River Gambia Expedition: Mali Ville – ‘we’re on top of the world, ma!’ – Guinea Conakry, West Africa

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H & Florio – on top of the world – Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea-Conakry, West Africa

The River Gambia Expedition story, continued…

Thursday 6th December 2012 – Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea-Conakry

And that is exactly what it felt like – Mali Ville being the highest town, elevation-wise, in the Fouta Djallon Highlands. It looked as if you could take a running jump off the edge of the town, right into thin air. And, the air is definitely thinner up there – we were panting for breath as we walked up the steep, rocky, pathway, back to our lodgings.

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The Auberge Indigo hotel, Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea-Conakry. Image © Jason Florio


Florio finds a copy of the New Yorker (random!) and reads up about the big blackout which we missed in NY at the end of last year – Auberge Indigo Hotel, Maii Ville, Fouta Djallon © Helen Jones-Florio

Back in the Fouta village – where we paid homage to the source of the River Gambia and the true start of the River Gambia Expeditionwe had piled our gear back on top of the very same battered old Peugeot Estate which we had used to get to there. We then made the 3 ½ hour journey to Mali Ville. As we made our way up and around the staggeringly beautiful and verdant mountains of the Fouta, we drove inches away from sheer drops – enough to make you gasp for air, which had little to do with the altitude. I kept thinking to myself: ‘I can’t wait to get into the canoes ‘– i.e. no more hair-raising, heart-in-your-mouth, spine crunching, car rides! Little did we know then that we were to face a much more grueling journey – riding pillion on taxi motorcycles, no less. More on that later…

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Cozy! All aboard – again! The River Gambia Expedition team and Saif (Galissa Voyage Trekking - centre) pile into yet another Peugeot estate head out for Mali Ville. Image © Jason Florio

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View from a Peugeot – Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea-Conakry. Image © Helen Jones-Florio

We arrived in Mali Ville, covered in a thick layer of red road dust – it was in our hair, up our noses, in our ears, coating our clothes. As seems to be par for the course, the car windows would not close, without the use of an itinerant ‘manivelle’ – the window winder. Before we set out from the village of the source of the River Gambia, the driver had made a cursory attempt to find it – scrambling around on the already cluttered floor of his vehicle – before eventually shrugging and giving up.

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View from the coffee shop, Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea-Conakry Image © Jason Florio

First impressions of Mali Ville – Florio and I looked at each other: ‘What a bloody dump!’ – We had entered the town smack bang into the middle of the gare routière – bus station – and mechanics workshops area. If you travel to West Africa, then you will know that these sections of a town are not always indicative of the rest of the place. Disused, defunct, rusty vehicles scattered around the dusty streets; greased up boys, in tatty, filthy clothing – that looked as if they could walk away of their own accord – gathered around motorcycles and heads under hoods of cars. Trash was omnipresent – from the ubiquitous plastic bags; bits of greasy newspaper (used by all the street vendors to wrap sandwiches in); old clothing, embedded into the dirt; rusty car parts; piles of refurbished tires…


The team take a stroll – Abdou, Ebou & H – Downtown Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea-Conakry © Jason Florio


The bread is great in the Fouta Djallon Highlands! Saif and Helen © Jason Florio

After dodgy directions, from a group of local boys, to the guest house, the driver had the unenviable task of having to reverse down an impossibly steep rocky ‘road’ – to find the straighter road we should have taken in the first place, which turned out to be only very slightly less rocky and less steep! We eventually arrived at the gates of the Auberge Indigo hotel, overlooking the downtown area of Mali Ville. We were greeted by Souleyman, the very helpful and informative patron (tel: for reservations) and the first ‘porto’ (as Europeans/white people are called in the Fouta) we had seen in a while – Heidi from Finland. She was in Mali for six months, working for an NGO, and doing her thesis for her Masters degree on the cultural and political history (sic) of Guinea-Conakry. At last, I thought, much needed female company.

