Marie discovers there's only one thing you can do when you check in at a hotel called the Sleeping Camel in Mali. Go to a pro-Gadaffi rally.
"How long will you be with us?"
Bill, the part-owner of Bamako's Sleeping Camel Lodge, had asked me this when he was showing me rooms. I'd come in to Mali's capital on the swampy, blisteringly hot overnight bus from the Senegal border, sweating and hungry, and taken an A/C room with shared facilities down the hall.
"I don't know. I have to get visas."
"At least the weekend then. Have you heard about the Ghana visa? They've quit handing them out except in your home country."
Ghana was supposed to be the easy one.
"Yes, people have been getting turned away unless they're residents. You could become a resident of Mali. Or try to buy one at the border, maybe."
"But if I'm stamped out of Burkina and don't get into Ghana...or do I have multiple entry visa for Burkina? I guess I could go around Ghana, but that seems a shame. Never mind. I'll worry about it later. I need to go to the Nigerian embassy for my visa now."
"Better hurry. We've heard that westerners should stay indoors this afternoon. There are going to be pro-Gaddafi demonstrations in Bamako."
"Really?" I was floored. Libya was a long way from Mali.
"He's financed a lot of projects in Mali."
Huh. I had no idea.
"I'll be back right after lunch. I have to hurry anyway. It's Friday."
Mali is one of those lucky countries that observes Friday, Saturdays and Sunday as days off. Most businesses knock-off in early afternoon on Friday.
I showered – and quickly realised my packed clothing was poorly suited to showering down the hall (fortunately the lodge's towels were large) – and dressed in my nicest wrinkled clothing.
I caught a taxi though the embassy wasn't far away. The sun was relentless, the heat shocking.
I walked up to a window in a small fortress that was displaying the Nigerian flag.
"I'd like to apply for a visa."
"Okay," said the man behind the window. "You will need this form, two photos and 75,000 CFA."
Yikes. It was a lot cheaper in the States. Of course, in the States, all kinds of supporting documentation had been required and I wasn't sure I could get the visa without it. And anyway, I'd run out of time when the Mauritanians had hung onto my passport in Washington DC for a month. Collecting visas for West African tours is a long-term project. And an expensive one.
"I have that. I am ready."
"You can't apply today. The visa man is not here today."
"No? But.. .but..."
The epic two days of overland travel from The Gambia flashed through my head. I'd been in a car, a van, a taxi, a death trap on wheels, another taxi, a Peugeot, three more taxis, another Peugeot, another taxi, a swamp-bus, and two more taxis. I'd made it, barely, and had already claimed victory in my head. I had planned to apply for my visa today, collect it on Monday and then work on the Ghana visa on Monday afternoon.
"...but I have to stay in a hotel. I have to pay for every night. I can't keep paying just because the visa man is out..."
I thought I might cry. Or was I just stalling, trying to think of a new approach here? Sometimes the line blurs.
"You should go to your embassy," said the window man, gently. "They will pay for your hotel."
That was so absurd that my emotions subsided and I laughed. The American embassy paying for my hotel? The clerk looked at me oddly. What could be so funny?
Ten minutes later, I straggled back into Sleeping Camel.
"How did it go?"
I started to whine to Bill, but I realised I sounded grumpy and felt horrible after being in transit without sleep for 24 hours.
I could use down time in Bamako to organize my Ghana approach, research Dogon Country guides, get my updated meningitis jab, get my hair roots colored and my nails cleaned up, and could sip endless double-espressos on ice at Amandine, the nearby patisserie. I could visit the paper-mache bush taxi at Bamako's national museum, hang around the lodge chatting with other travelers, shop for road snacks and slowly replenish my funds from the ATM that worked sometimes when it wasn't out of cash and when the neighborhood wasn't load-shedding electrical power.
I looked at Bill, stopped complaining, and said:
"I think I need a nap."
And I sent myself to my room.
Marie Javins writes books, teaches aspiring comic book colorists in New York, edits Kuwaiti comic books and travels the world by public bus. You can read more about her current expedition – a second round-the-world journey – at MariesWorldTour.com.
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