This is a first-person account of the events that led to my interrogation and detention by the Jordanian Military over something that we carry with us.
Welcome to Tel-Aviv
This story oddly begins in Israel – next door to Jordan. My flight landed in Tel-Aviv, and I cleared customs and passport control without incident like I had hundreds of times before throughout the world.
I consider myself a well-informed, savvy traveler who has an above-average grasp on traveling to foreign countries, especially with all of my photography equipment. However, I vividly remember concerns with visiting Middle Eastern countries on this trip. It’s no secret that Americans aren’t likely by everyone in that region.
A few uneventful days went by, a few hundred pictures taken of Tel-Aviv – a stunning city with unique and rich cultural and religious history.
Indiana Jones made it to Petra; why can’t I?
I decided to explore the logistics of visiting Petra during the last few days of my trip. The proximity of Petra was doable, and there were Israeli tour operators with seats left.
I booked the trip, leaving with a quick flight to Jordan and a bus ride to Petra the following morning. Unfortunately, the tour operator immediately called me, saying the flight wasn’t operating and they only had a bus to Petra. So the decision was either to cancel the trip to wake up at 04:00 and take a stupidly long bus ride to Petra.
4 AM came quite early, and I boarded a bus in the city center of Tel-Aviv with a half dozen other tourists from all over the world who equally wanted to explore Petra. There wasn’t much chatter during the 5-hour ride out of Tel-Aviv and across the eastern deserts of Isreal.
We arrived, and the bus parked just outside the southern Jordanian border crossing, just outside of Eilat, a little after 09:00. The tour operator gave us instructions to walk across the border to board a waiting bus in Jordan to take us the rest of the way.
At this point, things began to get sketchy as the bus hauled-ass as soon as the last person was off the bus. Almost instantly, the mood changed from sleepy tourists waking up to “oh shit; we need to figure this out.” In an instant, everyone’s anxiety level shot up.
We proceeded to walk through the land border crossing from Israel into Jordan like a small school of vulnerable fish in an unfamiliar environment. Israeli CBP couldn’t have cared less, and exiting Isreal was uneventful.
The scenery between the two countries was almost militaristic; roads and walkways lined with numerous fences and barbed wire.
“Welcome” to Jordan
The 1000m walk across the border and into Jordan wasn’t bad. We were all greeted by the less-than-friendly Jordanian Military who’s responsible for customs and border control.
Of the dozen people in the group, all of us had backpacks. My backpack was no different from others except that mine was full of camera gear, lenses and SD cards, and my laptop.
I was in the middle of the group in line for passport control; when out of the blue, a pair of Jordanian military guards pulled me out of line and asked me to come with them “to answer a few questions.” Naturally, not wanting to make waves, I politely obliged and was taken into a room where four more guards waited.
The guards asked to search my backpack, I obliged. They questioned me for the next 60-minutes about why I had so much camera equipment, who I worked for, why I needed so much “electronic surveillance equipment.”
I explained that I own and maintain my DESTINATIONS UNKNOWN travel blog and wanted to photograph and write a story about Petra – one of the top places I’ve always wanted to visit. I showed proof of my trip to Tel Aviv, a receipt for the tour package to Petra, and any other supporting evidence they requested.
At no point was the Jordanian Military cordial or polite. On the contrary, I was made to feel like what I was doing was illegal, immoral, or some combination in-between with every question.
The Jordanian Military’s attitude changed once I demanded to speak with the American Embassy. Another 30-minutes went by, and the Jordanian Military granted me entry into the country but confiscated my passport and allowed me to take one camera to Petra. They advised me to pick up my passport and the rest of my camera gear when I exited the country later that day.
I made the best of the day at Petra, which was even better than I could have imagined. At no point during the trip did I not have severe anxiety about if I would get my passport back or the USD $15,000 of camera equipment they were “holding for me.”
7 PM was the moment of truth. Finally, the Jordanian bus arrived at the border crossing, and the dozen of exhausted tourists made their way back across the border into Israel.
Surprisingly, I entered the Jordanian administrative offices and was promptly handed my passport and all camera equipment as promised. I uttered a sarcastic thank you to them as I hurried across the border back into Israel and onto the bus back to Tel Aviv.
I flew home to the USA the next day from Tel Aviv and have traveled to many more destinations since visiting Jordan and have never had a repeat of the day I was detained in Jordan.