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

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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

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: floriophoto.com  ‘River Gambia’

Today’s shout out goes to NUUN, UK – ‘You’re Always Active, Your Water Should Be Too’

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NUUN – The River Gambia, Sila Kounda, Senegal, West Africa © Jason Florio

March 26, 2013 – Today’s shout out goes to NUUN, UK – ‘You’re Always Active, Your Water Should Be Too’

‘Nuun is leading the way in portable hydration with three drink options to keep you refreshed all day, everyday. All three are ideal to help keep you hydrated and to make the most of the water you drink’ – Nuun

BIG thanks to Sarah, Ella and all at Nuun for the hydration tablets and water bottles, for the River Gambia Expedition. They supplied us with three tasty flovours: tri-berry (my favourite), lemon & lime and lime tea, which helped to keep us hydrated throughout our journey – whether we’re trekking in the Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea or canoeing down the River Gambia in Senegal and The Gambia.

Thanks for your support, NUUN!

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More ‘shout outs’ to come, for everyone who backed us with product

 

Photographer, Jason Florio – at work – gold mines, Senegal, West Africa

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Florio at work – Laminia gold mines, Senegal © Helen Jones-Florio

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The shot © Jason Florio - Laminia gold mines, Senegal

River Gambia Expedition – 1000km source-sea African odyssey

floriophoto.com – Latest Work

 

Photographer, Jason Florio – hanging with the gold miners of Senegal, West Africa

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© Jason Florio

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© Jason Florio

Sunday December 16th – Sila Kounda, Senegal

Starting from where we left in our last blog post about the River Gambia Expedition…we decided to spend a couple of days in the village, because there was a gold mine, Laminia, which we wanted to go and see – ’about 1km’ walk away. We set off, with the chief’s 12-year old grandson, Ibrahima, leading the way. Four kilometers later, and a paddle across the River Gambia in a model-sized dugout – looking as if it could barely float, and which Yousef had to bail water out of each time he came back across the river to take us over, one by one – we reached the gold mines.

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Our Malian fisherman/guide comes back over the River Gambia to take the team, one by one, to the opposite bank © Helen Jones-Florio

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Our Malian fisherman/guide comes back over the River Gambia to take the team, one by one, to the opposite bank © Jason Florio

With both freshly dug and discarded mining holes everywhere you stepped, we gingerly edged our way along the narrow pathways between the holes . All around us, disembodied voices came out of the ground – from the narrow 20-30ft deep deep holes – shouting for the boys waiting at the top to haul up the plastic buckets; many of which are adapted from the ubiquitous 5 gallon plastic water containers. The rocks are taken to be smashed down into dust, washed and then shifted for a precious speck of gold – if they are the lucky ones.

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No safety harnesses here! Ebou hangs onto Florio – that hole is deep! Laminia gold mine, Senegal, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

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Gold miner coming up for his hourly break – the girls bring food and hang around the holes. Some of them work on the mine face too © Jason Florio

The men, young boys and quite a few women, many with their babies crawling around in the dust beside them – often precariously close to the holes – are from all over West Africa: Guinea-Conakry, The Gambia, Mali, Gunea-Bisseau, Ghana, Senegal…all hoping to strike gold. Only then, do many of those we spoke to feel they can go back to their homelands – with something to show for, on average, of between 6-12 months spent in an environment of breathing, eating and sleeping in the dust. Some of the men we spoke to had been at the mine for years. Villages spring up around the mines, to cater for the continuous influx of hopeful people. We would see many of these places – Wild West-esque, ramshackle villages, throughout our travels along the River Gambia in Senegal.

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A gold miner rests, Laminia mines, Senegal © Jason Florio

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Gold miner at work, Laminia, Senegal © Jason Florio

We had read, previously when researching the gold mines of Senegal, that we either shouldn’t visit them or be very cautious if we did: because there is such a diverse cross section of people from all over West Africa – some of whom are so desperate that they would have no qualms about doing you serious harm, to take from you what they want. And, I have to say, I was more than a little nervous – being the only toubab woman in our group too – when we went to the first mine.

