Crossing the border back into Israel was inevitable, but doing so back in Aqaba/Elat was not a possibility. We only had one option, and through my pre-travel research, that option didn't seem very pleasant.
Around 2pm we stood at a window counter of Jordan's King Hussein Bridge crossing, where an unhappy gentleman grabbed our passports and told us to pay for the exit fees, pointing to the woman behind us. We paid and were directed to another window where another unkindly man looked at the receipt and stamped a few papers. He then told us to sit off to the side, in the waiting area, for the bus to arrive - gruffly informing us that he wouldn't return our passports until we entered the bus.
Our wait, in a windowless room, was over 30 minutes. Our knowledge of the bus's arrival had to be instinctual, because no one advised us of when it would come. But somehow those of us seated in the waiting area knew the right moment to make our way outside and onto the bus. Our passports were returned, after we paid the bus fee, which we were informed of after we were comfortably seated inside it.
The 15 minute ride took us across no-mans land; an area stark and desolate in the parts not covered by the Dead Sea. Our bus stopped right outside the beautifully landscaped, gated, entrance into Israel, where we stayed for a good 40 minutes. Once given the green light, the bus continued into the border control complex where our luggage was unloaded and we queued in line. Two seconds later, a bus load of Palestinians crammed their way into the queue, pushing themselves in front of us. It was a veritable mosh pit. Suitcases were floating over our heads and people were crawling between our legs.
Thirty minutes after we got in line we reached the luggage drop-off point, where 10 people would try cramming their suitcases into a small opening to 2 governmental workers. Somehow the workers managed to keep track of each suitcase and the correlating passport which we all had to surrender as well, to have scanned and tagged before being returned to us.
We were corralled along, forced to wait another 30 minutes before reaching the interrogation point. Upon passing the minute long spitfire questioning we moved from outside to inside... to, surprisingly, wait in yet another line. It only took a few seconds for us to make our way through the security checkpoint, which we thought was the end. But our elation was short lived. We turned the corner to see rows and rows of lines slowly inching their way forward to customs officers.
So we waited, in our own tourist queue, for another 20 minutes before reaching a friendly customs officer - who was surprised I actually wanted an Israeli stamp in my passport as opposed to one on a separate sheet of paper like everyone else had requested. Maybe the rest wanted to go to Syria or Afghanistan or Iran? Although..., Iran would be a neat place to visit. Thankfully my passport expires soon. But, now I digress.
Because we made it. We had finally made it through. But not completely. For after we left the customs officer we had another (yes, another) line to go through. An official needed to verify that the officer did, in fact, stamp our passport - or sheet of paper. Then we were free. Free to go into another line for someone to confirm that we had a piece of luggage (based off the sticker tagged on our passport) so that we could randomly pick whichever suitcase looked the nicest.
And then there was the line for the taxi and the hotel ordeal that inevitably ensued...