It was a surprisingly easy visa acquisition last week at the local consulate to Mali in the Upper East Side of NYC. They didn’t even ask for my flight itinerary or a copy of yellow fever vaccine as suggested on their website. All I had needed to drop off was:
- A letter of invitation from your hotel or tour agency
- A filled out and signed one page visa application
- The physical original copy of your passport
- $131 in Money Order/Cashiers Check
- A quick 5 business day turnaround for pickup!
About a week afterwards I got ready…for the mosquitos:
Due to the snowpocalypse that roiled Istanbul this past week, nearly every flight going and coming from IST airport had been cancelled up until — and dare I say “luckily” or “timely” for me — my own midnight flight from EWR to IST. You could tell by the pandemonium at the check-in counter for Turkish Airlines at Newark Liberty International Airport:
So when they would then apologize that they would be delayed by an hour and a half, I was totally fine with that knowing that my very same flight had already been cancelled 3 nights in a row. The only issue was keeping myself entertained for 3 hours at an airport where everything — including the lounges — would be closed.
If you’re really desperate, the only thing open at EWR in the middle of the night is a 24/7 Dunkin’ Donuts in Terminal A. Seeing that I would have to cab it there from Terminal B at this time of night, I passed.
Still not complaining, especially when I got a business class seat on Turkish Airlines (for free!) using miles:
Thanks for the free Versace amenities bag!
They even have brought back the onboard chef concept:
Opting for sleep right after takeoff, they agreed to serve me all the food after I’d wake up.
After getting in around 7 hours with 3 hours left before landing, I immediately jumped in for my feast; dinner and breakfast back to back:
Once we landed at 7:00pm local Turkey time, I headed over to the international transfers desk, which was also nonstop pandemonium due to the snowpocalypse:
Luckily since I had flown business class, I used my ticket stub that had “BUSINESS” printed at the top to sneak into the shorter line on the right side of the above photo. After waiting about 15 minutes I checked into my onward flight to Bamako (BKO). There was only one issue: while the TK 550 flight from IST-BKO leaving that same night (in 2 hours) on January 27th was priced at $1500 USD, the very same TK 550 flight the following night on January 28th was priced at $450 USD. That’s a $1050 USD difference!
So I opted for the better value: staying overnight at the IST International Airport instead of getting into Bamako a night early.
After crossing through the security of international transfers, I then walked over to the gate of the soon departing Jan 27th TK550 flight to see if I could sneakily bump myself back up from tomorrow night, but the flight was packed. January 28th it is.
So that’s 28 hours of pretending to be Tom Hanks from “The Terminal”!
I then headed over to the Yotel Airport on the airside of Istanbul (so I wouldn’t have to pay the visa on arrival, let alone compel myself to head into a city I’ve already visited but now has been completely shut down from the blizzard)
Alas, once I arrived into the line towards reception, a man came out and asked if I had a reservation as there was no more available rooms left. However as this was happening, I was on my phone checking out availability on their main Yotel website after which he saw and immediately said:
“Nobody is working website online, so it won’t work. No rooms. Go to Turkish Airlines desk to find another hotel.”
It was right then and there I clicked “confirm payment” on the website I was on. Within seconds a reservation code popped up, which I then gave to him. His reply:
“OK, a room will be available for you in a few minutes.”
I can’t believe that worked!
After settling in and dinner at their 24/7 Komyuniti Lounge attached to receptions, I set out to explore “the town” aka the IST Airport.
I checked out ALL the lounges:
Politely declined the 5 euro admission fee to check out the “Airport Museum:”
Then even wandered into the parts of the airport I’m not supposed to be in:
Finally I gave into boredom and made an appointment for a Turkish hammam spa experience right by the Yotel:
After 2 hours of a regular massage, Turkish foam scrub, steam room, and sauna, I came out glowing at 2am. Too bad the rest of the airport wasn’t glowing as brightly:
I got in a solid 9 hours of sleep before waking up at around noon for my “morning coffee”:
Finally after about 28 hours here, I took off at 9:40pm to reach Bamako at 1:50am. For some reason everyone on the flight suddenly started yelling and arguing with each other as we got up to disembark. Is that a tradition?
They’re pretty thorough at arrivals, checking your proof of COVID-19 vaccine, yellow fever vaccine card, and copy of negative PCR within 72 hours. They even then swab your mouth for COVID-19 despite having all of the above. Results supposedly return in 3 days
Bamako is the largest and capital city of Mali which is well connected from many countries within Africa and most of Europe.
I headed straight to bed while we waited for the rest of the 4 to join us from their Mauritania tour. They just rode on the iron ore train — one of my favorite things I’ve ever experienced when I did it 2 years ago!
- At time of posting in Bamako, it was 31 °C - Humidity: 14% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny