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All the way to timbuctu - in the open


Yes, it's real. There is a place called Timbuktu and it is not just an imaginary fantasy at the end of an exclamatory statement. What child has not muttered at some time that he, or she, was "going all the way to Timbuktu!" What adult has not dismissed it as "some far away place," not aware quite sure where it in point of fact was, if it did exist at all.

It does exist and grown up colonize do go there and an infrequent child with them. Situated concerning the southern edge of the Sahara Desert and the great bend of the Niger River, Timbuktu is the best known and the most apart city in Mali, the crown jewel of West Africa. Nine centuries old, it abounds with mythology of wealth and power, background and learning, downfall and intrigue.

Due to the writings of Leo Africanus, a sixteenth century African who had been there and who spoke of the plentitude of gold, wealth and learning, Europeans pictured it as Eldorado and Eden enveloped in a cagey dust cloud in the desert. Rewards were free to adventurers who could find their way there and back alive. The first European to do so was in 1828 and he found Timbuktu deep in decline. There's no gold in those dunes, he reported when chronic home, and you can get there from here, but it's damn hard to do so. Incredulity was his reward. The European had assumed in the legend of Timbuktu for so long that he and she refused to consider this disappointing news. The legend of the far away place of wealth and gold persisted, then progressively dissolved in time, to just far away Timbuktu.

It is far away and it's still damn hard to get there and other than charter aircraft there is no reliable, address route for pilgrims to take to Timbuktu. There are ways more attractive than others; one such is all the way through Ouagadougou, entry port to Burkino Faso, and trekking northward for four days into Mali and the Dogon lowlands in Bandiagiara. The Dogon, a ancestral country of 250,000 people, are rich in history, tradition and mystery, with a civilization of ancestor worship, animist cosmology with astrological inclusions and exceptional architectural skills. They also have talents in both the pleasing to the eye and abstract arts, the end allegedly an inspiration to Picasso.

Dogon villages are floating on a broad area of cliff and escarpment and this fascinated pilgrim and a few companions, undertook a three-hour climb upward. The reward was a countless hodgepodge of villages with cone shaped buildings with whimsically constructed thatched roofs, pillared dwellings engraved in the hillside, an insane refuge in one of those pillared dwellings complete with bodily skins and holy figure and a circumcision cave adorned with graphically illustrated symbols. Pleasing to the eye carvings, award-winning today by western art collectors, are everywhere. The pilgrims were fortunate a sufficient amount to enter a village for the duration of the completion of a grief dot when the Dogon mask dance occurred. The Awa, the mask cult of a number of dozen adult males decked with masks, some fifteen feet high, of animals, holy cipher and essentials of nature, wove its way all the way through the village to a hammering syncopation of drums in celebration of both death and life.

After costs five days with the Dogon, then chronic to sea level and emotive westward to Mopti, a ad town on the River Niger, the pilgrims boarded a pinasse, a forty foot, thatched- roof canoe powered by a forty horse-power outboard motor and began a three day journey to Korioume, the gate city to Timbuktu, twelve miles distant.

The river, Africa's third greatest, teems with the great fish capitain. Here and there, a hippo peers from the water and on the banks, Bozo and Songhai villages, white and clay buildings centered by the everywhere mosque, (for this is a basically Muslim country), are alive with activity, and kids and administration mothers swarm to the river's edge when the pinasse pulls onto land for a visit.

It is a inquisitive time for the adults and a happy one for the brood as they take the pilgrims' hands and cut the white skin with their a small amount black fingers and laugh desperately when the white doesn't come off.

Nighttime, the pilgrims sleep as guests in one of the villages, then move on, Timbuktu continually ahead. Then one crack of dawn it is there.

The wind governs Timbuktu as it does the Sahara. Sand is everywhere. Pilgrims inward bound from the south see Timbuktu as the end of the world. The dereliction of the desert is ever award in the sand-strewn streets, and the ever-decomposing clay buildings. But it is a town that has lived with the desert and survived and even thrived in spite of it and as of it.

But some of its past still lives. It is still a finishing point of a camel column route athwart the Sahara that brings salt from the mines of Taoudenni four hundred miles in the desert and Tuaregs, the sword and knife-wielding romanticized nomads of the desert, still boastfulness all through the area wielding sword and knife. The background of the past lives as well at the Ahmed Baba concentrate for Past Research, a store of seventeen thousand antiquated books and papers undergoing rendition from Arabic to French, the countrywide idiom of Mali, to English, for appointment on the internet. Yes, the past is heartrending into the forthcoming for there is now one cpu in Timbuktu.

North of the city lies the Sahara, an area bigger than the adjoining United States and by means of it come visitors from the north: cameleers with their caravans from Taoudenni, nomads from their wanderings, pilgrims on their explorations.

In January, Harmattan, the hot dry wind of the chill months has its way with them. The pilgrims inveterate to Timbuktu see a horizon of three hundred and sixty degrees, a vast ring of anguish in which Harmattan hurls sand and dust upward, the perimeters attractive a circular clear veil of discolored purple rising for the pale blue sky. Overhead the midday sun is ablaze. By two o'clock it is a lunarlike globe having slipped after the veil leave-taking the pilgrims in a land of total desolation.

To the pilgrims frequent from the desert, Timbuktu is the establishment of the world. The grass of trees and shrubs, the strain of a flute, the smiles and talk of people, the development of a car or truck greets them with the color and music and life of civilization.

It is a long way to Timbuktu from any direction, but if one is not a cameleer in the salt affair or a native of Timbuktu why would one go there? The cast doubt on put to one pilgrim brought him to a pause, "Well, when I was a kid, I used to say that when I grew up, I was going to go all the way to Timbuktu. Well, here I am. "

Don Bracken is Boss Editor of Chronicle Publishing Company, LLC and is the co-editor of the Civil War Historyscope Series, which has been hailed by educators and Civil War experts and can be seen on http://historyscope. com. He is also the creator of the cooperative book Times of the Civil War industry with the coverage of that war by the New York Times and the Charleston Mercury. Don Bracken traveled to Timbuctu in 2002 with four other persons as part of an adventure pass through team.


Outdoors Digest  Sherman Denison Herald Democrat

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