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Timbuctoo, although without undying legends, age-old tombs or once-beautiful marble monuments, possesses other charms which I shall attempt to describe. My first impression ?
Storks! Storks in countless numbers, wheeling and flapping in pairs over the housetops of this desert city. Our expressed amazement at this phenomenon, provokes much mirth among the locals who have come to greet us. "Storks? They are nothing, wait till night!"
There are reputedly one hundred bats to every stork in Timbuctoo" they say. It is explained to us that they live in vast colonies in the mat ceilings of almost every house in town, squeaking and squirming all day, flying in and out of the windows at night. They are a pest, a plague, a curse, but nobody ever does anything about it. Bats inside and storks outside......an unchanging law of Nature to the inhabitants of Timbuctoo.
In the rest house, generously provided for our comfort, the entire roof is covered with stork's nests and our bedrooms seem to be the meeting place of every bat in Africa.
The very first day, about sunset, this army of evil-smelling little beasts swarm down upon us. We are suffocated with bats. They get into our beds, our hair, our soup, as they swirl around the rooms and out the open windows (See my previous E-Mail about BATS in PNASI Newsletter # 4).
We go to the roof to escape, only to find the storks, clapping their beaks, threatening us if we dare set foot upon their territory. As we ask ourselves "Why so many STORKS ?", it finally comes to mind that their proliferation is in some way tied to the fact that their flesh, being rank, is not fit for human consumption.
The Stork is allied to the herons and ibises. They are large birds, with long legs, half-webbed toes; the bill longer than the head, straight, strong, pointed, and without any groove; the nostrils pierced longitudinally in the horny substance; the eyes surrounded by naked skin.
The species are about twenty-five in number and are of very wide geographic distribution. The common white Stork, a migratory native of the Old World, is about three and a half feet in length. The head, neck, and whole body are pure white; the wings partly black; the bill and legs red.The neck is long, and generally carried in an arch form; the feathers of the breast are long and pendulous, and the bird often has its bill half hidden among them.
The Stork frequents marshy places, feeding on eels and other fishes, batrachians, reptiles, young birds, and small mammals.It makes a rude nest of sticks, reeds, etc., on the tops of tall trees, or of ruins, spires or disused chimneys.
The Stork has no voice. Its flight is powerful and very high in the air.Another species, the Black Stork, rather smaller, the plumage of the upper parts glossy black, the under parts white, is also common in many parts of Europe, Asia and Africa.
However interesting these winged creatures, we must return to our narrative. Not wishing to insult our gracious hosts by pitching tents, we decide to move on.....but before going, let me share with you a few facts concerning this famous town.
Timbuctoo stands on a trade route between the interior and the west and south, and its importance has increased through the years. Notable for its commerce, Timbuctoo is the focus of the caravan trade in west-central Africa. Gums and rubber are the leading articles. Gold, wax, salt, hardware, beads, and cloth are also prominent items. The trade is chiefly by barter.
The few local manufacturers include cottons, leather articles, and pottery. Timbuctoo is a center of Mohammedan learning and has a large Moslem library. It was apparently founded in the eleventh century, and first became known to Europeans in the fourteenth century.
Our next destination is 800 miles southeast to the Nigerian port city of Lagos, and we plan to travel most of the way on the great river of West Africa, the NIGER, inferior only to the Congo and the Nile among rivers of the continent, but that story is for another day."
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NEXT von Borgengruft Adventure - "Crocodile From a Bad Dream"