– We only allow the maximum of 50 mm lenses here, the custom officer declared, while holding my 24-70 mm in one hand and my 70-300 in the other.
– Where was that information when I applied for a visa, I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders, his English suddenly non-existent. Well, I have used that trick a few times too, so I wasn’t too upset. He was doing his job.
It was obvious that some kind of fine would have solved the problem with the smaller lens. The big one was the real issue for them. The Egyptian officials explained that “they would send them [the lenses} to the airport in Cairo so I could pick them up on the day when my plane left”. Naturally, they informed me, “I would get an official letter with me, working as a receipt”. The manager of this small border station south of Taba was standing there talking to me, while one of his employees was translating. I was so baffled that I just laughed. That (obviously) didn´t go down well.
They all walked away, holding my passport as well as my lenses. Meanwhile, I was sitting in a hallway watching people clearing customs and entering Egypt. While I was waiting for customs next move scenes popped up in to my head. One was me trying to explain to the insurance company that I “lost” two 800 dollar lenses to the Egyptian authorities because they had promised they were going to give it back to me (two weeks later). Another scene was me coming into Cairo airport in two weeks carrying a receipt with a claim for two semi-valuable lenses. The humor.
After one hour of negotiations and talks I walked up to the one speaking English and said that I was going back. He looked almost as baffled as I had done when I thought they were joking with me. “Are you sure”, he said. “Of course, I said. We both know that those lenses won´t be waiting for me. I wouldn´t trust my own authorities with this so I really don´t see why I should trust yours. ”Also,” I added, “this rule is just plain stupid, especially since there seem to be no official information about it. That´s why I am highly suspicious.” He walked away and came back with my arrival card where he made me write a note showing that I had chosen to return. I did so, also adding a sentence or two about the necessity of proper information.
This all took place on a Tuesday morning in a miniscule turquoise building on the Sinai peninsula, on the shores of the Gulf of Aqaba. It felt even smaller when crowded with the hundred people that just got off the catamaran. I had been one of the first ones going into customs and I was definitely the last one leaving. But while everyone else went out the front door, I went out the back door. I was escorted back on the boat again, and a few hours later I was back in Jordan.
Back in Jordan, the authorities gave me yet another display of how professionals work. Without even letting me try to pay for another visa (USD50), they cancelled my exit stamp and welcomed me back into the country. “Now you have time to see more of Jordan”, they shouted at me as I left. “It is better than Egypt.” I took a taxi back to Aqaba, found a cheap hotel and got myself a plane ticket to Cairo. Even if I look forward to Egypt, I have a feeling they just might be right.
Two days later I watched Sinai from above as I flew into Cairo airport. And not a question about my lenses.