Thursday, December 31, 2009
Whats in that? Well, three pairs of pants, two pairs of shorts, 7 shirts/ t shirts, socks and underwear, a pair of binoculars, tin plate and mug, fork and knife, a pen knife, a box of matches, a pair of shoes, a 4GB SD card and four spare re chargeable AA batteries plus charger, a tin of baked beans, sardines, cheese and a loaf of bread, passport, yellow fever certificate, my English French dictionary, a hat and scarf, sleeping bag and rubber mat, a leather jacket, towel, razor, toothbrush, TP (lots of that) toothpaste and phone charger.
And that's it really except of course I need to throw my camera in there somehow. Its been a long time in the planning, even longer in the dream stage but I'm finally ready to hit the road destination, destination Timbuktu
Yes, there really is a place called Timbuktu, it does actually exist...
From my childhood Timbuktu has been this mythical place, somewhere in the middle of no where, a 1000 miles from that place no one really knows... few places in the world have that same aura of remoteness, of being almost not... for many it still remains just that, a place that really does not exist, a phantom city like Shangri-la, clouded by legends and tales, a remote place that might not even be!
Its just in the last three years that getting there has become an achievable goal, and ever since my first trip to Mali, I've been looking at how best this could dream could become reality.
Timbuktu was founded around the 10th century by the Tuareg who used it as a camp for its proximity to the Niger to transport salt from mines in the Sahara Desert. Three centuries later the city was part of the greater Mail Empire, which controlled the gold-salt trade routes in the region.
Prosperity made by the trans-Saharan trade routes brought great wealth to the city. This wealth attracted not only merchants and traders but also men of academic and religious learning.
Timbuktu's golden age ended in the late sixteenth century witht he end of the Songhay Empire. With more reliable trade routes established by Portuguese navigators along the coast of West Africa Timbutu's importance declined rapidly and today the city is threatend by the very desert that made it famous! Having lost the source of its wealth, Timbuktu declined and became known as a lost city.
Driven by the Harmattan winds the sands of the Sahara threatens to cover the city, destroying buildings and vegetation and water supply - today in the words of one unimaginative traveler "its just a collection of mud huts, I don't know what the fuss is all about"!
Every year, in January, the dunes are 'alive with the sound of music' as the Festival Au Desert kicks off. With its origin in a Touareg gathering the event has now become a festival in celebration of life as the various tribes gather to exchange information, sing and dance, renew ties and participate in events that govern their nomadic life.
Usually held in Essakane, two hours from Timbuktu in Mali, this year, in its 10th edition, the festival will take place in the vicinity of Timbuktu itself - due to security considerations and events planed to celebrate Mali's 50th year of independence.
Over a 3 day period Touareg, Malian and other West African musicians will play their music to a gathering from across the world - last year there was one guy who had spent 16 days hitchhiking across the desert from Morocco!
My own, planned journey, will be I hope less strenuous. Saturday morning I leave Ouagadougou for Ouahigouya and on to Tio/ Koro, the border crossing to Mali. The plan is to reach Bankass 325km from Ouagadougou - 266km of this on a dirt road - where I hope to find a place to sleep.
The next day's drive should get me to Mopti, one of West Africa's largest river ports on the Niger. Its from here that the real adventure starts, for from this point I switch to a Pinasse - a river canoe - to travel along the river en route Timbuktu.
With luck, I'll survive to share the tale and the pics...
Wishing you all a wonderful 2010, full of reasons to laugh and smile about!