We cannot get out of the Niafounke "hotel" fast enough. Over breakfast, a member of the band finds me and I buy a cassette tape. The name of the band is Abdoulaye Cisse. I have not listened to it yet, and do not know if it has the Lynyrd Skynryd cut, I'll update here as soon as figure out what I did with my old Sony Walkman. We drive the main route from Niafounke to Timbuktu, watching the Timbktu mile markers tick down, then abruptly take a left turn off the road and head North into the desert toward Araouane.
First stop is a dune in a marshy area, overlooking a farming village. Hiking up a nearby hill, we explore ruins from early inhabitants of site and take in the expansive view. Sigrid's feet are acting up, so we go back to the car, then I scramble back to the group, which is now exploring a site that is reminiscent of a mini Stonehenge. Wes declares that "This is the most important site we have seen on this trip." Jan is dubious.
It is a hard driving day. Desert terrain shifts from rocky hill and marshland, to scrub with stunted trees, to burr laden grasses and thorny bushes, to dunes and sand.
We visit a beautifully painted Falani home, where Sigrid shoots some portraits.
We also stop at a village market, where I buy some salt from a local vendor, and Matthew gets in touch with his inner libertarian, finding a way to "Question Authority" in a unique new way. Sigrid and I are riding with John in the "Zebra" Land Cruiser (the only vehicle with zebra stripes painted on the sides). The sand is very soft and deep, and we get stuck a couple of times.
At one point, with John's land cruiser buried to the axle in the bottom of ravine, a camel caravan ambles up, waits to be sure that the desert tourists manage to get their vehicle moving, than proceeds on into the desert. Lunch is at a Taureg camp under a tent on the canvas covered ground.
Bouj rides in the lead car and directs the caravan over the dunes. At every stop, he spends more time on the cell phone than a software sales rep at quarter end.
With progress slower than expected, we finally set up our desert camp at dusk, some 15 kilometers short of the planned camp location.
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