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Published: June 23rd 2017
Geo: 12.65, -7.99
After a long, sleep-deprived journey to get to West Africa, Bamako hits us like a ton of bricks right in the customs and luggage area. I assume that the scene that played out would be akin to an announcement of the pending end-of-the-world in most places. People running and pushing in all direction, someone in a white lab coat demanding to see our Yellow Fever vaccination but losing interest the minute he sees a yellow piece of paper coming out of my pocket, line-ups forming and dissolving just as quickly, policemen threatening to club some of the people pushing to get in from the reception area…. After a half-hearted attempt to fill out a form that was in French only, the Customs officer didn't even look at it, stamped the passports with enthusiasm, and welcomed us to Mali with a big smile. Then things really got confusing.
Apparently all Malians who travel abroad are obliged to return with as many big gifts as the airline will permit. Although we were treated to specimens of luggage, the size of which we had never seen before, the most amazing deposits on the baggage carousel were these large blobs that appeared to be
wrapped in anything that was handy- it would not be hard to imagine that herds of small elephants were being smuggled into Mali in just such a manner.
And imagine that each passenger has also recruited every able bodied relative that had broken through the reception area barriers to lift these behemoths off the carousel (and yes, Bamako International Airport has only one very small and creaky carousel). Pandemonium, near-death experiences, and full-volume 'conversations' result. We found a place of sanctuary for DH and I battled my way to the front lines losing all semblance of Canadian politeness as I dove to rescue our relatively tiny backpacks from a certain crushing.
And after a very friendly luggage verification, we were again welcomed to Mali and thrust into the pitch black Malian night to that scourge of all travellers- the dreaded taxi tout. Imagine our surprise when they actually seemed very helpful and coordinated- we were directed to a mud field that was surrounded by a stick fence and were shown, with some degree of pride, a battered sign that was hanging from a tree that read “TAX”, the “I” having worn off long ago. There was only one official taxi in
the lot and although it must have been a very proud car many years ago, in a land far away, it was a very sad looking vehicle in the here and now. It did, however, have 4 tires and it eventually started, the driver knew the hotel we wanted to go to, and we were given an accurate price without bargaining, so we jumped in and streaked through a traffic-free Bamako to the hotel.
As we pulled in beside the hotel, in a dark alleyway, the door was pulled open and we were face-to-face with Mali's own version of the used car salesman- Back-Alley Mohammed. He welcomed us to the Hotel Tamana (even though he had nothing to do with the hotel) started barking out orders which had our bags flying out of the car, and he even paid the taxi driver as we hadn't had a chance to pick up any CFA's yet. It turned out that he could make some of the arrangements we needed in Mali and although we've had experience with guys like this all around the world, he spun a good tale and we did agree to sleep on it and hook up with him in
the morning. Thus began our adventures with Back-Alley Mohammed.
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