2013
06.07

 Mali MapSYNOPSIS:  With Air France to Bamako.   With Giberi or who knows who to Hotel La Chaumiere.

I admit, I was uncomfortable.   15 minutes before landing at Bamako I could see the last streaks of red from the sun disappear.  That was not good.  8 PM in Bamako meant after dark, even though sunset in Paris was at 9:44 PM.  I thought I had just gone straight south from Paris and had not expected this change.  But there was a 2 hour time difference.  I will never quite figure out this daylight-savings-time zone mystery, but arriving at a new destination after dark is something I avoid if at all possible.  I had no choice.  Here I was.

The plane was full of Malians and a handful of white folks.  I talked to four of them. Three were with the American government, all young people, all from Washington, here for a 2-week “project”.  I did not want to probe any further.  Lucky for them, they were picked up by a Malian who worked for the embassy and took care of them.  One woman worked with the UN on a children’s medical project for the next two weeks.   Lucky for her, she got picked up by a representative from a mission.   And there was I, the lone tourist.  

Entry into the country was swift and unbureaucratic.  I had to show my visa and my yellow-fever vaccination certificate and fill out a relatively vague entry form with name, reason for visit, and whereabouts that was handed over to the officials.   I guess the best that can be done with that is something like an entry-reason census. Luggage took forever and time was ticking. 

At the luggage retrieval I started to chat with the embassy representative.  It’s always good to make a local friend – soon enough to be proven true.   When the suitcase finally arrived and I had fought my way past all the luggage checks, there was no money-changing facility open anywhere.  I looked rather lost just when the embassy crowd exited.  My new friend came to the rescue.   He whisked down an official looking person with a name tag and asked him to exchange money for me.   If he was good enough for the embassy man, he was good enough for me. The last thing I wanted to start out with was exchanging money on the black market.  I got a bad enough exchange rate and this was definitely no official transaction, but my new friend was an officially recognized guy and so I asked him for help with the next task:a taxi to the hotel.  I saw a long line of people at the taxi stand but my second new friend bypassed all of that and waved down a young boy.  Follow him.  For assurance, he gave me his card, just in case I needed help and:  Welcome to Mali! 

Now I was in unofficial hands and the boy took me past the long taxi line to an area of beat-up old cars…  Oh no! Just what I had desperately tried to avoid:  A black-market taxi after dark.  But it was too late.   The only thing I now had to hang on to was that card.  Just in case anything went wrong.   But a cheerful young driver named Giberi stuffed me into this very old car which sounded more than once in the next half hour as if it had reached the end of its rope.  But the car made it.  And so I rode off into the dark.  It was nearly 10 PM local time and midnight in Paris.

Giberi knew what he was doing and in a straight line he got me into town and drove the nearly 20 km to the hotel.   He found it without having to ask once.   And he even spoke some English.  That was money well spent and trust put into the right place. 

Just as I had found out making a phone call from the States once before, nobody at La Chaumiere spoke English.  But they expected me and had an air-conditioned room ready.    That’s all I needed for the time being.  From Paris I had brought a banana and a hard-boiled egg.  That sufficed for a late-night dinner.  

Bamako at night did not make a great impression; still hot, rather dark and dusty.   I could feel the scratch in my throat starting…  The hotel, even though it made a deserted impression, seems decent.   The room is simple but has what I need – that is a bed, a desk, a toilet and a shower.  It even has what I don’t need: a boudoir, a TV and a phone.   It will be home for about three nights.   There is nothing much to see in Bamako except a museum.  If I were not alone, it’s also known for its music and nightlife.  But only after midnights and … I don’t think so!

I will use Bamako as a station to figure out how to plan my trip from here and to get information on the ground.  And I will need some time to adjust to the new climate.  I will take it step by step from here on out.

Giberi already gave me some hope saying that it is no problem to go to Timbuktu.   What does that cultural attaché from Paris know…!

Good night.

8 comments so far

Add Your Comment
  1. Aller Achtung!

  2. Good thing you are so resourceful Elisabeth!

  3. Talk about two different worlds! So thankful that on your many journeys some angels come through and lend you a hand. Thank you, Giberi and embassy man.!

  4. Just joined your trip, a bit behind, but way ahead in terms of excitement. Safe travels.

    P.S. You know my morning routine.

  5. Sounds super exciting and adventurous. 🙂

  6. Whoo Hooo!!! You’re there. Must have been a culture shock…from Versailles to Mali!! But wow, now you’re sounding like Elisabeth-the-world-traveler of old…full of hope and optimism with at least one person who points you in the right direction, then things kind of take off for you. And the luxury/necessity of air conditioning. Must be that pantheon of yours.
    Now it gets interesting!!!!!! And now I am going to a map to see where the heck you landed for your first night in that country.

  7. This is exactly how I imagined your arrival: late, dark, and mysterious. May Ganesh et al be with you…..

  8. Yay! You ‘survived’ Paris and you made it to Mali…not Morocco. I’ll be keeping tabs on you!
    Love from Celi