Monday, August 29, 2011


The road to Timbuktu

From Mopti we went east and north, seeking the fabled Timbuktu. For a while it seemed mystical indeed, as only one out of three GPS' admitted the existence of this city. However, after 200 kilometers on what had been described as corrugation hell we arrived at the river, and found a number of cars awaiting the ferry.
The geart mosque in Timbuktu
On the corrugations my Cruiser had lost all brake pressure, needing three and then four pumps to be effective. Which caused some interesting moments with the bigger holes that we encountered, hidden on the back side of a hill. At the river there was a cameraderie between drivers, everyone wanting to swop ideas, comments on their vehicles, and questions about the others'. Then the ferry came in, and we had to reverse on, through quite deep water. I managed to get my clutch wet, and hope it was not damaged, it did smell of burning, and for a while it slipped.

Camel  herd
In Timbuktu I managed to get some new brake pads, after all, I was assured, the FJ62 or its diesel equivalent was the official car of the city! However this did not solve the problem, so I will have to look at the master cylinder.

Timbuktu is a sprawling city, but its population is clearly largely a floating one. Even the hotel manager admitted to leaving for the bush to go and celebrate Eid with his family.

We were the first tourists in his hotel yard in months, and it seems that the city has had an almost total downturn of tourism over the last year. We were taken on a tour of the back streets, mosques and libraries, the town market and the craft market, and after about three hours in the heat gave up. One can only take so much!
Ancient documents conserved.
The collection of ancient manuscripts was fascinating, and we would have liked to see more made of them. One can only wonder how much has been lost, and whether the existing documents are being researched.

The South African funded library was a disappointment, being mostly closed and unused. Another good idea that came to a grinding halt? Surely this could have been a centre for development?

And then back over the 200 kilometers of desert, blooming after the rains, to Douentza, from where we jump off into Dogon country, and so to Ouagadougou, and Accra. All south now until we see the sea.

Ferry techniques
Some comments about the visit to Timbuktu. We had been advised to ignore warnings that it was not safe to visit. And warnings we did have. A taxi driver in Bamako thought we should not go without a military escort. A Military Attache said, flatly, that we should not even consider going. So we kept it to ourselves that we were going. At Douentza, where the road branches off, I filled the car, but refrained to ask about the road for fear that bandits or worse would be warned of our coming. Some kilometers into the track we noticed a pickup truck following us at a sedate pace, not the usual reckless speed. Fearing the worst, we stopped, to force him to pass, while taking his number.

Waiting for us at the ferry was the pickup, and a group of the headlong drivers. And they welcomed us, offering us tea! The pickup, it turned out, was taking to Timbuktu, among others, a senior government official, who took it on himself to make sure that we are well housed, and gave us some valuable advice.
After the rains: Kites hunting termites
On our too short visit we were met by friendliness, courtesy, and welcoming smiles. Guides were pushy, but not offensive. Children begged, at the ferry, and a few were getting close to the limit when they were chased off by an older person. At no time did we feel unwelcome, or threatened in any way. We would have liked to sleep out in the desert in a Touareg camp, to see the salt caravan come in, and to get more in tune with the life in this interesting town, but the road was calling.

Bedouins in the green desert.
But everyone knew that we were coming, that we had to work on the car, that we bought brake parts, and that we were leaving for Dogon country. There are no secrets here! So if you do pass by, and feel the need to camp in the bush, do go to the nearest village and ask where the best place is. They will respect your need for privacy, but would also appreciate the respect.

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