Looking back – those who helped make the River Gambia Expedition possible. Today, our thanks goes to Concern Universal

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Image © Jason Florio for Concern Universal – WASDA Garden, Basse, The Gambia

As we continue to trawl through 1000′s of images and multiple journal entries, for our forthcoming book about the River Gambia Expedition, we’re reminding ourselves of those who helped make our journey possible and, in the case of Concern Universal, adding the comfort and ease of passage factor to the first leg of our road trip down towards the Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea – where we would pay homage to the source of the mighty River Gambia and the true beginning of our West African odyssey. For this, in the age old West African tradition, we bartered.

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Image © Jason Florio for Concern Universal

Before we left The Gambia, for the source, we visited a number of community-based gardens where Florio took photographs for CU – for their ‘Gambia is Good‘ (G.I.G) initiative. In exchange, they supplied us with a vehicle and a driver – Nicolas – to take us over the border into Senegal, with our two canoes, all our gear and our two Gambian team mates, Abdou and Ebou. What could have been a lengthy and expensive nightmare – getting through customs – was made seamless, partly due to being driven in a shiny 4×4, with NGO number plates, and having a huge seriously-important-looking radio antennae sticking out of the hood of the vehicle! We even managed to get the BBC World Service on the way!

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G.I.G van – CU Head Office, Fajara, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio

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Jason Florio – shooting for Concern Universal, The Gambia, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

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Jason Florio - shooting for Concern Universal, The Gambia, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

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Our next stop: GADOH – Gambia Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing © Helen Jones-Florio

In our quest to document the lives of the people and communities whose lives depend on the River Gambia, we had phenomenal support from many, many people and companies. And, we are sure to be coming across more images from everyone who got involved – which we will post as and when.

Please stay tuned for further updates – especially about our River Gambia book!

The Florios (H & Flo)

P.S. If you are in Brooklyn, New York, between 19-29 Sept, come by and say ‘hello’ to us at Photoville

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Food, glorious food! Grazing through West Africa – a snap shot


Fresh! © Jason Florio – Labé, Fouta Djallon Higlands, Guinea-Conakry


Ground casava leaves © Jason Florio – Labé market, Fouta Djallon Higlands, Guinea-Conakry


I think we’ll pass on this particular delicacy © Jason Florio – Labé, Fouta Djallon Higlands, Guinea-Conakry


Fou fou and domada (peanut based stew) © Jason Florio – Fouta Djallon Higlands, Guinea-Conakry


Tuck in! © Jason Florio - Fouta Djallon Higlands, Guinea-Conakry

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Florio, Ebou and Abdou enjoy a ‘mystery meat’ sandwich © Helen Jones-Florio – Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea-Conakry


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We ate A LOT of fresh groundnuts! © Jason Florio - River Gambia, Senegal, West Africa

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The team chow down – sardines, onions, chili and potatoes and freshly baked bread. Delicious! © Jason Florio – Fouta Djallon Higlands, Guinea-Conakry

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Pit stop – Senegalese-style coffee and nyeh bay (beans, onions and spices) in fresh mburro – on route to Tamabacunda, Senegal © Helen Jones-Florio

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Cooking domada for dinner © Helen Jones-Florio – Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea-Conakry

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A day was not complete without out tea-breaks – thanks to Kelly Kettle! © Jason Florio - Djini, Senegal, West Africa

Just a taster – pun intended – of the kind of cuisine we feasted on, whilst on the ‘River Gambia Expedition – 1000km source-sea Africa odyssey

For an update about our River Gambia journey (as of today-6/17/2013) please check out our recent blog post here

Happy ‘River Gambia Expedition’ sponsors – Kelly Kettle™

Blog post – Feb 2013 – River Gambia Expedition: ‘Today’s shout out goes to Kelly Kettle – this little beauty ‘Base Camp’ was a life saver…we Brits love our tea! Also, because you can burn any old bits of dry twigs and grass to boil the water it meant that this time, we didn’t have to use kembo (charcoal – from trees, which are all too often purposely chopped down for burning) – used all the time in West Africa to make fires

Tales from the River Gambia – reflecting on what’s gone by and what is to come…

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The River Gambia Expedition Route Map: 1044km (649 miles) from source to sea – 23rd November, 2012-21st January 2013. Three West African countries. One river.

