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

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Woman breastfeeding her baby, gold miners at work, Senegal, West Africa © Jason Florio

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Photographer, Jason Florio, at work – Gold mines, Senegal. West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

Thursday 20th December 2013 – Paddling distance: 11.4km (total to-date: 83.65km) – River Gambia Expedition

River Gambia Expedition

A relatively short day’s paddling on the River Gambia today, as we wanted to stop and visit another gold mine in South Eastern Senegal. This stretch of the river is dotted with artisanal gold mines – which draw thousands of migrant workers from all over West Africa: Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, Guinea-Conakry, Mali, and Senegal itself. All of them hoping to make their fortune. Whole families live in and around the mines, in makeshift villages (rather disconcertingly described as the ‘Wild West‘ of SE Senegal, during our pre-expedition research). All the mines we visited were understandably dusty, but this one, in particular, had an extremely fine, pink-hued, dust which got into absolutely everything. Even our tents, situated by the river – over 2 miles away from the mine itself – were covered in a fine film of the pale pink, talc-like dust. But, at least we could pack up our tents and leave the next day, washing away the dust. Many of those people whose lives revolve around the gold mines, for months and years in some cases, aren’t so lucky, as they inhale toxic fumes from the mercury – used to separate the gold from the rock dust. The mercury that isn’t inhaled settles into the environment – i.e. the pink dust that coats everything and everybody, at this mine.

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Florio helps the gold miner load his bicycle, Senegal, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

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H: “There’s gold in this here rock – apparently!” Gold mines, Senegal © Jason Florio

We met the Senegalese version of a ‘Tolleh Kaafo (silly people/village jokers). Most villages in The Gambia will have such a group, or person, in this case, and their purpose is to lighten up situations – laughing and joking around, when things get too serious. This guy was a real character, who seemed to have everything but an attayah teapot in his pockets!

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Kids playing in the dust, gold mines, Senegal, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

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Ebou, Abdou and Yousef, relax after a long days paddle, Senegal, West Africa © Jason Florio

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Dawn – Ebou & Yousef go fishing, River Gambia, Senegal, West Africa © Jason Florio

More river stories to come…next stop Mako, with a couple of hippo encounters on the way!

As always, thanks for stopping by.

The Florios - H & Florio

To view Jason Florio latest series of images – River Gambia – please visit



Jason Florio & Ebou’s random meeting in the gold mines of Senegal

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Florio and Ebou with a Gambian gold miner (middle), Senegal, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

On our travels through the gold mines of Senegal, out of the hundreds of thousands of migrants who travel from all over West Africa to the region, we bumped into this guy from The Gambia – our team mate, Ebou’s, home country. Here he is, taking us to meet his fellow Gambians, who had migrated to the area in the hope of making their fortune.

More photos and stories from the River Gambia Expedition coming soon.

Fashion and the gold mines of Senegal, West Africa

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Those gold miners have got that ‘sagging’ jeans look goin’ on © Jason Florio

Whilst we were on the River Gambia Expedition, it became apparent, that the ‘sagging’ jeans/hip hop culture has taken off big time in Senegal – and actually in The Gambia and the Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea-Conakry too. Check out the ‘moto-taxi’ guys from Labé, in a previous post.

Coming next…more from River Gambia and the gold mines of Southeast Senegal.

Thanks for stopping by

The Florios (H & ‘Flo’)

A woman’s fight for her right to paddle…on the River Gambia, Senegal, West Africa

17th December: Sila Kounda – Djinji, Senegal. 26.06km

This paddle is mine – look it’s even got my name on it!“. And that’s exactly what I had to do – write my name on the bloody thing!

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‘Go on, I dare you…just try and take this paddle from me!’ H, Sila Kounda © Jason Florio

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Youtube: H and HER paddle! The River Gambia, Senegal, West Africa- click image or here to view footage

Ok…so this side was a thank you to one of our donors (thanks, Suzy Peters, Hampstead Village, London, UK – it did the job!). My name is on the other side – honestly.

Yesterday, our first day on the river, because we had an extra man for seven days (Yousef, our Malian fisherman/guide), I agreed with Florio to do some filming, instead of paddling. But, I would definitely be paddling each day – it was a given, as far as I was concerned. Not so, it seems, with our team mates and Yousef.

