Introduction by Jerry W. Bird, Africa Travel Magazine Editor

I am proud to introduce our readers to this great new book by Rick Antonson, a friend, who is CEO of Tourism Vancouver. "Timbuktu for a Haircut " is one of the best travel related books I have had the pleasure of reading. My review will appear soon on this website plus others in our network, and in Africa Travel Magazine.

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Rick Antonson, author of Route 66 Still Kicks

Rick Antonson is President & CEO 
of Tourism Vancouver

by Rick Antonson

Author and tourism executive, Rick Antonson, sets out on an unforgettable journey to Africa, and chronicles his adventures in TO TIMBUKTU FOR A HAIRCUT: A Journey Through West Africa,, published by Dundurn Press on June 7, 2008. 

"To Timbuktu for a Haircut is a great read - a little bit of Bill Bryson, a little bit of Michael Palin, and quite a lot of Bob Hope on the road to Timbuktu." - Professor Geoffrey Lipman, Assistant Secretary-General, United Nations World Tourism Organization. 

Historically rich, remote, and once unimaginably dangerous for travellers, Timbuktu still teases with "Find me if you can."  Rick Antonson's encounters with entertaining train companions Ebou and Ussegnou, a mysterious cook called Nema, and intrepid guide Zak will make you want to pack up and leave for Timbuktu tomorrow.

As Antonson travels in Senegal and Mali by train, four-wheel drive, river pinasse, camel, and foot, he tells of fourteenth-century legends, eighteenth-century explorers, and today's endangered existence of Timbuktu's 700,000 ancient manuscripts in what scholars have described as the most important archaeological discovery since the Dead Sea Scrolls.

TO TIMBUKTU FOR A HAIRCUT combines wry humour with shrewd observation to deliver an armchair experience that will linger in the mind long after the last page is read.

"I left Africa personally changed by the gentle harshness I found and a disquieting splendour that found me.  Mali was the journey I needed, if not the one I envisioned.  And I learned that there's a little of Timbuktu in every traveller: the over-anticipated experience, the clash of dreams with reality." &endash; Rick Antonson

Rick Antonson is the president and CEO of Tourism Vancouver and a director of the Pacific Asia Travel Association.  He has had adventures in Tibet and Nepal, and in Libya and North Korea, among others.  The co-author of SLUMACH'S GOLD: In Search of a Legend, he lives in Vancouver.


From Vancouver Sun\


Dundurn Group, 256 pages ($26.99)

It may seem counterintuitive, but the appeal of travel literature often has less to do with the destination in question than with the character of the traveller. Thus, while there may be significant geographical overlap, there is a vast difference, for example, between Frances Mayes's Tuscany (in the best-selling Under the Tuscan Sun) and Ferenc Máté's Tuscany (in the equally impressive but less commercially successful The Hills of Tuscany). In each book, the milieu serves as a backdrop for the revelation and development of the author's persona. The reader responds not to the locale but to the locale as experienced by the narrator.

This may seem a minor distinction, but it's crucial, especially when you consider both the number of new travel accounts published each year and the fact that the world is a finite place with, sadly, few remaining mysteries. The age of strict geographic exploration is long gone, but the potential for personal explorations through geography is practically limitless.

Two new books from B.C. writers nicely underscore this point, to varying degrees of effect. In exploring two of the world's less- travelled places, Rick Antonson and Martin Mitchinson also explore themselves.

Tourism Vancouver president and CEO Rick Antonson travels for a living, "flying a hundred thousand kilometres each year for two decades," moving from conference to air-conditioned hotel room with seasoned thoughtlessness.

When it came time for him to take a month-long solo expedition, however, he decided almost on a whim to journey to one of the most fabled -- and forbidding -- destinations in the world: Timbuktu.

Few places are quite as evocative and mysterious. A centre of Islamic scholarship and culture during the 15th and 16th centuries, Timbuktu has long been a beacon for travellers. Once thought of as a source of unimaginable riches, the city today is impoverished, threatened by the encroaching Sahara Desert.

For this trip, Antonson decided against his usual air travel and instead made the journey on the ground: by train, boat, car, camel and foot. The result, as recounted in his impressive new book, To Timbuktu for a Haircut, is a quixotic quest, alternately funny and thought-provoking.

Readers follow his journey chronologically as he moves toward the city and then as it recedes behind him. His account is threaded through with historical and cultural information.

Curiously, his encounter with the city itself is almost anticlimactic. He clearly relishes the journey, and his fellow travellers, more than the destination.

From a ride up the River Niger to an open-air music festival in the desert, from the sudden close friendships that bloom during such travel to the machinations of an unscrupulous tour coordinator who seems intent on foiling his travel goals at every juncture, Antonson handles the joys and occasional frustrations of his trip in vivid, straightforward prose and with a wry sense of humour.

More to come ..

.Timbuktu: City of Mystery
Mariama Ludovic

Salt comes from the north,
Gold comes from the south,
Money comes from the country of white people,
But the words of God, Knowledge,
Stories and nice folk tales,
Can only be found in Tombouctou"

There is a Tuareg proverb which says, "It is better to see for oneself than to be informed by a third person." On these words we will invite you to put Tombouctou on the top of your twenty first century agenda. Located near the river Niger and at the terminus of the great trans-Saharan caravan route, Tombouctou became fabulously wealthy in the 13th 15 centuries. Loaded with blocks of salt and other trade goods huge convoys of camels would spend weeks crossing the unforgiving Sahara to reach Timbuktu. It was here that salt was traded pound for pound with African merchants bringing gold and ivory along the Niger from the heart of Africa. At its height in the 16th century, the city had 100.000 inhabitants and became not only a centre of commerce but also an important seat of learning and religion. The city was fiercely Islamic and the fact that non-Moslems were totally banned from entering the city only added to its mystique.


Timbuktu was formerly a great commercial trading city and an international center of islamic learning. The city was probably founded in the late 11th century AD by Tuareg nomads. Timbuktu was a leading terminus of trans-Saharan caravans and a distribution point for trade along the upper Niger. Merchants from northern African cities traded salt and cloth for gold and for black African slaves in the markets of Timbuktu. The visitors will discovered the ancient mosques including the famous Sankore whose reputation spanned all across north Africa and Europe as a leading islamic academy for centuries. Most of the ancient books (some dating from the 14th century AD) are still preserved at the Ahmed Baba Center . Tuareg formed one of the most ancient tribal people of the Sahara. They speak a Berber language, Tamacheq, and have their own alphabet. In ancient times, the Tuareg controlled the trans-Sahara routes and substantially contributed in the expansion of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa even though they retained however some of their older rites. Today, the Tuareg symbolize the mysteries of the Sahara and continued to be seen as the Masters of the Desert.

Photo Credits: Mariama Ludovic, Westair. Bamako, Mali

Mariama Ludovic de Lys, Director
Company name : West Africa Tours
email : /
tel : 223 228 8157 /fax : 223 228 52 32, BP E 1642, Bamako /Mali