Timbuktu Brent Stirton55

I had hoped to be able to travel by boat from Bamako to Timbuktu but the Niger River is too low this season. I shall have to go by road. This is because there are no seats on the next flight to Timbuktu and I certainly don’t want to stay a week in Bamako waiting for a plane.

Bamako is the capital of Mali and like all capitals of the world, is overcrowded by people, by motor vehicles, and very much polluted. Here, it is perhaps even worse,  because the cars that go around are all old shoes that produce a lot of smoke and a lot of metallic noises because the roads have broken all their shock absorbers. I have decided to leave by road although when I tell this to my French compatriots they all smile as if it was a good joke




There are about a thousand kilometers until Timbuktu. I have traveled 16 hours on a bus that dropped me this morning at three o’clock in a desert village called Douentza. Here a car picked me up along with 3 other travelers for Timbuktu.
It has been a four-hour journey of mad driving at 100 km per hour on a road of earth, sand, and holes. We were jumping so much on our seats that we kept hitting the roof with our heads and had to tighten our seat belts as if we were on a crashing plane.
We joked a lot about our fate and I have nicknamed the driver “Paris Dakar”.
At the end of our road journey, we then had to cross the Niger on a ferry. Timbuktu is on the other side of the river at a distance of 19 kilometers.



Timbuktu has been the destination of adventurers, explorers, and travelers since the Middle Ages. The city is called the “door of the desert.” It faces the immensity of the Sahara and has the powerful Niger River behind. From the river, the wealth and treasures of Africa were arriving at the city continuously. Rare woods, precious metals, gems, and also, sadly, the slaves; men, women, and children, stolen from their families to be sold as servants to others.

The Tuaregs, who are the kings of the desert, were transporting all this to the Mediterranean across the Sahara. This privileged situation brought great wealth to the city and it was used to build and finance schools and universities until Timbuktu became the lighthouse of Islamic knowledge and civilization in Africa.


In the car we drove from Douentza, one of the passengers was Abdul Wahid, who is responsible for one of the famous libraries holding the Timbuktu manuscripts. The world organization Unesco has declared these documents to be patrimony of mankind. Last year a photographer was sent to the libraries to photograph them. He was also supposed to organize their protection with the families who have inherited the manuscripts.
In our car, there is also a young boy who owns a construction company that also digs wells in the desert. This is truly a good omen because I have come here with the idea to dig a well to give water to the people of the desert.

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