Service Taxi from Damascus to Amman
Leaving Damascus, Going to Amman
After exchanging some Syrian money for Jordan Diners and asking the guy at the counter of our hotel how much a cab should cost to the Al-Samariyeh bus garage, Chaya and I strode out of Damascus. I worked the taxi driver down to a price of 200 pounds for the ride, and we jumped in, throwing our bags in the backseat.
Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Amman, Jordan- April, 2009
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At the station, we walked in through the gates and were immediately feasted upon by the sea of taxi vultures who make a living sucking the guts out of the pocket books of travelers. These vultures knew where we were going:
“Amman? Amman? You go to Amman?”
There was no hiding out intentions. We struggled past the crowd and made way to the big bus terminal at the back of the station. In the process, I toyed with the taxi men to gauge the prices that they would charge to get to Amman. I was able to argue them down to 600 pounds($12) per person without much of a struggle. I knew that I could get 500 with a little muscle.
Map of the Al-Samariyeh bus station in Damascus and directions on where to get buses and service taxis to Amman and Beirut.
We made our way to the bus station which is through a metal detector in the far left corner of the garage just to find that the large bus cost 500 pounds and would not arrive in Amman until 10PM. We figured to try our luck with the taxi men.
On the way back to the taxi lot we came across an old ragged looking tramp of an American traveler. Age had already sucked in this fellow’s face and it was clear that it had also gobbled up all of his cares for personal appearance. This guy looked even grubbier than myself. A ragged half beard was smeared over his jowls and a rag of a shirt hung half open upon his body. Speckles of a grotty carpet of chest hair peaked out from the spaces that his dirty shirt left vacant. I am not sure now, but I think his scroty beard may even have connected to his chest’s rug via his neck.
This fellow was a virtual garden of travel filth: a sideways baseball cap from some USA hardware store hung askance off of his pool ball head, a permanent smirk adorned his face, and a stick man body connected him all together. A tramp like him could do nothing but travel.
He was going to Amman. We decided to join forces with him. For once, I would not me the shabbiest looking member of my traveling party. I hoped in passing that he would emit a smokescreen that would allow me to slip through the border unnoticed. But, in reality, travelers of the non-Goretex persuasion have a tendency to join up when their paths take them in the same direction.
International bus station in Damascus.
This fellow was an old traveler, and, like most old travelers, he was highly suspicious of everything and everyone. You burn your hand a hundred times on a hot stove you learn to look out for flaming burners. All long term travelers have been ripped off, cheated, and robbed more times than they can count. But this fellow’s tranny was set in high gear when the situation called for rolling slow.
His screws were either much too tight or were completely undone. I could not tell.
With the three of us working the the men together, we were able to talk the taxi men down to 500 ($10) pounds per person. This was the same price as the bus, and the taxi could get us there by mid-day rather than 10 PM.
As soon as an agreement with the taxi drivers was set, the old tramp would begin freaking out.
“We leave now!?! Right now!?!”
The fellow did not get that “right now” is a bit of a foreign idea in these parts, and service taxis need to be filled with passengers before they will depart. I was beginning to get the impression that the old tramp appeared more ragged than the miles he traveled.
I just wanted to get a ride.
“I know these people and I don’t want to get left out on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere without any of my stuff,” the tramp carried on.
Meanwhile, a taxi man told us to wait at a bench while he went to find a driver and a car. This seemed fine with me. But the old tramp was uneasy and he paced around in a circle for less than a minute before declaring that he was going to look for another driver. He did not find one.
The first man returned and said that he was ready to take us.
I said alright and got up to go.
“Don’t show him all your cards yet,” the old tramp barked at me.
I was not aware of the game that I had entered. The old tramp blew off this driver and we went on searching for another.
Dealing with taxi men for long distance journeys is rarely a straight forward operation — you are putting your life and all you own in the hands of another: choosing this person means unraveling the knots of first impressions.
When hiring taxis, I work on the following premises:
1. Taxi men lie, I cannot expect them to tell the truth. The only thing that I can do is streamline the process as best as possible and to put the deal up front in everyone’s faces. There can be no room for vagueness when dealing with taxis.
