We swing along the Damascus Road down through the Beqa’a Valley with Fairuz blasting out of the bus’ speakers: khidni wa zraani bi arrid Libnan (take me and plant me in the land of Lebanon). The speakers fail to render her many high notes which splurge out saturated. In fact the sound is not altogether dissimilar to the coach’s singsong horn, which blurts out frequently as we barrel downhill, overtaking, and crawl uphill, being overtaken.
The lady behind me taps me on the shoulder and hands me a gardenia blossom. Its rich heady scent fills the bus, mingling with the driver’s cigarette smoke and the mint leaves in my rolled labneh sandwich. After a very short night, not even the triple overtaking on blind bends or the subsequent near collisions and horn-leaning can keep me awake. I’m lulled off to an Arabic cover of Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive”, until we are ushered off the bus for customs formalities.
The trip from Beirut to Amman via Syria involves getting out of the bus for passport stamping before and after each border, plus a subsequent passport check on board by the relevant official each of the four times. In the low customs building leaving Syria for Jordan, a sign reads: “In case of any complain, write it and put it in complain box.”
We certainly have nothing to complain about. Despite the multiple stops, baggage search and horrid loos, nationals of all three countries pass easily among their neighbours. In fact, between Lebanon and Syria only an ID card (hawiyyé) is required. Across the border just inside Jordan, the choices for queuing at customs are, in widening circles of increasing distrust: Jordanians, Syrians, Arab nationals, and finally, Foreigners. We head for Arab nationals, bearing our almost virgin Lebanese passports, but are intercepted by a rather determined uniform to be relegated to Foreigners.
“We’re Lebanese,” we explain. “Her too?” he asks sceptically, but bows to the inscription on the passport and upgrades us to the Syrian aisle. In the queue there, the official behind the glass spots us from afar. “Foreigners over there”, he calls out with a perfunctory gesture across the hall. “We’re Lebanese,” we chime. “She’s Lebanese?” he looks me up and down with an actual up-down head movement. We wave our passports. “Okay,” he says and promptly promotes us to the Jordanian line, where we are duly stamped and dispatched.
Cost: 30 USD Beirut to Amman; 33 USD for the return leg.
Runs on: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, departing at 8am from Beirut and at 3pm from Amman. The journey takes 6 to 7.5 hours.
Beirut station: Boulevard Sami el Solh, near the Tayouneh roundabout (map).
Amman station: Jett International Office, off Al-Malek Al-Hussein St (map).
Operated by: Transport and Tourism Services, email@example.com, +961 1399777. Contact the office a day in advance.