I wandered through the streets of Aqaba, the historic Jordanian town on the Western tip of the Red Sea. Parked at a hotel an hour's bus ride away, the defunct buggy waited to be resurrected from my seven month absence.
Travel ebs and flows with highs and lows, and this was one of the shit spots.
Crap piled upon more bureaucratic crap. Expired permits, visas, documents, documents.
I found a fast food restaurant and ordered a chicken combo meal. While I sat down, two young Jordanians walked in. They laughed and greeted the pimply kid behind the counter. The first was dressed like someone who shopped at the GAP, with khaki pants and a grey golf shirt. He ordered for both of them and sat in the booth across from me.
"First time to Jordan?" he asked.
"Second time, I just got back from Egypt."
"What of Jordan have you seen?"
I finished chewing my food and swallowed. "I drove around Wadi Rum, went to Petra, and later visited Amman."
A restaurant employee interrupted our conversation. He went over to collect the tray of food. Meanwhile, his friend, who had a greasy mop of black hair and was dressed in grubby jeans, leaned toward me, putting his hand next to his mouth. "The prince," he said. "He's the prince."
I nodded. Maybe he would buy my car, or fix my import permit problem. Then again, I didn't even have my car.
The prince sat back down with his meal. "Where are you headed next?"
"Back to Petra to collect my car, then onto Syria."
I finished my food and left shortly later, forgetting about the encounter until a couple days later.
At the Jordan-Syria border, a thin-haired official perused my expired documents. He took out his calculator and his ferret eyes scanned back and forth. He then wrote down the cost of fines.
"That's crazy!" I said. "Three hundred and twelve dollars for expired permits?"
"Expired by five months," he said.
"But look, I was in Egypt during those five months. I wasn't even driving around Jordan."
"But you left your car here."
"Is there a cheaper way?" I asked, trying to hint at a bribe.
"You can go back to Amman and try to sort out your documents there."
That made sense. Drive around illegally, rack up more fines, and likely go from office to office where nobody had the slighest clue how to help me. Who in Jordan's history had overstayed their temporary import permit and went through bureaucratic channeles to avoid paying the fine - probably nobody. I clenched my documents with frustration. "Do you know who I ate dinner with two nights ago?" I said.
"Never mind." I counted the cash out, handed it to him and went back to the car. At least I'd gotten through.
Next stop, Syria.