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

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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!

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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!

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‘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.

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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

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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