Howdy all. I wanted to pull it back a notch after flooding your Thursdays with country over views and try and get back to individual places for a while. I had planned a couple of weeks back now to cover the Saharan country of Niger in my ‘I went to…. So you don’t have to’ series but was unhappy with what I wrote and so I sidelined that. I didn’t finish it either or come close. I continuously looped back to talking about poverty, which in the end I didn’t feel does justice to any country.
So instead today I want to write a bit about a town in the middle of the desert, Niger’s fifth biggest ‘city’ with a population of over 110,000. Niger is not on a lot of people’s lists of places to go, and represents certain challenges for the traveller I guess but at the same time, I have never been to a place where I didn’t find something interesting, and likewise I haven’t been to a place where I couldn’t find something beautiful.
And if there’s one place for the traveller to go in Niger it’s probably going to be the town of Agadez. To call it a ‘city’ doesn’t seem quite accurate, you won’t find high rise buildings and the like there, but nor would you expect to. What you do find is a town at the crossroads, a place nomads and camel sellers pass through, a town almost completely constructed out of mudbrick. There is something mythical about the place, or so it feels not only when you are there, but when you are on your way to Agadez.
Perhaps the town it most resembles is Timbuktu. It’s not really a comparison I can make with any authority as I have never made it to Timbuktu, but this is a town with a mythos about it, and it is also another desert town.
For me, my journey to Agadez started in the Niger capital, Niamey. Niamey is a whole different kettle of fish, a confronting place in many respects but also a place where I made a good friend. Agadez is a long journey from the capital. By road it is, according to good ol’ Google Maps, 951 kilometres from one to the other. It gives an estimated travel time by road of 15 hours 23 minutes.
I certainly remember it being a long journey by bus, and I remember we left at around 4am in the morning. I also remember sleeping at the bus station as organising transport at that time of the morning seemed nigh on impossible. Do I remember it being 16 hours? Well I had in my head it was 11 or 12 hours. But by the time you’ve spent 10 hours in a bus it’s all the same really. The vegetation outside the bus starts off quite sparse and just gets more sparse the further out you get. Niger is not a country of green forests and babbling brooks.
I do remember arriving in daylight though. I’m not sure where I stayed, but I met a French lady on the bus so I suspect we ended up at the same place. I was travelling with the ‘Rough Guide’ to West Africa at the time and probably plucked it from there. It was, like much of the town, a mudbrick place and we had little huts. Lighting inside was poor, the shower was cold, but with daily temperatures in the high 30s to low 40s that is actually a good thing I would say. I was comfy enough and it wasn’t more that $20 – $25AUD.
The camel market wasn’t at its busiest when I was there. There were a few camels and a few transactions taking place, but at its height the place apparently is extremely busy indeed. Wandering the streets of Agadez in itself was special. Just to take in where abouts you are in the world, so far from anything really. Niger is quite a big, landlocked country in the middle of the top-half of Africa. And Agadez is somewhat in the middle of Niger.
Agadez has history back to the 14th century, and has been considered a major city for trade on the tran-Saharan route, and the main town for the Tuareg people. It was even part of the Ottoman Empire at one point. At its height caravans came through Agadez going from north and east Africa westwards, and the other way too. Today, along with the camel trade, the town is a centre of transportation for the mining of uranium, one of Niger’s main exports.
The most iconic image from/in Agadez is the Grand Mosque with its minaret that can be seen from quite far away. It is apparently the tallest clay/mudbrick structure in the world. When I visited – I didn’t get to go inside and I don’t think tourists are allowed to – there was some sort of festival going on as people moved through the streets as one with music. It’s an enduring memory of my visit there.
Agadez is one of those places I sometimes recall and pinch myself that I was actually there. I still to this day do not know how I got to such a place, so far from everything! But I am certainly glad that I did manage to get there, and in some ways consider it quite an achievement. I may never get the chance to return, but it was special in a number of ways. Thanks for joining me today – and May the Journey Never End!