Having stocked up on necessities in Morocco, we then headed south, into the Sahara. It concentrates the mind wonderfully on survival, self-sufficiency and mutual support when you turn off the road into the trackless desert with the knowledge that our next town, and a small one at that, was almost 400 miles tha-a-a-t way, with no roads, shops, or repair facilities.
We experienced the timeless wonder of Ben Amera, third largest single rock in the world, dreaming of the lost marshes and grasslands that once surrounded it.
Chinguetti was a way station on the old caravan routes where pilgrims to and from Mecca stopped, and left manuscripts, some dating to before the first crusades. The sands of the desert threaten to engulf the ancient treasures, and modern technology has little to offer.
In Mali we found a lovely new road, but Chinese scheduling meant that a new bridge was incomplete, but the old one was dismantled on schedule. So we had to take a three-day, 500 mile detour, sleeping in the bush for three nights.
Mopti, the Venice of the Niger river, showed us the splendor of trade, complete with slabs of salt, brought a thousand miles on camel back, and a thunderstorm that reminded us that we were driving into the rainy season.
The mystical Timbuktu lived up to its name: three GPS’ disagreed as to its position, or even existence. We were received with hospitality, but our guide did show us the house of Alexander Laing, a British explorer who visited the city in 1825 and lived to tell the tale, but was murdered shortly afterwards. And only months after our visit some tourists were kidnapped there, and since then war has broken out in northern Mali.