The conversation with River Gambia Expedition team member, Ebou, and Yousef this morning, when I picked up the paddle, as we headed out for the river:

Yousef: “Non, non!” and then some rapid-fire Bamabara, jumbled up with Mandinka, directed at Ebou (Ebou even admitted he had problems understanding Yousef sometimes – as he switched fluidly from Bambara to Mandinka in one sentence).

Me: “Abdou has to use his paddle – I need to paddle today”. After trying our aluminium TNP paddles on the river from Kedougou yesterday, he had quickly reverted back to the traditional wooden paddle he had brought with him from The Gambia. So, why would it be a problem?

Florio: “It’s ok, H, we can take turns with my paddle”

Me: ‘No! I want to paddle – just like everyone else on this journey! This is not open for discussion, guys” – i.e. don’t treat me like the only muso (woman) that I am on the team. “I do not want to fight with you, to use my own paddle!“. Besides, it’s got my name on it – now. Albeit hastily scribbled on it this morning with my Sharpie.

More rapid-fire conversation between Ebou and Yousef.

Ebou: “Yousef said that the (TNP) paddles are better for going through the fast water”

Me: “But what would you normally use – you didn’t have these paddles before?” Answer that one and stay fashionable, Ebou. “Also, Abdou didn’t like using them before and now suddenly he seemingly can’t paddle without it?!”

Ebou: “Yes, but Yousef said that they are better”

Me: “Again, what would you normally use?

Ebou – stalwart as ever: “But they are better”

There is no arguing with these guys, I thought, as I climbed into the canoe with my paddle (marked with my name – a petty victory, perhaps) and Abdou climbed into the other, with his. He didn’t appear to be too perturbed by using his own paddle (see following photo). It was more about muso’s don’t paddle – i.e. it’s a man’s job as far as they were concerned. But then I could argue about all the female fisher women you see on the river…the predominantly female oyster collectors in the balongs …however, it just wouldn’t be worth the hassle – deaf ears, and all that. They simply couldn’t comprehend that I, a toubab muso at that, actually wanted to paddle. This was going to be a long journey…

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Unperturbed? Abdou with his traditional paddle – River Gambia, Senegal © Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio – screen grab from film footage

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Arrival – Djinji, Senegal © Jason Florio

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Girls washing laundry at in the River Gambia, Djinji, Senegal © Jason Florio

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Woman washing her corn in the River Gambia, Senegal © Jason Florio

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Kids and their dogs, Djinji, Senegal © Jason Florio

On our arrival at Djinji village, we were told by the woman washing her corn in the River Gambia, that sadly the village chief’s brother had passed away and the whole village was in mourning. As with our 2009 expedition - A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – we were using the traditional method of ‘Silafando’ when meeting with the village chief. At first, we thought that perhaps we should paddle on a little further, to the next village, so as not disturb the chief. However, Abdou seemed to think that we should carry on up to the village, pay our respects, and take it from there.

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Djinji school yard – Djinji, Senegal © Jason Florio

We went to meet the chief, presented the Silafando – kola nuts – and, despite his very recent bereavement, he kindly welcomed us into the village. People were arriving from villages all around the area, to pay their respects and prey – the chiefs compound was getting decidedly crowded. Due to the village being in mourning, the school was closed, so the school headmaster suggested that we camp in the school yard.

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Our campsite (and the cart that brought our gear from the river), Djinji, Senegal © Helen Jones-Florio

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The Kelly Kettle is always a show stopper! Djinji, Senegal © Jason Florio

Meeting with the old blind chef de village of Djinji

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The Imam , head of the local mosque (middle), prays with the chief and his wife – Abdou, on the right, pays his respects, Djinji © Jason Florio

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Chef de village, in prayer, Djinji © Jason Florio

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‘Rosa’ – a Nigerian woman we met in Djinji who was working at the local gold mine. Her English was very good and we wanted to interview her about her experiences at the mines. However, she was reticent about that but agreed to have her photograph taken © Jason Florio

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Praying for the dead – Djinji village, Senegal – filmed by Helen Jones-Florio © Jason Florio and Helen Jones-Florio – click here or on the above image to view

Coming next…more hanging out in the gold mines, near to the River Gambia, in Senegal.

Thanks as always for stopping by

The Helen & Florio

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A migrant worker from Guinea poses with his shovel he uses to excavate sand from the River Gambia in Senegal. The sand will be washed and mixed with mercury to extract gold © Jason Florio

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 – 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.


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.


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