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.

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At The Sleeping Camel

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!


7 Responses

  1. Jake says:

    What a wonderful story, despite the lack of more pictures. I’m so glad that you enjoyed your stay. We are looking forward to hearing more about your adventures.

  2. Paul says:

    Really interesting trip, Dan. My wife and I are planning to drive back home to Africa later this year – from Canada via Europe by road and sea. What you describe about getting around on a scooter in shorts and slops and the friendliness and warmth of the locals is why we are leaving N. America after 9 years. Little of that sort of freedom and realness here…we miss that more than anything else. Hamba Kahle and safe on the road there .

    • Dan Grec says:

      Hi Paul,

      What’s your rough plan for a route? South on the west Coast? It’s been awesome so far!

      You are right, being here is changing what I think of as “life” !

      All the best,

      • Paul says:

        We have a similar change in mindset, just from a different perspective, I suppose ! Thought we’d ‘improve’ our lives by moving to Canada but in reality it’s now glaringly obvious what’s missing. Proposed route across US, load on ship to Europe, through E. Europe to Greece, then Egypt and down the great north road to S Africa. NW Africa and West coast interests me more but been wondering about the roads etc. so following your travels with great interest !. We have a Mitsubishi Delica L400 diesel van, busy rigging out. Cheers, Paul

        • Dan Grec says:

          Hey Paul,

          That’s awesome! Where in Canada were you? I found my home/people in the North West. Whitehorse, Yukon, specifically. But anywhere in BC you can’t go to far wrong.
          Is the van 4×4? If yes, you’ll be fine on the roads in the west, I’m sure.

          have fun!


          • Paul says:

            Hi Dan. We’re in Squamish BC (between Vancouver & Whistler). Amazing country for offroad anything ! Yep, the van is 4×4 with serious ground clearance and plenty of turbo diesel grunt. Parts and bush mechanics to be found anywhere in Africa…same powertrain as the ubiquitous Pajero you see there. Were lucky enough to find a 5-speed stick version, even better. Lots of space for camper setup with all back seats removed. I’ll put you in touch with overland friends in SA when you get there. Cheers,Paul

  3. Robert Oliver says:

    Glad you found the Camel, we had a lot of fun doing trivia night when I was there, and Phil was awesome. If you get a chance try and go to the resort at Kangaba if you can!

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