Monday, 10 September 2012

The Africa Diaries: Timbuktu

I found the following statistic on Wikipedia: 

A 2006 survey of 150 young Britons found 34% did not believe the town existed, while the other 66% considered it "a mythical place".

Well folks, it's a real place.  Not terribly easy to get to, but very real.

Again, as seems to be common in so many of the places we went, you're either blown away by the colour...

or blown away by the almost absence of colour ...

And oh, my, goodness, is it hot!

It's also poor.  Really really poor.  It's not uncommon for families to live in structures like the one in the picture above.  There is no bathroom.  No running water.  No electricity.  The children probably don't go to school.  There is no healthcare system.

I brought a long piece of material in Timbuktu, so that I could wrap it around my head in a turban type setup,to keep the dust and sun out of my face while riding/driving around.  The material was the traditional blue/purple colour that the Tuareg people commonly wear.  The colour was so non-set (I'm so undomestic that I don't even know the word for this) that if you touched this material with your hand, your hand then turned a very deep shade of bluey/purple.  Our guide organised for someone to wash the material for me to get all the dye out of it, so that I could wear it without looking like a smurf.  It cost me $1.  When the man who did this gave it back to me, he showed me his hands which were stained deep deep purple, and asked me for more money as compensation for his crazy blue hands.  Our guide told me not to give him any more money since $1 was a fair amount for the work he'd done.

I took the guide's advice and didn't give the man anything else.  Not even one more dollar.  One lousy dollar.

Sometimes I'm so very ashamed of myself.

Anyway *deep breath in and deep breath out*, Timbuktu is at the edge of the Sahara desert...

... and one of the things that Allison really wanted to do, more than almost anything else on the entire journey, was to spend the night in the Sahara.

I was totally unconvinced, and knew that there weren't likely to be flushable toilets in the desert, and also knew that there was no way I'd be able to go an evening, night and morning without needing to go to the toilet.  But I did it anyway.  And it was amazing (I seem to use that word a lot, but I'm not great with describing how great something is, so you'll just have to put up with it!).

The transport ...

The structure that we could have slept in if we weren't idiots who decided to sleep totally under the stars.

The young boy who brought us here spoke no English, and only a little French.  We spoke very little French too, so communication was difficult.  However, when I asked where the toilet was, he waved his hand over in this direction...

He was gesturing towards the sand, not the structure in the distance.


So it was kind of a strange evening.  We were sitting very close to the family who lived at this encampment, but it was quite obvious that we weren't invited to join them.  Fair enough I guess - they probably weren't getting a lot of money for the pleasure of our company, and they didn't want their privacy invaded.  The younger children came over and we chatted (in a non-talking kind of way) for a while, and then it was time for dinner (which is a whole other blog post) and bed.

As soon as we lay down I needed to go.  Number 2.  Worse nightmare.

Luckily it was dark, so I didn't need to worry about being seen, however I also couldn't see anything myself.

Soooooo... off I went.  I stumbled a little way from the edge of the camp/living area/garden (I'm not really sure what you'd call it), dug a hole in the sand and did my business.  Then, because I'm a good westerner, I tried to bury my toilet paper in the sand.  In the dark (I didn't want to use my head torch because I didn't want to draw attention to what was going on).  It was a disaster.  I probably ended up not burying anything and getting poop all over my shoes.

Yuckity yuckity yuck.

BUT, a big big moment for me.  My first poop outside.  In the desert.  In the SAHARA desert.

I ran quietly (well as quietly as you can in the dark when you're tripping over things) back to Allison and excitedly told her of my achievement.  Strangely she seemed totally unfazed.  Odd girl!

Anyway, that was a huge moment for me and I was happily imagining how I'd relay the exciting news on to Dan when I fell asleep.

The night wasn't hugely restful.  We were woken by a screaming demon donkey that was rampaging through the encampment.  It scared the absolute bejesus out of us.  We're probably pretty lucky it didn't run right over the top of us since we were lying in the middle of a great open space.

I woke up again a bit later needing to go to the toilet AGAIN (I know, why can't my bowels just co-operate and seize up when I need them to?).  When I lay down afterwards I heard the sound of a car which I thought was kind of strange, being in the middle of the desert and all.  Then I noticed a small moving light overhead which I realised was a plane.  And then I realised that the sound I could hear was the airplane, probably up at around 35000 feet in the sky.  That's a long long way away.  It must have been very very quiet for the sound to travel that far.

Anyway, we were woken up by the father and son who came to give us some bread and to get us and the camels ready for the journey back.

(I think you'll agree that Allison and I are ultra-trendy travellers.  What an effortlessly elegant look we're both sporting).

Something you might not realise about camels.  They're very uncomfortable.  Particularly when you're in a hurry and they're moving along at pace.  We tried to take lots of pictures on the walk/trot back, but most of them turned out slightly blurry, so you'll have to believe me when I tell you that it was again, a magical experience.

So, that was it for Timbuktu.  We headed back to Sévaré to ready ourselves for the next leg of the journey.  Dogon Country - probably the most interesting and beautiful part of our whole trip.

(Again, credit must go to Allison for the photo's in this post.  She obviously has a much better camera than I do!)

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