April 5, 2009

Miserable Border Crossing: Amman to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv by Bus - Part IV
Tel Aviv, Israel and the Palestinian Territories

Previously: Part One, Part Two, Part Three

Chaos, Confusion and Crooked Taxis in Jerusalem

So I'm humping around Jerusalem—traffic a total disaster around me, with many streets closed off—when I reach the minibus assembly point at what looks to be some sort of bus terminal (just before the Damascus Gate). It's about as chaotic in the facility as it is out on the street, and when I finally stop someone to ask which minibus goes to Tel Aviv, he gives off a laugh and says "No, you need take bus! No Tel Aviv here! Go Jaffa Street. That way."

Wonderful. Still no ride or local currency. Just wonderful.

So I kept trudging west along the old city wall, looking for sign of bank or other transport that could take me where I needed to go, with the setting sun in my face reminding me that it'll be dark soon. Maybe I won't be getting to Tel Aviv after all, I pondered, trapped in the oppression of the day's omnipresent difficulties.

Over the course of an hour I walked nearly three kilometers searching for a bank and a bus.

I was getting sweaty and angry as I humped up the hill that I shouldn't have been forced to ascend, pushing past the wall of people clamoring to get photos and a view of the….. parade???

The primary street was an absolute disaster—partially torn up from construction and nearly completely blocked from the spectators and the full-blown marching band ahead of me (sporting everything from flutes and percussion to bagpipes).

I pushed past a horde of people only to discover that I couldn't cross the tiny expanse of pavement that constituted the entrance to the New Gate, as this is where the parade was funneling into, forcing me to double back down the street.

Ah… Shit. I'd totally forgotten. Today was Palm Sunday… and I was Jerusalem! A brilliant logistical move on my part to arrive this day.

In pure desperation I started talking to more and more people—even breaking one of my primary rules of travel by starting up a conversation with a police officer. Everyone turned out to be almost totally useless, pointing me to the same street with no vehicular traffic or to minibus gathering places that didn't actually exist (thanks, traffic cop).

I managed to eventually come across some ATMs on Jaffa Road, but out of the first three I tried all either didn't accept international cards or were completely out of cash. Totally depressed, the fourth ATM encountered finally spit out the cash I needed to get a taxi and get the hell out of the area.

I walked up to a primary cross street and flagged down a moving taxi at random—apparently in no short supply at this location—they were the first I'd seen driving anywhere because of the construction and road closures.

Exhausted, I dumped myself and pack into the back seat.

What subsequently ensued was me basically getting ripped off for the ride by not insisting the Jewish man run the meter (too tried to fight, I was smooth-talked out of it) as well as me coming to the realization that there was indeed a central bus terminal for the city, and that I'd walked almost the complete distance to already. The knowledge, and the five-minute ride, cut me down by a mighty 30 shekels ($7.50)—double what it should have (as the meters in this country start at about $3).

I outright laughed at the driver when he offered to drive me to Tel Aviv for hefty 280 shekels ($70), especially when he insisted that the hour long bus ride I'd get in the terminal would cost me $45. Scum of the earth, I tell you.

Busing from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv

Jerusalem's large multi-story bus terminal building looked more like a shopping mall, with the inclusion of buses as an afterthought. All bags and people were being forced through (…another) metal detector and x-ray machine before entering.

I was happy my pocketknives were still buried deep inside my pack in a mixture of other metallic gear—intentionally positioned as such—as Israeli immigration officers are routinely known to confiscate such things at the border. Pocketknives! At an overland crossing!

It was 7:10—it'd taken me over an hour to reach the bus I needed. Unsure if such transport was even still running after dark, I pulled up at the ticketing window and crossed my fingers as I announced my destination.

Fortunately, buses were still running to Tel Aviv (they do as much until 9–10 p.m.), and one was departing immediately. The price for the 50-minute trip: 19 shekels (about $4.75)—not cheap.

Preposterous Policies

It was after 8:00 p.m… Now, some twelve hours after I'd departed the home of my host in Jordan, I'd finally arrived at Tel Aviv's central bus terminal. I desperately needed a shower and to unwind with bottle of red wine.

Unfortunately, departing the bus that I'd arrived on turned out to be more of an ordeal than it should've been. This is because you're required to go though security—again—upon arrival at the complex!

