Friday, 5 November 2010

Day 5, Oct 30: Timbuktu

We started out to explore Timbuktu at around 7 a.m, which was foolish since everything stayed closed until around 9:30 a.m. It was nice to ride the bikes "naked", the bikes being naked not us or course. By 9:30 we'd pretty much cruised the entire place, every alley, and it was getting hot. We stopped at Hotel Columbe (there's three of them there) to get cold water and got to talk to the UNICEF director for Mali again, who was staying there. We'd talked to him the day before on the ferry (he was part of the two car group that came, letting us get on the ferry). He used to work in the Malian government and retired to work with UNICEF. I told him I was familiar with his Landcruiser, which was a new model like a former teammate used to have, and he said that while it was nice and powerful, it was difficult to pull into the villages he worked in with that vehicle. I'd never heard an African with that insight before. I'm not labeling people and am certainly not racist, but that pulling away of the "chief" mentality really made an impression.
We'd seen the Grand Marche, which actually isn't so Grand, the Sankore Mosque north of the Grand Marche (which was build in the 16th century and was one of the largest schools of Arabic learning in the Muslim world with some 25,000 students), and decided to herad to the Dyingerey Ber Moque. This mosque was just restored to resemble the large mosque in Djenne, with a smooth sand/mud/cement finish. We paid 500fcfa to climb up on the roof of the Biblotheque Al-Imam Essayouti to see it from the top since we couldn't go inside. Downstairs we got to go inside and see some of the 4,000 manuscripts present there. The guide was really well informed and since i've studied Islam quite a bit, the discussion and history of the manuscripts was fascinating. Some were of the Quran, some commentaries of the Quran, some the Hadith, some about math, others about astrology, and others about civil laws. I had a great time seeing and learning about the restoration process and how they've found so many of these ancient documents. On our way out we decided to go to a local museum that was around the corner, the Musee Almansur Korey (, which was loaded with rooms of old timbuktu artifacts. The museum is actually a house that's been kept in it's original condition and conatains artifacts pertaining to each room (which served different purposes and was for different genders/social classes). We spent a good hour looking over and learning about things there. We walked to Gordon Laing's house (the first European to reach Timbuktu), then to Rene Caillie's house (the first to make it to Timbuktu and live to tell the tale), and then finally to Heinrich Barth's house (who made a 5 year trip from Tripoli across the Sahara). From there we went back to Sahara Passion to get my passport and then went back to Hotel Colombe for lunch. I had beef, red sauce and rice there. It was around $7 and pretty good for African cuisine. We left Hotel Colombe to go to the tourist office to get our passport's stamped to say we were in Timbuktu, ended up going to the guy's house to get him and then got our stamps. From there we decided to ride to the post office so I could mail some postcards but the post office was closed on Saturday. As we learned, this was no problem in Timbuktu. I simply went to the director of the post office's house, told him what i needed, and we went back to the post office, bought stamps, dropped the post cards and parted ways. It'd been the same way with the Almansur Korey museum. We decided to go and fill up and then went back to Sahara Passion for the evening. The sun was setting and I went out to sit in a Tuareg tent with three guys I'd met the day before. We were talking and in no time they were pulling our balls of fabric containing Tuareg items for sale. An old Tuareg pipe caught my eye so I got it for $10. An older Tuareg man wanted me to go to his house to see "desert roses" he'd collected over the years, which I did. I have to say being so far out at dusk was a bit unnerving, but a young guy who was related to Shindook (Miranda's husband) was with me so I felt ok. We talked for a while and I think he finally realized that I was actually poor so he let me go and thanked me for the visit. Walking back across the dunes at dusk, with the call to prayer sounding out across the city was a beautiful scene. As I approached the city there were lines of men on the dunes bowing down in worship, it certainly put a more beautiful image of Islamic prayer and people that i'd had before. I came back to S.P. and ate a K-Cliff bar and some beef jerky and talked about wake up for the following day. Apparently the ferry would pull out at 6 a.m. but some people arrived at 3:30a.m. to get in line. We decided to pull out of the hotel at 5 a.m. (about 30 minute drive to the ferry) so we set our alarms for 4:30 a.m., i sprayed my head and neck with 100% deet and put the earphones in and slept like a baby.


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