• Brian D. Hinson

Way Out in Timbuktu

Part 4 of a series on Africa travel. Black Lives Matter.

Timbuktu, Mali is not quite as remote as the jokes suggest, but they’re not far off. Mali, in northwest Africa, doesn’t make a blip on most people’s travel plans. The poverty is evident, the recent civil war still owns any Google search.


But what traveler worth the title doesn’t want to walk in the dusty streets of Timbuktu? It’s a trophy location. When I was there in 2008, you could see preserved 1,000-year-old Islamic manuscripts and the tombs of several Muslim saints. But the brief civil war of 2012 had Islamic militants taking the city and destroying most of the tombs and burning the lion’s share of the manuscripts. Lucky for us all, some of the precious pages were smuggled from the city and rescued.


The destruction of human history is as sad as the loss of human life. What are we, as a species, if the relics of our past are erased? Religious fanatics, even in the 21st century, are still a clear danger to life, culture, and history. The radicals have been banished from the city, but, unfortunately, they have left their mark.

Mali currently doesn't rank among the bottom ten nations in poverty, like it did the previous decade. During my visit, it was the first time I had encountered children with no clothes due to extreme poverty. Little kids running about naked in the fountains of Europe is culturally acceptable, but in an Islamic nation, it brings great shame.


Today, Timbuktu is still a traveler’s trophy, but there’s little to see, sadly. But there’s joy in the details. There’s art in every door and window, the geometric patterns in Islamic style adorn most portals in the city. There’s more joy in meeting the Tuareg people, the nomadic folk who trade their goods across the Sahara, who love tea, a good camel race, music, and a quiet conversation.

Timbuktu is still a worthy stop, a worthwhile place to photograph and brag about.

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