I woke up early, sick, in a sterile, cold room by the Red Sea. I packed my backpack and trudged downstairs, leaving the key in the room. An open-backed Jeep awaited me. I pulled myself in as it took off down the hill and turned my face to the sun to warm it. Passing a sprawling mall and waterfront hotels, the Jeep careened down backroads, dirt trails skirting the border between Israel and Jordan.
I got to the border as it opened and waited in line to get my passports stamped by a woman behind plexiglass. She was skeptical of my two passports, but ultimately allowed me into her country. I picked up my backpack and walked the 50-odd feet of no man’s land between the neighbors, passing into Jordan under a picture of the King.
I waited for a bus at a gift shop selling picture postcards of the King and Queen, woven rugs and small statues of camels. I drank tea to sooth my throat and fell asleep on the bus. The country the bus passed through was desolate, bleak and blustery. We paused at a rest stop on the edge of a great cliff and I woke up and ventured near the edge. The dark clouds made patterns in the valley below in shades of purples and browns but the wind was fierce and I went back in the bus to sleep.
Days later, after my short journey into the country, I returned to Aqaba in the evening. In the gloaming, the Red Sea looked majestic, eponymously colorful, with the distant mountains purple, like in songs. I could see Israel, and farther to the west, Egypt. The sea is small, yet I felt so far away from anywhere and anyone I knew.
I returned to the same border crossing and went through the process again in reverse, as if erasing what had happened on that side. I took a picture of a sign between Israel and Jordan that read “Danger Mines!”, the same signs I saw in the Golan Heights weeks earlier. An armed soldier saw me and approached, but said nothing.
The same Jeep picked me up where it had left me. I sat in the back again, letting the cool air settle my still feverish head. I hung on to a handle as we skidded on rocks and dust, looking back from where I came, trying not to forget what now seemed unreal.