It was a strange and exciting feeling to have arrived in Timbuktu but not to be able to see it in the darkness. Its fascinating history has its
origins in the desert encampments of nomads, dating from before the 11th century. Local folklore tells of an old woman named Bouctou who was asked to guard the wells of some wandering Tuareg nomads. Tin-Bouctou means
"the place of Bouctou's wells."
Despite its reputation for fantastic wealth, many had tried .. but no European had managed to reach Timbuktu until the nineteenth century. Gordon Laing, an intrepid Scots explorer, was the first to reach the city
on August 26th 1826 but he didn't live to tell his story, killed on the orders of his host and supposed friend, soon after commencing his return journey. Frenchman René Caillié has the honour of being the first European to
survive the journey in 1828, returning to France to tell his tale.
Having read a report of Bob Geldof saying "Is this it ?" on his arrival there in the 1980's whilst on a fact-finding mission as part of his Live Aid appeal .. I was prepared in advance and not surprised by the little of substance that we did find. But it is Timbuktu, I just had to see it for myself, get the poser Timbuktu stamp in my passport ( freely given ) and check out the bead scene.
We enjoyed the hospitality of some charming people, found some interesting ancient beads and stone items and learnt a lot about Timbuktu's history, so for us it was worth the journey. But if we had been visiting purely as tourists, I would have to agree with both Sir Bob and Réné Caillié's opinions.
Simply taking a change of clothes with him into his friend's room next door, where he would sleep ..
Just consider this for a moment, dear reader: Would you simply walk out of your home and leave everything you possess to a couple of almost complete strangers from foreign countries, that you had first met a few hours ago in a taxi ? No, I thought not .. not unless you are like so many of the West Africans I have been lucky enough to meet. Always ready to offer hospitality and seemingly having faith in their innate ability to quickly weigh up a stranger and to know who and when to trust.
The only time I woke that night was for an interesting but perilous middle of the night trip by torch light, down steps that had worn to be almost perpendicular, to find a rather basic toilet. Many large
cockroaches with 2 inch long feelers, were eagerly looking up at me from the hole in the concrete over which I was hovering. I tried to take my mind of them .. and what would be underneath me, by counting
their brothers and sisters and the mice who were scampering up and down the walls !
Although new doors and windows, made using traditional designs were being fitted, they looked very cheap, tacky and roughly put together, nowhere near as attractive as those we had seen throughout Djenné. Sadly, from a scenic point of view, many areas were just scruffy building sites.
After breakfast, Cisse proposed that he would show us the delights and attractions of Timbuktu and introduce us to any bead dealers who were in town. Unfortunately his Uncle had travelled, so sadly we would not meet him this time, but knowing the higher than normal probability of chance meetings in West Africa, I am sure it will not be long before our paths will cross again.