Strength – a woman’s work…River Gambia, Kedougou, Senegal

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Senegal, West Africa © Jason Florio

Random photos of the day: A woman returns from her daily work of washing laundry and utensils in the River Gambia, Kedougou, Senegal, West Africa.

When we returned to Kedougou – after paying homage to the source of the River Gambia in the Fouta Djallon Hghlands of Guinea – we spent a few days preparing ‘The Twins’ (our two Ally 811 canoes), ready to get them into the River. This also entailed going down to various sections of the River Gambia to find out where would be the best place for us to embark, with the canoes, on the next phase of the River Gambia Expedition.

It was near to the Relais de Kedougou hotel that we saw many of the local women washing clothes, pots, pans, and rice, in the river each day – in fact, it’s a common sight along the entire length of the the river, up until when the water becomes too salty (as it nears it’s end, in the Atlantic Ocean, The Gambia). The river bank was particularly steep by the Relais and the woman would hoist up the heavy loads, onto their heads, as if the large plastic buckets contained nothing other than the feathers of a fattened guinea fowl!

Despite many, many years of traveling to Africa, I will continue be amazed by how much women, and young girls, carry loads with such apparent ease.

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Ferry crossing on The River Gambia, Kedougou, Senegal, West Africa © Jason Florio

For an update on what we are working on right now (i.e. the book!) – July 2013 – please click here

Looking back: The weight of waiting…Kedougou, Senegal, West Africa

Wednesday November 28th 2012

Internet Cafe, Kedougou, Senegal, West Africa © Jason Florio 2012

Hurry up and wait…this should be the title of our book about the River Gambia Expedition so far.

The journey began on our departure from Gatwick Airport, UK on the 16th October. However, since we arrived in West Africa, all we seem to have done is wait, wait, and wait some more – whether it be for a box of expedition gear to arrive by boat in The Gambia (which we still don’t have a definite date for it’s arrival into Banjul Port), or waiting for the public transport that we need to take to get us to Labé, high up in the Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea, to fill up with enough passengers to depart Kedougou, Senegal. The next Land Cruiser in line to leave the bus station needs seventeen people before the driver will leave and head towards the capital of the Fouta Djallon. At the moment, ten people have paid to join the vehicle (including our team of four). So far, it has taken three days to fill those ten seats.

Helen – Breakfast in Kedougou, Senegal © Jason Florio 2012

After much debate amongst the team, and our time to complete the expedition running extremely short – we haven’t actually even started it yet (we don’t truly start it until we reach the source of the River Gambia, located somewhere in the Fouta Djallon Highlands)! So, we have decided to swallow the expense and buy up the extra seats in the Land Cruiser so that we can get moving. It will make a big dent in our already very tight budget – travel in West Africa can be extraordinarily expensive, often due to extortionately high gas prices in certain parts of the continent (this ride will cost us a staggering $250) – but we are now almost eight weeks behind schedule…due to…waiting.

Waiting…for the ferry to cross the River Gambia, Kedougou, Senegal © Jason Florio

Despite the waiting game, we’ve really enjoyed our time in Kedougou. With great gratitude and respect, we’ve been staying in the peaceful, spacious, compound of Peter Stirling – a Canadian we met on line whilst researching our trip – run by the trés belle Bébé (who also happens to be a great cook!) and her husband, Kali (who, unfortunately, we won’t get to meet this time around, as he is working out in the bush on a chimpanzee rehabilitation project). Visited by scavenging chickens and cockerels in the morning, thirsty donkeys mid-afternoon (to drink water from the well  in the compound), goats chomping the sparse grass late afternoon, and the odd dog cocking it’s leg around the place – the compound is alive. At night, we have lizards and god know what else scuttling around in the eves of our hut. We’ve also been discovering the sprawling, vibrant, dusty town of Kedougou and the nearby River Gambia – from whose banks we’ll be setting off from, once we return from paying homage to the source of the river, in the Fouta Djallon.

Farmers – the banks of the River Gambia, kedougou, Senegal © Jason Florio 2012

“Insh’Allah’ – It is in the hands of God” Ebu tells us, as he hangs up from the umpteenth phone call to the driver at the bus station, to see how many seats have been sold so far. How far is Labé, we ask? “A day and a night” – in local terms, is the answer…and the roads are ‘very bad’. I have a suspicion that might be a slight understatement. But, I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

We hope to be in Labé by Friday morning…’Insh’Allah’.

More updates whenever possible so please stick with us.

