Timbuktu or bust!
Timbuktu Travel Blog› entry 13 of 26 › view all entries
May 20th, 2010 – by: hauteboy
Hotel: Auberge le Caravansereil, Timbuktu, Mali
Our 'friend' from the day before had agreed to pick us up this morning at 8:30, for the 9AM departure to Timbuktu. We thought he was going to bring a taxi but surprised us when he showed up on foot.. we thought it was a fair distance back through town to the 4WD departure shack. But he knew a shortcut and only took about 5 minutes to walk.
We had to sit and wait awhile.. apparently the 4WD for the previous day had mechanical problems and was only leaving this morning.
Apparently the delay was because there weren't enough seats sold on the 4WD yet.. they needed 12 total passengers, we had bought 4 of them but they needed another 2. We decided to buy one more seat to hasten the departure.
The 200kms road to Douentza was paved all the way, took about 3 hrs to drive the distance. The SUV wasn't air-conditioned, but the windows opened at least and the breeze felt good.
I'd hoped to reach Timbuktu before dark, but that seemed less and less likely as the sun set and darkness set in. The landscape had been changing, from scrub trees and sparse grass, to stony rock, to sand. The road was harder going here too in soft sand at times, with one headlight, we kept going into the night.
We did eventually reach the ferry in time; but as we're pulling up the ramp, the 4WD loses power and we have to get out and push it up the rest of the ramp. I'm holding my camera at the time, it's pitch dark and there's the gap in the ramp.. was darn lucky I didn't drop my camera in the river! One more 4WD comes on after us as the driver does an emergency axle replacement.. pulling out the rear axle from the differential the gears were totally stripped. I guess we're lucky they had a spare axle, or more likely they knew it was going bad! Meanwhile the car is still running as they don't want to have to push start it again!
From the ferry landing, it was still another 20 minutes or so to Timbuktu itself.
May 20, 2010
Hotel: Colombe 2, Timbuktu, Mali
In the morning, we decided to check out other hotels; we left the hotel and walked into town to find some breakfast.
We next tried to arrange the 4WD transport back to Sevare.. the first tout who approached us said he'd take us back to our other hotel and get our bags 'for free'. When we returned to the Colombe, we said we'd pay half the 4WD fee now, then half tomorrow.. he didn't like that (he'd miss out on half his cut if we paid the driver directly..), we said OK then see you later.
Finally we're able to start having a look around town. Timbuktu is a dusty place; most streets are sand only. Houses are basic mud adobe brick, though some with elaborate wooden doors. Timbuktu used to be a rich place, at the end of the camel caravan across the Sahara. Salt caravans still end their journey here after the 700km trek from northern Mali. It was a place of Islamic learning, still today there are libraries all over town with old manuscripts and copies of the Koran. It was closed off to foreigners even until the 1800s. But its glory days have passed.. now it's a dusty town more known for the exotic name and remoteness. It's even possible to fly to Timbuktu now, but where is the fun in that?
It was already lunchtime, but with the lack of tourists hotels/restaurants were either closed or had a skeleton staff, indicating a lengthy wait to get something to eat.
We finally got to walk to the mosques and have a look around town before heading back to the hotel for a siesta. I bought a cool looking dagger from a Tuareg that followed us back to the hotel... more ornamental than functional as it I doubted it could even cut soft butter. After the nap we found the Internet cafe; we all wanted email our friends from Timbuktu! It was predictably slow though.
That night, we had dinner on the hotel restaurant balcony overlooking the street.. we ordered something supposedly simple, beef and couscous. Well that wait only took 75 minutes; meanwhile all these brand new SUVs are pulling up outside our hotel, disgorging fancily-dressed people talking on cell phones. All the VIPs were arriving for the festival and were staying at our hotel. The police ended up standing around guard outside all night.
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