In bygone days, before maritime navigation replaced trans-Saharan caravan routes, international trade was carried out overland. It was the time of the "Silk Road" and of its twin sister, the "Salt and Gold Road" which connected West Africa to the Mediterranean Sea. Timbuktu was the main inter-port, the last stop from which fabulous caravans led by mysterious Tuaregs left.
Nowadays, of these legendary routes only memory remains. However, the need for salt in West African countries has kept one of these caravans alive, precisely the Azalai.
In the heart of Sahara, 800 km north of Tombouctou, a former lake dried up millions of years ago leaving behind an enormous rock salt seam. Once extracted, the precious "white gold" is taken to the Niger to be later distributed throughout the Sahel. This hard job is carried out by the Tuareg who, from October to March, organize camel caravans of 30 to 40 camels from Tombouctou to the Taoudenni salt mines. The journey lasts 20 days each way and each camel carries 4 to 6 salt bars of 30 kg.
The Azalai, which in Tamachek means "nostalgia for the return", is the last great most spectacular caravan of our epoch.
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