2. Taxi men work in a groups whose organization I will never understand. I am not alarmed when I make a deal with a taxi driver and then get into a car just to find another man jumping into the driver’s seat to transport me. Nonsensical dealings and lies are just a part taking a taxi. If I do not want a headache, I should just expect the taxi men to work something out between themselves in their own way. I will never know the inner workings of the taxi mafia, and I have no need to figure it out.
But the old tramp was on the taxi men’s trails, asking questions upon questions, and calling them out on their irregular business dealings. Every deal that we were making with the taxi men was being canceled by the old tramp. The drivers seemed to be getting tired of dealing with us.
“Tranquilo,” I wanted to say to the tramp, but, for some reason, I didn’t.
I could not really find anything unusual about how these taxi men were running their dealings. They were crooked, yes, they lied, yes, but their transgressions were ordinary. If you expect a taxi man to walk a straight line anywhere in the world you are going to find yourself walking on foot.
If taking a taxi a short distance is annoying, then negotiating a long distance ride is like a trying to scrap your way through a concrete wall with your fingernails. The old tramp’s extreme distrust was not helping anything.
The way these taxis work is that a runner – who often calls himself a driver – puts together a group and then finds a taxi to take them. No problem. This is normal. Eventually a taxi manifests itself and you get it, reconfirm the details with the driver, and then go away, NOT PAYING UNTIL YOU ARRIVE AT YOUR DESTINATION.
These taxi men do this all day long. We were not the first foreigners they ever dealt with, the route from Damascus to Amman is well traveled. I just wanted to make a deal and go.
To my own and Chaya’s good fortune another traveler approached us and asked if we wanted to join up with him and his girlfriend. They were from Chile and were also going to Amman. We jumped at the chance to rearrange the group dynamic. After an initial talk with the Chileans, a guy approached us and told us that the official taxi stall for rides to Amman was actually in a different location. We were told that there was a special garage for Amman and Beirut taxis near the long distance bus station that we were at earlier.
We walked back through the metal detectors and on to the long distance service taxi garage.
This is where we should have went to begin with, but its location was a little undisclosed and sectioned off from the rest of the garage by a large parking lot.
We found this taxi garage packed full of taxi men trying to gobble us up. A group of five white faces with big backpacks is a good catch for a service taxi man, and we were walking right into their lyre. They did not really even have to walk out and claim their prey, but they did anyway. We tried to negotiate the prices with difficulties. But we knew that we had the upper hand: there were a lot of taxi men, a lot of idle taxis, and few travelers. We entered the station and found ourselves in the middle of a sea of yelling, grabbing, and stinking taxi men.
We named the price that we were willing to pay: 500 Syrian pounds per person, 2500 for the group of five. All the drivers tried to get two dollars more out of each of us. We would not budge. Then we walked up to an old one legged man who spoke good English and quoted catchphrases from old American movies with a jolly laugh.
Taxi negotiations in Damascus.
“Hello Charlie, how are ya?” the one legged man yelled to us when he caught sight of our entourage. He was smiling a big toothless smile. I smiled back and shook his hand. I had a good feeling about this fellow. He was from Lebanon but lived for a long time in Pennsylvania. It seemed as if he just hung out at the bus station for kicks, ever looking for a foreign face that he could tell old tales to.
He thought that I looked funny and kept laughing at me. He kept calling me a priest.
“Hey Priest!,” he yelled at me, “you look like a freaking priest with that beard!”
“I use to be a sailor with your navy,” he continued, “I fought in the war.”
He looked and sounded every part of an old time American sailor. I did not ask if this was how he lost his leg.
Volunteering as our interpreter, this jolly fellow negotiated with the taxi men on our behalf. It worked. He got a driver to take us to Amman for 500 pounds ($10) each.
We then stuffed ourselves into the taxi and rode out of Damascus.
As we pulled out of the station, the one legged sailor yelled final words of warning out to us:
“Don’t pay until you are in the streets of Amman! Don’t be stupid!”
Taxi men registering our passports before doing the run to Amman.
I felt as if I was being flushed down the toilet of the Middle East, as my once wide open route from Turkey has tapered into a tube that extends straight to the port of Aqaba, where I will be shot out of the Middle East and into the sewer of Egypt.
Service Taxi from Damascus to Amman