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On the way to a BIG adventure – The Florios, Gatwick Airport, London-Banjul, The Gambia – Oct 2012

We actually began our journey when we arrived in The Gambia, West Africa, on a hot, sticky mid-October day, 2012, in anticipation of shortly afterwards receiving our container of gear – including a emergency stockpile of packet noodles and CLIF bars!) – which was being shipped down the Atlantic Ocean. We’ll be on the road, we thought, heading towards the Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea-Conakry, by 21st-22nd October, at the latest, to find the source of the River Gambia. Or at least, that was the plan. One thing we should have learned by now, from past expedition experience (‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush-930km African odyssey‘, 2009), is that plans will always – always – change.

It wouldn’t be until nearly five weeks later that we would eventually give up on ever seeing our container again – after the shipping company finally admitted that they had no clue where it was and/or when it would turn up at the docks in Banjul, the capital of The Gambia! We had to make do with what we could scavenge together and get on our way.  Each week we were delayed could be problematic once we got into the River Gambia – as the river levels can fall very dramatically in places, resuting in us having to portage the canoes and our gear – more often than we would be paddling.

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Youtube: update from the Florios, Kartong, The Gambia, West Africa

We headed out, from The Gambia, on November 23rd, towards the Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea – stopping in Kedougou, Senegal, on route, to drop off our canoes at a friends place. Thanks to Concern Universal for the lift across the border! From there, we took various modes of transport – a spine-juddering 24 hour drive, in an over-crammed (suspension-free – or so it felt!) Land Cruiser, up into the Highlands – to find the source of the River Gambia – on some of the worst ‘roads‘ in Africa. Calling them roads is actually a grand overstatement  – it’s more akin to rattling over the rockiest of river beds! However, in comparison to what we came back down the mountains on – on the back of moto-taxis – the ride in Land Cruiser was like cruising in a Rolls Royce Ghost!

We’ve covered a lot of ground, and river, since then and now we are back in our ‘other reality‘ of New York City, and the contrast couldn’t be more extreme. We’ve been working hard since our return, to get our story out there. Part of that work is to make the book. So…we need to fast forward a little, from our last blog post to the end of the journey, because there just aren’t enough hours in the day, days in the week, weeks in the month, to dedicate to both the blog and the book. Everything and more will be in the book anyway. We’ll be keeping you updated on here as to when we are ready to publish.

In the meantime, we hope that you have enjoyed – and continue to do so – the journey. Following is a snap-shot, if you will, of our travels on the River Gambia Expedition – please click on any of the hot-links, which will take you to the relevant posts, for more stories and images.

Traders. downtown Labe market, Guinea © Jason Florio

Traders. downtown Labé market, Guinea © Jason Florio

'Moto' boys - Labe, Guinea © Jason Florio

‘Moto’ boys – Labé, Guinea © Jason Florio

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Youtube: The Florios – update from the Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea-Conakry © Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio. Blog entry


The source of the River Gambia, Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea © Jason Florio


The River Gambia Expedition team-Fouta Djallon Highlands

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On top of the world, ‘Dame de Mali, Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon Highlands © Jason Florio

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‘Ebu’ – Moto taxis, Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon © Jason Florio

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The expedition team’s transport down the mountain – Moto taxis – Fouta Djallon © Jason Florio

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One of the villages that will be displaced if the proposed dam is built on the River Gambia – Runda Barra, Senegal/Guinea border © Jason Florio


The site of the proposed dam on the River Gambia at Runda Barra, Senegal/Guinea border © Jason Florio

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Team mate, Abdou, at the stern – early morning on River Gambia, Senegal © Jason Florio

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Youtube: Too close encounter with a hippo © Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio – Blog post

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Vignette: life on the River Gambia Expedition

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Dead monkeys and Christmas night sleeping on a rock – River Gambia, Senegal © Jason Florio

