Smuggling Cigarettes into Jordan

Trip Start Nov 03, 2008
Trip End Jan 10, 2009

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Flag of Jordan  ,
Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hey People

These cross-boarder cab rides are killing me, I never know what to expect and crossing into Jordan was no exception.  I checked out of my hotel in Damascus at noon and flagged down a cab wanting to get a ride to the garage where the service taxi's to Jordan leave from.  It took two guys passing by and one traffic policeman to communicate where I needed to go to the taxi driver.  Once we arrived at the garage I was bombarded by overly helpful guys trying to shuffle me into their taxi.  Before I even agreed to go with them they grabbed my luggage from the trunk of the cab and raced off with it forcing me to follow.  We went through a security check where they rummaged through my luggage and then they zipped up my bag and raced it into the back of a car and offered me a seat on a bench beside the car where I could wait until we had enough passengers to depart.
While I was sitting there a guy came up to me asking if I wanted to buy socks and another one came up to me trying to sell me a table cloth.  What the heck?  What made them think I needed socks and a tablecloth?  What I needed was a ride to Jordan.  Next a guy came up to me and showed me his badge and asked me for $4.  I think he wanted to get paid for carrying my luggage to the car but I am not sure.  However, I was sure that I was no going to pay for an unsolicited service so I played dumb like I did not know why he wanted the money and I demanded he bring someone over that spoke English.  Another driver happened to be walking by who spoke English and he came to sort things out.  He told me that the guy wanted me to give him $4 and I said for what?  Then he said, give him $1 instead and I replied for what?  Finally he said never mind and the guy demanding payment huffed off.
Another guy showed up around this time demanding I give him my passport, I guess he needed it for departure papers or something so I handed it over.  He took off and left me with the guy who spoke a bit of English and after a short conversation with him I decided to hire him as a private taxi for $50 to take me to Jordan.  He retrieved my passport and got the appropriate papers then we took off.  I was relieved to have my own cab because then I didn't have to ask everyone in the cab to refrain from smoking.
As soon as we were on the road the driver went about feeling out the situation to see if he could extract more money from me.  He wanted to plan my entire stay in Jordan and have me hire him to be my personal driver; he even invited me to have dinner with him and his wife and showed me a picture of his son.  I convinced him I had no money and that he was barking up the wrong tree then I threw on my MP3 player and fell asleep while he spent the entire ride talking on the phone.
When we reached the boarder, that's where things got entertaining.  I almost didn't make it out of Syria because I did not have this blue slip with me that they gave me when I crossed back into Syria from Lebanon.  I had no idea what this paper was for or that I needed to keep it, I almost threw it away at my hotel room but then I remembered I slipped it into my journal instead.  I went out to the cab and retrieved the paper and got my stamp to leave Syria. 
In no man's land the driver stopped at this fancy hotel and said he would just be a minute.  He came back 20 minutes later with a bunch of bags.  He emptied out a pile of cigarette cartons into the back seat then hid some under the floor mat of the back seat, left two cartons in a bag and opened another carton and started stuffing the cigarette packs everywhere then insisted that I threw four in my backpack.  He wanted me to claim the two cartons as duty free.  I guess cigarettes are cheaper in Syria than in Jordan and the driver likes to make a bit of extra cash whenever he crosses the boarder.
When we reached the Jordanian boarder all the cars were stopped and boarder police were rummaging through everyone's luggage and giving the entire cab a good once over.  I pulled the cigarettes out of my bag and threw them under the seat of the cab and made sure I was beside my bags when they got searched.  I had no idea if smuggling cigarettes could get me into trouble or not and did not want to find out.  Spending a night in a Middle Eastern jail cell was not on my Bucket List.
After a thorough search of the cab and my luggage we were allowed through.  I was surprised that they never looked under the mat since it was so obvious but when I got back from purchasing my visa and getting my passport stamped I knew why.  Three boarder policemen were in the backseat catching a ride to Amman with us.
Take Care

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