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Tourism Vancouver's CEO is an author, traveller and one of the "founding fathers" of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paraylmpic Winter Games

Rick Antonson, Tourism Vancouver's president and CEO, would seem to have his plate sufficiently full. Not only is Antonson guiding the convention and visitors bureau toward the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (just 13 months away), he's also stick-handling Tourism Vancouver's $90-million stake in Vancouver's Convention Centre Expansion project and serving as a director of the Pacific Asia Travel Association. In addition, Antonson is considered one of the "founding fathers" of Vancouver's 2010 Winter Games bid. He was one of the people that got Vancouver's Olympic ball rolling way back in 1998.

But that's not all. In the past year, the exuberant CEO has found time to write a book. In To Timbuktu for a Haircut: A Journey Through West Africa, Antonson writes about his unforgettable voyage by train, four-wheel drive, river pinasse, and camel through Senegal and Mali to his discovery of the endangered existence of Timbuktu's 700,000 ancient manuscripts.

1) When did you find time to visit Africa and then write your book To Timbuktu for a Haircut?

One finds the time to do the things that are important to them - and both travel and writing are important to me. The trip itself came about when I planned a month away, on my own, without my wife along. One evening she said, "Why don't you just go to Timbuktu...?" I thought that was a brilliant suggestion! Long ago, I spent many years as a periodic travel writer, and before being at Tourism Vancouver my career included an active role with a book publishing company.

2) Where does the title "To Timbuktu for a Haircut" come from?

It is rooted in a lie my father told me when I was five years old. Even if his absence from home was for only an hour, he'd often say: "I'm going to Timbuktu to get my haircut." But it didn't start out with the final title. My early writing was reflected in discarded working titles such as A Timbuktu Sabbatical; later, Timbuktu, A Traveller's Story; even Waiting for Mohammed and On the Road to Timbuktu.

3) Which was more challenging: travelling through West Africa or bidding for the 2010 Winter Games?

Both experiences let me see the best in the communities involved. The people of Senegal and Mali proved to be among the most welcoming hosts I've encountered anywhere in the world. I'd like to think Vancouver and British Columbia will earn that reputation when we host the world for the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. My travels in West Africa had the element of personal quest whereas the Olympic Bid was a quest for thousands of people who dreamt of Vancouver as an Olympic host city.

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.

"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.

To Timbuktu for a Haircut: A Journey Through West Africa is published by Dundurn Press and is available at major retailers. For more information on Rick Antonson, contact Tourism Vancouver's media relations team.

Click here to continue with Timbuktu Story. For more please download the Western Africa Yearbook Edition