Photography – Jason Florio: Village Imam, Hore Dimma, Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea-Conakry

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© Jason Florio

Random photo of the day: The imam of Horé Dimma village, Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea-Conakry © Jason Florio

Excerpt from an earlier post: ‘The next day, we were woken at 5.00am, by the ‘call to prayer’ as the muezzin’s voice echoed loudly over the crackling PA system. The ensuing prayers went on, loudly, for a very long time. One night, during our stay in the village, the muezzin started at 2am?! Was there was some kind of emergency in the village? Did we need to get up and rush to the mosque or something? During our travels in Muslim countries, neither of us had ever heard the call to prayer at 2am. The next day, when we asked what it was all about, Saif (our Guinea guide from Galissa Voyage Trekking) said, in his strong French accent, “they (the muezzin) did not check their watch”. Ebou added “they were fooled by the full moon” ?!River Gambia Expedition – 1000km source-sea African odyssey

To see Jason Florio’s new series of images, taken whilst on the journey, please visit his website:  ‘River Gambia’

Dead monkeys and Christmas night – sleeping on a rock by the River Gambia, Senegal


Christmas dinner? Dead monkey & bathing hunters – Njuen, River Gambia, Senegal, West Africa © Jason Florio

Carrying on from where we left off, on our River Gambia Expedition

Tuesday 25th December 2012 – Njuen, Senegal, West Africa. Total paddling distance to-date: 185.73km

Over the last couple of days since we left Yousef in Mako – our ever-so-slightly deranged Malian fisherman/guide/hippo expert -  we dismantled and strapped ‘The Twins’, our two Ally 811 canoes, onto the roof of a Sept Place and drove 134km to Wassadou, through Niokolo Koba National Park. We were still feeling very disappointed that we didn’t get the go ahead (permit) from the park director, to allow us to paddle the River Gambia through the park. However, we were definitely not upset about the thought of dodging 1000′s of hippos in the park!


21st Dec: Yousef – River Gambia, Mako, Senegal © Jason Florio

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22nd Dec: Sept Place – Mako-Wassadou, Senegal, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

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22nd Dec: Arriving at Wassadou camp – sign post © Helen Jones-Florio

We arrived at the very tranquil setting of Wassadou Camp, on the 22nd December, where we were planning to spend a few days over Christmas – a special treat and much needed rest before we rebuilt ‘The Twins’ to get them back into the River Gambia. However, after finding out that our welcoming lunch worked out at $60 for the four of us, we decided that perhaps Wassadou wasn’t going to be where we spent Christmas. Considering our budget is usually between $5-$10 maximum, per day, to feed four of us, staying in the relative luxury of Wassadou would leave us pretty much budget-less in no time! Mind you, we ate like kings – that lunch was delicious. Fresh green salad, a huge steak, and home-made rice pudding for afters. Divine. Such a welcome change from our staple diet of rice and sauce, cous cous and sauce and…erm…more rice and sauce.

Prints for donors

23rd Dec: Helen catches up on journal writing, River Gambia, Wassadou, Senegal © Jason Florio

A little r’n'r and time to catch up on writing up our journals – just look at that view. That’s Niokolo Koba National Park on the left.

Then it’s back to worlk: reassembling the Ally 811′s – ready to get them back into the river in the morning.

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Reassembling the Ally Canoes – Wassadou Camp, Senegal © Helen Jones-Florio

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Dining room, Wassadou camp, Senegal, West Africa © Jason Florio

Christmas Eve – time to move on again

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Florio packs the Ally 811′s – ready to head off – River Gambia, Wassadou, Senegal © Helen Jones-Florio

During our trunkated stay at Wassadou, our neighboring camp-mate was a French man – Claude – a teacher who had driven his car all the way from France and was making his way to Guinea-Conakry. Florio and I were a little concerned that his tiny car would not survive the ‘roads’ of Guinea. However, Claude had made the journey a few years previously and assured us that he could get around the riverbed-like roads of the Fouta Djallon in Guinea. An inspirational man who I hope we meet again one day – or at least hear from. If you are reading this, Claude, please get in touch!

Micheal M_Cutter, Bingtang Creek

‘au revoir’ to new friends – traveller, Claude, from France – Wassadou, Senegal © Jason Florio

Back onto the river – this time without our trusty Malian fisherman/guide and hippo expert. The trepidation was palpable .

