Miserable Border Crossing: Amman to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv by Bus - Part III
Tel Aviv, Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Just Let Me Outta Here
Even though I'd gotten my passport stamped, it still took 35 minutes for me to process through the final immigration checkpoints (which involved verifying your admittance and some serious Alpha pushing with the large cluster of non-queuing Arabs for a space).
Waiting in something like a loading chute for cattle, I caught the eye of familiar female solider searching the line for something, or someone. It the girl that was next to the one that I'd chatted up. Maybe it's me they're trying to find again. Maybe I'm getting booted after all. Just look forward, I told myself.
As expected, I was fortunate to have not checked (submitted) my backpack for its own individual search, as a large carousel (again, similar to an airport) at the end of the immigration hall was going completely unmonitored. No one seemed to be verifying bag claims—people would just walk up, grab, and walk out. It wouldn't be hard to pluck a backpack filled with goodies from the mix and walk away.
I'd finally cleared the second verification checkpoint, and was just about to walk outside when I got stopped by a trio of young female soldiers. They were quite cute and giddy, and it felt rather unofficial. One asked to see my passport, and I relinquished it (yet again). While she thumbed through my pages the other two asked me where in the country I was going and for how long I'd be staying.
Certainly not in the mood to play any more games with anyone at this facility, repeated the same Tel Aviv story I'd been telling everyone as I extended my hand for the passport. I said a smiley goodbye and walked away, unsure as to exactly what they were up to—the one had spent some time looking at my identification page (with my name and the such).
Alas, the entertaining reason behind this wouldn't become evident until later in the evening…
Getting to Jerusalem
Much like the terrible transport monopoly in place between the Jordanian and Israeli checkpoints at this crossing, likewise there's one in place for onward travel away from the Israeli immigration building.
There are only two busing options, and by the looks of it, no shared taxis or minibuses available. One bus company takes passengers to Palestinian-controlled cities, while the other takes you to Jerusalem.
The large tour buses filling with Muslims were numerous, and overflowing with waiting passengers. Tickets for these vehicles were selling for the equivalent in shekels of US$3.25/person (plus $0.75 for luggage).
The small vans, on the other hand, that are provided to shuttle a dozen or so very smashed passengers for the hour's journey to Jerusalem costs a whopping $9.50. (Actually more, as you lose quite a bit in the very unfriendly exchange rate with the bank or ticket people.)
You have no choice. You've got to cough up the cash if you want to move on.
Remorselessly Dumped Somewhere in the City
The sun was getting low on the horizon as the van pulled into the snarling Jerusalem traffic. We crept along for 10 minutes or so before the driver pulled off the street and down into a cruddy lot full of similar vans. "This is the end," he announced as he turned off the engine and exited to open the cargo doors. Seriously? What. The. Fuck. I thought to myself.
"Hey, I need to get to Tel Aviv!" I said, confronting him, as if he'd decided he wasn't going to take us all the way to our proper destination (a central terminal building or bus gathering point—something, anything but this grease spot of a lot).
"You take taxi," was his helpful retort, pointing in the direction of a decrepit office up the hill some twenty yards away, opposite the street of jammed traffic we'd just arrived on. Lovely.
It was 6:00, and in the time it'd taken me to sort this out with the driver the other passengers had disappeared—lord only knows where to. They were clearly locals of the country, and better informed to the workings of this process than I. For all I knew, Jerusalem didn't even have a bus station—maybe it just sported a collection of dinky bus company offices, like Amman.
I walked to the office and approached the fellow inside. "I need to get to Tel Aviv—the main bus terminal. How much?"
"40 shekels ($10), but no taxi tonight because of traffic," He replied.
"OK… Where can I get a bus? Where can I find a minibus?"
"That way" (pointing up the hill), "then go right."
…And so began my long, arduous journey out of the capital.
What I Should've Known, But No One Was Telling Me
I didn't know it at the time, but the van from the border drops you off in about the worst possible spot in Jerusalem—somewhere down the street from the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, near the Rockefeller Museum, about a kilometer north of the famous golden dome. [the Google Maps location]
Presuming you even know how to get to Jerusalem's central bus terminal (or that one even exists, like I did not), this is still a miserable distance to carry any luggage, as the city is ridiculously hilly.
Adding insult to injury, there are no banks or ATMs to be found anywhere—an absolute mindblower for the land of the Jews—making it very difficult to even pay for a taxi, should you decide to take one. It's imperative that travelers exchange enough money at the border to get you to Jerusalem plus a taxi ride to the bus station (that'll probably run 20–25 shekels ($5–6, take 10 minutes).
It's totally unforgivable that this expensive no-choice-but-us shuttle van company doesn't drop passengers coming into the country off at a central transport facility of any kind.