Thanks to Peli Products UK for keeping our gear dry on the River Gambia!

Florio oversees our previous cargo - Redcoat depot, Nr Gatwick Airport

Florio oversees our precious cargo on the start of what would be a very long seafaring journey indeed- including the ‘1690′ Peli Product UK case – Redcoat depot, Nr Gatwick Airport, UK – Oct 2012. Image © Helen Jones-Florio

As Florio and I shift through hundreds of images, to see what we want to put in our forthcoming book about the ‘River Gambia Expedition‘ (it’s a difficult task – every single image has it’s own story to tell), it’s reminding us of all those companies who supported our journey. We just came across some of these images: Peli Products UK – their ‘rugged, watertight, dustproof, crushproof, buoyant, corrosion-proof‘ cases ensured that our cameras, batteries, laptops, hard-drives, journals, communication devises, etc., didn’t get ruined if they got inadvertently dumped in the river – which is what almost happened on our first day in the water!

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‘The Twins‘ (Ally 811 canoes) into the River Gambia for the first time, Kedougou, Senegal

Even though we had to leave for the expedition, without our big 1690 Peli case of gear – due to the case getting ‘lost’ for almost three months, somewhere between Belgium and Banjul Port – we still had our two rugged  Peli 1520 cases and the Peli head torces – invaluable when trying to find a place to pee in the middle of a moonless night in the African bush!


And, of course for reading when there is no electricity (which was most of the time) – Helen and her Peli head torch, Kedougou, Senegal © Jason Florio

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Our 1520 Peli Product UK cases also make great seats! Image © jason FlorioSila Kounda, Senegal

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Florio and the 1520 Peli Product UK cases, New Years Eve in Basse, The Gambia, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

Jason Florio at Bonto pier

The day before last – Florio with our 1520 Peli Product UK cases, Bonto, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio

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A sight for sore eyes – the 1690 Peli Product UK case – we thought we would never see you again! The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio

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It’s been a long journey back to Gatwick – Feb 2013 – this time weren’t letting that Peli UK 1690 case out of our sight!

I’m sure we’ll come across many more of the great cases in action but, in the meantime, HUGE THANKS to Gill Lack and all at Peli Products UK for their support of the ‘River Gambia Expedition – 1000km source-sea African odyssey

Now…we wade through more images and journal entries for the book – we’ll post a few taster’s here and there, plus we’ll be posting more thanks to the other businesses who helped us along the way. And, we haven’t forgotten all those people who donated in exchange for prints! To you lot, we are eternally thankful.


The Florios

Update: Happy New Year from Basse, The Gambia, West Africa-River Gambia Expedition!

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The River Gambia Expedition team hit the River Gambia for the first time in Kedougou, Senegal – image by Henk Eshuis

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The River Gambia Expedition team hit the River Gambia for the first time in Kedougou, Senegal – image by Henk Eshuis

Happy New Year!! We have been unable to get internet connection for over two weeks and this connection in Basse, The Gambia, is frustratingly too slow to upload any images – we have so many to share + road and river stories! We’re not sure when we will be able to get on line again either as we set off again, on the River Gambia, towards Banjul tomorrow. We are around 3 weeks to the Atlantic Ocean and the end of our journey.

It’s been a roller coaster of a ride so far: bone-crunching car and motorbike taxis, up, down, and around the Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea; hanging out with gold miners in Bantaco, Senegal; dodging hippos (bloody huge scary ones!) on the River Gambia, in Senegal…alas, more of those encounters of the close up kind to come in this next section of The Gambia (s#*$!).

However, even though we may not be able to update, you can still follow our route through our YellowBrick Tracking Device –

Thanks so much to Henk Ehuis, in Kedougou, Senegal, for capturing this seminal moment from the River Gambia Expedition: getting the 811 Ally canoe into the River Gambia for the first time on our journey.

We had seen and done so much up to this point and so much more since. Please bear with us and we promise to share the journey as soon as we are able.

Thanks for stopping by!
Jason ‘Flo’ Florio and Helen ‘H’ Jones-Florio xx

Building the 811 Ally 16.5′ canoe for the first time with our Gambian team – Kartong, The Gambia, West Africa

And so it begins – H, Ebu & Abdou get ready to unpack and rebuild. Image © Jason Florio

We got the whole River Gambia Expedition team together the other day, here in at Sandele Eco Retreat, near the village of Kartong – which is right on the beach and the Atlantic Ocean. – where we are staying as guests of old friends, Geri and Maurice. We wanted to show our Gambian team mates, Abdou and Ebu, how to build one of the 811 Ally canoes.