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Fisherman, River Gambia, Senegal © Jason Florio

As peaceful and idyllic as the above and below setting may look, the hippos were around. We never let our guard down. They especially like the beach areas – like this one we were about to paddle past:

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H: ‘Gulp. Hippo beach on the left!’ Back on the River Gambia, Senegal  © Jason Florio

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Meeting people along the way – women’s garden, River Gambia, Senegal © Jason Florio

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Florio ‘hippos…what hippos?’ River Gambia, Senegal © Helen Jones-Florio

Then again, some of us did let our guard down – every now and then!

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Meeting more people along the way – Malian fisherman, River Gambia, Senegal © Jason Florio

Despite not getting permission to paddle through the Niokolo Koba National Park, our route, along the River Gambia from Wassadou, bordered the outskirts of park on our left for around 60-70km

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Well-wishers we meet along the way, Banana plantation worker, River Gambia, Senegal © Jason Florio

We were hoping to spend Christmas Eve night in one of the villages near to the river, but each opening we came to was too steep – either that or there was a platform with a motor on it, in the way. We passed dozens of these rickety pallet-like platforms along this stretch of river. Their purpose is to pump water up to the many banana plantations. Since we had started out in Kedougou, the banks had gotten progressively steeper – perpendicular in places – thus making it very difficult, or impossible, to haul our gear up.

It was getting near to dusk and we knew we had to get out of the water very soon – a guy we passed, on one of the platforms, warned us that the hippos would be coming out towards the river from the fields at any moment. Yet, we couldn’t find a way to get up any of the steep inclines. We were getting pretty desperate – non of us wanted to be in the water in the dark – i.e. and not be able to see a hippo until it was upon us!

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Christmas Eve – Abdou & Ebou collect wood for the fire, River Gambia, Senegal © Jason Florio

We eventually settled, out of necessity, on a sandbank in the middle of the river.; which we’d actually passed by over a mile away and had to paddle back to. Abdou and Ebou paddled over to the the opposite bank to fetch fire wood. We needed plenty of it if we were to keep the fire going all night long. For all we knew, we could have been in the pathway of hippos getting to and from the river – we could see plenty of tracks on the nearby bank.


Time for tea – Kelly Kettle style -  River Gambia, Senegal © Jason Florio

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Dusk over the River Gambia and on a sand bank – Senegal West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

I lay awake under our makeshift mosquito-tent that night – which Florio had constructed, using our paddles as tent rods – imagining every noise I heard was the sound of a hippo. In reality, aside from the usually cacophony of the surrounding bush, three sets of snoring was pretty much all I could hear. At least the guys slept well, then. I hardly slept a wink, keeping my eye on that fire all night long. Getting up to stoke it and add more wood, whenever I saw the fire-light dwindling.

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Dawn – and the beginning of a new day! Merry Christmas! River Gambia, Senegal g Jason Florio

Christmas Day – Merry Christmas!

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Christmas morning – time to pack up and get back on the River: Florio, Abdou & Ebou, Senegal © Helen Jones-Florio


Banana plantation workers, River Gambia, Senegal © Jason Florio

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Christmas Day – Stopping for a break, River Gambia, Senegal © jason Florio

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Yep! Christmas dinner, it is! Njuen, Senegal © Jason Florio

We reached the rocky outcrop which led up to the village of Njuen. Seeing the monkey, shot in the head, didn’t sit too well with me either – strangely enough. The village itself was set back – about 1km from the riverside – and, as usual, we needed to stay near to the canoes and all our gear. And, once again, it was fast approaching that we-need-to-get-out-of-the-river-time again. Dusk. Thus the rocky outcrop became our camping spot for the night. It is definitely in the top ten most uncomfortable places we set our camp, along the River Gambia.

We placed our mosquito net on the most level piece of ground we could find and virtually had to strap ourselves in to avoid rolling down into the river! Yet, another sleepless night. Mind you, that was mainly due to the fact that the villagers – Njuen being one of the rare Bassari Christian villages along the route – celebrating Christmas. All. Night. Long. Fireworks, blasting music, on cranked up to Mac 11, PA systems, and drunken village boys coming down to swim, drunkenly, in the river beside our camp.

Merry Christmas!!

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Christmas Day – our campsite for the night – Njuen, Senegal © Jason Florio

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Dusk – Christmas evening – Njuen, River Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio

Hey, at least the vista never failed to disappoint.

Thanks for stopping by. More River Gambia stories to come soon.

The Florios (H & Flo)

‘River Gambia’ a new series of images from Jason Florio

Coming up next: making ‘The Twins’ into the ‘Ally Cat’

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Abdou, Florio & Ebou – converting the Ally 811 into the ‘Ally Cat’ Gouloumbou, Senegal © Helen Jones-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!!