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Florio checks the YellowBrick Tracking Device (YB3) messages via Bluetooth and his iPad – Auberge Indigo Hotel, Mali Ville © Helen Jones-Florio

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Anyone for Attayah tea? Saif, Ebou and Abdou contemplate how much sugar they will need – Auberge Indigo Hotel, Mali Ville © Helen Jones-Florio

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Loads a money! – the Guinea Franc (GNF) Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon © Helen Jones-Florio. Shout out to NUUN hydration and the Loveyourself Project

The Auberge is basic. Consisting of two traditional conical huts – one of which was being used by Souleyman at the time – and five or six rooms in a concrete block, set in a large fenced-off compound. No running water but there was a proper bathing area/bathroom – and a big bucket of cold water. Heidi told us how much she was feeling the cold (and she comes from Finland!). To combat this – to take the edge of the icy cold water – she said that she boiled water to wash in, in the battered old kettle, on a gas canister in the communal kitchen. I have to say, I heeded her advice on that score. It’s definitely cooler up in the Fouta. And, what previously felt like a refreshing bucket wash in the lower climbs of The Gambia and Senegal, did feel as if one was bathing in a pre-central-heating, Victorian house, during the heart of winter.

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H gets some down time to type up her journal notes for the blog – Auberge Indigo hotel – Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon © Jason Florio

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Boys carrying sticks before heading to school – Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon, Guinea-Conakry © Jason Florio

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Coffee Shop – Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon © Helen Jones-Florio

People in Mali were extremely friendly and welcoming. Everyone we passed, as we walked into the downtown area to find something to eat, greeted us: ‘Bonsoir, ca va?’ , ‘Jarama’ (the Fouta Djallon is predominantly Fula, or Pule, tribe). And, for the first time since starting out, there were streetlights – hi-tech solar powered ones at that – for a section of the walk into town. However, as we got taking to local people, they didn’t seem particularly impressed. ‘The government does nothing for the people of Guinea…they need to spend money on building proper roads – not putting up street lights’. We had heard the very same sentiments in Labé too – especially, with regards to the dire state of the roads in the Fouta Djallon. ‘The government takes the aid money and we see none of it’ another local taxi driver told us. It is such a shame too – if there were proper roads, then more tourists, not just intrepid travelers, would visit the Fouta – surely? It is such a beautiful place but it takes so long to get from one place to another. And, from the ‘roads’ we experienced, it’s extremely physically demanding – bouncing along those ‘roads’ certainly takes its toll on your coccyx!

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Solar-powered street lights, Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon Highlands © Helen Jones-Florio

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What we should have gone to Kedougou in! Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea-Conakry © Jason Florio

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‘Moto taxis’ – ‘How much will it cost us to go to Kedougou, Senegal, then?’ Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon © Jason Florio

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H and the River Gambia team – waiting…always lots of waiting around in West Africa! Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon Highlands © Jason Florio

When in Mali Ville, a visit to the ‘Dame de Mali’ has to be made. After breakfasting on fresh bread, eggs and ripe, luscious avocados – the Fouta Djallon is well-known for its avocados and its freshly baked bread – we set off in a local taxi, and yet another bone-rattling ride, for the short trip up to see the ‘Lady of Mali’

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Making breakfast – Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon Highlands © Helen Jones-Florio

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The boys head into downtown Mali Ville – L-R: Florio, Ebou, Saif, Souleyman, Abdou, Florio & Ebou © Helen Jones-Florio

And, what a beauty, she, the Dame, is. A local farmer told us that the story goes that her husband, after finding out that his wife had been cheating on him, cursed her and turned her to stone – all on a Friday too, apparently.

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Woman drying her cous cous – Dame de Mali – Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon Highlands © Jason Florio


A day out – Florio, H, Abdou & Ebou, Dame de Mali, Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon Highlands

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Youtube: Helen & Florio talk about the journey – Dame de Mali, Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon. Click here or on above image to watch footage

As always, thanks for following our journey. More updates coming very soon. And, if you would like to see the River Gambia Expedition route map, please check it out on our YellowBrick page: here.