The Florios (H & Flo), Abdou and Ebu

The River Gambia Expedition Team

Follow our trail on YellowBrick Tracking

To find out how we eventually got the Labé, please check out ‘The long and winding road…Kedougou, Senegal-Labé, Guinea-Conarkry-and back again

The ferry crossing across the River Gambia, Senegal, West Africa

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© Jason Florio

Random photo of the day: Car ferry crossing over the River Gambia, in Kedougou, Senegal, West Africa. Taken whilst on the River Gambia Expedition – image © Jason Florio

We’ll be presenting a slideshow and discussion all about our journey at Foto Care, NYC, on Tuesday 14th May – 6.30pm-8pm. Please click this link to find out all the details

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More personal thanks from West Africa to those who made the River Gambia Expedition possible

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Our way of saying thanks to all those who made the River Gambia Expedition possible – with your participation in ‘An Exchange’ and the Kickstarter campaign. For that, we have been immensely humbled by your support and unprecedented generosity.

Thank you’s – all the way from West Africa!

BIG thanks – (see more here)

The Florios (H & Flo)

To those who don’t see their names on the ‘rolling page of HUGE thanks’, please bear with us as we sort through three months of images!

Back in Kedougou, Senegal – prepping to get ‘The Twins’ – Ally 811 canoes – onto the River Gambia + negotiations, Senegalese style.

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River Gambia, Kedougou, Senegal © Jason Florio

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The village of Runde Bara, Senegal – one of the villages which will be wiped out if the proposed dam on the River Gambia is built © Jason Florio

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Chief de village, Runde Bara, Senegal © Jason Florio

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Dindefalo waterfall, Senegal © Jason Florio

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Moto-taxi rider, Senegal West Africa © Jason Florio

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Moto-taxi rider, Senegal West Africa © Jason Florio

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Farmers – banks of the River Gambia, Kedougou, Senegal © Jason Florio

Wednesday 12th December 2012 – back in Kedougou, Senegal, to pick up ‘The Twins’ – our Ally811 canoes

Thank God! No more spine jarring, teeth rattling, motorcycle rides, up, down, or around the Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea-Conakry. The eight-hour moto-taxi ride down from high altitude of Mali Ville has left the insides of my stomach doing somersaults (stools like water – say no more!) and my head feels as if there is a small person in there, with a mallet, knocking on the front of my skull. I’m not sure if it’s malaria, altitude sickness, or the fact that the mburro (bread) which we eat every day being invariably pawed by numerous pairs of unwashed hands. Whatever it is, it’s left me feeling shaky – my body alternating between cold chills and sweating bucket-loads. Along with my aching limbs, from clinging onto a motorcycle for eight hours – to state the obvious – I’m not feeling too grand today. So much so, Florio has gone off with Ebou to visit the area around Runde Bara (‘the place of the slaves’), near to the Senegal and Guinea border – which is where the proposed site of a dam, on the River Gambia, is purported to be. Even if I had been feeling better, I really couldn’t face another motorcycle taxi ride to the village – even if it was only an ‘hour or so away’. That’s what we were told in Mali Ville about Kedougou! I think Abdou feels the same so he has opted to stay and keep me company.

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Abdou – the art of sitting around – Kedougou, Senegal © Helen Jones-Florio

Florio and Ebou return late afternoon, from the proposed site of the dam – which will entail the entire population of three villages being ‘relocated’ – on the Senegal side of the river and four to five on the Guinea-Conakry side. Florio had spoken with some of the local villagers in the area who had been told by the government, in 2011, that they were to stay where they were, for now. The reason being was that the dam construction workers would need to be fed and housed. However, the villagers would be ‘compensated for everything’. ‘Hey people, stick around for a bit longer – before we shove you off your land, which you have lived on for hundreds of years, to a undetermined location – so that you can cook, launder and take care of the very people who are going to wipe your history right off the map!’

We’re having a couple of days at our friend’s place (thanks, again, Peter!), to make plans for the next – very exciting – stage of the River Gambia Expedition: getting ‘The Twins’, our ‘Ally 811‘ canoes, onto the River Gambia for the very first time. This is what all four of us have been waiting for – to get paddling up the River. Top of the to-do list, is to find a reliable fishermen/guide, who can take us along the river, from Kedougou to Mako. We anticipate that it will take us about a week – camping on the riverbank each night. We’ll need someone who knows the river well – and who has had experience with hippos, of which we have heard there are many.

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Food and tea break – Kedougou, Senegal © Helen Jones-Florio

Through our host, Peter, we had a number of contacts that knew of fishermen in Kedougou – who may know the first section of the river we would be traversing. Yesterday, we went to visit a possible contender. Lets just call him Mr B.