Last remaining prints, by Jason Florio, to ship out to our donors – from the River Gambia series

From this:

To this…the last few remaining prints to send out:

Sunday 21st May, 2013 – NYC

After a couple of weeks of processing, packing, and labeling, we’ve now shipped out the bulk of prints, to our donors, who donated $100 and over for our River Gambia Expedition - sharing with them all those people we met along the way, who Florio photographed.

Thanks so much for the wonderful “*Boy in Mask” photo and the extra Fur Coat pic (postcard). All arrived in great condition. I’m having the Boy pic custom framed to match the “Alhaji Tonkara” photo. Both will reside in my living room. Thanks again and all best wishes for your continued happiness and success”  Bob, Fort Myers, Florida – just received his print. Bob was the very first donor for our initial crowd-funding campaign ‘an exchange‘ for this expedition, and he has been a great support over the years – he also generously donated for our 2009 expedition, in exchange for one of Florio’s prints,A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – 930km African odyssey


‘Boy in the Mask’ The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio

Screen Shot 2013-04-24 at 8.12.34 AMTrunk (@trunkmag) is ecstatic w/ our ‘Boy in Mask’ print from @floriophotoNYC Jason Florio’s prints-River Gambia seriesDavid Ciccone – Founder and Creative Director, NYC

Again, a humongous thank you to everyone who helped us get on to that mighty River Gambia – from Australia, Switzerland, Germany, East Africa, West Africa, UK, Canada, USA, Turkey, Italy, Ireland, France… . Suddenly, our apartment feels quite empty…time to go out and play!

More river stories coming very soon – as our journey continues from where we left off

The Florios (H & Flo)

*If you missed our crowd-funding campaign’s, Jason Florio’s prints are available to purchase – from the website gallery

With a little help from our friends, here’s how we raised the money to make the River Gambia Expedition happen:

An Exchange



The pier at Bonto © Jason Florio – to check out the ‘River Gambia’ series, please visit the website

Photographer, Jason Florio: Boys with painted faces, River Gambia, Senegal, West Africa

Random photo of the day: December 2012 – we came across these boys on one of our first days, in the canoes, on the River Gambia Expedition, in Senegal. I spied them through my binoculars – I was on hippo watch – from a distance. And, at first, I thought they had masks on. I remember turning around to Florio, who was paddling behind me in the canoe, saying excitedly “there are boys up there, on the river bank, and I think they are wearing some kind of masks…almost like Halloween!” As we neared, we realised the masks were actually some kind of paint – or more likely crushed oyster-shell powder. We asked them why they had painted their faces and bodies and what did the numbers mean? They shrugged and giggled ‘we are only playing’ translated our Mandinka speaking team mate, Ebou. And then they promptly jumped in the river – not before Florio got a couple of shots of them though – and washed it all off. Had we arrived a moment or two later, we would have missed this rather wondrous spectacle.

‘River Gambia’ Jason Florio’s new series of images from the journey

Photographer, Jason Florio: Women harvesting the rice, The Gambia, West Africa

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© Jason Florio

January 2013: Kaur, The Gambia, West Africa. Members of the Santa Yalla kaffo (group) take a moment between harvesting rice from the fields, which are irrigated by the River Gambia. They are paid 30 Gambian Dalasis a day (80 US cents).

Taken whilst on the ‘River Gambia Expedition – 1000km source-sea African odyssey

Check out more from Jason Florio’s new series of images ‘River Gambia’ on his website:

Update: We dodged the angry hippo and made it to Mako – and it’s time to say ‘fonyato domanding’ to our hippo expert

‘Fonyato domanding’ – a West Africa mandinka phrase – roughly translates as: ‘see you next time

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Hippo encounter, of the very close up kind, en route to Mako. Film footage © Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio. Click the image or here to view

Friday 21st December 2012 – Bantaco – Mako. Total paddling distance to-date: 105.73km  River Gambia Expedition

We left the main gold mines behind this morning and headed towards the small ‘urban’ town of Mako, centered around an arterial road, on one of the main highways in Senegal – the Trans Gambia Highway. We’d stopped in Mako, for a cold drink, on our way to Labé, just under a month ago – which, at times, often feels much more like two months, considering what we’ve squeezed into our journey so far.


Gold mines – Senegal, West Africa © Jason Florio

Whilst paddling, on route to Mako, we had a too-close-for-comfort encounter with a rather mammoth mammal – and a very pissed-off one at that: a hippo. After waiting on the rocks for over an hour – for the hippo to let us pass – and then hugging the river bank, paddling ‘donding, donding’ (slowly, slowly), we made it to Mako – and the safety of hippo-free terra firma. For the time being, at least.