The bus, you see, picks people up from outside the terminal on the way into town (bus stops along the road), and heaven forbid someone should bring a suitcase full of explosive into the building with the intention of detonating them. So, as mitigation, everyone is screened yet again upon disembarking.

The only catch this time was that the facility didn't have an x-ray machine—just some dork with a metal-detecting wand. That meant he was requiring everyone to queue up outside, and at his own lethargic pace searched though peoples bags.

I was so annoyed with security shit by this point that I refused to go through the screening. This kid would've made me open my bag in front of a line full of people, only to toss around things packed in a specific order so that it could be zipped shut. I'd lose another 10 minutes just shoving everything back into place.

I didn't want to go back into the building; I just wanted to get on the goddamned street!

So, I followed the path of the departing bus, and slowly trudged my way down the concrete ramps that connected our lofty arrival point with the ground level.

Totally absurd.

At Least it Wasn't Raining

It's certainly on border crossing days like these that I'm so glad my family isn't with me. Can you imagine trying to juggle all of these events with a 15-month-old baby in the fold? Miserable.

Absolutely determined not to take another taxi for as long as I possibly could in the country, I walked the final distance between the bus terminal and my host's home (with the help of my compass and my hand drawn map made from Google Maps). Their neighborhood was at least another 20 minutes away by foot, but time passed quickly as I mulled over the arduous day.

Near their home I stopped off at a minimart and picked up a bottle of red wine—food be damned, this was more important. Both my future CouchSurfing hosts and I were certainly going to need it as I recounted the day's events.

Apparently I Laid it on Just a Bit Too Thick

If there was anything entertaining about the day, it was certainly the discovery of an e-mail address in my passport when I reach my host's flat. I was quickly inspecting the stamp that I'd worked so hard to go get earlier in the day, when a piece of paper fluttered out of the blue booklet.

I looked at it and instantly laughed out loud—holding it up for my hosts to see.

It was the name and e-mail address of the young female soldier that I'd really flirted up to get off easy with my first immigration interview!

Apparently this was orchestrated by the trio of her friends/co-workers that ambushed me as I exited the immigration building—faking another passport inspection in order to casually slip the paper inside the booklet.

Seriously?! Who successfully picks up an immigration officer?

Hilarious.

Comments:

The United States

Dalair

July 23rd, 2009

Lol i thought this ordeal was hilarious.
But it kinda makes me not want to visit israel, despite many or my israeli friends telling me to come visit.

Also. In general I have an idea why you shouldnt talk to police while travelling.
But I'd like to know your take on it.

Thailand

Craig | travelvice.com

July 23rd, 2009

For the vast, vast majority of countries, the police are not your friends. Why purposefully go out and invite the opportunity for corruption and theft to enter into your life? Most countries require you to have your passport or the such on you at all times—something I certainly don't ever have. Merely talking to an officer invites the question for you to reveal said document, and if you don't, to pay your "fine" on the spot (promptly deposited into their pockets).

If you looking for directions, you best bet is certainly not a cop, but a local street vendor or minimart employee. There's no risk, and they'll probably actually know the neighborhood.

Here's a good read on the subject: Crooked Caracas Cops

Brazil

jscore

July 24th, 2009

Wow, what a tough ordeal. I visited Israel in '98 (flew into Tel Aviv) and had no problems (I'm American) but I also had no Arabic stamps on my passports.

I know you had a rough time, but can you really blame the immigration agents for such tough interrogations after they see a passport with many Arabic stamps? They're just doing their job.

On my last Caracas->Miami flight I was interrogated like crazy in MIA while all the venezuelans went through no problems…just luck the luck of the draw :)

Colombia

Roosh

July 24th, 2009

I usually ask directions from security guards. They are always bored and willing to help, I noticed.

The United States

Erik

July 24th, 2009

As far as police go - in Romania when my hearing aid was stolen, I thought (wrongly, it turned out) I would need a local police report for insurance purposes. I went to the main police station. An employee who spoke French translated the clerk's Romanian instructions to my then-girlfriend (now wife), she translated to English, and then in reverse. I needed to have the report completed at the local precinct where the theft occurred.

