Timbuktu, that most rhythmical of African names, has for centuries been synonymous with Africa’s mysterious inaccessibility. With an end of the Earth allure that some travelers just have to reach and clearly I am one of them. It’s the name we all knew as kids but never really knew where it was. More than just a name, Timbuktu’s fame was derived from its strategic location, on the edge of the Sahara and at the top of the Sahel, from its role as the fabulously wealthy terminus of a camel caravan route that linked West Africa and the Mediterranean since Medieval times, Timbuktu has been there-in the middle of nowhere.
Today, Timbuktu is a dusty, sleepy town of 45,000 people. Its dusty roads are pretty quiet and eerie at the same time. The city has that aura of mysteriousness and the fact that you are stepping where so many, so long ago also stepped. Today, you can walk around the town and see the Grand Mosque. It’s not as impressive as you would think but still impressive nonetheless and one of the finalsits for the new seven wonders of the world.
The caravans still come to Timbuktu, the tuareg people still live in the desert outside the town and the camels still grace the sunsplashed horizon. Taking a camel ride out for sunset is the only real thing to do in Timbuktu and does not disappoint. Although they are probably the most uncomfortable animals to ride, especially for men, there is still something special about riding a camel in the Sahara and I can never pass on an opportunity to do so.
The sunset last night in Timbuktu is something that people would probably tell as legend (top). The setting sun to the west was one of those big African suns that you see on National Geographic and the opposite moon was massive and full and they complemented each other perfectly as darkness set over Timbuktu.
Let me tell you that there is absolutely nothing to do in Timbuktu after the sun goes down so bring some cards or a good book to pass some time and hopefully the hotel will have other travelers to swap stories with. Mine, Hotel Bouctou, unfortunately did not but I needed the sleep anway after a long day coming up from Bamako, the capital of Mali.
Waking up at 5am this morning to the sounds of the muslim call to prayer in complete darkness in Timbuktu was pretty surreal as well and an experience I won’t soon forget. On a side note, I saw former Black Flag and Rollins Band lead singer, Henry Rollins at the airport in Timbuktu this morning which I thought was great. I saw his show at Toads Place in New Haven, CT in 1995.
I am now sitting in Mopti preparing to head into the Dogon Country tomorrow morning after returning from Djenne a few minutes ago which is totally worth a visit to see the largest mud building in the world, a true delight which is the mosque in the center of Djenne.
To Timbuktu and Back
January 11, 2009 by 8 Comments