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Posts tagged ‘Border Crossing’

about Marrakech, Morocco and Volcanic Ash…

G and I took a quick trip to Marrakech this past weekend after finding a good deal with Ryanair. It was one of those places that I would have been really disappointed if I didn’t go while living in Sevilla. It was refreshing being back in North Africa and back in with the Arabic culture. It brought back all the good memories from this past summer and Morocco, like the Middle East, didn’t let us down. It was a photographer’s paradise and I only wish I had had a great camera to take all the photos I wanted. Every corner showed us something new, from snake charmers to spice stands to the best street food to souqs, mosques, and the devout saying their prayers.  It was sensational. We CSed with a Moroccan and he was more than delightful, warning us about the prices we should pay and recommending the restaurants we should try. In the end, the best way to explore Marrakesh is just to walk… and walk. After our first two days in Marrakesh we decided on our last day to go to the Atlas Mountains for some fresh air. We headed to a town called Setti Fatma. Setti Fatma is situated at about 1500 meters and has some pretty sah-weet waterfalls to hike to. We hiked up and spent the day inhaling some clean non-dusty air, which doesn’t exist in Marrakech.

Monday morning we headed to the airport to catch our plane back to Sevilla, only to find out that our flight had been cancelled. Muy mal. The adventure began (or nightmare, you tell me). Who knew volcanoes still erupted anyways?! So, the main problem was that there were only flights Monday and Friday back to Sevilla, so we had no option but to travel through pretty much the whole of Morocco (Marrakech is in the south) and try to get to Sevilla.  We found a group of Americans who had agreed to rent a big van with a driver and travel up to Tangier (the ferry crossing to Spain). The taxi driver said 6-7 hours to Tangier. He forgot to say 6-7-8-9-10 hours. Yes, my friends, it took 10 hours. Including a pit stop to his “cousin’s” restaurant in Rabat, which I refused to eat at and told him instead that we had no money and we had to go to McDonald’s because they accepted credit cards. Maybe he was unhappy, but there was definitely no heads-up about paying 10 EUROS for a tajine. No way. So, McDonald’s saved our lives yet again.  Anyways, quick tour of Rabat we were on our way again and hoping we would make it to Tangier for the 10pm ferry. We arrived at 9:45pm (we left at 11.40am). Got our tickets and the ticket man informed us that we would have enough time to make the ferry. We ran. And ran. And ran. Seven Americans and one Brazilian running in the port of Tangier. Screaming, “Algeciras? Algeciras?” We ran through customs down to the port and saw our ferry tug away into the dark sea. Muy mal. We asked the man at the port for the next ferry he said that there was another one in 15 minutes. We waited. 45 minutes we saw a ferry pull up. Load up. Close up and start to heat up the engine. There we were again, seven Americans and one Brazilian, screaming at the port men, “Stop that BOATTTTT!!!!” They realized they forgot about us. We didn’t let them. They stopped the boat, opened it again and we got on. We arrived in Algeciras at 1:30 am with no place to run, hide, or go. We stayed on the streets until 6:30 am, when our bus to Sevilla left. 26 hours since we left our CSer’s house in Marrakech we were home sweet home. And how sweet it was.

Dear Mother Nature,
The next time you decide to erupt, please keep the ash at a level more convenient for everyone.
Sincerely,
L

p.s.- Top Ten Marrakech
1. Jemaa elFna Square by day
2. Jemaa elFna Square by night
3. Fresh orange juice from the stands
4. Jemaa elFna Square for dinner (eat at the food stands! If I didn’t get sick, neither will you!)
5. Palais Bahia
6. Talk with the locals in the Souq (you’ll get the price you want!)
7. Day trip to the mountains
8. Get lost
9. Eat rghaif (Moroccan pancake with butter and honey)
10. Visit the parks…
11. (not really a thing to do, but just wanted to say that maybe going to the desert should be in the top 10, but I had been there done that, so didn’t want to spend money on it again!).