Everything in it’s place and a place for everything, Sandele, The Gambia West Africa. Image © Jason Florio

With only a little instruction from Florio and myself, the guys got the hang of building the Ally canoe straightaway.

Flo and the boys putting the Ally together – Sandele, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Helen Jones-florio

The Ally canoe is taking shape! Image © Jason Florio

Almost there! Image © Helen Jones-Florio

Success! The 811 Ally canoe is ready to roll! © Helen Jones-Florio

The Ally canoe on it’s way to it’s maiden voyage in West Africa. Still image © Jason Florio

Abdou and Ebu take the Ally canoe into the Atlantic Ocean (please don’t try this at home!) whilst Flo films. Image © Helen Jones-Florio

Despite the fact that our Gambian team mates were slightly bemused with the finished product (very different from their usual, heavy, wooden dug out canoe – ‘pirogue’), they took to the water as if the 811 Ally had been made for them. Florio went in after this with Ebu, whilst I filmed (coming soon!) – they made the ‘Hawaii 5 0′ boys look tame!! Not that we are advocating using the Ally canoes in the ocean but the guys did insist!

We’re looking forward to getting onto the River Gambia soon, with both of the Allys – ‘The Twins’ as we’re calling them for now. Although, Abdou insists that we have a naming ceremony for them and he thinks ‘Awa’ (after his wife) for one and ‘Helen (after guess who!) for the second canoe would be ‘very fine‘. Hmmm…we think a Mandinka name might be more fitting. We’ll see.

We hope to leave for Guinea on the 1st November – if not before. We’ll keep you updated.

Thanks as always for stopping by.

The Florios

The Florios’ Canoe Training – for our West Africa River Gambia Expedition

She’s ready to roll…into the Wey Navigation, Surrey – ’811 16.5′ Ally Folding Canoe’ by Bergans of Norway. Image © Jason Florio

Sunday 9th September 2012:

Betwixt all the full-on River Gambia Expedition pre-planning we also have to squeeze in some time on the water, with our ’811 16.5′ Ally Canoe’ (one of two that we need – we are still working on the funding to get the 2nd ‘An Exchange’). However, this also happens to be the fun part too – something we really do enjoy. Which is rather a good thing, considering we may well be paddling for over 1000km when we get down to West Africa!

Helen takes the bow – The Wey Navigation, Surrey © Jason Florio

We got up early yesterday, packed up sandwiches, fruit and a flask of coffee, strapped our 16.5′ canoe onto the top of the truck, and set off for the Wey Navigation – our main practice playground (when we’re not hanging out with the Surrey Canoe Club gang, or it’s trainers, on the River Thames). We headed for Pyrford Lock to get the Ally into the water – opposite one of our favourite watering holes on the Wey, The Anchor.

‘Keradorong’ on the Wey Navigation

As we paddled along, we had one of those wonderful, serendipitous, moments when we spotted the name of the above long boat. Although the spelling is different (and surely has a totally different meaning), there is a word in the West African Mandinka language, ‘Kaira dorong’ – meaning ‘I am in peace/peace be with you’ – and this is the what we both thought, instantly, in seeing the word, painted on the side of the boat. It then got us musing over what we should call our canoes. Perhaps one of them should be ‘Kaira dorong’…

Florio. Post-Portage. Image © Helen Jones-Florio

Click of the Fujifilm XP GPS (thanks Fulifilm for the support!) to get our co-ordinates © Jason Florio

There was a fair amount of traffic on the Wey yesterday – the weather was glorious so how could there fail to be – but, most of the time, we still felt as if we had the river blissfully to ourselves.

Bridges and Reflections – The Wey Navigation, Surrey. Image © Helen Jones-Florio

We had to portage the canoe through a number of locks, en route – including one where we had to dodge the traffic, across a very busy main road, with the 16.5′ canoe propped on our shoulders!

However, we came to one lock just as a long boat was waiting to pass through. So, instead of portaging, this time we went through with the long boat – hanging onto the the side of it as the water level dropped. Our first lock (see ‘Wobbly Productions’ footage following)

Helen – waiting for the next long boat to come through – this time we’re doing the lock! Image © Jason Florio

click on image to watch

According to our GPS (thanks to Fujifilm for the XP GPS Digital Camera), we’ve made 9km’s – paddling from Pyrford Lock and its time for a coffee break and to catch up with whats going on in the rest of the world. A lazy hour, lounging in the sunshine, reading the Sunday papers, before heading back towards where we set off a few hours earlier.

Time for a coffee break and to read the Sunday papers. Image © Helen Jones-Florio

And we were joined by a curious little, four-legged, miniature something or other (more interested in our sandwiches then us, if the truth be known). If we cut a puppy-dog head-sized hole in the side of our Overboard Waist Pack, we’d could make a fortune back home in Greenwich Village, NYC – selling these as doggy carrying bags!