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‘The Twins’ become ‘The Ally Cat’ - Gouloumbou, Senegal © Jason Florio

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People we met along the way: The boy in the ‘fur coat’ © Jason Florio

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Time for a swim – Helen hangs out with the kids of Karantaba, River Gambia © Jason Florio

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People we met along the way: Malian fisher woman, River Gambia © Jason Florio

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Bonto, River Gambia, The Gambia © Jason Florio

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People we met along the way: the photographer and the journalist, Bansang, The Gambia © Jason Florio

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Night hawkers, Gouloumbou, Senegal © Jason Florio


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People we met along the way: The boy with his pet monkey, River Gambia © Jason Florio

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People we met along the way: ‘Hawa’ rice field worker © Jason Florio

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People we met along the way: ‘Oyster collectors, The Gambia © Jason Florio

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Horses swimming across the River Gambia, Karantaba, The Gambia © Jason Florio


People we met along the way: “The man on the pier’ at Bonto, River Gambia’ © Jason Florio

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The day before last – Helen, Ebou and Abdou, Bonto, The Gambia © Jason Florio

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The day before last – Jason Florio, Bonto, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio


The last image of the River Gambia Expedition: ‘The boy in the mask’ Mandinari, The Gambia © Jason Florio

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Mission Accomplished! Denton Bridge, at the Atlantic Ocean, The Gambia, West Africa

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JFK via London Gatwick – The Florios, post River Gambia Expedition – don’t we look happy to be back?! And we have our Peli UK case!

Thank you for coming on the ‘River Gambia Expedition – 1000km source-sea African odyssey‘. Its been quite a journey and we have more to come…please stay with us and we’ll keep you updated on the ‘River Gambia’ book – which will fill in all the blanks.

The Florios (Helen & Flo)

Jason Florio – ‘River Gambia’ – new series of images

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© Jason Florio

© Jason Florio

© Jason Florio

© Jason Florio

To view more of Jason Florio’s new series of images – ‘River Gambia’ – taken whilst on the ‘River Gambia Expedition-1000km source-sea African odyssey‘ please visit the website: florio photo.com

Foto Care, NYC – a successful night! ‘River Gambia’ slideshow and discussion with Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio


Migrant rice field workers, The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio

We presented a slideshow of images, and discussion, from the River Gambia Expedition last night at Foto Care, in New York, to a packed house – ‘standing room only’ as Foto Care wrote on twitter last night. It was a little daunting to have so many well-respected peers present but we did have the rather wonderful Stella Kramer as moderator. She really kept things moving along. Huge thanks to her for keeping us from rambling on…and on!

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‘The Flos in full flow’ – Helen Jones-Florio & Jason Florio – Foto Care, NYC. Thanks to Julie Grahame / aCurator for the image!

To see more of the images from Jason Florio’s ‘River Gambia’ series, please visit the website floriophoto.com

More updates on the journey to come very soon

The Florios (H & Flo)

PRESS: ‘Guinea to Gambia the Hard Way’ – the War Diaries

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Thanks to an old friend (and skater dude) of Florio’s, Derek Henry Flood, for featuring our River Gambia Expedition on his ‘The War Diaries’ blog. Check it out here


‘Hawa’ rice field worker – Kaur, The Gambia © Jason Florio

PRESS: VQR – ‘Life on the River Gambia’ new series of images by Jason Florio from a journey through West Africa

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VQR – ‘Life on the River Gambia’. Images © Jason Florio – the Source of the River Gambia, Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea-Conkry, West Africa

We’re very honored to have Florio’s ‘River Gambia’ latest series of images featured in the new edition of the award-winning 88-year-old national journal of literature and discussion, the Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring, 2013 – all fourteen pages of them!

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Female migrants from Guinea Bissau work along the shores of a tributary of River Gambia, in The Gambia, collecting oysters that hang from the mangroves © Jason Florio

Seeing the images in print makes our River Gambia Expedition really come alive – along with reminding us of what we’ve achieved…’did we really go there? Did we really do that?!