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Florio interviews Mr B – the fisherman/guide, Kedougou © Helen Jones-Florio

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Mr B’s ‘brother’ trying to sell us bamboo, fishing nets, even his services as a guide with his brother ‘you need two guides’ he tells us. Is that right?! © Helen Jones-Florio

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Boys in the compound, Kedougou © Helen Jones-Florio

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Florio at work with old Mr Bindia – Kedougou, Senegal © Helen Jones-Florio

We spent an hour or so, with the fisherman, Mr B., discussing our plans and trying to suss out if he knew the river all the way up to Mako. The frustrating thing for us is that our guys, Abdou and Ebou, were translating Mr B’s Wolof and, we know from experience with them that not every detail is always fully relayed to us – importantly, in this instance, the exact fee that the Mr B was asking for. It wasn’t until we got back to our compound later – after the fisherman had drawn the figures of the amount he wanted in the sand at our feet – and we had shaken hands on the deal, that Ebou told us that what Mr B. wanted for guiding us was five times as much as we had agreed on! Abdou, pointing at Ebou: “but, I tell him this, back there, in the man’s compound”. Errmmm…didn’t either of you think to tell us that – before we shook on it?

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The ‘stoned biker’! We bump into of the guys who brought us down the mountain from Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon © Helen Jones-Florio

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Flo, Ebou & Abdou – Kedougou, Senegal © Helen Jones-Flori

There is a frustrating kind of dual currency, Central Africa Franc/CFA, in Senegal, meaning that things can end up costing you a lot more than you bargained for, if don’t know the system. There’s the ‘real CFA’ amount – what you see on the note and what someone quotes you is exactly what you pay: i.e. a tin of sardines is 600CFA, you actually hand over 600CFA. As one would expect. But then, there is the ‘local CFA’ amount i.e. someone quotes you the price of a plate of food at ’200′, the actual price is 1000CFA/’wuli killing’ – you have to times the quoted 200 by 5! Who knew. And, if that isn’t confusing enough, not everyone works this way, and unless you show them the actual notes, you can’t be sure who is operating on this ‘local CFA’ system. Even that’s not a watertight way – we had actually shown Mr B. the amount of currency he commanded for his fee, when he drew the amount in the sand, and he had agreed (that may be because he actually couldn’t read the notes). You’d have to live in Senegal ‘for two years’ before you got it, as Abdou told us once before. That was after we had been badly stung on a fee for hiring moto-taxis.

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Coffee for us – Kedougou, Senegal © Helen Jones-Florio

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Attayah tea for Ebou – he’s an expert! We will go through kilos upon kilos of sugar for their tea during the expedition! © Helen Jones-Florio

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And the odd beer before we hit a dry few weeks on the River Gambia – Relais de Kedougou hotel, Kedougou, Senegal © Helen Jones-Florio

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We’ll passing here in a few short days – Dusk over the River Gambia © Jason Florio

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You’re outnumbered, pooch! West African goats don’t mess around! © Helen Jones-Florio

Seemingly, all things happen for a good reason because, after a little more asking around, we were introduced to Youssef – a Malian fisherman – who assured us that he knew the whole length of the route on the River Gambia we were about to take to Mako. The fact that he was over an hour late on our first morning of getting on the river – and just shrugged and smiled when I pointed at my watch – was more than made up for when we had our first hippo encounter. He did have the most infectious laugh – he would also laugh out loud at the oddest times – like when we startled a hippo and it jumped out from under the water, right by our canoe! But, I’m jumping ahead – more on that in the next post! Youssef also couldn’t speak a word of English – Bambara being his first (Malian) language – but he could speak Wolof. Uh oh…I wonder what will be lost in translation this time!

We sit around the maps, laid out on the ground, and look at the length of the River Gambia from Kedougou to Denton Bridge, in The Gambia, where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean – which will be our journey’s end. It’s a long way. But, we are ready to get going.

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Abdou, Ebou and Florio – mapping it out – Kedougou, Senegal © Helen Jones-Florio

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Abdou “How will we get all the gear into two canoes?!” © Jason Florio

Ebou: “it is not necessary for Helen to paddle”

Flo: “it’s not a matter of ‘not necessary’. Helen wants to paddle – she is one of the team – that has to be understood”

Ebou: “but you (a muso/woman) cannot do it” he looks at me with a questioning smile on his face. I wonder if he pulling my leg.

Abdou: “but from Farafenni, we cannot do it (paddle), the waves are too strong…it is not possible without a motor” as he makes sweeping up and down motions with his hands. I feel sick already.

