The Only Way is Amman
New Year’s Eve in Tel-Aviv! First in my long list of places that rhyme with certain festivities. (including: Halloween in Aberdeen, my birthday in Holloway, um…)
The day began with Jessie and I returning to the the apartment block of the man who had picked us up the night before. For Jessie realised all too late that she had left two of her coats in his car boot.
We did our best not to look too suspicious as we prowled along a line of parked cars peering through the windows. Naturally it caught the attention of a man who wanted to know what the devil we were up to.
Jessie explained the situation, he became sympathetic and gave us his contact details, then translated a note Jessie had written into hebrew to stick on the reception notice board. Nothing came of it but was worth a try.
After spending the morning marvelling at the greeness and sheer loveliness of Ha-Yarkon park, we took a bus into town.
And had a good old gander around the happening districts of Rotschild Boulevard and Allenby street. Both either tree-lined or filled with trendy cafes and book shops. We followed our whims down through Carmel market (not camel), before ending up at the mediterranean just in time for sunset.
We all regrouped back at the flat before going out again for New Year’s Eve festivities. We bundled into separate taxis, but unfortunately there was a misunderstanding of the meeting point. So when we finally found each other it was just in time to celebrate British New Year (2 hours later).
The atmosphere was a strange mixture of orthodox jews raving on van roofs, their curls flying all over the place, and pop-up jazz trios rocking away under the trees.
After eventually making it back, we managed a few hours sleep before leaving bright and early to get to the Sheikh Hussein border crossing.
There are three border crossings between Jordan and Israel. One down south, one in the middle near Jerusalem (King Hussein Bridge) and the Sheikh Hussein bridge in the North.
Although the King Hussein Bridge was much closer, they have no facilities for granting visas so that meant we would have to travel back up north, passed Nazareth to Sheikh Hussein.
Several bus changes after leaving Tel-Aviv we arrived in Beit Shean 7km from the northern border. Now we had to wait for the infamously rare no.16 bus to the border. Luckily we arrived in time for the 12.45. The next one would’ve been at 6.30pm. The only other option is paying through the roof for a taxi.
At the border we were fortunate enough to meet Sarah, an American travelling in the footsteps of the traveller Richard Halliburton. (Her blog: http://uneventenor.com/)
One of my favourite features of this entire trip from Jordan to Egypt, to Palestine, Israel and back has been the exit fees. So I was more than delighted to cough up my 100 shekels (around £17) for the privilege of leaving Israel.
The Israeli officer who handled my passport was nice and asked if i want an Israeli stamp in or out of my passport (but this was not the case for Sarah). I turned to leave and said, “toda” (thanks in hebrew).
“Where did you learn hebrew James?” She snapped back, seemingly suspicious.
“I know two words, shalom (hi/bye) and toda,” I replied. She laughed and waved me through.
The next stage involves boarding a bus (five shekles) for a short three minute ride over the bridge and voila you are in Jordan. Where all that remains is to purchase your visa, a mere 40JD (£37) and then work out how to get to Amman.
Jessie and I shared a taxi with Sarah back to Amman for less than the price of a Jordanian visa. Huge expanses of agricultural fields full of Syrian workers stretch out on either side of the road before it climbs up over the mountainous region that leads, through Salt, all the way back to Amman.
My conversation with the driver can be summarised thus:
“Ever been to Iraq?’
“Want to go? I go there every month, only last time I had to pay ISIS 300 dollars and hide a shia guy in the boot.”
“Oh right, that’s um, nice.”
It had been an exaggerated loop of a journey but we were back in Amman. Standing by a familiar traffic jam in the freezing cold, chewing on a falafel sandwhich whilst contemplating a fiery red sunset. Despite my bag still being locked up at Qasid and having nowhere to live, I was excited for the new year.