In 1994 John travelled to West Africa to explore the upper Niger river in Guinea and Mali.  After trekking to the source in the Futa Djalon Highlands, he bought a local dugout canoe and paddled a 300 mile section of the river in temperatures of 48 degrees and frequent dust storms. He travelled alone, sometimes staying with communities of Bozo fishermen who live in temporary settlements on the sandbanks at low water.

He ended his four month trip in Timbuctu, disregarding advice from the authorities about travelling through an area where the Tuareg nomads were in conflict with the Malian government.

The lecture also tells the little-known story of three explorers – Mungo Park, Gordon Laing and Rene Caillie – who helped discover the course of this mysterious river and were the first Europeans to visit the city of Timbuctu. Their suffering from malaria, scurvy, imprisonment and attack from the locals, make the hardships of modern travellers seem rather trivial.

The myth of Timbuctu – a sort of desert El Dorado of fabulous wealth – was dispelled by Rene Caillie when he returned to Europe with the first description of the town. John tells the story of how the myth was born.

While in Timbuctu he was also shown handwritten pages that appeared to come from an old diary. A comparison of the script with records kept in London, showed them to be part of the journal of Gordon Laing, that had gone missing after his murder in 1826.

Illustrated by high-quality slides.