Mali facts & history in
Hui Chin and I were planning our trip to Mongolia
and Siberia through China etc., by the Trans Siberian
Express, for some time. We even gone as far as consulting
our benefactors and travel agents, when suddenly I got
the urge to see Timbuctu or more correctly Tombouctou.
Well no one ever said it was going to be easy,
but no one ever warned us of the cost in time and money.
First we were told by travel agents and guide books
we must get a visa prior to our entering Mali. Later,
after spending time and money going to Paris to get
the Visa, (Applications are only accepted on Mondays,
Tuesdays and Thursdays) we arrived in Paris early Friday
morning. That was three days delay. The Visa application
takes ten working days. We spent the ten days exploring
many of the Swiss Alps, their Cogwheel trains, Gondolas,
and Chairlifts conquering those Alps. Also many of the
Mediterranean many islands etc. When we returned to
Paris to collect our Visas on a Tuesday, we were not
familiar with the bureaucratic rules that they can only
be collected on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Although
the man taken our application was at the counter and
the office was empty apart from us three, he refused
to give me our Visas and made us return the next day,
another day wasted and the expensive Paris Hotel charges.
At last we were on our way to Tombouctou. According
to our information from the Mali Embassy, the easiest
way to get to Tombouctou is to fly to Bamako from Casablanca
and than onto Tombouctou which is easy as there are
many flights from Bamako. In fact there's only two flights
a week by a small plane with only 32 seats, - as we
found out later at Bamako Airport - and any of those
flights can be cancelled if they do not have 25 seats
paid for on the day. Royal Air Maroc only flies two
days a week to Bamako, so we had time to explore Morocco
first and in extreme panic on a Sunday book ourselves
on the next flight on Monday night.
When we arrived in Bamako in the middle of the
night, there was utter confusion and panic on our part.
We were hassled by many young men offering us all sort
of services and information, but nothing of substance.
We had to wait at the Airport, because according to
the best of our information, - by some Australian people,
- who were actually flying to Tombouctou 8 am. that
morning, to see if we can book on that flight to. We
were told an office at the Terminal will open at 6 am.
selling tickets to Tombouctou. That information was
crook too. No office opened, there was this little chartered
aeroplane run by four Malian ladies, two of whom arrived
around 6.45 am. at one of the check-in counters to inform
us, that the plane was fully booked.
I have tried to enlist a few of the local boys,
that seemed to be on the know, to see if, for a reward
(Bukshi) they can use their influence with the ladies
and get us on that aircraft.
In the end nothing happened, the aircraft was
choka-blok and we were left talking with the fast talking
organiser of escorted trips to Tombouctou, Mr Hama Bah
(Mr H....g, to us), of Mali Travel tours.
Hama was a very fast talking little man, who quickly
taken advantage of our misfortune and offered to take
us to town to book us on the next flight, making sure
that the people at the office emphasised that the next
flight on Saturday could be cancelled unless there are
25 paid customers on the day. (Hama was talking to the
ladies at the office in French before the ladies talked
to us explaining the situation.
Next, Hama offered to take us to a hotel of our
choice in our price range at €35. The hotel we
ended up, the Hotel
La Chaumiere's rates were starting at €48,
and it was only our good luck that the owner Dany's
boundless generosity that he instantly agreed to the
€35. (I will talk about more on my Hotel La Chaumiere's
Anyway, while all these was going on, Hama was
telling us about his very favourable offer to take us
to Tombouctou, supplying a four wheel drive car, driver
and English speaking guide.
After lengthy and heated negotiations we thought
the best way to go and see Tombouctou to agree to Hama's
agreement (copy above).
It was more than twice the return air trip, but we thought,
- seeing our desperate position - we might have some
unforgettable experiences. Which of course we had plenty,
most of them - we felt, - we could have been warned
Like the uneatable and miserable, - as for volume -
breakfast (150 mm long, about two weeks old piece of
French loaf, with a teaspoonful amount of butter, luke
warm bitter coffee), air-conditioning breaking down
midway the desert on the way to Tombouctou.
We had our breakfast about 6 am and left Mopti about
7 am. and we did not get to Tombouctou and had our only
meal since Mopti at 3.30 pm.
We were hungry, tired and very angry, as I could not
buy my kind of cigarettes and had to wait another half
a hour while the restaurateur managed to track down
some cheese, so I could have a simple cheese with my
bread for lunch. I was angry and thoroughly stressed
The air-conditioner could not be fixed, so we had to
do without in the scorching desert heat.
The windows could not be opened because of the dust.
Our driver did not know and would not except the fact
that, he could use the fan without and independently
of the air-conditioner.
As cruel coincidence would have it, after about 7 hours
of driving, six or more of it in the desert, I managed
to convince him the driver, it was alright to use the
fan, the air-conditioner blown up about 60 km from Mopti,
food, hotel, etc.
Even now I am quiet certain he is blaming me for the
breakdown and cursing himself for listening to me. The
fact is there was something broken in the air-conditioner,
as we could hear the constant clanking, having the air-conditioner
off, the air conditioner still being driven the motor,
by some belts, I know, my car has one, although I hardly
ever use it.
Standing on the desert road for about 30 minutes, our
driver and guide, - the driver could not speak or understand
English, - managed to flag down an converted ute, who
agreed to take us to Mopti.
Our guide did not wanted to go back to our previous
hotel, because we complained about the breakfast, so
we were taken to another one, which had no power and
no air-conditioner or fan working (There are regular
power cuts in Mopti), so we had to go back to the other
Our ute driver, - who had to check the petrol tank and
oil with a stick every ten minutes - (funny haha) thrown
a wobbly for having to take us to another hotel, - started
yelling and arguing with our guide, without ever looking
at him, but facing the hotel stuff at standing at the
Very theatrical stuff. Hui Chin and I was sitting the
opposite side of the ute from our guide and the screaming
argument sounded so heated from the ute driver, without
the guide saying anything, that I was seriously looking
at ways to jump out of the way if it comes to a punch
up. Which looked very imminent, though never happened.
The guide called for a Taxi to take us to a restaurant,
leaving the still screaming ute driver to carry on.
On our way back to the hotel our Taxi had a flat tyre,
so we had to walkabout half a kilometre back to the
Next morning we had a new four-wheel-drive and driver
to take us back to Bamako, which went quite uneventful
Our hotel in Bamako was welcoming us back and Dany's
unbounded generosity was demonstrated yet again to us.
(You can read more about here Hotel La Chaumiere).
On our return to Bamako
we tried to convince Hama for a refund on our contract,
without very much success.
We thought the 'sales talk'
should be more honest, - we talked about breakdowns
as it happened to us before, - he assured us it will
He did not warn
us about conditions in the desert or the limited choice
of goods available in Tombouctou.
Also did not warn
us about inadequate breakfast or that food was unavailable
for 6-8 hours on the road to Tombouctou.
After our arrival at
Bamako Airport we found out that they issue Visas at
the Airport on arrival.
Hama emphatically stated that the law was changed a
few years ago to issue Visas on arrival,
now you know as much as I do.
If we knew that, it could have saved
us a lot of time and money.
It is also regrettable that Royal Air Maroc is on the
internet but not for booking or reservations or time
table purposes, well not at the time I was writing this.
Air Mali, that often was quoted to us as the
national airline, flying to place including
Tombouctou, does not exist anymore.
The piddly little airline, Avion Express SAE, that does
fly twice a week into Tombouctou probably just could
not be bothered to go on the internet.
List of photo
pages in my Mali series.
Hotel La Chaumiere
of Mali Mali
Some of my photos
taken in Mali (Click for an enlargement)
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