I hate being the bearer of bad news, but I hate liars even more. So, I'll just come out and say it: there's not a single street in all of Timbuktu that is paved in gold. It's true. I searched. Instead there are streets made of limestone, dirt, sand (my favorite) and then, at times, trash.
But really, who needs gold paved roads when you'd probably be imprisoned for trying to steal pieces of it anyway?
Bremen and I arrived with a haze of euphoria, incredulous that we were actually in a legendary place.
Being the only two who were not a part of the German's elite group, we appeared oddly out of place once we exited the plane. We may have stood out due to the backpacks we wore... otherwise it was our wide eyes and giddy expressions. But it took less than a second for Chicago, a guide who adopted that name since his is too hard for tourists to pronounce, to spot us. He won us over and whisked us into a taxi, depositing us in front of the nicest hotel in all the land.
Once we were done gawking at the beauty of the hotel, having already left our things in our room, we set off to explore the city. We hadn't been out more than five minutes when we were accompanied by a local French speaking boy who started explaining the history of the library we were in front of.
Unbeknown to Bremen and I, they all decided to be our guides. Besides, they informed us, since it was Muhammad's birthday and there was no school, they had nothing better to do and found no greater enjoyment than show two strangers their hometown (along with practicing their English). We both thought we saw dollar signs in their eyes, but they held true to their words.
Initially I was a bit wary of their enthusiasm, and wondered if the winding streets they were guiding us through would actually take us to the destination they said it would. But after a few minutes it came clear that they were the best companions we could have ever asked to tag along uninvited.
French speaking Mohamed, English speaking Mohamed, and little brother Mohamed