In our traveling lives, Western European destinations have always loomed large. We’ve returned time and again to the big countries – The United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy. When we’ve thought of the smaller places, it’s often been with the idea that one day we’d go there. Well, that day came this spring for the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, collectively known as Benelux.
Until recently, all I knew about Ethiopia is that it is a poor country in the Horn of Africa that was once ruled by the emperor Haile Selassie. So when I signed up for a nine-day tour of the country’s historical region offered by the American Research Institute in Turkey (ARIT), I thought I should do some research of my own.
Yes, Timbuktu is a real place. If you’re as hazy about the geography as I was, look at a map of West Africa and find the Republic of Mali. It’s the landlocked country just below Algeria and bordered by the countries of Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Côte D’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Niger. Once you’ve found it, follow the Niger River from the capital city of Bamako down past Ségou and Mopti to Timbuktu.
You will have just traced a journey of nearly 1,000 kilometers, which I accomplished in a week, but which took the first Europeans, who searched for Timbuktu in the 18th and early 19th centuries, months of sickness and misery. It wasn’t until 1828 that René Caillié, son of a poor Parisian baker, reached Timbuktu and returned to tell his tale.