Turns out, the leak wasn’t too serious. The high-pressure hose that connected the fuel filter and fuel pump had a small tear. We patched this with rescue tape, which is advertised as the dogs b*llocks, resistant to heat, pressure, fuel, yada-yada. Let me tell you something about rescue tape. It’s utter CRAP! Less than 10km down the road, the rescue tape had blown, and we were now losing so much fuel that the car wouldn’t start/move. Another quick fix (we were only 20km from Timbuktu!) with more rescue tape (in much thicker levels) and off we were.
Anyhow, by this point we were getting quite worried; the car was venting fuel, we had only 1 jerrycan of fuel left, and we had to leave the track/piste we had been following as the marshland was flooded to the point we couldn’t progress. So, navigating blinding amongst thorn bushes, marshland and dunes we eventually found the road to the river! (without getting stuck!)
There’s a TINY village just before the ferry, which is essentially 5-6 huts built on the mud jetty into the river. Very surreal! By some stroke of luck, not only was the ferry there, but it had space and was just about to leave! W00t!
The ferry cost 5000 CFA (about 8 Euros) , and the ramps were incredibly steep. So much so that we had to use the sand-ladders to bridge the gap… and we still scraped the car’s bottom on the mud, ramps and then the ferry!
On the ferry, we met a Swiss couple, who flew to Dakar and made their way to Timbuktu on local transport… and then rented a 4×4 with a driver to get to Timbuktu… doing Dakar-Bamako by bus/train is pretty impressive in my eyes!
Once off the ferry, we went through another “village-on-a-jetty”, but this one seemed comprised of little corner shops and kids. There were no adults around other than in the shops… just lots of kids who promptly pressed their faces against the cars, tried peeling the stickers and laid siege for some cadeaux. Through the town and we hit an unfamiliar sight… tarmac! Yes, as far as the eye could see (admittedly not far as the road was winding through the marshes and had eucalyptus tree on either side) there was the black stuff. What a spectacular sight! What’s more, for the entire 10-15km left to Timbuktu, there was near perfect tarmac. Who would have known?
As we entered the mythical city, we were again under siege. This time, by tourist guide, hotel owners, and again general people who hadn’t seen tourists in quite a while. I later found out that the tourist industry in Timbuktu has pretty much died since the terrorist attacks, kidnappings and beheadings over the last couple of years. The museums are mostly shut – but knocking on the neighbours doors usually finds someone with a key and a brush… The key to open the door, and the brush to remove some of the dust that has settled on everything since the previous tourist came by. In the municipal museum, the dust was so thick that the curator was opening the cases to show me the artifacts (we had separated… the “twobobs” went down one road while I stayed to see the museum). The municipal museum wasn’t bad – the only part I didn’t like was the “ancient well” which was just a hole in the ground… everything else was quite pretty.
I was told by a friendly local that the last tourists they saw were 4 Americans who went there for “religious purposes” as they were Muslim… that was a few months ago. Everyone else who visits Timbuktu does so on an organised tour, and gets guided around under very controlled circumstances, barely leaving the relative safety of their vehicle. Thus, the tourist industry in Timbuktu has practically collapsed – leaving very little money coming into the town from them.
Anyhow – at one point we drove to the police station thinking that they would help us… additionally, we wanted a Timbuktu stamp on our passports… turns out, the police were just as corrupt as any other and they not only didn’t help, but also tried charging 1000 CFA for the passport stamp (which is supposed to be free).
Other highlights of Timbuktu are 3 ancient mud mosques… While very pretty from the outside, this was spoiled by the very large, very modern, very plasticy megaphones on the outside fitted to amplify the call to prayer… oh, and that we couldn’t go see the inside as we are not Muslim… I’ve been in mosques in other countries (Egypt, Gambia, etc) where they are more than happy to share their culture, religion and treasures with anyone who has an open mind… you just need to comply with their “rules” and be respectful. Oh well… (oh, and the oldest mosque is being restored by the Aga Khan foundation apparently).
While alone in Timbuktu, I decided to walk through the petit-marche, literally, the little market. This is full of local stalls, selling fruits, vegetables, salt tablets, clothes, meat and everything else needed.
Another aside here… the salt-tablets… Centuries ago caravans with thousands of camels used to travel across the Sahara between Timbuktu, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt. These important trans-Saharan trade routes are considered consigned to history, given the new national borders and the advent of the truck.
Or so I thought! In the market, I found an elderly lady selling the 50kg/100kg salt tablets. I was utterly shocked. Upon enquiring (and a gang of “guides” translating) it turns out she had salt from a dried up riverbed mine about 1,000 miles north in the desert. Admittedly, not the 3000 it would take to get to Morocco, but pretty impressive none-the-less. I couldn’t resist the temptation and bought a few chunks off her tablets, each weighing in the region of 3-4 kg (pure guess) for around 1000CFA (just over one pound sterling).
The last two things on my list to find were the legendary library and the post office (I have a thing for postcards…) Turns out that the library was closed, and I couldn’t find the chap to open it for me sadly. I did get to see it from the outside though… and saw some manuscripts in a nearby building where they were copying them (manually, with quill and ink) but it wasn’t the whole library. The post office, I couldn’t find and as it was getting dark I decided to call it a day as it would be closed anyhow. I have the postcards with me though, so I’ll need to mail them from somewhere else!
Anyhow – from dusty Timbuktu… that was it until the morning after!
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