about the border crossing from Aqaba, Jordan to Nuweiba, Egypt…

DesertEgypt Border

trip: Wadi Rum to Nuweiba, Egypt
how: Bus and Ferry
miles total:  5566
days: 1

Arriving in Aqaba, we went straight to the ferry where we had to follow numerous steps including exit fees, stamps, and visa regulations. Whew. One counter for this, then one man for this, then the other counter for this… it went on and on. After paying all necessary fees including our 70.00 dollar (!!) ferry ticket we waited for our ferry to depart. As we all lined up to get on the ferry we were called up by the police to board the ferry early. I suppose it is something they do for tourists, because there were about 7 tourists in line and we all got called to go on the ferry early. The ‘fast’ ferry to Nuweiba should be one hour, but after all the research we did on this ferry we didn’t find one person that said it took an hour. So, we were not disappointed when we boarded the ferry at 12pm, departed at 15:30 and arrived in Aqaba at 17:00. Oh Egypt… I already love you.

The Egyptian border madness is like nothing I have ever seen before. You can tell a lot about a country depending on the border control, or in Egypt’s case, the lack thereof. When we got off the boat we were told to go through a building and on the other side our luggage would be there. We went… picked up our luggage and then boarded a bus that would take us to immigration control where we could also buy our visas. We got off the bus and entered pure madness! Massive amounts of people trying to get all their belongings (which included big crates and boxes of who knows what!). We were told to go to a small room where we could get our visa. We got it without problem then needed to proceed through the ‘bag check’ control. Hah! What chaos again! As a tourist they don’t really care what you bring in and out of the country so we just sailed through without even a glimpse from the officials. We then met up with the other tourist and a couple Saudis who bartered with the taxi driver and got a decent price to head to Dahab! Finally… some relaxing beach time!!

This post may just seem like one confused person going through immigration and not actually knowing what’s going on. Well, my friends, this was I. When you go to Egypt, you too, will understand.

Cleopatra comin’at ya!

L

about Nazareth, Israel to Wadi Musa (Petra), Jordan…

Wadi Musaha.

trip: Nazareth to Wadi Musa
how: by Avis rental car or the Peugeot 206 master, shared taxi, and mini-bus.
miles total:  5458
days: 1

The trip from Nazareth to Jerusalem went fine. When we got to Jerusalem, went through the old-city souq to find some last minute gifts, then headed for the best falafel in Jerusalem. After this we headed to the bus (FYI the bus to the border is double the price of coming to Jerusalem, around 33 NIS). We reached the border and crossed through without any problems, then headed to Amman.

I knew going into this trip that my rights as a woman may not be as expansive as they are in Europe and the US. Actually, it was evident that I had lost many of my rights as a woman when I traveled through some of these countries in the Middle East. I had many experiences feeling already that made me feel much lower than the men around me. Just little things like never seeing women in the streets, cafes, shops during the day, never seeing them drive, smoke, talk to other men, having separate elevators for men and women, not being able to sit next to a man on a bus, boat, or train. These are just a few, but my most recognizable experience was in Amman when we were waiting for the bus to Petra.

After making it to Amman for around 3pm we were scared that we had missed the last bus down to Petra. However, at the Jordan border we met a nice Jordanian police officer who negotiated a price with the taxi driver and assured us that we would be there in time and not to let the ‘bastard taxi drivers’ charge us any more than what we settled on. We didn’t. We got to the mini-bus station in Amman and there were about four guys at the bus stop and they told us that there was one bus going to Petra in some minutes. After an hour and a half later we saw the bus arriving… but suddenly there was about 35 people that came from all over the bus station certain they were getting on this bus too. I was just as certain. I looked at G and gave him my bag and told him that there was no way we weren’t getting to Petra tonight. I gave him my bags and fought my way through the crowd of people pushing to get on the bus. When I got on there was one seat left with a bag on it, next to an Arab man. I didn’t even think twice before I looked at the man and asked to sit next to him. Without understanding me he gave me a blank stare and looked behind me at a man who started to look very angry. The situation unfolded something like this:

M: That is my seat ma’am.

