A journey through some of the least traveled sections of Africa.
When Antonson (Route 66 Still Kicks, 2012) had a month free from work, he decided to travel alone to the remotest place he could think of: Timbuktu. The source of legends, Timbuktu is in the heart of Mali, a region not easily traversed by the Western traveler—only 1,000 people a year visit the city—and it’s this remoteness that inspired the author. Some of the strongest moments of the book occur early on, when Antonson chronicles his ride on a “ghost train” across Mali. He offers cringe-worthy descriptions of the filth and tight quarters of the train and colorful portraits of the boisterous villages at which they stopped. Most movingly, he shows the trust and friendships that developed between him and his roommates. Once off the train, Antonson made his way to Timbuktu to attend a world music festival, then spent a single, anticlimactic day in the city itself. Here, he learned of the thousands of ancient manuscripts in need of saving, a cause he later took up upon returning home. The author intersperses historical details of the region and fascinating portraits of previous Western explorers. In the last third of the book, Antonson recounts his walking trek through the Dogon region with an amiable guide. At times, there’s an aloofness to the author’s interactions with the Africans he meets. He seems most concerned with whether they would help him with his travel plans and appears overly insistent on getting his way. He spends quite a few pages on Mohammed, his swindling tour guide, who, while intended to seem devious, actually comes across as quite comic. The book was originally published in 2008, and this second edition includes an afterword by the author about the recent violence in Mali and the threat to Timbuktu.
Not just for the armchair traveler, this book would serve as a useful guide for those interested in exploring Mali.