Calendar   Home
Previous Day November 15, 2001 Next Day
No late morning sleep in Timbuktu: at 4:00 AM the imam's prayer broke the early morning silence. His voice reverberated from one end of the city to the other. Roosters and donkeys added their voices and the frightful cacophony lasted until daybreak. Throughout the day we explored Timbuktu, a place where the first Westerner, Gordon Laing, reached in 1826 and was promptly murdered by the inhabitants who were suspicious of European foreigners. With the daylight hours punctuated by Muslim prayer calls, the skyline dominated by minarets, and most people swathed from head to toe in turbans and flowing robes, Timbuktu displays a predominately Arabic character. For centuries, the Arabs came here in camel caravans to bring salt out of the desert. This city once played a prominent role in the salt trade (salt formed the axis of the civilized world economy - the word salary means 'salt money' in Latin). Timbuktu made its name in salt. There were days when salt could be traded pound for pound with gold. Now that people keep their salt in shakers for the dinner table rather than in their pockets as money, Timbuktu has seen its wealthiest days pass into history. Camel caravans still come here laden with salt, but Timbuktu is no longer a pearl of the desert; it's simply a remote desert town. We bought some fresh local salt and tried it - excellent quality salt with an earthy, almost peppery taste.
Men return from morning prayers, women pound out breakfast.
For all its fame, not many tourists around. Our group of fourteen dominated the tourist scene. The problem arises when you leave your hotel. The minute you step out from the hotel, freelance 'guides' follow you all over the city.
A Timbuktu salt seller: they mine salt slabs from the desert (some of these slabs weigh over 100 pounds), hack it into chunks before your eyes, then sell the pieces for about a 25 cents per handsized chunk. All you need is a salt shaker (or grinder).
Mary, Mayori, and Jill at the Sidi Yahiya mosque, the oldest one in Timbuktu, built in 1400. Mud mosques can grow old here since it doesn't rain much.