Almost a month into my stay in Mali and I have not couchsurfed a single night. This is mostly because I’m staying at the incredibly well-run Sleeping Camel Hostel for $8 a night and it has been too hard to leave. It is easy to recognize the gold standard in hostels: interesting and diverse guests, delicious food, reasonable prices, a motivated and friendly staff, clean rooms. The Sleeping Camel hostel has all this along with free wi-fi, a great bar area, and satellite TV.
I have always been interested in how hostels like this get started. Who is behind the scenes? What are the challenges? I was able to ask Matt, one of three friendly owners, some of these questions below:
Opened on 12th of November, 2009
Number of employees: 10
Number of rooms/beds: 8 Twin Rooms, 1 Family Room and 10 Dorm Beds + Camping
Price range: 3000 for camping up to 22500 for Twin Room with private bathroom and AC
Amenities: Restaurant, Bar, Pool, Free Wi-Fi, English TV, Travel advice, Close to bars, restaurants and Shopping centre.
What made you start a hostel in Bamako, Mali?
Myself and my business partner have been operating tours in Africa for several years and really like the relaxed way of life in West Africa. We originally planned to operate our tours from Ghana but things didn’t pan out and we ended up starting our hotel in Bamako. Originally it was supposed to be an extension of our house but it has evolved into one of Bamako’s more popular budget places to stay.
How did you make it happen?
One of the reasons we chose Mali is because it already had an established tourist circuit with some very well known highlights (Timbuktu, Dogon Country) but it was mainly marketed towards French speaking people. We believed there was an avenue available to cater to a non-French speaking market. Mali has an excellent tourism board that not only welcomed us when we decided to come here but also provided much needed assistance in maneuvering through the red tape and assisting us in getting all the paperwork put through. This was essential as our command of the French language is rudimentary at best.
What are some of the difficulties in running a hostel in Mali?
We have assembled a core of excellent staff and although communication is probably our biggest hurdle this is circumvented by the translation skills of our excellent manager. There is a rather large language school at the University in Bamako so there is no shortage of people who want to come and work for a while to put the skills they learn in class to the test in the real world. I am Australian so once they can understand my Aussie accent then they can feel assured that they truly can speak English.
What are the rewards?
Mali has one of the best music scenes on the continent and if you want to experience the nightlife here then the sky is the limit. Mali is a very relaxed place and although sometimes Bamako can get a bit hot and dusty, the people still know how to have fun and that is definitely one reason I love living here. We have the 3rd largest river in Africa meandering past us about 200m away and we have a group of people working with us who want to improve their lot in life by hard work and not by hand outs. That in itself is truly rewarding.
Plans for the future?
Our biggest hope is that the problems in the north are resolved. Mali is amazing and I hope people can feel safe visiting here and can come and check things out for themselves.
As I write this, I have just finished a breakfast of yogurt and fresh fruit and I am now mingling with a Burkinabe dance troupe that is staying at the hostel for an upcoming competition. I will probably try to surf a couch or two before I leave Mali, but for now I’m at the Sleeping Camel indefinitely. My first suggestion to you is to ignore the overly dramatic travel warnings and travel to Mali. It is a beautiful country. The music is some of the most powerful on earth. People are friendly. My second suggestion is for you to stay at the Sleeping Camel when you are in Bamako. Find the reasons above.
And I want to be clear: this is in no way a sponsored post. The Sleeping Camel is really just awesome and I wanted to spread the word. I originally found about Sleeping Camel from Amateurs in Africa. Two Australian dudes make tracks through Africa, shedding some light on great projects and offering plenty of stories to tell along the way. What I’m most impressed with is that they made a deliberate effort to travel West Africa, a region unfairly neglected by many people who are convinced Africa is only for Safari. Check out their site.
Up Next: Flying urine on the BT N Segou, an overloaded pinasse on the Niger River.