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Photo Gallery
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On the River to Timbuktu
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Photographer Rémi Bénali

Racing down Africa's surly Niger River, photographer Rémi Bénali captures timeless visions from an epic kayak expedition.

"I always try to find remnants of the past," says French photographer Rémi Bénali, whose monthlong assignment for "Mungo Made Me Do It" (read excerpt) brought him to one of the most timeless regions on Earth—West Africa's Niger River route to the fabled city of Timbuktu.

Bénali went to Mali to photograph writer Kira Salak's 600-mile [966-kilometer] paddle down the Niger as she retraced the route of 18th-century Scotsman Mungo Park, the Niger's original white explorer.

For his part, Bénali was paying homage to 19th-century French explorer René Callié, the first European to visit Timbuktu and return home alive.

"Adventurers like Callié were risking their lives. For us, it's not so difficult," says Bénali, with a tinge of regret. "I always feel as though I was born too late—that's why I try in my work to find remnants of the past, the kind of pictures you could have shot a hundred years ago."

In fact, as these online-only shots from Bénali's assignment show, the sight of Salak paddling her kayak in modern-day Mali probably sparked the same surprise—and suspicion—as the first Westerners did in Africa, two centuries ago.

—Nicole Davis

Portrait by Sabine Meyer

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Map by computer terrain mapping

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