Strolling in the alleyways of Timbuktu after we visited the house of the explorer René Cailié, I looked up and saw something I never saw before at any of my trips in the about 120 countries I visited. On the electric wires aboce my head I saw something what looked like a head of a cat. It was not easy to see clearly because of the bright sunlight. At a closer look I discovered about 5 dead skinned cats hanging on the electric wires.
Our guide Baba explained kids have thrown the dead cats there on the wires, playing around with them. Baba confrimed that in Mali cats were/are sometimes eaten. Baba told us they sometimes still do in Gao, but not in Timbuktu. He told us kids are playing around with the cats, doing little dances with the dead cats around their hips. I am not sure if the cats are eaten or not. They are not halal for Muslim people as far I know. Anyway for me as catlover it was a very strange and lugubrious experience to see these hanging dead skinned cats.
If you want prove or see that these are really cats, open the other pictures. If you don't like a close encounter with the dead cats, I warn you not to open the other pictures.
In some older parts of the old town you can see that the doors of the old houses are below street level. Sometimes almost one meter. The desert sands started to bury the houses under the sand here.
To reach the groundlevel of the houses from the street, you have to take two or more steps down to reach the threshold of the door. And beware, when you will enter in such a house, bend your head, otherwise you will knock it.
As you walk around Timbuktu many young guys will come to you and offer to be your guides. Many of them are just children that don't like school much ("I am on holidays" they say).
They might pay a good service if you just want someone to take you here or there, tell you where a restaurant is and so on.
BUT if you want a real authorized guide, they must have a permit. Ask them to show it if you wanna be sure.
I took a rather "amateur" one (5 euros for a morning) and suddenly a police came and took us (both) to the police headquarters, as he didn't have his permit ("I have it at home" he said)- I had nothing to fear, it was even an interesting visit to the police, but you are warned just in case...
I booked a tour for the Festival in the Desert with a man who said he was a licensed tour guide in Mali. His name is Moulaye Haidara. He insisted I send him half the money - 700 Euros - four months in advance. He insisted he had to make reservations for the tour in order to get a good 4 wheel drive for the desert. Five days after sending him the money I discovered there were compelling reasons why I could not go to mali this January. I e-mailed him to ask for 500 Euros back, saying he could keep 200 Euros as a cancellation fee. He returned my e-mail to say that he had spent all the money - in five days! - in buying the Festival ticket - 300 Euros, he said - and reserving a 4 wheel drive and he could not give me back any of my money. I emailed three times with no response. I tried calling his cell phone - it was turned off to messages only. I then got another e-mail where he told me that he was doing "very, very well" but that he could not return the money to me. He said that "maybe in February" he would work and might be able to pay me my money back. In other words, the money he took for me was not for the Festival tour at all. He spent it on himself, not on reservations. What would I have faced if I had gone in January. Please beware.
This man has a website, www.gotomali.net. He says he is licensed, but by who?
March 4, 2007: Today I got all my money back. I had to hire a lawyer in Mali, a relative of a Malian living here, in order to do this. Moulaye told the lawyer he did not have to repay me because his father is a policeman. My lawyer did not back down. Eventually Moulaye's father went to my lawyer and assured him that Moulaye would pay so we would not sue him. Moulaye repaid the 700 Euros in two installments. But has he learned anything? He was quite enraged about this posting and confronted the lawyer about it and emailed various threats to me. I am sad about this because he betrayed my trust and he's not sorry at all.