We said we didn't know exactly where to find the precinct and they had a squad car take us. The two beat cops in the car were surly and based on the stop along the way to confiscate some flowers being sold, were very disapproving of the Romani (including the half dozen kids who committed the theft.)

Anyway, point is besides those beat cops, everyone was actually very pleasant and helpful. The plain clothes detectives at the precinct we were taken to were extremely friendly, one was very social. We compared life between our countries while the hand-written report was typed up.

I'm also quite amused by the Gardai of Ireland. Though I realize western Europe is a difficult stretch of the budget for you guys, even when couch surfing, I would highly suggest a night of pub trivia with off-duty cops in Ireland or the UK. :)

Canada

Travel Bug

September 15th, 2009

That story was indeed hilarious. I'm Israeli born (living in Canada) so when I go visit, I clearly have no problems. I'm also a former IDF soldier and let me tell you, you must be one hell of a charmer to get that border guard's email addy. Good on you!
Really sorry about that taxi driver, unfortunately taxi drivers in all of the world rip off tourists routinely. Please don't hold it against Israel.
And P.S - the border crossing at Sinai is 1 million times easier than this, you shoulda gone the other way and saved yourself the hassle….next time :)

Germany

Steven Miller

September 26th, 2009

I just returned from Israel where I did the same border crossing both ways with my girlfriend. We splurged on taxis in both Israel and Jordan to the King Hussein bridge (except for the minibus from the bridge to Jerusalem) so I can't comment on the local transportation issues.

The crossing from Israel to Jordan was relatively fast and painless. I agree about the intra-country bus being a rip-off but what can you do. The crossing from Jordan to Israel was more chaotic (the insane baggage scanning system and a 20 minute wait for the bus to be allowed to enter the immigration area) but still, in all, I think it took something like an hour. Granted it was the first day after Eid and there weren't many people but in total, the whole experience was MUCH less painless than described here.

Maybe we were just lucky but we had been prepared for much worse.

The United States

Gidon

March 28th, 2010

Hello,
I can't make-out where you are from, but gathered maybe Europe or the US. I'm originally from Israel but residing in the US for many years now. I also travel the world extensively and wouldn't be so fast to judgment of Jordanian and Israeli immigration based on what you encountered in your voyage from Amman to Tel-Aviv. What you went through is the equivalent of what people such as myself went through trying to cross between Canada and the US post 9/11; within 12 months subsequent to this incident I’ve waited at the Windsor border crossing for seven, eight hours and sometimes until the next day to cross, and even though I’m an American Citizen immigration and border control security had sniffing dogs jump into the trunk of my car and I had to answer the same questions you were asked by Jordanian and Israeli Immigrations. Please try and consider that while you had ample travel choices available to you, you picked by far the worst one;
Select Fare Flight From/To Time

JOD 114.000
Restricted economy
RJ342
Amman - Queen Alia International
Tel Aviv - Ben Gurion 15/04/2010
06:45 - 07:30 - JOD 114.000

Restricted economy
RJ344
Amman - Queen Alia International
Tel Aviv - Ben Gurion 15/04/2010
11:00 - 11:45 - JOD 114.000

Restricted economy
RJ340
Amman - Queen Alia International
Tel Aviv - Ben Gurion-15/04/2010
22:00 - 22:45
Total price including tax: JOD 183.220

For the saving of few dollars, you chose to engage five different busses/taxis, walk in a strange place for miles while knowing very well there is a war between these two sides for over six decades now. Obviously, you could have selected one out of three flights out of Amman and once the flight/airplane took-off you would have landed right in Tel-Aviv within 20 minutes. Instead of being processed by immigration the way you have, you would have been processed in a air-conditioned airports like anywhere else in the world, and gone through the scrutinizing security we all go through while traveling anywhere in the world. I also find your description relevant to the lack of organized banking and public transportation in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv laughable at best; so would anyone that has ever traveled in Israel. Sir, when traveling abroad you should be prepared to travel equipped with the required information relevant to the places you would be traveling at, whether you travel in Europe or the middle-east; we long ago closed the technological gap with the Western world and Israel could easily compete with any European nation when it comes to any science and technology, social and otherwise. Your complaint relevant to being charged for a Taxi ride in Jerusalem could only register with those amongst us unfamiliar with where you were visiting; I’m very familiar and therefore reject that a Taxi Driver refused to turn-on his meter but over charged you for a ride. All Taxis in Israel have the name of the Taxi Owner and his picture posted on the driver dash of the vehicle with a ministry of transportation phone number right on it; sorry, I’m not buying your story! Moreover, your contention that once you arrive in a central bus station in Tel-Aviv you were subjected to another security check is not true and you know it. So much for your story.

