For thousands of years, camels were the “vehicle” of choice for merchant traders traveling through northern Africa. Camels can handle the weather better than most of today’s cars and trucks. Traders would travel with caravans of more than 10,000 camels loaded with precious goods, like gold and ivory, and everyday products, like salt.
Two ancient salt caravan routes are still in use today. The Azalai route goes between Timbuktu to Taoudenni in Mali, Africa. It’s used by the Tuareg, an African people group. Second is the Taghlamt caravan. It goes between Agadez and Bilma in Niger, Africa. However, these caravans have largely been replaced by unpaved truck routes.
• Both places are in the country of Mali. They are roughly 664 kilometers apart.
• Taoudenni is a remote salt mining center in northern Mali.
• Timbuktu is a cultural center that dates back to the 11th century.
• Timbuktu is surrounded by sand dunes and its streets are covered in sand.
• Long ago, Timbuktu attracted both Africans and Arabs who were scholars and merchants. Schooling and business made Timbuktu an important city for centuries.
Taghlamt Route: Agadez to Bilma
• Both Agadez and Bilma are in the country of Niger, Africa.
• Agadez is the largest city in the country of Niger.
• Agadez is a market town and is a center for the transportation of the uranium mined in the surrounding area.
• Bilma is an oasis in the dry lands of northern Africa. The Kaouar Cliffs protect Bilma from the desert dunes. It’s known for its gardens, salt production through evaporation ponds, and a sweet fruit grown there called dates.
• Bilma gets less than an inch of precipitation per year. It has extremely hot temperatures. In May, the average high temperature is 111 degrees F.
• Camels’ humps consist of stored fat, which they can change into food and water when those resources are scarce.
• Camels have a third, clear eyelid that protects their eyes from blowing sand.
• They have two rows of long lashes to protect their eyes.
• They can shut their nostrils during sand storms so the particles won’t go up their noses.
Matt Barnes took the small cup of steaming tea from the dark-skinned man’s crusty hands and nodded as a silent thank-you. In an hour or two the man who led this caravan through the Sahara Desert would not be so thoughtful.