ME: You just arrived here sir. I waited for an hour for this bus.

M: I’m sorry that is not my problem. Talk to the driver.

ME: Sir, I waited for this seat and this seat is mine.

M: My bag is on that seat (pointing) you see that it is mine.

ME: Sir, you put your bag through the window. It’s not fair.

M: I’m sorry, talk to the driver.

ME: No sir. This is my seat.

M: (very angry)

People started to talk to him and soon he started to argue with them. Everyone on the bus argued and eventually he got off. I didn’t know what happened until the bus stopped two hours later for a rest stop. At this point, the girl in front of me turned around and said, “I’m sorry you had to have that happen to you. But I am so happy that you stood up for your seat. He didn’t deserve it.” I said, “thank you”. She then continued to tell me that everyone on the bus agreed with me and started to tell him that it wasn’t fair what he did. My heart was still beating fast from the incident (especially because I knew this man had a gun) and I was quiet for the rest of the ride to Wadi Musa (Moses’ Valley, the closest town to Petra).

We stayed at the Valentine Hostel that night and had a lovely buffet dinner then had an early night to prepare for the next day in Petra and on to Wadi Rum.

Exhausted.

L

about Nazareth, Israel to Petra, Jordan and my rights as a woman….
The trip from nazareth to Jerusalem went fine. When we got to jerusalem we went through the old-city souq to find some last minute gifts then headed for the best falafel in Jerusalem then to the bus to the border. FYI, the bus to the border is double the price of coming to Jerusalem (around 33 NIS). We reached the border fine and crossed through without problems, then headed to Amman.
Intermission.
I knew going into this that my rights as a woman may not be as evident as they are in europe and the US. Actually, it was evident that I had lost many of my rights as w oman when I travel through some of these countries in the middle east. I had many experiences feeling a little lower than those men around me. Just little things like never seeing woman in the streets, cafes, shops during the day, never seeing them drive, smoke, talk to other men, having seperate elevators for men and women, not being able to sit next to a man on a bus, boat, or train. These are just a few, but my most recognizable experience was in Amman when we were waiting for the bus to Petra. After making it to Amman for around 3pm we were scared that we had missed the last bus down to Petra. However, at the Jordan border we met a nice Jordanian Police officer who negotiated a price with the taxi driver and assured us that we would be there in time and not to let the ‘bastard taxi drivers’ charge us any more than what we settled on. We didn’t. We got to the mini-bus station in Amman and the there was about 4 guys at the bus stop and they told us that there was one bus going to Petra in just some minutes. After one hour and a half later we saw the bus arriving…. but suddenly there was about 35 people that came from all over the bus station and people that just arrived and everyone was certain they were getting on this bus. I was just as certain too. I looked at G and gave him my bag and told him that there was no way we weren’t getting to Petra tonight. I gave him my bags and fought my way through the crowd of people pushing to get on the bus. When I got on there was one seat left with a bag on it, next to a man dressed in traditional clothing. I didn’t even think twice before I looked at the man and asked to sit next to him. Without understanding me he gave me a blank stare and looked behind me at a man that started to look very angry. The situation unfloded something like this:
that is my seat ma’am.
You just arrived here sir. I waited for an hour for this bus.
im sorry that is not my problem. talk to the driver.
sir, i waited for this seat and this seat is mine.
my bag is on that seat you see that it is mine.
sir you put your bag through the window. it’s not fair.
i’m sorry, talk to the driver.
No sir. This is my seat.
(man, held his gun on his waist)
People started to talk to him and soon he started to argue with them. Everyone one the bus argued and eventually he got off. I didn’t know what happened until the bus stopped two hours later for a rest stop. At this point, the girl in front of me turned around and said, “I’m sorry you had to have that happen to you. But I am so happy that you stood up for your seat. He didn’t deserve it.” I said ‘thank you”. She then continued to tell me that everyone on the bus agreed with me and started to tell him that it wasn’t fair what he did. My heart was still beating fast from the incident and I was quiet for the rest of the ride to Wadi Musa (Moses’ Valley, the closest town to Petra).
We stayed at the Valentine Hostal that night and had a lovely buffet dinner then had an early night to prepare for the next day in Petra and then finding our way to Wadi Rum.
Exhauste

