual clothes but carrying machine guns. And I don't mean guns hung over the shoulder like in Jordan, these guys have their finger on the trigger at all times and look rather on edge
At passport control, they decide whether you will be admitted to the country. I knew to ask them to not stamp your passport because an Israeli stamp means you can't visit certain Arab countries (without getting a new passport). I was told on the bus, make sure you ask politely and say why, otherwise they might decide to stamp it anyway just to screw up your life. I was the epitome of Canadian politeness and the nice immigration officer (a girl maybe 19 years old?) stamped a piece of paper, not my passport.
After passport control, you proceed through two more checkpoints to be re-united with your baggage. The first time we got to baggage checkpoint, they said our bags weren't ready yet. Go back and wait for 10 minutes.
Then the facility went on alert. "Everyone back! Everyone back NOW! MOVE NOW!" A couple hundred of us were pushed back through the kiosks and gate and told to sit on benches. We were told there was something suspicious in the baggage and assumed that meant a bomb. About 30 minutes later we found out that it was an immigration arrest.
Now we had to make our way through the 2 checkpoint again to get to our baggage
Embarrassed, the guard took us out of the security perimeter and told us to go found our bags among those on the floor of the exit area. Our bags were there, he gave us our passports and said, "Have a nice day." So much for tight security. It was 2 pm.
We hopped on a bus bound for Jericho that cost us 10 sheqels. There are 4 sheqels (pronounced shekels) for $1 US. Once we left the Israel border compound, we formally in Palestine, so guess what? There is another checkpoint with the Palestinian Authority. They came on the bus and took all our passports. A few minutes later they brought them back and we were on our way.
The bus arrived a few minutes later in Jericho and I have to say we were pretty unimpressed. It was a dumpy little town and we didn't want to stay, so we braved the crowd of cab drivers who were jockeying for our business. We had made friends on the bus with a Palestinian guy from Toronto, and he got us a cab
We thought we might find a hotel in the Old City (within the walls) but had no such luck, but found a nice hotel outside Herod's gate. We switched hotels the next day, because it didn't have everything we wanted, but both were walking distance to the Old City. Man, did we need a beer! The waiter brought me a bottle of Israeli beer I ever had! It was now 5:30, we had some dinner, and found our way back to the Old City.
The Old City of Jerusalem is a magical mystical place with thousands of years of history. Divided in four quarters--Moslem, Jewish, Armenian, and Christian--it's a holy city for all three monotheistic faiths: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. All co-exist here, side by side, in relative harmony. I will let the pictures tell the rest of the story...