Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Not Too Old For A Camel Ride

I'm writing this in a cyber cafe opposite the 'grand mosque' in downtown Timbuctou, which frankly, constitutes something of a miracle. Firstly that such things exist in this somewhat out of the way neck of the woods, and secondly, that I have been able to cope with the technology required, and worst of all, trying to type on a French keyboard, and one that is so old, all the letters on the plastic keys have been worn away.

Still, at least we've got here, not the easiest place to get to as there is no proper road, no bridge over the river, and 'planes don't really like to land here as they can't refuel - fuel tankers can't get here.

And not the easiest of starts either - reveille at 4 o'clock, no breakfast, arriving at the airport about five-thirty - too early for the police, immigration people, security etc, so we just went ahead and took off without them. Not quite Heathrow, but then not British Airways either.The airhostess helped us on with the three cameras, then put them in the cockpit with the pilot, so they wouldn't be any inconvenience to us!

Mark you, none of that 'Business Class' stuff.

When we finally arrive, we are met by Uloulu - Tuareg chief for the region, and prime 'fixer'. But sadly he hasn't yet been able to fix the sandstorm we've come all this way to find. Still there's plenty of time yet. And frankly they all think we're completely bonkers anyway - they spend their lives trying to avoid storms - they kill people! Still, we've arranged to hire six camels, and travel with a Tuareg family as they search for water and food for their livestock.

This is the very worst time of the year - the end of the dry season - everything, animals and humans are practically at the end of their tether. Apart from the drought in Northern Kenya two years ago, I've never seen animals look so thin, and starting to see dead livestock everywhere. We drove down to the river to look at someone's cattle - like walking skeletons and even the camels have used up all their fat.

And when you see camels with no humps, you know things are tough.

One small compensation - a hippo had calved in a shallow of the river yesterday, making her doubly dangerous (everybody is terrified of 'les bangas' and the crazy Jeremy who keeps wanting to take the canoe really close to film them). Sweet, watching her immense head loom out of the water warning us off, and then suddenly, little junior popping up to watch at her side.

Also, a bit worrying to hear Amadou and Uloulo muttering together. Turns out they think I'm too old and knackered to spend days on end in the bush on a camel. Bloody cheek!

Jeremy Hulme

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