Until next time!

The Florios – H and Flo

P.S. What’s coming next: 8-hour, bone-rattling, taxi-bike rides up and down the Fouta Djallon Highlands; getting the Ally canoes into the River Gambia for the first time on the expedition; hippo encounters of the (very) close-up kind; hanging out with the gold miners of Senegal.


H – catching up on more writing whilst waiting for the local transport to take us back to Kedougou, Senegal (which will never come! See next post)- Auberge Hotel, Mali Ville © Jason Florio. Shout out to Overboard bags

A glimpse of whats coming next…

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Coming soon…bone-juddering moto-taxi rides from Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea – Kedougou, Senegal
H: ‘if my dad was around to see me on this (without a helmet too!) – he would kill me!!’

Big thanks from West Africa to just a few of those people who made the River Gambia Expedition possible


ALAN HUNTLEY, UK : The River Gambia, The Gambia, West Africa

And, for those of you who donated $100+ we will be sending you a pdf of exclusive new images, from the River Gambia Expedition, to choose your Jason Florio fine art photography print…as soon as we get back to NYC in early February.


Andy Needham – UNHCR, Nairobi, East Africa: The River Gambia, Senegal, West Africa

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Isabella (rock-a-fella) Kimberlin, Dallas, TX, USA : Bansang, The Gambia, West Africa


The Gambia Experience, UK : Fatoto, The Gambia, West Africa

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Chris Bartlett, NY, USA : Women washing on the banks of The River Gambia, Senegal, West Africa


Christy Nielsen, Omak, Washington, USA : Kaur, The Gambia, West Africa

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Claire and Glenn Pott, Queensland, Australia : Wassadou Camp, Senegal, West Africa

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Ellen Mai, California, USA : The River Gambia, Mako, Senegal, West Africa


Gabriella Nissen, USA : Fatoto, The Gambia, West Africa

Many more thank you images to come…shortly.

Big love and thanks

The Florios (H & Flo) x

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BIG THANKS to just a few of our donors…more pics to come as we traverse the River Gambia, W Africa

Ryan Heffernan.com

Ryan Heffernan.com © Jason Florio – Hore Dimma, Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea

Robert 'Bob' Jones - who was our very first donor © Jason Florio, Kedougou, Senegal

Robert ‘Bob’ Jones – who was our very first donor © Jason Florio, Kedougou, Senegal

David & Lucie Coke and Mnr 'tickle on the tum' Albert! © Jason Florio, Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon Highlands (Dame de Mali in the background)

David & Lucie Coke and Mnr ‘tickle on the tum’ Albert! © Jason Florio, Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon Highlands (Dame de Mali in the background)


Claire 'Cakes n Pies' Rich © Jason Florio, Kedougou, Senegal

Claire ‘Cakes n Pies’ Rich © Jason Florio, Kedougou, Senegal

Albetza ('Tinka') & Keiron O'Conner.com

Albetza (‘Tinka’) & Keiron O’Conner.com © Jason Florio – Labe, Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea

Monica Pozzi 'OBODNY' © Jason Florio - Kedougou, Senegal

Monica Pozzi ‘OBODNY’ © Jason Florio – Kedougou, Senegal

Stella Kramer.com © Jason Florio - The Gambia, West Africa

Stella Kramer.com © Jason Florio – The Gambia, West Africa

Sari Goodfriend.com © Jason Florio - 'Leo' the tortoise, The Gambia, West Africa

Sari Goodfriend.com © Jason Florio – ‘Leo’ the tortoise, The Gambia, West Africa

Mum (Thelma) and Sandy © Helen Jones-Florio - Hore Dimma, Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea

Mum (Thelma) and Sandy © Helen Jones-Florio – Hore Dimma, Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea


Rodger, Wendy, Nana, Elliot, Tyrone and Jacob - The Florios! © Jason Florio - Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea

Rodger, Wendy, Nana, Elliot, Tyrone and Jacob – The Florios! © Helen Jones-Florio – Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea

Again, BIG BIG thanks to everyone for their support. We would not be able to do this otherwise.

