Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The road to Timbuktu

Well we made it, to the town renowned for isolation and inaccessibility, Timbuktu! (Also apparently the home of the Mr Men if I remember correctly.)

Time for a brief history lesson - In the early 19th century rumours were rife across Europe about a town of countless wealth on the southern fringes of the Sahara. Roofs tiled with gold and all that stuff. Men had dedicated their lives to finding the mysterious town of Timbuktu and the wealth contained within it. It wasn't until 1829 that Frenchman Rene Caine became the first European to find the town and return alive. What he discovered was a fading town of mud houses which he declared as a disappointment. I don't think it quite lived up to the hype. Unfortunately he was 300-400 years late for Timbuktu's hay day of trading in salt and gold.

Much has changed in the 170 years since then, Timbuktu is, however, still a town struggling for survival on the southern fringes of the Sahara. The difference now being that it's able to survive on the tourism created by the legend that it once was. There is still the occasional Tureg camel caravan coming and going, but it's not a thriving market town anymore.

We left our campement having failed to see any hippos and set a course for Bamako. We were told if we left at 9am we could easily be there by 1pm. I'm guessing the guy that told us that had never driven to Bamako, so with fading light we pulled up on the side of the road and set up camp an hour or so from the city itself. The journey started in an interesting fashion, we got to Mahina and had to cross the river using a shared bridge for trains and cars, the only problem is it's a single track bridge with no road. So with our first experience of driving along a train track we crossed the river. With only 3 trains a week there wasn't too much risk of an oncoming train, our only problem was a stuborn mule refusing to move.

We timed our Bamako visit well with overcast skies and a occasional spot of rain. This kept the temperature in the mid 20's rather than the mid 30's and made it quite comfortable. Our main aim was to sort out a 'Visa Touristique Entente', which is a shared visa for a number of west African countries and also get a visa for Ghana. Having realised the Ghana visa would take several days and we could now get it on the border, and being told the Visa Touristique Entente didn't exist, we realised the visit might not be so worth while.

We moved on to Djenne, home to the largest mud building in the world - a large mosque. A very attractive town. Supposedly, to become a mason in Djenne you have to take an 11 year apprenticeship starting at the age of 7! The visit was enjoyable and we'd timed it well with market day so we stocked up on food while we were there. The children were worse than flies, grabbing us and our clothes, demanding things and just hanging round whole time.

We left Djenne for Timbuktu yesterday, a couple of days drive, camping just after Mopti. The Savannah slowly turned back into desert, camels started to reappear, eventually arriving in the town itself this evening.


Anonymous Great Mosque of Djenne said...

Thanks for sharing this post. Nice road of Timbuktu. Djenneis very famous place in Mali. It is most visited place by the muslims. You can see the beautiful architecture in the mosque. The great mosque
of djenne was built on an elevated platform of 62,500 square feet.

26 June 2009 at 07:03  

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