Peter Chilson recalls arriving out of the desert at Timbuktu, and considers the legendary city’s fate :
Timbuktu’s only hotel at that time was full, so I spent two nights on a mat on the concrete patio of a local bar, a bordello really, and then I fled back the way I’d come. The heat was awful, and as Caillié wrote in his memoirs, there was no way to escape it day or night. I slept little and discarded my mosquito net at night for fear it would block the slightest breeze.I had enough energy to check out Caillié’s living quarters, marked by a bronze plaque. In the end, though, I could not agree with his descriptions of Timbuktu. “Everything,” he wrote, “had a dull appearance.”
I found the city and desert beyond to be one of the most beautiful and haunting landscapes I’ve ever seen. At night, the desert sky was so bright and clear it seemed to rest right on the rooftops. During the day, the city and landscape blended into the blinding pale sky as if Timbuktu itself were floating on a cloud. I loved how the wind continuously rubbed the tops of dunes, blurring them into the horizon and forming ridges that looked as if they’d been pressed by a giant thumb and forefinger. This is part of the reason why I keep going back to the Sahel and the southern Sahara — because the land is so big and so extreme. The other reason, and perhaps it’s not all that surprising, is that the people who live there are so resilient.