about Jerusalem, Israel…

Holy Sepulchre al-Aqsa Mosque

Jerusalem, for me, was like a place you only read about. Not a place you actually go. So waking up the next morning and actually realizing I was in Jerusalem and I was walking the steps of the Bible was surreal. Not only this, but to be in this country and this city where so many people believe to be the holiest place on earth was incredible.

We met up with D and A this morning and also with our other CS friend and wandered around the old city of Jerusalem all day. We saw as much as we could since we don’t have a lot of time here. Starting with the old city, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of the Redeemer, Tower of David, Tomb of David, Dome of the Rock, Mary’s tomb, Basilica of Agony, Garden of Gethsemane, Mount of Olives and the old city souq. It was interesting, unreal, and extraordinary. It was as if the Bible was unfolding in front of me.

Jerusalem has many many sad stories too. The city has been, like the rest of Israel and Palestine, in constant turmoil. You have consistent reminders of this; armored soldiers, UN vehicles, the wall, and the checkpoints (to name a few). All are reminders that this city, although for a tourist is interesting and enjoyable, is a city that will most likely never be in peace, nor will it’s inhabitants ever be. It’s sad really and as I get talking to the man in the stall I am buying a scarf from I realize that he is Palestinian and he has a special permit to come in to Jerusalem everyday and work. He says to me, ‘but this is where I was born… why I cannot stay here?’ I give him a blank stare. It’s one of the many Palestinians in the next few days that I will have the opportunity to meet and they all ask me the same thing…

It’s a difficult country to be a tourist in. I suppose some tourist just blank out these problems and just see Jerusalem as a ‘cool’ city to visit and party and have a good time, while seeing a synagogue or church or mosque on the way. However, for me I like to see and feel more than a tourist to actually be with the people that live in the place that I am visiting and to understand them. It is quite difficult to do this here. It gets very complicated. It’s easy however to try and avoid these things and then again it’s easy to get wrapped up in these problems. Maybe I am rambling, but I hope that you understand all I want to say is that Jerusalem is whatever you make it to be (like everything in life).

I really enjoyed Jerusalem, the food was incredible (best bagels and falafel!). The city is fascinating and beautiful. The people are interesting, earnest, and heartfelt. In general, it is like a European city, very modern and western, with malls and fast-food, fast cars and lots of money. I suppose Israel is a very wealthy country so why shouldn’t it be like this! I am happy I came here as my first stop in Israel it opened my eyes and I’m excited to discover more about this beautiful and troubled country.

D and A agreed to rent a car with us for the next few days. Tomorrow we will be heading to Hebron and Bethlehem in Palestine. Then we will rent a car the next day and travel to Masada, the Dead Sea, Tel Aviv, Nazareth, Sea of Galilee, and the Golan Heights.

Peace,

L

about the Jordan-Israel border crossing…

Check-point on the way to JerusalemStar of David on a wall

trip: Amman to Jerusalem
how: by bus and taxi
miles total:  4752
days: 1

Well, we met a nice couple staying at the Farah hotel in Amman with us and found ourselves with more or less the same itinerary from Jordan to Israel and then back to Jordan and onto Egypt. So naturally we thought  of traveling together for a bit especially in Israel where G and I were planning on renting a car.

Adam, Diana, G and I set off around 8 am for the border crossing. We got dropped off at the bus station and were hustled (like usual) on to a bus to the border. The Jordanian border was relatively simple. We got off paid the five dinar exit fee and got back on the bus to the Israeli border. The nerves were coming… the clammy hands…. sweaty arm pits. I don’t know why I was like this, but I heard and read many things about this border crossing and although not many people get turned away, I thought there was always a chance. If this should happen, I don’t know what I would do… I suppose just cry.