Truly yours,

Gidon.

The United States

Craig | travelvice.com

March 28th, 2010

@Gidon –

Your reaction that I'm spouting lies is common for people that don't want to believe the ugly truth. That's fine, bury your head in the sand and shout.

OH! No! Surly you weren't ripped off by a taxi! It can't be true! Not in Israel!

What? An American that doesn't want to spend $260 USD with a 14-day advance purchase to fly a few miles? How could you!?

When's the last time you were even in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv and caught a bus from the central bus terminal? Have you ever in the last few years?

Yes… There's yet another security screening to enter both terminals. You'll go through it twice if you go from terminal-to-terminal… They screen you to get into the terminal, and they'll screen you again when arrive, just to pass through the building from the bus to get the hell out of there and into the city.

I wish you luck with your continued ignorance; I'm sure it'll serve you well as you continue to defend the country.

Israel and the Palestinian Territories

Maci

November 11th, 2010

And one more thing, you could easily have walked to the Damascus gate from the spot the bus dropped you (very close) through the muslim quarter and out the Jaffa gate. 5 minutes later you'd be at kikar zion and boarding a sherut for 22 shekels to the tel aviv bus station. (they run 24/7 even on shabat)

You just didn't do research and the results were hilarious but also painful. You are obviously a talented traveler so it's frustrating not seeing you armed with all the knowledge.

Brazil

Felipe

December 5th, 2010

Actually, I've been to Israel myself back on 2008 and I know exactly the way Craig reported so.
I went to Bethlehem and saw how indifferent is the treatment towards people on checkpoints. I mean, me and my friends, we almost got trapped inside the checkpoint, because the israeli soldiers pretended not to hear me, friends, american tourists and arabs shouting! Don't these people know what human rights mean!!!??? It's unbelievable. Then, what about these people defending their country's fascist policies!!?? It's just not fair, if israelis ever come to western countries, I'm pretty sure they aren't treated as cattle, instead they pass freely. What about us, westerners? We have to submit ourselves to all those invasive (and why not meaningless?) screenings and all that? Maybe it's time to review policies towards israeli citizens visiting western countries??

Israel and the Palestinian Territories

Chaya

May 8th, 2011

Now I understand why it is taking my friend so long to get here!! Her other friend is waiting for her in the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv!!

Israel and the Palestinian Territories

Shay

June 18th, 2011

My experiences have been pretty straightforward and one that is consistent with the majority of travellers visiting Israel…I travelled from Amaan (the city of hospitality) to Jerusalem and then Tel Aviv…while I appreciate taxis everywhere consist of cons, Israel is on another level….me and my friends choose to walk rather than getting mugged constantly…they ask for 30shekels (£6) to go round the corner! Getting into Israel is another farce, I think you would find better immigration policy designed by toddlers, more worse…when u see the nazism treatment of Palestinians being caged in there wall…u really start to question…why was I stupid enough to expect better from a country that treats their own so bad! Ah well please visit Israel, deffo will make u appreciate were u come from, be it UK, USA etc…take care

Israel and the Palestinian Territories

Leonie

October 22nd, 2011

This is ridiculous! Do you do no research before a country whatsoever? Perhaps a little bit of light reading and 90% of these problems would have been averted. There is a wealth of knowledge around about this popular crossing - how to get to and from there, expected amount to pay over the journey, etc. Israel is a country riddled with war. They are perpetually on the lookout for suicide bombers and you are complaining that they are taking TOO MANY security measures?

Australia

Patrick

February 15th, 2013

Did the crossing a month ago. It took me about 1 hour to get through the israeli side. I was going to Jerusalem. Agree with your comments about banks and ATMs. be careful changing money especially if the moneychanger asks for your credit card. Overall the experience wasnt too bad

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