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H and the team: arrival at Mako – River Gambia, Senegal, West Africa © Jason Florio

After scouting around, a local man kindly offered us the ground just outside his compound, to make our campsite for the night. It was right near to the riverbank, with an epically tantalizing view of Niokolo Koba National Park - frustratingly, after months of trying, we still hadn’t been given the go-ahead by the park director to paddle our canoes through the park. So, tomorrow morning, after packing our two Ally 811 canoes into their backpacks, we would be taking local transport for 134km’s to Wassadou – where we planned to spend Christmas and a couple of days of much-needed rest.

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Mako – market (lumo) area, Senegal, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

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A woman’s work is never done. H packs the Ally 811 canoes, Mako © Jason Florio

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Florio interviews Yousef – banks of the River Gambia, Mako, Senegal, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio


Yousef with his fishing net – River Gambia, Mako, Senegal © Jason Florio


Yousef – Mako, Senegal © Jason Florio

Ebou and Florio - Mako, Senegal, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

Ebou and Florio – Mako, Senegal, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio



Dusk – The view of Niokolo Koba National Park, River Gambia, Mako © Jason Florio


Saturday 22nd December 2012 – preparing to leave Mako

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Dawn – The River Gambia, Mako, Senegal © Jason Florio

First things first – get the Kelly Kettle on!

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Abdou and H – watching water boil, Mako, Senegal © Jason Florio

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Florio oversee’s the packing of the Sept Place - Mako © Helen Jones-Florio

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A nod to DPx Gear and Come Back Alive – one of our sponsors © Helen Jones-Florio

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© Helen Jones-Florio

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Team photo! L-R: Abdou, Florio, Yousef, Ebou (behind) and H – River Gambia, Mako, Senegal

Today we sadly and reluctantly say ‘fonyato’  – or au revoir – to Yousef. As much as we tried to persuade him to carry onto Banjul, The Gambia, with us he needed to get back to his wife and family in Kedougou. Yousef has not only caught fish for us along the way but he’s given us all a crash course in how to deal with hippos – catapults and posturing aside! – which, had we not happened open him a week ago in Kedougou (another of the many serendipitous moments we have had and will continue to have on this journey), we feel sure we may have quite possibly ended up in the River Gambia, manically swimming for shore and for our lives, after being rammed and capsized by a pissed off hippo! However, even he took a chance or two along the way, all in the name of saving a water container

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Yousef and his ‘rescued’ water container, Mako © Jason Florio

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Catapult boy – he must be a friend of Yousef’s -  Mako © Jason Florio

And, it’s goodbye to the River Gambia, for the next few days. We’ll miss you -but not the hippos!

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River Gambia – not a hippo in sight © Jason Florio

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Florio – Mako © Helen Jones-Florio

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H & Yousef – Mako – screen grab from film footage © Jason Florio and Helen Jones-Florio

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Fonyato domanding, Yousef! © Jason Florio

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Yousef gets his transport home – Mako © Jason Florio

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We’re on our way to Wassadou – Leaving Mako © Helen Jones-Florio

And so, we move onto the next stage of our journey. This time, we head up the road towards Wassadou. Most of the route is through the Niokolo Koba National Park – so at least we get to see it – just not, unfortunately, from our canoes. The plan is to spend Christmas in Wassadou – there is a lodge there that we read about – however, best laid plans and all…

More on that coming soon.

Thanks, as always, for stopping by. We hope you are enjoying the journey – as much as we are, reliving it.

The Florios (H & Flo)

Next up: Merry *&%$##* Christmas!!


Hunters – washing in the River Gambia, Senegal © Jason Florio

To see more of Jason Florio’s series of images – ‘River Gambia’ – from the expedition, please visit


A sad au revoir to our Malian fisherman/guide/hippo expert – how the hell will we deal with the hippo’s without him?!

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Leaving Yousef at Mako, Senegal © Jason Florio

Coming up shortly: December 22nd, 2012 – Mako, Senegal, West Africa

With sadness, and more than a little trepidation, we bid farewell – ‘fonyato’ – to Yousef, our Malian fisherman/guide/hippo expert, who has been with us for the last week on the River Gambia Expedition  – giving the team a crash-course on how to deal with hippo’s, here on the River Gambia. That is, Yousef’s rather quirky way of dealing with the mammoth mammals.

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Angry hippos and crazy Malian fishermen! River Gambia, Senegal, West Africa. Click on the image or here to view the footage

What will we do without him? More to come on that very soon…