Airport 1) - Timbuktu, Mali
It started ok with first light in Timbuktu. Bouj and a blue turbaned and enrobed Tuareg driver picked us up at dawn and dropped us at the Timbuktu airport. We worried about the baggage weight - as we have collected a few more kilos of stuff since departing Dakar a few weeks before. We paid some extra fees and were on our way.
Airport 2) - Mopti, Mali
We were told this was a refueling stop. We had to exit the plane, but I don't remember whether we had to change planes. I just remember noticing a particularly ugly helicopter and jet on the tarmac and thinking "Must be Russian". The Russians make the ugliest looking aircraft in world. But they're workhorses that fly anywhere with limited maintenance requirements. Including the Sahara desert.
Airports 3 & 4) Bamako, Mali
We left the group on the last day of the tour in Timbuktu, but had been assured by our stateside tour operator that we would still receive the tour services of one day in Bamako (to be delivered by the African tour operator) even though we were traveling separately. That was to include pickup at the airport, a day hotel for the seven hours waiting for our next flight, and a tour of the Bamako Ethnographic African Art Museum. As it was, we double paid for the flight to Bamako, since that flight was already included in the tour. We did not take the tour flight, and Mountain Sobek would not credit us for the flight. Fine, we knew that going in. But they did tell us we would get the ground services we paid for, specifically this -from the Moutain Sobek itinerary:
"Fly to Bamako, the lively Malian capital on the banks of the Niger.... we will visit the ethnographic museum, the best in West Africa, with its wonderful collections of ancient art objects, masks, sculptures, traditional weapons, textiles, musical instruments, and tools. Evening transfer to airport and depart on our flights home. You can depart from Bamako any time after 5:00 p.m. B,L,D…Dayroom"
When we landed, there was no one there. Sigrid borrowed a cell phone from a stranger waiting at curbside, and called the manager of the local tour operator. Long/short - They knew nothing about our arrival, but after a few encouraging words from Sigrid, agreed to deliver the promised services. Three months after returning to the States, Mountain Sobek tried to charge us additional fees for that day in Bamako. Not. Just to be clear. We were happy overall with the Africa based tour operator, but felt the stateside Mountain Sobek overlay contributed nothing but promotion of the tour.
So we spent a few pleasant hours in Bamako with a hastily arranged driver and guide. Relaxed in a hotel day room, and then back to the airport and out. Thinking about it now, if we count the Bamako airport twice for the two visits coming and going, it was actually a six airport day.
Airport 5) Dakar, Senegal
The flight from Bamako to Dakar was uneventful. But the longest night was about to begin. We had another six hour layover before our flight to London and our intent was to wait at the airport. We landed at 1:00 AM in Dakar and needed to collect our luggage to recheck on the flight to London. Our experience this night was much different than our departure from Dakar a few weeks before. Then, Henri's driver helped us navigate the airport and we sailed through. Now we were living in the underbelly of the beast for six hours. The airport was hot, humid, and dirty.
Even getting the luggage was distressing. It was a long wait for the luggage to appear. Peeking through the ports where the baggage carousel/track ran out to the tarmac, I could watch the handlers in action. They hated their job or hated the fact they were working that night or both. Bags were literally thrown with force into and near the carts, and then again on to the baggage carousel. Many bags on the carousel were split or damaged and the contents spilling out. Miraculously, all our bags arrived and were undamaged. For reasons that pass all understanding, we had to run the baggage through a non functioning x-ray machine in order to leave the baggage area. We exited, and reentered into the ticketing area to wait for dawn and our next flight. None of the airline counters were open. The airport had no services or even anywhere to sit except for a few scattered hard plastic chairs. Piling the bags in a corner near a kiosk, we arranged things as best we could and spent the night trying to find some small level of comfort. We didn't. It was so miserable, that we did not even think about taking pictures.
Airport 6) Heathrow, London
At dawn the terminal began to fill with travelers waiting for the counters to open. We finally boarded the British Midlands flight, collapsed in the frequent flyer point business class seats to London and a return to the Heathrow Sheraton for an overnight stay. Neither of us had any desire to take advantage of our last night in London. We just stayed in the hotel room. I left the room only to walk across the street to get dinner from McDonalds.
Sigrid models her "clown shoes" in the lobby of the Heathrow Sheraton.
Wes loaned her the shoes after she injured her toes on the hike in Dogon country. They were the only shoes she could wear.
The next day, we chased the sun back across the pond and home.