Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The terrorist telltales of Timbuktu

                               The street in Timbucktu.

Kidnapping stories and myths have been told, seen in the movies and actually happens all over the world. This is the stuff you don't really hear about on the news. My father and I were being followed as we crossed the river Niger into the ancient legendary city of Timbuktu. I knew the risk before: the dangers and how the internet is exploded with kidnapping stories in the north of Mali. This didn't stop me, I had to tick off the destination of my lifetime travel spots. Yes the world's most dangerous places for kidnapping. Another non-climbing hero of mine is a dude called Robert Young Pelton, he has been kidnapped in Columbia, survived in a plane crash and also survived a bomb explosion in Afghanistan. He is still alive today because he was born to survive and experience the hardcore risks. Sounds like me!

                               The nail that burst our car.

Our Landie suddenly bust down and there was a huge needle sticking perfectly plotted upwards on the middle of the road. Two Arabs suddenly came out of nowhere well dressed and speaking good English trying to tell us where to stay and finding out who we are. Perhaps to report further north to their terrorist leader. 

Changing the wheel, the other Arabs that i suspect are terrorist refused to be in the photo.

These problems have dried up the tourism business in the desert. The threats originate from a disparate collection of terrorist cells, rebel groups, and smuggling gangs that have exploited Mali's vast northern desert. The lawless wild land is three times bigger than the size of France and is full of endless sand and rock. Most infamous among these groups is the one led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian leader of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The leader is known to have lost an eye fighting the Russians in Afghanistan. Dad and I believe the 'one eye' was watching us as we entered the lost city of Timbuktu. In only 6 years from 2003 to 2009 the one eye (Belemokhtar) and his men have kidnapped 47 Westerners and why the hell was I going to Timbuktu? The truth is I didn't know any of this. Okay okay okay, maybe I did, I knew that one of the British hostages who was kidnapped, Edward Dyer was beheaded after the UK refused to meet the groups demands. His body was never found. This was 6 months before I went.

Revealing myself in public, I am not scared of no terrorist!

Dad was totally laid back and never worried about a single thing. He always agreed with the lyrics of Bob Marley, "don't worry about a thing, coz every little thing is gonna be alright, gonna be alrigggghhhtttt" What a cool laid back attitude my pops has. As it got dark in the sandy city, it was like completely dark. Hardly any electricity in Timbuktu and certianly not a single white person apart from us, I wonder why?! A small child approached trying to sell a tee shirt saying "I have been to Timbucku and back" with a little picture of the city. Years ago for the tourists the city was a myth, did it really exist? It was one of those special places. So to have been to Timbuktu and back refers as the lost city. Now its more like survived from terrorism. I should I have brought it, but we were running out of cash till the next ATM.

The Malian army have tried to do something about the issue, but the one eye's men assassinated the colonel in front of his young family in the neighbourhood only 2 months before I was exploring down the same place. Nobody dare messed with Belmokhtar or Al Qaeda. 

          The manuscripts

The rich History of Timbuktu goes on forever, It is mainly famous for its manuscripts from many years ago that are still kept in the city. Only 800 AD Arab Merchants bring Islam to North Africa a small part of these evolved into Al Qaeda in 1988.

A friend of mine Ben Heason who is no stranger to hard climbing recently returned from The Hand of Fatima. The dude wouldn't want to waste time seeing the ancient city but just stay around Hombori and climb hard all day everyday. He even likes to bring a bottle of wine to the summit with him! What a dude!

                       Ben Heason and his jumping skills

I saw Ben last week at the works Party in Sheffield, I couldn't quite remember what we talked about due to alcohol. I think Ben was pretty off the hook too which represents good times we had! I remembered him mentioning about some tragedy stories and got him to email me with the story. He managed to do some new hard assents and repeat the classic climbs like the kana Tondo and Black Mamba on the Hand of Fatima. But then the news finally came. 2 French have been kidnapped from Hombori, right around the corner from the Hand of Fatima. The following morning more news came to Ben, there had been 4 more kidnappings in Timbuktu. One of whom, a German, was shot dead for trying to escape.

                 The works party, Ethan, me, Ed and Adam.

In the end, dad and I were very lucky, although I am very pleased to experience one of the world's deadliest countries and getting out alive.
   The on eye has eyes everywhere, he probably knows your reading my blog right now........

Two links with the kidnapping news.

A clip of the crowd and myself running away from a snake not terrorists! 

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