More ‘thank you’ images coming soon as!

We miss you all!!

Big Love

H & Flo xx











And the rains came down – and the power followed – Gunjor fishing village, The Gambia, West Africa

Flo & Dr S (and our trusty guide ‘toubab minty’ the bush dog) – Gunjor fishing village, The Gambia, West Africa Image © Helen Jones-Florio

Yesterday, we watched a gloriously magnificent electric storm – lighting up the Atlantic Ocean – from our vantage point (undercover. Well, almost…aside from the leaky roof of the beach bar we were sitting in) in Gunjor, a fishing village just down the beach from where we are staying in Kartong.

The storm proceeded to follow us all the way back to Kartong and didn’t let up for most of the evening.

View from the back of the taxi as the storm followed us home to Kartong, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Helen Jones-Florio

Keeping it short today as we the power is hit and miss – also, we have to get into Serrekunda to pick up medical supplies etc., before it starts raining again – the sky is looking moody again this morning.

More updates soon + photos from Florio, the photographer, himself coming soon. We promise! He has been entrenched in power cables, gadgets and solar panels since we arrived in The Gambia – “it’s all about the power” he said – as we figure out how we will charge everything when we are on the River Gambia Expedition. Some of the solar devices we brought with don’t seem to do what they say on the box…hmmmm….more on that as and when.

Please keep stopping by and feel free to leave comments. We’d like that :)

The Florios

‘LOVE YOURSELF’ – are onboard. We’ll be spreading the love in West Africa soon…

BIG thank you, and love, to our rather lovely and very clever friend, Michael Mut. We just received a package of his ‘LOVE YOURSELF’ stickers to take with us on our ‘River Gambia Expedition 2012 journey – 1000km source to sea African odyssey’. 1 River. 2 Borders. 3 Countries…over 1000km – documenting the lives of the indigenous people who live and work along one of Africa’s last big, free-flowing, rivers – the River Gambia

‘LOVE YOURSELF’ & River Gambia Expedition 2012 Team Up! – Image © Helen Jones-Florio


About ‘LOVE YOURSELF’ Project: “It’s time to begin our day with a positive message instead of being brainwashed with philosophies that keep us small and limited.”

Mission: Celebrating and empowering communities around the world, spreading a message of unconditional self-love…check the ‘LOVE YOURSELF’ FB page for more info.


red heartCome late September, the Florios will be spreadin’ the LOVE… in Guinea, Senegal and The Gambia, West Africa.

Thanks to Michael & The LOVE YOURSELF Project, NYC!




Youtube – the expedition team receive a ‘royal’ welcome from 100+ kids! Sambal Kunda, The Gambia, West Africa

A little more background on what we Florios have gotten up to in the past – expedition-wise, that is:

The ‘Short Walk’ team’s arrival at the village of Sambel Kunda

Arrival at Sambel Kunda, The Gambia, West Africa

Arrival at Sambel Kunda – welcomed by 100+ school kids! – The Gambia, West Africa. Filmed by ‘Wobbly Productions/Jason Florio’

Blog Entry: Friday 13th November, 2009. Distance walked to-date: 267.07km

‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – 930km African odyssey’

We are almost at The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust (TGHDT), in the village of Sambel Kunda. As mentioned, it’s the adopted home of our donkeys, Neil and Paddy. Not only are we going to have a day or two off there, but we will also be bidding a sad ‘fowatti kotting’ (see you again) to Paddy and a big ‘nimbara, nimbara’ to a replacement donkey – not that Paddy can be easily replaced. More on that…but first, our arrival into the village was a welcome fit for a visiting head of state.

