West Africa arrangements

My wife, Charlotte, and I (in our 70s) had a wonderful, unforgettable trip to Mali, Burkina Faso and Benin in January ’05. I had searched the Internet and contacted all of the reputable travel agents in Bamako, the capital of Mali, and the only one who would do exactly what we wanted was Toguna Adventure Tours (B.P.E. 5096, Bamako, Mali, West Africa; phone 223 229-5366, fax 5369, cell 223 621-5079, e-mail togunaadventure@afribone.net.ml or visit www.geocities.com/toguna_adventure_tours).

The manager, Karen Crabbs, turned out to be from Brooklyn and was as helpful and knowledgeable a travel agent as I have ever met. She arranged for us to have a 4WD Toyota Land Cruiser, a full-time driver and a marvelous guide, Chin. She made reservations at the best-available hotels.

She even arranged for private performances of the Dogon mask dancers and also for us to see part of a wedding celebration at a Tuareg encampment in the Sahara near Timbuktu, which usually can only be done for large tours and then only if the dancers feel like doing it. We wanted to visit the game parks in Burkina Faso and Benin, and Karen was the only one who would arrange it for us.

We had considered renting a car and driver and doing the trip on our own and were grateful that we didn’t. There are permits and fees that must be obtained at every city, not to mention forms and fees when crossing borders, and these would have been very time-consuming and expensive had we not had the services of Chin. He was able to solve every problem almost immediately and even got me out of trouble when I took photos of some women without getting permission. He charmed them out of their anger!

Overall, the trip gets an A+ from a couple who has been to 26 countries and knows what good service is. Toguna charged us a bit under $5,000 each for a 20-day tour, which was great value, considering the weakening dollar against the euro.

Espanola, NM