Yes! We did it! Those who have been to the Middle East or who know about the current tensions in the region will agree that going from Lebanon to Israel by land via Syria and Jordan, without any visa, is a pretty big deal. That it seems ambitious, if not foolish, to try to do it in one day! But after having been traveling an average of 4-5 hours every second day, one can understand how we just wanted to get it over with and reach the final destination of our trip. Well, it took us a total of 15,5 hours and 9 taxis and 4 buses to reach Haifa!
Sunday, 7 am.
Carrying our heavy bags full of gifts and dirty clothes we set out on our long journey from the taxi station in Beirut. After bargaining for some time we managed to find a taxi that would take us to Damascus for a reasonable price. Both the Lebanese and Syrian borders were increadibly crowded. Everyone was trying to make their way to the counter to get a stamp and go. Contrary to our North American borders, you actually have to get out of the car, and then depending on the border, you might have to go to a first counter to pay an exit tax, go to a second counter to get an exit stamp, then drive several km to the other border, get out of the car, go to a first counter to buy a visa and hand it to the official at the second counter to be granted an entry stamp. Not to mention that all this business is not very organized and can become very expensive! Once we reached Damascus, Syria the cheapest option seemed to be to take a local bus to a small town near the Syrian-Jordanian border and to bargain for a taxi overthere, although this wasn’t as time efficient as we hoped. Thankfully, the Jordanian border was relatively quick and painless. The Syrian taxi brought us to another town from which we caught a minibus to some place near the northern Israeli border. Following this was a succession of taxis and buses to reach the Jordanian border, cross it, and finally reach the Israeli customs.
Sunday, 6:30 pm.
It was getting late. The sun was about to set. We had been warned that it could be somewhat problematic to cross the Israeli border with Lebanese and Syrian stamps in our passports. We were asked several questions, but nothing beyond what the Lonely Planet had warned. We were then told to wait for a security check. We were sitting quietly, not knowing how much time it would take to be granted entry and where we would end up spending the night. The Lonely Planet did not say much about the neighboring towns and we weren’t sure until what time buses ran to Haifa. I started feeling really stupid for deciding to cross the Israeli border that late when we could have spent the night in Jordan and continue on the next morning. I kept breathing, praying and telling myself that we would surely find a place to stay, but that it might just be far beyond our budget. AHhhhhh, budget! Fortunately, we were really lucky and only had to wait about an hour at the Israeli border. From a taxi to a bus on to another bus, we found a cheap ride to Haifa with a sympathetic taxi driver who spoke nothing but French and Hebrew, which got me really excited! He was even kind enough to give us a tour around the Baha’i Gardens to watch them illuminated at night before dropping us at our hostel.
The next couple of days were filled with great sights and leisure time. The Baha’i Gardens and holy places were beyond words and on our way back to Amman we discovered the most amazing beaches as well as the paradise of carbs and fruits in the local bakeries and markets (Mediterranean and Arab pastries, fresh mangos, etc.) and much more!
This trip allowed us to learn a lot and seemed like the perfect conclusion to our journey. Its impact was considerable and I am sure we will each be able to convey the extent of it when we return to our friends and families in Canada.