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When You Go

   Mali and Timbuktu

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Getting There: Mali's main airport is the capital Bamako, serviced from the U.S. by Air Afrique, Sabena, Swiss Air, Royal Air Maroc, and Air France. The only direct flights from the U.S. are on Royal Air Maroc, departing New York’s JFK. All other airlines have a brief layover in Europe. Telephone numbers and Web links are listed in this magazine’s Airlines page.

In Bamako, near the Hotel Amitie, there are several travel agencies that can arrange the rental of overland vehicles and guided tours throughout Mali. Air Mali has domestic flights between Bamako, Mopti and Timbuktu; but flights are often overbooked or canceled without notice, and flight schedules are sporadic and unreliable. Buses depart daily from the bus gar in Bamako to practically every city in Mali.

To arrange a camel trek to Timbuktu from Douentza (Douentza is serviced by bus and Taxi from Mopti) ask around at the bus stop in Douentza for a guide to take you a few miles outside of town to Brahma's encampment. The guide will track down Brahma who will be able to arrange the trip. Be warned, however, that Brahma speaks no English and only a limited anount of French, so you might be relying on sign language to negotiate, unless of course you happen to speak Fulani. You also might try inquiring with the many travel agencies in Bamako about arranging a camel trek.

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Staying There: In Bamako there are numerous hotels ranging from unrated to four-star hotels run by European chains, catering mostly to the large ex-pat community of aid workers in Mali. A recommended guide book is The Rough Guide to West Africa. Also, Lonely Planet's, West Africa Travel Survival Kit, currently out of print and  scheduled for an update in 1999, proved to be a good resource for our travels in the region.

Fast Facts: Timbuktu is located in northern Mali on the outskirts of the Sahara Desert. Timbuktu was settled around 1100 A.D. as a permanent encampment for nomadic Tuaregs. By the 1500's Timbuktu was flourishing as a major trade center. It was also home to one of the most respected universities in Africa. It wasn't until 1828 that the first European reached Timbuktu and lived to tell about it. Today the city has a population of less than 20,000 and survives mostly on foreign aid, local trade, and tourism. French is the official language, although many of the inhabitants speak only their native tribal language.

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