• Guy Lankester
    December 2, 2022
    There is no working clock in Africa, and the mile o'metre has long broken down.

    I often define my job as being about urging westerners to let go of time and introducing Africans to the concept of time.

    If there is one area of African travel that will confound even the least digitalised westerner it is how long soon, an hour, a day or inshallah can be. You see in Africa man doesn't control time by his watch, God does.

    I had an example of this recently with three travellers on a trip to Timbuktu. We flew in from Bamako and our return trip from Timbuktu to Mopti was by river. To avoid speculation we took a private traditional river Niger fisherman's boat called a pinasse. The pinasse driver had said it would take one night, they'd be rolling all night. As I calculated on my trips with groups many years ago, it used to take 3 days with nightly stop offs and village visits so about 30 hours driving time, I guessed it would be an African 24 hours,

    At 36 hours into the journey, just passing through Lake Debo and the heart of the Great Inland River Niger Delta, with a moonless night sky appearing a couple who had a flight to catch the following night began to worry. "But what time will we get to Mopti?"

    I said I couldn't really give them a time but it looks like we are in for the night, and the guys wouldn't give a reliable time either. They didnt speak any French. Understandably this frustrated my clients further.

    "But they must know where we are, and how far there is to go and what sort of time we will get there."

    "Well they know where they are, but they wont give you "it will take 4 hours", or "we are 25kms" and if they do its just words."

    My clients were worried about their flight in 30 hours' time and what sort of time we would have to stop off to places like Djenne on the way back to Bamako, so I went up to the driver and indicated Mopti and time. He smiled and shrugged, suggested 23h to midnight. Six hours away.

    I reported back the news. After our third meal of pasta with half a fish to share between two we settled down again for another nap. Long journey tomorrow, may as well get some kip. I hit the roof, I wasn't going to let this night of stars go to waste. We were in the hands of the pinnasse guys, they were in the hands of the boat and the river gods, there was nothing I could do but look at the stars.

    At past midnight I was awoken to claims it didn't seem like we were anywhere near Mopti. Surprise surprise. Sunk back to slumber, the double engines' vibrations surprisingly sleep inducing.

    I was awoken again by the engine cutting out. I looked out. We were gliding. Perhaps a couple of hours had passed, it felt like the dark hours of the night. We were floating towards the side, no lights on the horizon indicating Mopti. We moved towards a pirogue and small pinasse parked up for the night. The driver was poling the direction of the bows, calling to and waking up the fishermen. Voices from across the river. We had run into a net stretched across the river.

    We spent an hour and a half waking up the floating neighbourhood (when we were trying to be discreet), disentangling boat from net (an impressive operation), negotiating payment... Morning wasn't far away and we were still not near Mopti. It felt. We slept again.

    We finally reached Mopti just after sunrise, precisely 24 hours late as it happens if going by the 24 hour clock.that says a day is 24 hours.

    A car met us and we hit the road to Bamako, first stop the one highlight on their way back was Djenne, the island city built in mud, with The Great Mosque, the largest mud structure in the world. We rushed forwards, managing a wash in a hotel with no other clients but skipping breakfast, preferring to head on the 2 hours car journey to Djenne.

    We got to Djenne on time! We came to a military road block before the bridge across the river to the city. After ten minutes our guide debating we were sent on to the next level, the road block ahead.

    We were told no tourists were allowed into Djenne, it's a new order. They turned back eight cars yesterday. Something was clearly happening to the north of Djenne and the military were taking no risks. Most likely the risk of us was not so much our security, but Malian military security - we could be spies or mercenaries, though we certainly didn't look like we could be.

    Usually there is a way around these things., our guide was from Djenne, but nothing was going down. I don't think I've ever not made it forwards because authorities wont let me on.

    There was my answer to the discussion of the day. The African time gods had twice had their say in a day in the form of a fishing net and a military order!

    Enjoy the moment for what it is. Worrying wont change the fact that you are on a boat on a river at the mercy of the elements. You might find yourself floating through one of the great natural wonders of the world again. It could be worse!
  • Guy Lankester
    May 4, 2022
    Campfire is From Here 2 Timbuktu's membership forum, our community of travellers, guides, camps and projects. Campfire's purpose is to kick start off the beaten track African travel after a decade in which geo-politics and then the pandemic has decimated large areas of Africa's travel industry.
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  • Guy Lankester
    February 9, 2021
    I have long believed the traveller to be humanity's ambassador and mirror to itself, connecting and reflecting different world perspectives and showing we are all the same nomads travelling in search of our lives' and purposes.

    Since its inception in my mind in a refugee camp in Burkina Faso in 2013, when I witnessed what happens when cultures lose the witness to their lives of travellers, Campfire's mission has been to empower the traveller to take up their role as humanity's ambassador without fear.

    On considering this recently I wondered who the patron saint of travellers might be. It turns out to be St Christopher..

    "Saint Christopher is the patron saint of travellers, including motorists, who sometimes hang a small image of him in their vehicle for luck. According to legend, he was crossing a river when a child asked to be carried across. He lifted the child on to his back and crossed the river although the child was extremely heavy. Unknown to Saint Christopher the child was really Christ carrying the weight of the whole world."

    Wow! What an image! The traveller is crossing a river with the burden of Christ on their shoulders.

    Travellers are witnesses, strangers, guests, messengers bringing and reflecting news, word and light from other worlds. Travellers remind humanity that we are all the same nomads, with the same needs, desires and wishes.

    When travellers are absent the world turns in on itself and shuts down. I saw this in Mali and West Africa in the early part of this last decade, and we are seeing the same now happening in Europe and the West. And it's for the same reason: fear of the other.