We reached the border along with another 600+ people hoping to get through the border that day. The border is like no other border I have seen, with many heavily armed soldiers, not a year older than myself. The Israeli government spends about 15 billion dollars on their defense force annually. Also, it is mandatory for everyone to preform military service, women two years and men three years. I didn’t have too much time to think about this right now and the four of us just tried to follow what everyone else were doing; give the bags to one desk, get a ticket for your bags then lined up for passport check. We all went together.

The female soldier at the counter was no more than 23 years old. She looked at us and asked us the basic questions. We answered. Then we requested that the stamp be put on a separate sheet of paper (we were told this was possible and then we wouldn’t have the Israeli stamp in our passport which would prevent us from travelling to many Arab countries). Her smile quickly disappeared and she asked even more questions. We answered. One Stamp. Two Stamp. Hesitation. Three Stamp. Hesitation. Please wait in the waiting area. No fourth stamp. G had a suspicious passport. In reality, we both did. We were warned that we take a big risk entering into Israel with a Syrian stamp in our passport, but we took the risk. I guess now we would see what happened.

D, A, and I  passed through the first control and got our eyes scanned and picture and fingerprints taken. Then I agreed to meet A and D in Jerusalem tomorrow morning for breakfast and they went on there way while I went back to wait with G in the waiting area. There were many people waiting… mainly Palestinians trying to get in, back to their homes and back to their families. The girls behind the counter calling the names of the people in the waiting area were giggling at the sound of their pronunciation when they said the Arabic names.  I was embarrassed for them and could not see the reason for their lack of respect.

We sat there for some time and listened to the border control calling these names… During this time we met some other travelers, one guy had walked from Belgium to here. He had no money with him and was travelling with just a sleeping bag, walking stick, and a small backpack. He was 22. He was waiting in this area because he had told the border control he was headed for Gaza. Never a smart move.

One hour passed. Then two, three, four, five. I was scared. I didn’t know what to do or what to think. We met another great guy, a Brit. He was doing more or less the same trip we were doing and he was waiting because his father’s grandfather is Pakistani and in return he has a Pakistani last name. We spoke with him for a while and exchanged some travel stories. He had been waiting since 7am. It was now 4 pm. He had been in for 3 interrogations, none of which were delightful meetings. Coming up to 5pm, two men approached him and said that he would be escorted our of Israel back to the Jordan border. That was it. His time in Israel was finished. Tears came to his eyes and we barely had a chance to say good-bye.

My nerves were out of control and Gui was worried sick. All I could do was pray. And I did. G went for an interrogation and came back with no answers. It was about 6:30 and a man came to G and asked where he was from. G said Brazil. The guy looked at him and said one moment. Then 5 minutes later he came out with G’s passport. You can pass through here (directing us through the border control). Why we waited for 7 hours, we may never know. Why we went through the torture of sitting there asking ourselves if we would actually be able to go, we may never know. Why things must be this way, we will never know.

However, what I did know is that this was the start to a whole different experience than the past 17 days.  We went through the border and found our bags after 7 hours of not knowing where they were and hopped on a bus to Jerusalem. We were couchsurfing and couldn’t get to their house soon enough. Unfortunately, we got lost and did not arrive until about 11 pm. Forty-four miles took 15 hours. But we are here. This is what matters.

Feeling strange.

