To Timbuktu and Back

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.

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  1. That has to be one of the most random celebrity sightings I have ever heard.

  2. Hey Lee, just got back from 8 days in Ecuador and spent the last 20 minutes catching up on all your Africa trip reports and it sounds like you are having an awesome time, glad you made it safely through Sierra Leone and Liberia as well. What a totally random and offbeat place to run into a rock star! Good stuff. Be safe in Lagos. Hopefully you don’t see a dead body laying on the side of the road like I did a few years ago.

  3. Ya it was completely random…I never would’ve recognized him but some Brit dude I was chatting with pointed him out to me and it was seriously random but cool that he came all the way out there, they had this music festival thing in the desert so thats why he was there.

  4. Are you sure he wasnt in town filming his latest, greatest, masterpiece feature film: “Revenge of the Slasher Tranny Hookers from Timbuktu”

  5. dude, you are probably an arms dealer and if you are not you should be.

    henry rollins went to bullis HS in maryland and is originally from potomac md.

  6. I saw the first slasher tranny hookers from timbuktu, a true masterpiece, didn’t he win some awards at the golden globes or was it the AVN’s that year for a brilliant performance or something…and Andy thanks for that background knowledge on his high school alma mater-I’m sure everyone can rest easy now.

  7. That is awesome that you ran into Henry Rollins! I also have heard about that music festival that they held (or used to hold) in the Sahara Desert every year around mid-January or so. Would love to go here one day and take a picture so I can tell my Mom “I finally made it to Timbuktu!” 🙂

  8. Learned about this town but your piece have put it in a fresh spin

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