The Kings Highway - Jordan.
Arriving at the Al Haditha border crossing at 07.15, we find few houses but lots of trucks and confusion. There is even greater confusion at the customs post, as no one can find the fax that was supposed to have been sent by the police in Dammam to allow us to export the Discovery Land Rover. We are not surprised but are very disappointed and a bit scared. It is suggested that we return to Dammam, two thousand kilometers away, and get another fax sent. Apart from the distance, this suggestion is not acceptable, as our Saudi visas have expired and we cannot remain in the country. Things are looking bad until the supervisor finally arrives and the fax problem is resolved. He had it locked in his desk for safekeeping. We have to join him for tea and a debate, which is when more trouble starts.
The supervisor required a manifest for the Discovery, which has to be made up by the local “agent”, a Lebanese gentleman. We leave the Discovery and walk down a dirty back street to his office where he greets us and tells us that the paperwork made by the police in Dammam is incorrect. He claims our papers state we are only travelling as far as Jordan and the Discovery will remain in Jordan. The agent feeds us strong, black, coffee and proceeds to ‘fix’ our papers to allow us to leave Jordan via Syria, at a cost of SR 200 ($60). An important fact is explained to us, and later confirmed, that before entering each Arab country the documents have to state how we are continuing our journey; where we are leaving and where we are going. It is explained that this cannot be changed after entering the country. It is claimed that if the instructions on the document are not followed, the Land Rover will be impounded. Is this true, who knows? Stuck, with zero communications on the Saudi border, it’s best not to argue.
With our new papers, we drive to the checkpoint where everyone knows about us and has been waiting for us. The Saudi police are helpful, check our passports and wave us through without checking any of our baggage, the only time in seventeen years that this had happened to Ian. We are allowed to keep our Saudi export number plates and at nine-thirty in the morning we pass through the Saudi Arabian border into the waiting hands of Jordanian customs.
The Jordanian border police state that our Jordanian visas have expired and we have to purchase new ones. Here we go again, more money for the locals. There are vastly different rates for the purchase of visas for different nationalities. Noinin’s Irish passport visa costs just JD 5, while my Canadian passport visa costs JD 31. The Jordanian customs official states Jordon customs cannot process our new papers. He then directs us to his “agents”. These people, who appear to have no official function, see visitors as a meal ticket for the next week or so. They run us around in circles, confuse us, and take as much money as they can from us. The annoying thing is, we are being made fools of with all the confusion and wasted time. Hours later we are parted from a JD 300 deposit, which is supposed to be refunded when we leave, plus JD 64 for government fees, including JD 17 for car insurance and JD 7 for car tax, manifest and agent fees. We are assured that we can stay in Jordan for three days. We can extend the number of days we stay but, of course, we will have to pay additional fines. We are granted tourist visas, so we are allowed to wander around the country as we wish, which is essential. The Jordan Dinar (JD) is, at the time, exchanged for $1.41, but we do not get many as they will be difficult to get rid of afterward.
At noon, we finally clear Jordanian customs and reset our watches to13.00 local time as there is a one-hour time difference from Saudi. We travel through the town of Al ’Umari and onto H/W 5, which takes us through Al Azroqal Janubi. We turn left onto H/W 30, then onto H/W 40 and into Amman where our confusion continues.
Amman is a very busy, large, city, with damaged and difficult-to-read road signs in Arabic and English. The streets are filled with every type of vehicle driving as fast as they can, all faster than the 90 km per hour posted speed limit, weaving and swerving through wide streets with no lane dividers. Among the many cars are heavy trucks of the tractor-trailer type, other trucks of all sizes, farm tractors and trailers, motorbikes, motor scooters, converted motor scooters that are now trucks with very small engines, bicycles, and donkey/horse/mules and carts. The latter appear to be allowed to travel in either direction on either side of the street or highway. We noticed this same attitude for donkeys and carts in Northern Saudi, Jordan and Syria. Our many years of driving in Saudi had conditioned and trained us to Middle East driving and taught me, no matter where I am, to always drive like a local. However, all this is not helpful to two people who do not know where they are going or even where they should be going.
We stop and receive directions from a helpful shopkeeper and a policeman, and finally find our way to Jebel Amman where we are informed, "that between the 1st, 2nd and 3rd traffic circles, is the main hotel district." We try the ‘Carlton Inn,’ a modest, clean, place, and are offered a very reasonable rate but decide to nip across the street and try the impressive Amman Intercontinental Hotel. Noinin is able to bargain the price down to JD 95 a night plus tax, service charge, etc. and we move into the place for three very comfortable nights. This is a hotel that we can recommend. Plus the Discovery Land Rover is safe in the hotel parking lot. Finding a safe parking place for our mobile home becomes a constant concern during the whole trip. We had traveled 1,631 km in 36 hours through hot and cold weather conditions and border crossings and were more than ready for a shower and bed.
The following morning, we talk to a very helpful Jordanian lady at the 'Bishunit Tour Operators' travel agency. We try to arrange a one-day bus trip to Jerusalem and the West Bank but while she can arrange this trip, she strongly advises against us taking it as, afterward, we will be continuing our journey through Syria. She said that the Israelis would not stamp our passports and no additional Jordanian visas would be required but that the Jordanians would re-stamp our passports on our return from the West Bank. The Syrian border police will check our passports carefully and would notice the additional Jordan stamps and would know that we had been to the West Bank and would prevent us from taking the Discovery Land Rover through Syria. This would be done in an underhanded way by sending us around in circles, getting documents signed over and over again, until we gave up. As our Discovery papers stated that we would be exporting it through Syria, the Jordanians would not allow us to export it any other way and it could become stuck in Jordan. The net result is that we decided not to risk a visit to the Holy Land on this trip. Instead, we walked down the busy street outside the hotel to an Arab coffee shop located at the 3rd circle. We are pleased not to be sitting in a vehicle and have a pleasant and very cheap breakfast of zaatar and Turkish coffee.
Ian and Noinin Conlin
About the Author
Born in Northern Ireland in 1944, Ian moved to Germany in 1948 to join his father who was in the British army.
Returning to Northern Ireland in 1955, Ian worked for the British Ministry of Defense as a trainee and obtained a degree in Engineering from Queens University, Belfast.
In 1967, Ian moved to Scotland for a year before moving to Canada.
Ian was employed by Ontario Hydro as a commissioning engineer for nuclear and coal-fired electric power stations in the province of Ontario. Then, in 1980, Ian accepted a position with Aramco and moved to Saudi Arabia as a commissioning engineer with Northern Area Producing Engineer. In this capacity, he was commissioned and started up a number of oil and gas plants both onshore and offshore from Dhahran through Ras Tanura to the Kuwait border.
August 1990 was the start of the Gulf War when all Western contractors departed. The remaining Aramco employees in the northern area became busy and the area around the northern oil fields on the Kuwait border became very exciting.
Ian moved to Ireland in 1998, then returned to Canada in 1999 to work as a design engineer for nuclear power plants. He moved back to Ireland in 2011 to work part-time before retiring in 2012.