Mali Stories and Tips

Day 10 - Back to Timbuktu and Becoming a Hustler

A future guide? Photo, Mali, Africa

After another good night sleeping out in the open in the Sahara, I was a bit sad knowing I'd have to return to Timbuktu and face the noise, dirtiness, and confusion of being in that city.

We spent the night at our Toureg guide's wife's brother's camp. Waking up, I found our guide, his wife's brother, and his wife's brother's son sitting in front of me. The son appeared to be about 5 or 6 years old and mimicked everything we did and said. Unfortunately, he mimicked too much. At one point he picked up a used cigarette butt from the sand (that his father may have smoked), placed it in his mouth, and began pretending to puff away. In Mali, though, many people smoke, including young teenagers.

After breakfast, we packed and left on the camels to head back to Timbuktu. Once we neared Timbuktu, our guide dismounted his camel and unhooked our camels from one another. He then handed us the ropes tied to the camels and said we would be controlling our camels. With just a few simple commands and pulls with the ropes, I was controlling where my camel moved. Of course, sometimes he chose to not obey me and walked through some prickly bushes to try making me mad. It worked--I didn't like the thorns cutting my legs.

During this part of the ride, we asked the guide how to pronounce the commands "left" and "right" in his native Toureg language. Unlike the simplicity of "left" and "right" for us, his language practically had a full sentence of sounds for each command. Needless to say, I was unable to pronounce the commands.

To have a little fun, the guide made a strange sound with his mouth, and then the camels began running very fast. It sounds like it is a lot of fun, which it is. But, because camels are not the smoothest runners, I almost bounced out of the saddle, off the camel. I guess that is what happens when you weigh as little as me.

Shortly after that we were back in Timbuktu and the Sahara tour was over. I said my goodbyes to the Aussies and the guide and then met a friend of Aly's who would take me to him. I ended up spending several hours at one of his friend's houses, playing checkers and conversing with his friends. Unlike many tourists, throughout my trip I had been experiencing life in Mali just as normal people do. This afternoon with Aly's friends was no exception. Tourists in Timbuktu were out sightseeing, and I was inside comparing my life to theirs, playing games, and eating with my hands from the same bowl of food as they ate. I would not think most tourists do that.

Aly, feeling bad that my trip had not turned out as expected, wanted to provide me with a comfortable ride back to Mopti. So, he found a new Toyota Land Cruiser that a man was renting out. Unfortunately, the price was rather high. For some reason, even though I did not care how comfortable my ride was back to Mopti, Aly insisted we rent this car. He ended up using the rest of the money I had given him for the trip. Therefore, he no longer had any money to pay for anything else for my trip. So, to get back some of his money, he asked me to help him find other people to ride with us. The search began, and we soon found an American (Rod) who was willing to come with us. But Aly wanted more people. We scoped out the main street in Timbuktu and approached people to see if they needed a ride. The last thing I thought I'd be doing on my vacation would be hustling tourists to see if they needed a ride out of Timbuktu.

That night, after only getting Rod to join us in the car, I slept at Hotel Camping Toureg. Hotel Camping Toureg is owned by an American and is usually closed. However, you can email the owner (Christine Rabah at to have her open it for you. It sits on the far edge of town, near the Flame of Peace monument. A couple blocks away is the Sahara Passion Hotel, too. If you become very friendly with Christine, she will let you stay there for free, as she did with me. Despite the money troubles with Aly and I, I was happy knowing I had a ride out of Timbuktu. Or did I? (Read my Day 11 review to find out what happened next.)

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