    This century has been defined by restricting the travellers' sense of security to travel freely. Since 9/11 the war on terror played out in Europe and the US but tourists stayed away from the Middle East and Africa and war went there. When travellers are restricted, cultures do not witness each other. As Manny Ansar, the Director of The Festival In The Desert once said to me "when there are no travellers it is like being blind, you don't get an image back of yourself."

    This year, as the world emerges out of Covid19 with rules, quarantines, tests, variants and vaccinations, travel as we knew it has changed. It's going to be more expensive, complicated and bureaucratic. But it is the same world. Your risk is still more likely the road or the car in front, where ever you are in the world. In Africa you'll worry more about Malaria than Covid. In reality our world is safer than ever to travel, so for Christ's sake, we need to resist, we have humanity on our shoulders, our destiny is to cross rivers!

    Campfire: a Local Network of Saints Carrying Baby Christs across rivers!
  • Guy Lankester
    January 17, 2021
    It was a beautiful sunny day in London, 2018, the hottest of summers. I was sitting in the park having a picnic with friends. The park was heaving with families walking, barbecuing, playing, snoozing. My mind flashed back to the desert, making tea on a fire in the middle of nowhere. Then it flashed to a refugee camp I spent time in in 2013, doing the same thing.


    I wondered how much all these people in the London park were worth. How much value was in their property, their jobs, their pensions compared to those nomads and refugees? I was surrounded by billions of pounds worth of people with access to all the pleasures money can buy, and yet all they wanted to do, when the weather permitted, was what nomads and refugees want to do: sit out at a random spot in an open space with their families and friends having a picnic.

    Wherever we are, whatever the standard or development of our life, we are nomads, sitting around campfires telling stories of yesterday and planning dreams and adventures tomorrow. And thus we colonised the planet!

    How did we create ourselves into an organism that could walk from the forest of the Congo Basin in Africa to the north and south poles? And why did we bother? Weren't we happy and fulfilled hunting, gathering and eating around the campfire on the edge of the forest and the plains? Were we under so much pressure that we had to explore out to the Arctic, where we did the same as we were doing in the forest but instead of building our homes in leaves we built them in snow?

    The answer is simple. We wanted to see for ourselves. What was out there across the plains? Eve encouraged Adam to bite into the apple, he followed, the rest is herhistory!

    One skill fuelled our conquest of the planet from the forest to the plains, across the desert, the mountains and the sea to the ice of the Arctic: knowing how to light a fire. That knowledge gave us warmth, security, cooked us meat for strength to go further and gave us flames in which we wrote our dreams.

    Jump forwards a few hundred thousand millennia to 2021 and nothing has really changed. From the day we are born to the day we die we are travelling through, resting in campfires and telling our stories. Whether we are settled or nomadic, going to work or down to the shop, on a plane to the other side of the world or walking our local hills, the human being moves daily to the beat of its heart using the skills our ancestors developed back in Africa.

    Humanity has just had perhaps its worst ever year for humans' ability to travel locally across the plains. We are locked down back where we started, a great ape in the trees. Look how desperate we are to meet up for picnics around campfires in the bush!

    As was pondering this question I came across the following:

    "Self-actualisation of dreams is the highest point you can go in life. While actualising your dreams is good for your existence, the best celebration comes after helping others realise theirs, for then you never live in isolation. Humanity is interdependent in every aspect. Thus you are as rich, safe and prosperous as your local community."

    Is this not in a nutshell why we travel? To actualise our dreams. What are we doing when we actualise our dreams? We are taking off to a foreign land on a journey, putting our faith and trust in the communities we come across and because we are out of our comfort zone we are learning new ways a, negotiating in other languages, working out different customs and when we get to our only real destination - back home we have changed, we know something and we have proved ourselves and discover we are good at this life thing. Indeed it is only out there on the road that we discover who we are. And this is why the world is suffering today - we have been forced back into our bubbles. We connect online but it is not the same as connecting in reality. Is not the need for the freedom to travel the lesson of the pandemic?

    I have realised many dreams across Africa. Nomading the Sahara, backpacking southern Africa, living in mountain kingdoms, chilling with gorilla, walking the Serengeti with Masai. Whist actualising my own dreams independently was fulfilling, guiding others to actualise their dreams with From here 2 Timbuktu gave greater pleasure, watching lives change positively, both locally and for travellers. Campfire aims to take that pleasure further and To help you actualise your dreams is "why Campfire?". Fifteen years of travelling professionally has taught me one Travel is a necessary endeavour because it connects the world, and the best, safest and richest way to travel is with the local perspective.

    I had always dreamt of travelling to Timbuktu. When I decided to go, I found a guide and realised my dream. I then created a business to help others realise theirs' by joining me on trips to Timbuktu. Now Campfire helps you realise your dreams yourself.

    So please join Campfire today and help us connect up networks of travellers, guides, and camps across deserts and along roads less travelled so we can all safely and prosperously actualise our travel dreams and re-connect the world's bubbles.
  • Guy Lankester
    July 11, 2017
    From Here 2 Timbuktu's life on the road began in the summer of 2004 when life in England took an unexpected turn in the road.

    Since then I have travelled 100,000’s of African miles, on my own and with groups, with family and friends, tourists and expeditions, journalists and refugees, back to Timbuktu. Whether we were friends, family, travellers, nomads or refugees, crossing the desert "we" have all always been the same thing. Whether we were travelling through good times or bad, whether the road was rough or smooth, whether we were staying in city or country or refugee camp, the community we have been passing through has always been a welcoming guide and host.

    Trust in the local community, let instinct be your guide and you can realise dreams.

    Trust Locally Travel Safely.


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