‘Found under a rock in the highlands of Guinea, the Gambia emerges as one of the last untamed great rivers of Africa, winding through three countries on it’s way to the sea’ VQR

VQR letter_0503 copyThe images look beautiful – thanks to Jon Parrish Peede, Paul Reyes and all at VQR for the feature.

The Florios (H & Flo)

Memoirs of 1950′s River Gambia – and thanks for the Florio print!


The Pier at Bonton – River Gambia, West Africa © Jason Flori

‘My print choice is the photo of the rusting hulk. After much consideration, I have realized that it is the photo that most speaks to me, despite the distant and rear view of the figure of a man. Perhaps the reflective nature of the photo echoes my childhood memories of the River Gambia’ Michael Mallinson, Toronto, Canada.

During raising funds for our River Gambia Expedition – donations in exchange for one of Jason Florio’s fine art photography prints, from a series he created whilst on our journey in West Africa – we received donations from friends, family, and surprisingly, to us, from complete strangers. Michael was one of the latter – he had ‘liked’ our FB page and then went on to kindly donate to our campaign. The reason our expedition peaked his interest was because he had spent the first 18 years of his life growing up in The Gambia. Michael then proceeded to share with us some wonderfully evocative memories of his childhood, growing up in a small West Africa country back in the 1950′s and ’60′s – in a country both Florio and I know so well. His description of The Gambia resonated, on a very deep level. He even shared old photograph’s with us, of life on the River Gambia – which, at that point, we had yet to begin our paddle down down one of Africa’s last remaining major, free-flowing, rivers.

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Cutter on the River Gambia, Bintang Creek, The Gambia – image used courtesy of Michael Mallinson



Hi Helen and Jason, I received my photo today, thank you very much. The story with it (*about the drugs) is amusing. In more innocent times, the odd package of illicit diamonds would be found under trees at Yundum Airport (as Banjul International Airport used to be known). I don’t know what the situation is today, but in the old days the most valuable economic activity in Gambia was cross-border smuggling with Senegal.

For some reason, I am reminded of when Gambia purchased its first fisheries patrol vessel. The wealth of the fisheries had long been recognized and Gambia was worried about their depletion because of huge and modern trawlers. So, it ordered a fisheries patrol vessel from the U.K. and when the boat was ready a crew went to the U.K. for training and to sail it back to Gambia. On its voyage back, just inside the claimed Gambian territorial waters the new patrol boat came across a large Russian trawler, which was promptly boarded and seized. For it to be released a fine was imposed – in the exact amount of the cost of the fisheries patrol boat!

The name Yundum always gave me trouble as a child. I do not have a musical ear and am terrible at languages. When I would ask someone where someone else was, the inevitable reply was a point of the chin and the words “He gone yonder”, which I always heard as ‘Yundum’. Consequently, I couldn’t understand why everyone was always going to Yundum when there really wasn’t anything there!
One of the most noticeable things about my return to Gambia in 2010 was how a language had died and disappeared. Everyone spoke pretty good English and the old pidgin English had disappeared. I asked about this and was told that it was still used by old men too lazy to learn English properly. It was a very simple and descriptive language, for example, ‘He no agree for go” meaning ‘it doesn’t work’ and “Are you coming to go?” meaning “Are you about to start?” Or, in the case of my mother asking after a broken teapot “Nobody hold him so he fell and broke”.
I love the photo, thanks again.’ Michael Mallinson

Thanks so much to Michael, as always, for sharing his past – so beautifully expressive and reminiscent.

Next up on the blogHappy Christmas and dead monkeys – from a rocky ledge on the edge of the River Gambia

The Florios (H & Flo)

* more details on the pier and ‘drugs’ to come soon – when we reach Bonto Point, on our journey down the River Gambia!

PRESS: VQR – Virginia Quarterly Review – ‘Life on the River Gambia’

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VQR – Life on the ‘River Gambia’

PRESS – April 2013

We are waiting, excitedly, for the mail man to arrive with hard copies of the Virginia Quarterly Reviewthe award-winning journal of literature and discussion – Spring edition. We think we have ten plus pages, dedicated to the River Gambia Expedition – featuring Florio’s latest series of images from the journey: ‘River Gambia

Come on, postie!!