Timbuktu. The local your mother threatened to ship you off to unless you stopped acting up. A city paved in gold. The point of no return. And to some people, a purely fictional place.
Being in Mali, country of previously stated "mythical location", I felt it my duty to find out if any of the above statements were accurate. Well, all except the one about your mother threatening to ship you off, because we all know that's true.
To be quite honest, my desire to visit Timbuktu was the catalyst behind showing up in Mali at all. I just didn't know if that desire was going to be fulfilled, since the city is quite literally in the middle of nowhere- not to mention advisories warning not to go (advisories including threats of Al Qaeda in the region). My parents have often stated I have selective hearing... and this time was no exception. So Bremen and I decided we should at least try to give it a go.
Tuesday morning we were at the airport at 6am. The one flight of the day left an hour later. We got in line (there are two, one for each airline) and were immediately told by two Germans, who were predatorily guarding the line, that we'd have to try the other airline. They stated they chartered the entire plane to Timbuktu - all 30 seats, and there was no way we were getting on. So we went to the other airline only to find out they didn't fly to Timbuktu that day. When we stepped back to the end of the line of the initial airline, the Germans again made it a point to tell us we weren't getting on.
In vain efforts to discourage us, they explained that because it was a holiday (Muhammed's birthday) the flight was full. Instead of giving up, we told them we'd check with the airline representative. In turn they preached that it was futile to try to get on a flight the next day or the day after because those flights would be full as well. After each attempt of discouragement, we again repeated our resolve to check with the airline; with our smiles growing bigger and their disgust showing more evident on their faces. Nearly exasperated, they tried one last attempt by spewing out it was pointless thinking that if, by some miracle, we did get a flight up, we'd be lucky enough to get a flight back, because certainly they'd all be full too.
Smiling, we went to the front of the line where the representative asked us wait off to the side. So we waited. And waited. And continued waiting for 40 minutes. Fifteen minutes before the flight was to take off the Germans came up to us, with a changed demeanor, informing us we may be in luck. Five minutes later the airline representative explained that two people from the Germans' party never showed up. Meaning, there were two free spots on the fully chartered plane. Two! Just for us! It was perfect.
With ten minutes remaining we rushed through all the details of purchasing and paying for the flight, filling out documents, hurrying past customs and a security check in order to arrive at the gate before it was too late.
But we made it, right on time to join the Germans and local government officials on a flight to Timbuktu. We even managed to maintain smug looks on our faces as we passed by each one.