The Gambia Horse & Donkey Trust, Sambel Kunda, The Gambia, West Africa

The Gambia Horse & Donkey Trust, Sambel Kunda, The Gambia, West Africa – Image © Helen Jones-Florio

As we rounded the path, leading to the village, we could hear singing coming from up ahead. As we get nearer, we can see what looks like the whole of the local primary school waiting to welcome us. The kids are singing and clapping. As we enter the village, we are immediately engulfed by what must be around a hundred kids – singing at the tops of their voices, all clamouring to help push the cart up the sandy path to the stables. It is such a touching and unexpected welcome, especially for Momadou – our donkey handler – who is from the area and works at The Trust. I’m glad that I have my sunglasses on, as my eyes well up – God forbid that the team think me as any more of a softy than they already do!’ – From forthcoming book by Helen Jones-Florio

Helen enjoys an early morning cuppa at Sambel Kunda, The Gambia

Helen enjoys an early morning cuppa at The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust, Sambel Kunda, The Gambia, West Africa – Image © Jason Florio

Thanks for stopping by

The Florios

Please click on the image below to watch Jason Florio as he explains how you can own one of his fine art photography prints, from a series of images he will take whilst on the River Gambia Expedition 2012:

We’re new guest bloggers on ‘Africa Geographic Safari Interactive Magazine’ for our ‘River Gambia 2012 Expedition’

safari interactive magazine

Making the portriat of Alkalo Dadi Bah, Tuba Dabbo, The Gambia, West Africa

L-R: Janneh (‘A Short Walk in The Gambian Bush’ expedition, 2009, team member), Jason Florio, Alkalo (chief) Dadi Bah & Helen Jones-Florio – Jason took the portrait of the chief and it became part of an award-winning series of portraits of Gambian village chiefs and elders.

We’re stoked to be on board with Safari Interactive Magazine, who’s readers will follow our journey – the lead up and then, eventually, getting our canoes into one of the last big, free-flowing rivers in West Africa, to make the first recorded source to sea expedition of the River Gambia.

We’ll begin our adventure in the Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea, onto into the hippo-abundant waters of Niokolo National Park in Senegal, and finally into The Gambia,- a country we both know extremely well – where we head towards the Atlantic Ocean, and where the river is over 10km wide, and the River Gambia’s and our journey’s end, after traversing over 1000kms.

Traveling by canoe and foot through the homelands of over seven different tribes, we will be following the same course as the early gold and slave traders have done century’s ago. Along the way, we will collect visual/written/audio stories – through multiple medias – documenting the lives and cultures of the indigenous people, who live and work along the course of the River Gambia. Which we’ll be blogging about, on here and Safari Interactive Magazine , as often as we can.

Tourey (the chiefs wife) & R: Kanifana Tourey, Balanghar, The Gambia © Jason Florio

L: Uma Sallah Tourey (the chiefs wife) & R: Kanifana Tourey, Balanghar – from the Wolof tribe, The Gambia © Jason Florio, 2009

‘Silafando’ - (a Mandinka word meaning ‘a gift to you on behalf of my journey) the ward-winning series of portraits which Florio took on our last expedition ‘A Short Walk in The Gambian Bush – a 930km African odyssey’ – where we walked, the entire way, around the small West African country, with two donkeys (called ‘Neil’ and ‘Paddy’ – yes, really) and a cart, to carry our camera and camping gear – and no cheating! Not one of us, bar Momadou (our donkey handler) jumped on that cart. Believe me, after a day of 1o grueling miles of walking, in 100 degree heat, red dust coating everything, there was many time when I wanted to!

