The Sleeping Camel, Bamako, Mali
The capital of Mali, Bamako, is virtually a required stop for those looking to traverse the West Coast of Africa. There are numerous embassies here for countries to the South, so it’s a great place to stock up on visas while it’s possible. On top of that, Bamako boasts one of – possibly THE – best Overlander hangout places on the whole coast – The Sleeping Camel.
It’s run by Matt and Phil, an Aussie and an American respectively, who have both lived in Mali for 10+ years and seen all manner of things go down (Phil arrived on the last plane cleared to land as the 2012 coup happened, for example). The place actually used to be the Moroccan embassy, so it’s a huge compound that’s a hotel, restaurant, bar, campground and hangout all in one. In days gone by it was bustling with travelers, and in recent years it’s visited by UN staff. The food is great, the beer is cold and I setup the Jeep for camping about 20 paces away from the bar. Life is good.
During my fifth or sixth shower I’m shocked when I turn on the tap and find that it’s hot – I had no idea the multi-function tap had a hot setting. I’m so used to cold showers now it didn’t even occur to me it actually worked. I think about it some more, and I realize this is the first hot shower I have had in Africa. Huh.
For a day trip we venture upstream on the swollen Niger River in a huge wooden boat Matt has turned into a floating party. It’s a great day, and swimming in the river is a highlight (we go upstream from the city, where it’s more-or-less clean and free of hippos).
The Sleeping Camel itself is just over the river from downtown, and I make numerous trips into the city for all manner of things – visas, photocopies, passport photos, tools, silicone, watermelon, the artists market – you name it, this city has it! I quickly realize taking the Jeep is nuts – the traffic is bad and parking is a joke. The way to get around here is the back of a scooter, or crammed into a mini-bus with as many locals as will fit. At first it seems like a scooter is suicide – of course only wearing shorts, flip-flips and a hat – but after a while I realize it’s actually a good way to get around. There are so many other scooters they all just move like a big swarm, and everyone can easily see everyone else. Road rules are completely made up, but it works!
I also walk over the bridge a couple of times, and am enthralled to see the fisherman throwing their nets and time and time again pulling in nothing but trash (which they throw right back into the river).
I meet some great locals who show me around and introduce me to their families and friends. People here are amazingly friendly – even for such a big city I am always invited into homes for tea just on my walk to the corner store! I notice too how much everyone smiles, and how full of life they are.
If you ever find yourself in Bamako, checkout The Sleeping Camel
It’s going to be hard to leave!