Escape to Timbuktu


Cover of "To Timbuktu: A Journey Down the...

Cover of To Timbuktu: A Journey Down the Niger

I’m a sucker for adventure travel writing. I love all kinds of books. I’ll dabble in a little theology, philosophy, politics, history, and of course a healthy dose of psychological literature. But, when I am full up hearing about the problem of child sexual abuse by Christian leaders, I’ll escape in adventure travel. Right now I am working on To Timbuktu: A Journey Down the Niger by Mark Jenkins. He tells the story of his trip to the source of the Niger in Guinea and then as they kayak down the Niger towards Timbuktu. Interspersed in each chapter are tidbits from early explorers who attempted to locate the source of the Niger. I haven’t a clue how it turns out since I am just to the part where they finally start kayaking.

While there are a few course words in the book, I find Mark’s writing style such that I am right there with him.

Places with no roads and no wires are bigger than other places. Distance hasn’t been distorted. People claim that world is getting smaller, as if ti were some green and blue balloon leaking air. Africans don’t buy this. To most Africans the world is enormous. Why? Because they walk. They have no choice; they are poor. If you must use your own legs–your own blood, bone, and sinew–to travel from one place to another, a mile is a mile…

Places with no roads and no wires are also more mortal than other places. They are so because you cannot escape. Can’t fly away or drive away or phone for help. If you want to leave, you must walk. If you cannot walk, you must have the help of those around you–if they will help you. Thus, kindnesses are not overlooked, mistakes not forgotten, cowardice not forgiven. In such a place, or on an expedition into such a place, what goes around comes around. (p. 56-7)

Or, describing some expats,

Like all expats in Africa, the Olafsons don’t quite live in Africa. They live inside a walled compound with guards and guard dogs and gardeners, servants and chauffeurs, flush toilets and air conditioning. …. Most expats, when they go back to their own country…find it too tame and talk ceaselessly of the drama and wildness of their life in Africa. But then back in Africa they take every precaution to make their lives just as they would be if they lived at home–except for the servants and the cases of expensive liquor …

He goes on to claim that many journalists do the same. I wonder about travel writers too. But then, I don’t care much because it is a good story.

Why do I like these kinds of books? I am amazed at the risks people are willing to take, their perseverance in the face of hardship (when I would have quit a long time ago) and the descriptions of places I might like to see but for the severe difficulty getting there. In this book, I get a front row view of a tiny village and how it operates (at least when white people are in the mix).

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Filed under Africa, book reviews, Good Books

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