Perched on the edge of the great Sahara, the ancient city of Timbuktu stood at the trading crossroads between Europe and the Middle East during centuries past. For hundreds of years, Europeans considered the city the last known outpost before the great unexplored African interior. Over time, the phrase “from here to Timbuktu” came to represent the edge of the world, an almost mythical place.
For those living in the dry lands near the city, Timbuktu is something akin to the center of the universe. The semi-nomadic people dwelling in the deserts surrounding Timbuktu claim that during times of low visibility (such as when encountering sandstorms or when clouds obscure the guiding stars) they can determine where they are in the desert, and their distance from Timbuktu, by tasting the sand at their feet.