A Short Walk in The Gambian Bush

Ahhh…a tarmac road. Much easier then our usual day of deep, rutted, sandy pathways, to get the cart over! Helen and team (including Paddy, the donkey) take a ‘A Short Walk in The Gambian Bush’ all 930kms of it! Image © Jason Florio, 2009

Our head-strong, but extremely loveable (trumpeting-like farting and all!), diminutive, four-legged team mates were kindly loaned to us by Heather Armstrong of The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust , a charity, based in the village of Sambel Kunda, The Gambia. The Trust do fantastic work to rehabilitate abused and injured donkeys, as well educating locals on how to take better care of their donkeys – i.e. not to tether them, with rope, by their ankles – thereby cutting of circulation which can lead to gangrene and, often, the donkeys will be destroyed. A non-working donkey is of no use to a Gambian, who use them purely for transport and farming. Also, most Gambians just don’t have the resources to pay veterinary bills. This is also where TGHDT charity help out – by offering their voluntary vets services for free.

An injured horse, the Gambia, west africa

Sedemas was brought to us with a horrific wound/mass on her face. It had started out as a small wound because someone had thrown a stone at her to chase her away from their field of crops…to read more and find out what happend to Sedemas, please click on TGHDT link to visit their Facebook page (these images are taken from the Trusts FB page)

More updates on how our pre-planning of River Gambia Expedition 2012 is going, coming soon.

Thanks for stopping by.

H & Flo – The Florios


L-R: Ablie Janneh, Jason Florio, Chief Dadi Bah, Helen Jones-Florio – The Gambia, West Africa, 2009. Taken whilst on ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush-a 930km African odyssey’ expedition

‘River Gambia Expedition – 1000km source-sea African odyssey’

The Journey – 1 river. 2 borders. 3 countries

Guinea – Senegal – The Republic of The Gambia

West Africa

When: Paddles in the water mid-November 2012– Late-January 2013

Why: To create an historical – visual /audio/written – document of the peoples, cultures and environment along one of Africa’s last, free flowing, major rivers – The River Gambia.

Estimated journey time: 2-3 months

Modes of transport: Canoes & Trekking & ‘Moto – Taxis’!

Expedition Leaders: Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio

Mission Statement

Experienced West Africa travelers, husband and wife team - multi award-winning photographer and writer Jason Florio, and, photography and expedition producer and writer, Helen Jones-Florio – will attempt to create a modern-day account of the people, societies, and life along the length of one of Africa’s last, free-flowing, major rivers – the River Gambia. There has been talk of damming the river. This journey will also be about the impact to the communities, who daily lives rely on the river to survive, and the environmental impact of damming the river.

To read more, please visit:  Why Exactly Are We Doing This Expedition…

The River Gambia Expedition Route Map

The River Gambia – source to sea – map

And, to find out about our 2009 expedition - ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – 930km African odyssey’

Welcome on board! We look forward to having you all on the journey with us.

Thanks for your support,

Jason & Helen – ‘The Florios



We did it! We completed the River Gambia Expedition23rd November 2012 – 21st January 2013 - after almost 400km overland in the Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea-Conakry into Senegal and then putting our two canoes into the water in Kedougou – we paddled (no engine!) over 700km of the River Gambia to its end, at the Atlantic Ocean in Banjul, The Gambia.

During our travels, we bounced and rattled down the mountains of the Fouta Djallon on the back of motorcycle taxis; hung out with gold miners in Senegal; drank attayah tea with village chiefs and elders; dodged very angry hippos on the River Gambia; and, as we paddled on the increasingly widening ocean-like river, we battled the wind and waves, as we neared the Atlantic and the end of our journey.

All in all, it was a phenomenal journey! Please scroll through the following pages to read and see more about the whole journey

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We did it!! Denton Bridge, Banjul, The Gambia – standing in the Atlantic Ocean! The River Gambia Expedition team. L-R: Helen Jones-Florio, Ebou Jarju, Abdou Ndong, Jason Florio

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River Gambia Expedition route map – YellowBrick Tracking Device (YB3) – click here to view our route through Guinea Conakry – Senegal – The Gambia, West Africa – over 1000km

Press – please visit our ‘meet the press’ page

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Press: VQR – Spring 2013: ‘River Gambia Expedition’ – images by Jason Florio

2014: The Florios latest project in The Gambia, West Africa -  ‘Photos Tell Stories: teaching photography – a visual language’