Jerusalem to Jordan by Bus
For such a well-traveled path, it's rather preposterous process to get from Jerusalem to Petra (you'd know it as the desert landmark from 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). It should be as simple as hopping on a bus for Amman, then catching onward transport to Petra, but of course no border crossing is simple or easy in the Middle East—especially one dealing with the regionally ostracized Hebrew Nation.
Firstly, there's Jordan's refusal to issue visas on arrival at the most direct border crossing (the King Hussein Bridge). If you want to cross here, you'll have to purchase your $14 visa in advance from the embassy in Tel Aviv.
There are only three places where a tourist can legitimately enter or exit into Israel overland: In the far northeast, near Nazareth; in the middle, near Jerusalem; and at the very bottom tip near Eilat, where Israel has been in possession of a minuscule piece of the Red Sea coast since its inception.
But even if you've gone and taken the time and expense to procure your Jordanian visa ahead of time, there's still that final Israeli financial gouging to think about. Oh yes, Israel really knows how to pick your pocket for the final time before you leave their country (something we've also become quite familiar with while we've inside Israel as well).
Departing Israel, each individual must currently pay a mandatory 94.5 shekel fee (US$25). But if you decide to brave the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge crossing, you'll be required to fork out a whopping 161.5 shekels ($42.70) per person!
Since we are a family of three, not just a single traveler, we've got to look at these things in the aggregate. $128 in departure fees to leave via the King Hussein Bridge, or $75 to leave at the polar extremes.
But there are other motivating factors as well. In 2000, the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA for short) introduced a special economic zone visa for Jordan, known as an "ASEZ visa". Anybody arriving in Aqaba, whether at the port, at the airport or from the Arava crossing from Israel can get a free visa for Jordan. There is no obligation associated with this visa, providing the traveler leaves the country within one month. Passports aren't checked at the ASEZ control point leaving the economic zone.
Looking at the bigger picture…
$216 for Jerusalem to Amman:
Jordanian visas from Tel Aviv embassy — $42.50 (10 Jordanian dinar x 3 passports)
Van ride to the King Hussein Bridge border crossing — $20 (37.5 Israeli shekels x 2 adults)
Mandatory exit tax imposed by Israel — $128 (161.5 shekels x 3 passports)
Mandatory bus ride between the checkpoints — $11.50 (4 dinar x 2 adults)
Shared taxi into Amman — $14 (5 dinar x 2 adults)
$128 for Jerusalem to Aqaba:
Bus ride to Eilat — $37 (70 shekels x 2 adults)
Thieving taxi to the Wadi Araba border crossing — $9 (35 shekels)
Mandatory exit tax imposed by Israel — $75 (94.5 shekels x 3 passports)
Taxi into Aqaba — $7 (5 dinar)
Knives, Tourist Traps and CouchSurfing
Departing from Jerusalem's Central Bus Terminal was a lot less dramatic than arriving at it a week prior, as I'd given some thought on how to get around their asinine security procedures (previously: Israeli Bus Terminal Security Bullshit).
So that many people can be magnetically frisked simultaneously, the bus station's security screening consists of several metal detectors at the entryway doors, followed by a single x-ray machine a few feet later. But there's no enforced protocol that makes you x-ray items that you place outside of the machine to keep the thing from squealing at you. Knowing this in advance, I discreetly shoved all of our offending knives inside my camera pouch and omitted it from both the metal detector and the x-ray machine (by sliding it back into the pocket of my cargo shorts during the crowded skirmish of people anxiously vying to place their bags on the conveyor belt). Problem solved.
Unfortunately, unless you're able to leave Jerusalem at the break of dawn it's very unlikely you'll be able to catch onward transportation from Aqaba to the Petra area (Wadi Musa), as minibuses generally stop running by two or three p.m. Timing would be less of a problem if you decided to cough up the cash to cross at the King Hussein Bridge.
Unfortunately, we weren't able to make it early enough after our four-something-hour bus ride (finally getting stamped into Jordan at 3:15 p.m.), and were stuck in Aqaba for the night.
Aqaba is a miserable little (sprawling) town devoted to overpriced hotels, restaurants and gift shops. As the country's only seaport, the town is best known today as a diving and beach resort. During national holidays, Jordanians from the north, particularly Amman and Irbid, flock to Aqaba's resorts and beaches. During these holiday weekends, hotel occupancy reaches 100%.
It took an hour or two of running around the city looking at options while Tatiana minded Aidric, but we finally caved in and picked up a wretchedly expensive room in one of the dumpiest hotels in town (the Jordan Flower Hotel), setting us back a whopping 12 Jordanian dinars (US$17).
This was the first time I'd slept outside of a CouchSurfer's home since Aug 21, 2008… all the way back in Hungary. That marks an amazing 264 days—8 months and 21 days—of uninterrupted CouchSurfing.
I was quite disappointed to break such an amazing streak.