Crossing Border Syria to Jordan
The service taxi from Damascus flew.
The driver clearly wanted to be rid of us.
We were a group of five foreigners that assembled at the Al-Samariyeh bus garage in Damasus. Besides myself and Chaya, the troupe consisted of two young Chilean doctors and an old tramp of a traveler from the west coast of the USA.
Together, we gave the taxi men a good fight over the price, and won us a good fare from Damascus to Amman, the capital city of Jordan. But our group did not operate in a very couth manner, and we did not hide our overt suspicions and distrust of the taxi men and the deal that we were making with them.
We loaded our gear up into one taxi just to have the driver refuse to take us. He was probably annoyed that we trusted him so little. I could not blame him. I could not blame us, either.
He then told us to go with another driver, and our bags were packed into another taxi cab. Our introduction with this driver came at the end of a long battle that became needlessly intense.
This should have been a Standard Operating Procedure sort of deal – these taxis run between Damascus and Amman all day long. But it turned into a minor fiasco.
It became clear that the drivers were becoming offended that we did not hide our distrust.
Chaya and I sat in the background and let the other travelers work out the deal.
Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Amman, Jordan- April, 2009
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We eventually were out on the highway.
I watched as the speedometer topped 180 km/ hr. This is fast.
I was sitting in the front seat with pregnant Chaya on my lap. No seat belt could be buckled around us. One stray move by the driver, and we all would be road-mush smeared across the desert.
I imagined a camel licking up my soupy remains. I bet I could have been some tasty camel meal.
The Jordan desert.
I decided to think of other things. Like getting to Amman and away from the foreigners who were making “cultural” distinctions in the back seat. I considered telling the driver to slow down, but, in our present circumstances, I figured it was worth the risk to be in Amman sooner and able to get away from the conversation that was sparking up behind me.
“Middle Eastern people are like this, Arab people are like that,” the choir spoke from the back seat. “I have a friend who had lived in Jordan for a long time and she says that when the people here put their fingers together like this [demonstration in which she brought her five finger tips together in a bunch above her palm] it means to wait.”
I have heard other explanations of this hand gesture, but I was saying nothing, least I too would be sucked up into the whirlpool of cultural gesticulating to make myself seem real smart.
But I have an entire travelogue reserved for this purpose.
I do not understand why so many other travelers try so hard to educate me about the places that I have no more exposure to than I. I WAS THERE, I KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT, I DO NOT NEED TO BE EDUCATED.
Perhaps this is why I find myself on the periphery of all backpacker gatherings: I cannot stand the conversations (I am convinced that working in European hostels could have this effect on anyone).
Cliff Hotel. Stayed here in Amman for 4 Jordan dinars per night.
The taxi continued driving fast down a highway that was as straight as a beeline through the desert. I look at speedometer and it was still over 180 km/hr. I held on tight to Chaya.
After an hour of racing, we arrived at the border. We walked into a large office, up to a window, paid a 500 pound per person fee, and then had our passports stamped.
Well, three of us did. The two Chileans let ever person in the entire place barge in line in front of them. It was a little painful to watch. The taxi driver tried to yell at them to hurry up, but realized that his Arabic wailings were futile and retreated to wait outside next to his car.
Chaya and I followed. The Chileans continued letting everyone get in line in front of them and we waited for nearly 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, the taxi man had time to concoct a scheme with another driver. He told Chaya and I to get in a different cab with a different driver. I said that was not a part of the deal, and that we would continue riding in the cab that we left Damascus in. He said that we would pay the same price. I told him to take the Chileans. He tried to force us to go. We stood our ground.
The “problem” was that he did not want to drive through Jordan with a taxi that was one person overfull. I wondered why he would have allowed us to all get into the cab in Damascus if he knew that we all could not go together once in Jordan.
It seemed like a scheme, and I would not budge.
Finally, the old tramp came up with a solution. He said that he would go in a different taxi with some New Zealanders that we had previously met in line at immigration. This was fine with the New Zealanders, as they had extra room in their car.
This would have left our car with four passengers, the appropriate amount. But the driver would not hear of this solution.
It was clear that he had worked out some sort of scam that we would be the butt of.
The old tramp flipped out and began yelling at the driver.
I became sort of glad that we choose to travel with such a freak out kind of dude.
The old tramp really began freaking out. He, too, knew that something bad was going on. Perhaps our mistrust was warranted. Perhaps our mistrust fulfilled its own prophecy. But we were on the verge of falling into some sort of taxi man rip off.
The driver refused to open the trunk to allow the old tramp to take out his backpack so he could move into the other cab with the New Zealanders. We soon attracted the attention of another guy crossing the border, who, thankfully, approached us to help with translating. He was from Jordan and could speak English. We explained the situation and he told the driver to open the trunk. The old tramp took out his backpack and paid off the driver his share.
“You see this,” he yelled as he held up a 500 pound Syrian note for everyone to see, “I paid him.”
Perhaps the only thing worse than trusting a taxi driver is overtly showing that you don’t trust him.
The overly polite Chileans eventually had their passport stamped. I asked them if they had any problems.
“No problems, just everybody kept getting in line ahead of us.”
We waited 40 minutes while these kids were budged in front of. Learning the rounds of elbow justice is one of rites of passage of travel. I could not blame the Chileans, they were purely far too polite for this part of the world. It takes a while before you learn that it is OK to throw an elbow into a person’s gut that is trying to usurp your position in line.
On to Jordan.
The border crossing formalities to enter Jordan were standard. Nothing to report. We paid 10 Jordan Dinars and were stamped in.
The taxi ride to Amman was likewise standard. The driver, who was Syrian, slowed down once in Jordan.
We arrived in Amman at midday. For all the hassle, we had made a good choice for transportation. It has been reported that the bus from Damascus does not arrive in Amman until 10PM.
Chaya and I paid up our fare to the taxi man. There was no argument, but as we removed our bags from the trunk I heard the driver mildly trying to get extra money out of the Chilean girl. My ears perked up a little, and I waited for a moment to see how the situation would pan out. But the driver did not seem to be actively shaking them down.
Chaya and I walked away, and the Chileans remained within a circle of taxi men inquiring about fares to Petra. As we crossed the street I heard a mild uproar from the group that we had just departed from. I turned around to look back. All of the taxi men were signaling for us to return.
I did not want to return.
I thought for a second that the Chileans could have been having difficulties with the driver from Damascus, and I considered returning to offer support.
But I found that my feet continued walking away. In travel, you make the bed you lay in. Knowing how to fight off a crooked taxi driver is another rite of passage. I did not want to interfere with their education.
Houses strewn over the hills of Amman.
Visa stamp for Jordan. Good for one month. I like how they use a postage stamp as evidence of paying the 10 dinar ($14) visa fee.
Visa stamps for Jordan.
How to travel from Damascus to Amman
service taxi from Damascus
Taxi Travel Tip
Crossing Border Syria to Jordan