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This morning we started a long drive to Timbuktu. We'll need at least six days to go 1500 km, mostly along dirt roads, to a place whose very name is synonomous with being in the middle of nowhere. On the road we pass towns like Diourbel, Kaffrine, and Koumpentoum, places that have nice names but aren't much to behold, a few dusty streets lined with mudwalled, one-roomed shacks. Outside of villages the landscape is dry savannah, yellow grassland, red clay earth, scattered baobab trees.
We're traveling with Dragoman, a reputable overland company. This truck will carry twenty passengers and two crew. It's a multi-national group: people from Japan, Switzerland, Britain, Canada, Denmark, and Australia.
Baobab trees, their fibrous wood useless for lumber, provide the only shade in a burnt landscape.
By afternoon we arrived in Tambacounda, another mud-shack town. It distinguishes itself by being a crossroad for travelers going to Mali, Guinea, or The Gambia. It also has Internet connectivity that is passably fast.
This trip is self service: the passengers cook, clean, and set up their own tents. The crew charts the course and drives the truck.