Thursday, March 20, 2008
People do a funny thing when they visit a place. They recommend it. It doesn’t much matter if it’s worth recommending; if they weren’t robbed or made ill they’ll sing its praises every time.
So I’m here in Timbuktu, Mali to tell you not to come to Timbuktu.
Timbuktu is a fine town with fine people and it is certainly, unequivocally, not worth the punishing two-day trek from Bamako to see. Just about everything along the way on that bumpy 20-25 hour journey is more interesting than the destination.
There’s a mud mosque near the center and squat homes surrounded by desert. It isn’t the best looking desert but you can take a picture with a camel if you want. It’s not easy to transport things here and maybe that’s why the lunch I just declined is 3500 CFAs when it should be 1000. But probably it’s because I don’t speak Bambara or look Toureg.
People come here to say they did. They come here because they happen to be in West Africa and they don’t see much else on the map they’ve heard of. I don’t have to make excuses because the Steves outvoted me to come here so they could say they drove from the U.S.A to Timbuktu and now they can.
They had some other choice things to say when they came back from swimming just now. They had asked our guide Mohammed how much the swimming would cost and he said it was free if they bought a drink so they did. When they were toweling off Mohammed instructed them to pay the pool attendant 4000 CFAs each for his time and they instructed Mohammed never to come near them again. In a huff they forked over 5000, which is about $12. That also happens to be the amount 90% of Malians get by on each week.
It’s off-season for tourism in the region and there aren’t many travelers here. When I see other tourists it feels a bit like making eye contact with someone at a strip club; you both want to explain what you’re doing here but its probably best just to pass and pretend you didn’t see each other. They know why you’re here and you know why they’re here; there’s only one reason and it’s a regrettable one. The boys got back from swimming and decided they didn’t trust the Malians anymore and we’d be leaving on the bumpy road tomorrow.
Posted by Brook Silva-Braga