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 close 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.

Niger River
Cruises/ Tours
Festival at
Photos Festival
Photos Festival
Photos Lifestyles

Africa's Cities
Gateways to Tourism
Africa's Mayors
Who's Who?
Africans On Video
Grass Roots
Famine Relief

Africa's Cities
Gateways to Tourism
Africa's Mayors
Who's Who?
Africans On Video
Grass Roots
Famine Relief



Jun 29, 2014

NEW YORK, NY - Two of the World Heritage mausoleums destroyed in Timbuktu have now been rebuilt through a partnership with local communities, the United Nations cultural agency said, adding that it will need an additional $8 million to finish the rehabilitation of the site and of libraries that could again store hundreds of thousands of Malian manuscripts.

“We are looking for $11 million,” UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Representative to Mali, Lazare Eloudou Assomo, said in New York.

The UN agency has been able to gather around $3 million through bilateral cooperation and other funding, he said, but “if we don't have the $8 million, it would be difficult for us to implement our activities.”

Timbuktu was an economic, intellectual and spiritual capital and a centre for the propagation of Islam throughout Africa during the city's golden age in the 15th and 16th centuries. According to UNESCO, the three mosques and the 16 mausoleums comprising the property are part of the fabled city that was once home to 100,000 inhabitants.

The site was heavily destroyed by occupying extremists after fighting broke out in January 2012 between Government forces and Tuareg rebels. The conflict uprooted hundreds of thousands of people and prompted the Malian Government to request assistance from France to stop the military advance of extremist groups.

In March, local masons working under the supervision of Imam of Djingareyber, and with support from UNESCO and the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), which is mandated in part to support the Government in cultural preservation, laid the first earthen brick to reconstruct two of the mausoleums.

“It's a long and complex task. The monuments look very simple in their architecture but they are complex structures,” said Mr. Assomo, who spoke alongside Vibeke Jensen, Director of the UNESCO Office in New York.SOURCE UN News Centre

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." &endash; 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.

APRIL 23, 2014


Tourism Vancouver's Rick Antonson, the man who helped bring the Olympics to Vancouver, is feted for his future-thinking view of this city and the world

Martha Perkins — WE Vancouver

Stone masons dedicated their lives to building magnificent cathedrals that wouldn't be completed until long after they'd died. Cathedral thinkers build on ideas that will live on long after they’re gone.And that’s why Bard on the Beach’s Christopher Gaze calls Rick Antonson “a good mason of Cathedral Thinking.” On April 22, Gaze joined city and provincial politicians, a former premier, business owners, devoted staff members and friends in sending Antonson off on his journey from president of Tourism Vancouver to full-time author. It’s fitting that the event was held at the Vancouver Convention Centre because Antonson was one of the people who fought to get it built. He was the one who shepherded the crazy idea of hosting the Winter Olympics in Vancouver through to fruition and then realized that if we’re inviting the world to our city, we’d better make sure there’s an easy way to get them from the airport. “It was his charm, his shrewdness, his ability to motivate people” that made it all happen, said former Vancouver mayor and BC premier Mike Harcourt. “He convinced us we should go after the Olympics. Do you remember how hard that was to sell?” “He saw the future,” said John Furlong, the president and CEO of the Vancouver Organizing Committee. “Rick was the holder of the idea of his times.”Gradually, Furlong says, Antonson’s confidence in the city’s ability to host the 2010 Winter Games spread to a belief that “no matter what came our way, we could achieve great things…. [His] legacy will be profound.” Antonson’s belief that tourism can be a force for peace has its roots in his own life choices. He always told his two sons, Sean and Brent, that they could do or they could have. “We did things,” Sean said. Their house was filled with maps and books and when they weren’t camping in far-off places across Canada, they were taking train trips across Siberia or evading their watchers in North Korea. “Dad has a way of being in the moment,” Sean said. No matter how much chaos was happening around them, he’d stop, throw open his arms and say, “Ah, we’re here. Take a moment to think about it.” “He taught us that the world is bigger than what you can see from your doorstep.”While Antonson loves to sleep “under a million stars,” he often jokes that his wife Janice prefers beds in a five-star hotel. Together for almost three decades, their beds have not always been on the same continent. She’s currently general manager of aeronautical development and marketing for North Queensland Airports which is why, after Antonson officially retires in June, he’ll be moving to Cairns to join her. “He’s always been there for me through all the time zones,” Janice said. And while her husband always deflects praise by saying he’s the one who gets to take the collective bow, Janice outlined some of his accolades: a member of the Canadian Tourism Hall of Fame, the recipient of an Honourary Doctorate of Laws from Capilano University, and recipient of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal. (Recognizing that the last thing an inveterate traveler needed was more “stuff”, Bob Lindsay, the chair of Tourism Vancouver’s board of directors, announced that a $1,000-a-year bursary for a student who demonstrates “leadership potential” has been established in Antonson’s honour at Cap U.)As is his wont, when it was Antonson’s turn to speak, he said “Tonight’s about the many, not the few.”

Addressing the 600 people in the ballroom, he said, “I see people who think of the bigger things.” He praised their willingness to “play for higher stakes…. You wanted more and were willing to take that risk…. My great good fortune has been to live in the same time as you.” The Olympic bid could have died from a thousand cuts, given the many arguments against it, and reports of not only its death, but that of the convention centre, were often greatly exaggerated. But as he prepares to retire, Antonson said it is not time to stop. The “fight to get it right” must continue. The convention centre should be expanded on the east side. Looking out through the floor-to-high-ceiling windows that provide a stunning view of Coal Harbour and the North Shore mountains, “I think of the people who want to build up those mountains. You’d lose the reason why people say Vancouver is spectacular by nature.” Antonson dreams of the camping trips his grandsons, Riley and Declan, will take across Canada and then getting their passports so they can explore the United States and then “dozens and dozens” of countries. But why can’t that freedom to explore be shared by children around the world? Children living in Syria and the Sudan can’t even travel to the next village without their lives being in danger.

And that’s where the message of tourism being an ambassador for peace comes into play.

 “Tourism, more than any other industry, takes down barriers,” Antonson said. “We’re about bringing people together and celebrating our differences.”

His books — Route 66 Still Kicks, To Timbuktu for a Haircut and the yet-to-published Full Moon Over Noah’s Ark — are not armchair guides to the places he has visited. They are an invitation to share his quest to better understand “the 260 nations that call this tiny planet home.” Once we do that, we can join his call to action to ensure “that safe passage and freedom to assemble are fundamental rights.”

These are the words that were used to describe Rick Antonson at his retirement farewell: Outstanding leader, wise, thoughtful, kind, motivational, visionary, full of charm and grace, smart, intuitive, genuine, creative, one of the good guys, a walking ambassador, mentor, teacher, careful listener, dedicated, enthusiastic, great friend, gift from God, adventurous, outstanding contributor to the vitality of our city, humble. To sum up: “If the world was full of Ricks, it would be a much better place.”

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.

more on next page)

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