30 August 2009

Israeli stamp syndrome

After a really enjoyable month in Egypt we headed overland to our next destination of Aqaba on the Red Sea coast of Jordan. Egypt and Jordan don't actually share any land borders so the trip involves a brief detour through Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

We arrived at Dahab bus station to be greeted by the unusual sight of lots of shiny new buses. It appears that the only reason that they are shiny and new is because they don't actually use them. When our bus turned up it was a right clapped out old knacker. After our last couple of life threatening journeys on the roads of Egypt at least it was a relief that the hour and a half journey to Taba was completed on time, without breakdowns, collisions or excessive speeding. The biggest danger we faced was when we actually got to the border as we needed to avoid getting the dreaded Israeli stamp syndrome.

Due to the ongoing tensions between Israel and the Arabs, having a Israeli stamp in your passport can cause you problems in parts of the Middle East. Proof of a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories can result in you being refused entry into a number of Arab countries. Unfortunately Bahrain, where we fly to en-route to Nepal, is one of those countries. In order to avoid the stigma of the Israeli stamp you have to cajole the immigration official to stamp a separate piece of paper rather than your passport. Although this avoids the problem of the stamp it isn't a foolproof method as you still have an exit stamp for Taba in Egypt and and entry stamp for Aqaba in Jordan. This can only mean that you've been to Israel in between. Hopefully the Bahrain immigration officials won't be too thorough!

Our stay in Israel is probably the shortest amount of time we've ever spent in a country. From when we got the entry stamp on our passport (piece of paper) to when we got our exit stamp must have been no longer than 15 minutes. Which is the time it took to drive across the city of Eilat to get to the Jordanian border. Eilat was a slightly strange place, it must be the only town we've ever been to with an international airport that runs down one side of the high street.

We would have loved to have spent a few days in Israel and gone to see some of the biblical sites such as Jerusalem and Bethlehem (even though we're atheists). However, accommodation and transport were just way too expensive so we've had to save those sights for another time.

Once we exited Israel it was then just a short walk over the Israel / Jordan frontier before grabbing a taxi to Aqaba.

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