A perfect fit for H’s Overboard Waist Pack! Image © Helen Jones-Florio

Serenity and the Wey Navigation, Surrey. Image © Jason Florio

Time to head home and get in a little product placement whilst we are at it. Big thanks to Overboard – ‘the leaders in waterproof bags and cases’ for their very generous support for the River Gambia Expedition. We are now totally stocked up on waterproof bags for the journey.

H models her Overboard Waist Pack. Image © Jason Florio

A perfect end to a perfect day. Image © Helen Jones-Florio

A grand day was had…indeed. Cheers!

The Florios

To find out how you can support the River Gambia Expedition and get one of Jason Florio’s limited edition fine art prints in ‘An Exchange’, click on the image below:

Click image to view

Travel Plans Update: The River Gambia Expedition 2012 – things are falling into place and our leaving date for West Africa is in sight. At last.

The Florios Travel

Just to keep you all updated on our progress…plans are falling onto place, ‘domading, domading’ (Mandinka for slowly, slowly), for our pending departure down to West Africa – and to begin the River Gambia Expedition 2012 proper. Once down there, our journey will take us to the source of the river (the River Gambia) – with some trekking alongside it to begin with – until a point whereby the river gets wide enough for us to get the canoes in – across borders and through three West African countries: beginning in Guinea, on into the South East of Senegal (and the hippo infested waters of Niokolo Koba National Park – an estimated 6000 of the mammoth mammals!) and, finally, into The Republic of the Gambia (the country derives its name from the river) and onto the Atlantic Ocean and our journey’s end.

The Route Map

We’re working hard on fundraising for the expedition (Jason’s fine art photography prints in ‘an exchange‘ for donations); meeting with ambassadors from the relevant countries; researching (researching and…more researching); sourcing the best in-country guides for the Guinea and Senegal sections; beg, borrowing and stealing equipment ((ok, not the stealing bit – we have some fantastic gear sponsors on boardwe need more though! ); building canoes, twittering / twottering and Facebooking...and, in between all of that, we’re training hard on the river with the one canoe we have so far (we have yet to raise the funds to get the second canoe that we need – hint, hint!).

Florio out runs the swans in the ’811 16.5 Ally′ folding canoe! Lets just hope we can do the same with the hippos on the River Gambia! Image © Helen Jones-Florio

In between all this work, revisiting old West London haunts on the ‘Bella (Portobello Road, to the uninitiated) has been on the agenda. My, how things have changed. However, its good to see some things remain the same…(factoid: back in the day, a young Mr Florio used to work at ‘Slam City Skates’ when they had a shop downstairs at Rough Trade, off Portobello Road)

Image © Helen Jones-Florio, 2012

Phew! Alas, non of the above will abate until we get down on the river, in West Africa – even then, we’ll be trying damn hard, as often as we can, to get a signal to update this blog, and our sponsors and donors. However, we’ll still be making the most of the journey and the inevitable adventures it will bring.

And, importantly, lets hope we can bring back more road stories , river tales, and beautiful images – photos that tell stories – as we did from the our Short Walk expedition.

‘Silafando’ Gambian Chiefs & Elders © Jason Florio, 2009

Boys playing in the River Gambia, Tendaba, The Gambia © Jason Florio, 2009

The Short Walk team – leaving the village of Kalaji at dawn, The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio, 2009

For more of Florio’s award-winning portraits, from A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush, please visit his website and for ‘road stories’ and more photographs from the 2009 expedition, please visit the blog

One other thing that we’ve been collecting are stories of hippo’s…and, the more we hear, the more trepidacious we are of encountering these colossal, extremely territorial, unpredictable, hefty mammals, on route – and, from what we’ve been told, there is little doubt that we will come face to face with them.

Hippos – Ngorongoro © Jason Florio

Leaving date? Hmmm…as soon as possible but, in reality, we hope to fly down to West Africa by mid-late September. Firstly, to The Gambia to prep with our Gambian team mates, Abdou and Ebou, for a week or so. Then we’ll drive down to Guinea, to begin our epic journey…more updates on that as and when.

If you’d like to know more about how to support the expedition, in an exchange, for one of Jason Florio’s fine art photography prints, taken from image whilst we are on the River Gambia Expedition, check our Florio talking about this in YouTube:

Please click image to watch the video

Thank you to everyone who has jumped on board to support us so far – gear sponsors and individual donors alike – without whom this journey, basically, wouldn’t happen (unless our trust funds suddenly materialise – yeah right, what trust fund?!).

Please stop by for more updates…coming soon.

The Florios (Helen & Flo)