Q: I am interested in traveling as an air courier. How can I contact companies that use couriers?
A: Courier services use the space commercial flights set aside for checked baggage to send their clients' luggage overseas.
Some services sell the seats at a discount rate to freelance couriers, who usually must take only carry-on luggage. Most tickets are for a week's stay, although there are some tickets that allow stays of 30 or 90 days.
Rates generally are based on current fares; at low season, courier fares will go down as regular fares do. Tickets generally go on sale two months ahead, but those with flexible schedules can call to see if there are tickets available on short notice, which often can be bought at a further reduced price.
An agency that represents a number of courier services is Now Voyager, 74 Varick St., Suite 307, New York, N.Y. 10013; (212) 431-1616. On first using Now Voyager, couriers pay a $50 fee good for one year.
This summer, round-trip fares from New York are most commonly $399 to such cities as London, Brussels, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. Most expensive in Europe is Milan at $550.
Among other round-trip fares are Mexico City at $150 for a week's stay and $160 for up to 30 days, and Buenos Aires at $499. Early this month, the company offered $375 round-trip, Houston-to-Tokyo fares with stays up to 30 days.
Another company representing several courier services is Courier Travel Service, 560 Central Ave., Cedarhurst, N.Y. 11516; (800) 922-2359 or (516) 374-2299. Flights to Europe start at about $349 round trip, usually with one-week stays. To London, it's $399, and one can stay up to 60 days. Round-trip fares from New York to Caracas are $249, to Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires the fare is $529 and to Tel Aviv $799.
A service that uses couriers mainly to Western Europe is Halbart Express, 147-05 176th St., Jamaica, N.Y. 11434; (718) 656-8279. Round-trip flights to London this summer are around $400; flights to Milan are $500, with two weeks' stay. Tickets bought the day before or the morning of a flight are about half-price.
Q: I am trying to find out about the history, culture and tourist attractions of Mali. Can you help? Are there any books with information?
A: Among the attractions in Mali, the largest country in West Africa, are Timbuktu, the terminus of the camel trains that have brought in salt from the north since A.D. 1100. In the city of Bamako, the Grand Marche is a major attraction, with food, beads, blankets, indigo cloth and spices.
A popular destination 145 miles on the Niger River from Bamako is Segou, known for its colonial buildings.
Another attraction is the city of Mopti, with a bustling port on the Niger River and a mud-brick mosque built in 1935, towering above the city. On Thursday, Bozo fishermen come to the city and sell salted fish.
From Mopti, one can make a short trip on the Niger to the Bozo village of Kakalodaga. Many make excursions from Mopti to Dogon country, where about 250,000 people live in houses built into rock faces of the Bandiagara cliffs.
"West Africa: a Travel Survival Kit," by Alex Newton, published in 1988 as part of the Lonely Planet series, contains a 31-page chapter on Mali, with several pages on history. It is $12.95. There is a 21-page chapter on Mali in another Lonely Planet book, "Africa on a Shoestring," written by Geoff Crowther and sold for $24.95.