Squalor, filth and horror-film creatures at the world’s most inhospitable tourist attraction
Author Debra Kamin Illustration Luci Gutiérrez
TEL AVIV – It’s rush hour at Central Bus Station, a Brutalist eyesore on Tel Aviv’s southern edge, and the usual hubbub is underway. Away from the chattering vendors and bustling commuters, a small group of people head down a stairwell, past a desolate cinema and an abandoned nuclear shelter and into the maw of a subterranean tunnel, site of an improbable and inhospitable tourist attraction.
At the entrance to the tunnel is a sign warning of toxic chemicals, and a few group members have stopped before it. “The sign is fake,” says Yonatan Mishal, a 37-year-old guide for a local urban tour company. “Workers just put it here to keep people away.” With this, he strides into the gloom, in search of the telltale blots in high corners, the almost imperceptible flap of wings that has drawn us here.
For years, Tel Aviv’s bats have sought refuge in the bowels of the city’s unloved bus station, and the colony has grown so large that the site has been designated a nature reserve—possibly the only one in existence that smells like a public restroom. But the squalor doesn’t seem to be much of a deterrent. “I love this place,” says Jay Schultz, who is taking the tour with his girlfriend. “It is so quirky and weird.”
A moment later, a bat flitters overhead, followed by a dozen more. Soon, the skittish, shadowy creatures are everywhere, creating a scene that, for many, would be best suited to a horror film. Schultz, for one, has no such aversion. “The bat cave is one of the few redeeming features of this place,” he says. “Every human plan for the station failed, but the bats—they work.”