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Mining holes snake their way through the mining area – Laminia, Senegal © Helen Jones-Florio

However, we didn’t encounter any hostility from anyone we met – and we visited a number of mines along the river. Yes, there were a few people who were very vocal about not pointing cameras in their direction and we respected that. And, I’m not saying that some of these miners wouldn’t rob you of your belongings if the opportunity arose. But, then again, that can happen anywhere. At each mine, we spent a couple of hours walking around (whilst trying not to fall into holes!), talking with the miners, and, on the whole, we were made to feel very welcome. Besides, most of the miners seemed just as curious about us as we were about them and were more than happy to share there stories.

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H, Ebou and Ibrahim – Laminia gold mines, Senegal © Jason Florio

And, someone may just hit the jackpot…

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Gold! Senegal © Jason Florio

After a couple of hours at the mine, we made the long walk back (let me tell you, 4km is a long way in 100degree heat!), across the river, to the village of Sila Kounda to get ready to leave the next morning.

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Larking around – Yousef carrying Florio, with Abdou’s help, from the dug out to the river bank ‘he cannot get his nice shoes wet’! Sila Kounda, Senegal © Helen Jones-Florio

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Everything is fascinating…to the kids – Sila Kounda, Senegal © helen jones-Florio

Monday December 17th – leaving Sila Kounda

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I wonder if we will see the old chief again – Sila Kounda, Senegal © Jason Florio

After thanking him for him and his family for the hospitality, and bidding farewell to the old chief, we load ‘The Twins’ up and head back out onto the River Gambia, for the next village along the way – Djinji – which is about 22km from Sila Kounda. I wonder what we will encounter on the river today…

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‘The Twins’ -packed and ready to go. Leaving the mines and Sila Kounda, River Gambia – heading to Djinji © Jason Florio click here or on image to view footage

As always, thanks for stopping by…more soon

Helen & Florio

Coming next…the fight for my paddle!

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H : “this is MY paddle!” Sila Kounda, Senegal © Jason Florio

Nuun active hydration products – in the River Gambia house!

Our Nuun products have arrived! Image © Helen Jones-Florio

‘You’re Always Active, Your Water Should be Too

Nuun is leading the way in portable hydration with three drink options to keep you refreshed all day, everyday. All three are ideal to help keep you hydrated and to make the most of the water you drink’ – Nuun

Big thanks to Sarah and all at Nuun for the package of hydration tablets and water bottles. We’re now stocked up with sugar-free, electrolyte-enhanced, tabs – in 3 tasty flovours: tri-berry, lemon & lime and lime tea – which will help to keep all the team hydrated throughout our River Gambia Expedition, whether we’re trekking in the Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea or canoeing up the River Gambia

Image © Nuun

Thanks again to Nuun, for their support for the River Gambia Expedition.

More photo’s from ‘on-the-ground’ very soon…we fly down to The Gambia next week (16th Oct)!

Stayed tuned!

The Florios (H & Florio)

Jason Florio talks about the River Gambia Expedition and his fine art photography prints. Please click on image to view

Protronica on board – we are powered up for the River Gambia Expedition!!

We have been incredibly fortunate to have Rob Garner of Protonica to team up with us and our MacBook Pros for our River Gambia Expedition. Keeping our MacBooks powered up while weeks away from grid fed power has been a long conversation. Protronica supplies HyperJuice batteries – a compact and powerful answer to keep us juiced up deep into West Africa. Using our GoalZero solar panels we’ll be able feed HyperJuice batteries during the day while on the move, and have plenty of power to work on our images and words on the Macs at night. HyperJuice is the ONLY external battery and car charger solution that works with ALL MacBook®, MacBook Air® and MacBook Pro (supports dual voltage). Available in 4 different sizes (60~222Wh), the HyperJuice battery also powers the iPhone®, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS and all other USB devices. Protonica has an array of great technology so please take a look at their site - Protronica

We would like to say a HUGE thank you to Rob and Protonica for their generous support and techie advice!!

Jason & Helen

Jason Florio talks about the River Gambia Expedition and his fine art photography prints. Please click on image to view