In the second and final episode of this Arabian adventure, explorer Alice Morrison is in the vast Sahara, three and a half million square miles of desert, on an epic camel trek over the dunes on her journey to Timbuktu.
Alice heads West to the desert towns Tamegroute and Guelmim. Guelmim was home to Africa’s largest camel market centuries ago, supplying the merchants for their caravans across the desert. There’s still a bustling livestock market, but Alice finds only a small posse of camels. The salesmen tell her now they’re mainly sold for food. The days of majestic camel caravans are over.
Border controls mean Alice must fly the last leg into Timbuktu itself on a UN flight. This ancient city was turned into one of the most dangerous places in the world after an incursion by Islamic extremists in 2012. It lasted a year, and now UN soldiers keep a fragile peace in the city, having pushed the insurgents just a few miles back into the desert.
When Alice finally reaches the City of Gold, Alice relives its glorious past with a visit to its world famous mosques, the last surviving treasures of a bygone era. In the oldest of them, the Djinguereber mosque, she hears the tale of Mansa Musa, Mali’s greatest king and the richest man in history. As the legend goes, he passed through Timbuktu on a pilgrimage to Mecca with a caravan of thousands of camels, all laden with gold.
The legendary gold is now long gone. War and the passing of time have sapped Timbuktu’s wealth. Tuaregs frequent the city; they were the nomads of the Sahara but the desert has become too dangerous for them.
Although Timbuktu is no longer what it once was, Alice celebrates the legend of this city at a party with her newfound Tuareg friends. When the city was occupied, all music was forbidden; now the irrepressible spirit of the desert people is free to express itself again.
Morocco to Timbuktu: An Arabian Adventure Episode 2 (of 2) airs on Thursday 18 May 2017 from 9.00pm-10.00pm on BBC Two.