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Sahara

Day 52: Timbuktu

Michael Palin - SaharaBack down amongst its narrow streets, Timbuktu feels tired, as if the effort of just being here at all is using up all her energies. There is none of the brash bounce of Mopti or the fragile charm of Djenné. The shops have little to sell, and though the Mission Culturelle does its best to direct you to interesting places, it does so without much conviction.

The best time to wander comes later, when the great disabling heat of the day is over. Then I happily potter in a warren of back streets, stepping over an open latrine to look more closely at a plaque announcing the house of one of the greatest Saharan explorers of all. 'Heinrich Barth 1853-1854.' Barth travelled thousands of miles across the desert and did live to tell the tale, becoming professor of geography at Berlin University. I buy bread straight out of one of the cone-like ovens that dot the city. The bread is good - light, and with just a hint of that familiar gritty texture which tells you, as if you didn't know by now, that you are back in the Sahara.

The local people are not the extroverts of Dakar or Bamako, but though they're wary of us, they're curious at the same time. I fall to wondering if I've been too hard on the city. Maybe, after eight weeks on the road, it's me that's knackered, not Timbuktu.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 52
  • Country/sea: Mali
  • Place: Timbuktu
  • Book page no: 157

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