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