Shalom. שָׁלוֹם

L

about the Syria-Jordan border crossing…

Leaving SyriaArab man

trip: Damascus to Amman
how: by shared taxi
miles total:  4707
days: 1

This time the border crossing was relatively easy and a little more organized than the Turkey-Syrian crossing. Despite having to pay 500 SYP to leave Syria and then another 10JD to enter into Jordan, the border crossing went smoothly and I was pumped to be entering into the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Leaving Syria was difficult because we met so many people that we really connected with and the people in general are so lovely in Syria, it would be hard for anyone to leave. We took a shared taxi to Amman because we didn’t make it to the Damascus bus station in time for the last bus to Amman (about 3pm). In the end,  the taxi is the same price as a pullman bus and you are in a car with just 3 other people. The only down side is that you have to wait until your car fills up until the taxi driver will leave (and small tip: don’t pay more than 60 SYP each for the ride down to Amman). Well, we are only in Amman for 2 days so we have to make the most of it!

Peace.
L

about Antakya, Turkey – Syrian border crossing…

Aleppo CitadelWelcome to Syria

trip: Göreme to Antakya
how: by bus,  9 hours, Suha Bus Co. and ghe-tto bus co.
miles total: 4,055
days: 1

I don’t remember much after changing buses in Kayseri (1hr. after we boarded the bus in Goreme), it was probably better that way. However, I did wake-up with butterflies in my stomach. Today was the day we were crossing into Syria and I was a bit nervous about obtaining my visa at the border, as many people including my embassy highly recommended getting the visa before the border because Syrian officials can turn you away without a reason.

Americans without a visa can expect to wait an average of 8 hours for their visa. I am traveling on my European passport so I hoped it would be a bit easier.

G and I arrived in Antakya and were bombarded with people asking us to take us across the border.  An hour later we boarded a ghe-ttto bus with 5 Turkish people and us to the border.

The border crossing went something like this: wait 10 minutes at Turkish border. get out of bus. Turkish official, look, observe, stamp passport. get back on bus. drive 2 km to the Syrian border. 5 Turkish people on the bus look at us in disgust as they know we don’t have a visa and they will have to wait. get off bus. go in to Syrian border building. after much confusion, pay 52 dollars for a visa. get hustled back into a weird office in the back of the building. give our passports to someone and he puts them on his desk. he continues to drink tea. we continue to sit there. he continues to drink his tea. we don’t see our bus anymore. he drinks tea. he disappears with his tea and our passports. we laugh/cry. he returns. drinks tea. gives our passports back. calls G to his desk. says Ronaldinho!!!. welcome to Syria. we go find our bus. get stopped by Syrian official. he asks where we are from. G says Brazil. official continues to name the whole brazilian football squad. he smiles. we smile. he says welcome. we are successful.

Let’s go to Aleppo.
Ahlan wa sahlan.  أهلين
L

about Istanbul, Turkey…

Istanbul, TurkeyHaya Sofia

trip: London to Istanbul
how:  by plane, easyjet.com
miles total: 2505 km
days: 5

I guess it never occurred to me the actual magnitude of Istanbul. Broken into two different continents (Europe and Asia) , Istanbul has the population of  14 million and you can sure feel it. After sleeping at Gatwick airport the night before I was ready to get some rest. Those of you that know me know that I am not the most delightful person to be around if I don’t sleep.  I need a minimum of 8 hours of sleep like most people need basic life necessities such as water, food, coffee, or cigarettes.  Nonetheless, instead of expressing my need and concern about my lack of sleep to G, I gave him a believable ‘yes’ in response to his enthusiastic ‘let’s go explore!’ comment.

I am about to leave Istanbul now and I am glad that I did say yes on the first day I arrived. I’m in love with this city! It’s a fantastic mesh of cultures, religions and societies. Maybe it was because our CS host made our stay so fantastic, never hesitating to help us in any way (thanks Eray!). Or maybe it was because of the 100s of years of history that every mosque, bazzar, church, and museum have. Or it could have been because of the food that was vegetarian friendly and a very delicious indulgence every time I ate.

It was for sure not the men that stand outside restaurants trying to lure tourists in by saying, ‘I have sexy table for you’ or ‘just wait till you see my menu’.  Or perhaps threatening me that the street food I was eating was not fresh and could make me sick… I mean honestly guys… have these lines ever worked for you?

Well, allaha ismarladik!
L