Me & Florio: “lets cross that bridge when we get to it…all along the river, we will use local knowledge about each section we paddle through” .Abdou doesn’t look convinced. Then again, we had to show him images of friends of ours, Grant and Kamil, who had kayaked the length of the River Gambia, within The Gambia, last year – from Koina-Denton Bridge – before he would believe us that it’s possible to paddle the length of the river, without the use of a motor! After months of prepping with Abou and Ebou, via email, before we flew down to West Africa to begin the expedition, Flo and I begin to wonder how they thought we were really going to make the journey. Or even if we could make it. Abdou still looked doubtful, that what we were about to embark on was possible. Nothing quite like team spirit!

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Woman and child washing in the River Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio

We are almost there…it’s like Christmas Eve. The River Gambia is calling.

More to come, very soon.

Thanks, as always, for stopping by

The Florios (H & Flo)

Next up: our first day on the River Gambia in ‘The Twins’, (almost) capsizing one of the canoes, and making a hippo very angry!

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‘The Twins’ are in the River Gambia!. Image by Henk Eshuis L-R: Florio, helen, Abdou, Ebou and Yousef – Kedougou, Senegal

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The Twins are in the water!! Kedougou, Senegal © Henk Eshuis

Bone-juddering Fouta Djallon Highland roads and the stoned biker! Eight dust-covered hours from Mali Ville–Kedougou, Senegal

The River Gambia Expedition story continues…

Saturday 8th December, 2012 – Mali Ville, Guinea-Conakry, Fouta Djallon Highlands, West Africa

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The Land Cruiser which should have taken us from Mali Ville to Kedougou! – Downtown Mali Ville, Guinea-Conakry © Helen Jones-Florio

Yesterday morning we were up at 6am, waiting for the driver of a Land Cruiser. The previous day, we had arranged for local transport, at the gare routièrebus station – to take us down the mountains, from the Fouta Djallon Highlands, and back to Kedougou, Senegal. Once there, we would pick up ‘The Twins’ – our two 811 Ally canoeswhere we had left them a week or so ago, at a friends compound. The driver had assured us that he already had ‘4-6 passengers…no problem, the vehicle will be full by 8pm tonight’. Visions of Kedougou and waiting three days for a vehicle to fill up, before it could leave the bus station, instantly sprang to mind. However, the driver was adamant that he would be at our guest house in Mali Ville, the Auberge Indigo, to pick us and have us on the road back to Kedougou by 8am, latest.

So, it was with no real surprise, when the driver turned up – sans vehicle – to tell us that he now had ‘no passengers booked’, apart from us. S&*$! We really didn’t have the luxury of time on our side to hang around Mali Ville, let alone the budget to pay for more nights at the guest house. We needed to move forwards, on with the next, very important, stage of the River Gambia Expedition: getting ‘The Twins’ into the River Gambia.

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Ebu – ‘Moto taxi’ rider – Mali Ville, Guinea-Conakry. Image © Jason Florio

‘Moto-taxis’ – as passenger motorcycles are known in Guinea – was suggested by Saif, our Guinea guide from Galissa Voyage Trekking. “NO, NO, NO!!”, was my immediate response, much to Saif and the rest of the teams bemusement. And if they didn’t hear that clearly enough: “NO BLOODY WAY!!”. Also,it was ok for Saif to suggest the dodgy looking motorcycles, because he was leaving us to go back home to Labé – in a car!

After having suffered a particularly bad accident in Thailand, It had taken me ten years to get back on a motorcycle! And that was only due to Florio‘s lengthy cajoling and promises to ‘go slow’, on his motorcycle back in New York. I’d had the accident whilst travelling on a motorcycle at 40km per hour, when me and the person I was with were pushed off the side of the road by a lorry. My friend went hurtling over the handlebars and I was thrown off the side of the motorcycle – my right knee connecting with a concrete post in the process. The result was a puncture wound and a patella – kneecap – shattered into 13 pieces. I also suffered a badly busted eye and broken teeth where, on impact, my face had connected with the back of my friend’s head – a tooth broke clean in half, the other half embedded in my friend’s head! Of course, we weren’t wearing helmets. I will never. Ever. Think that I am invincible just because I’m travelling in a foreign country, the hot sun shining brightly…erm…at least not until Guinea-Conakry, that is.

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Ebu & Helen “do I look convinced enough?” – outside Auberge Indigo hotel, Mali Ville, Guinea-Conakry. Image © Jason Florio

As you can see, I was eventually ‘convinced’ – made to feel guilty is more like it. The rest of the team cajoling me and conniving together – i.e. I would be holding the next stage of the expedition up if I didn’t agree. No pressure then! ‘The roads are so bad here, that the motorcycles can’t go that fast anyway’; ‘you can pick which bike you think looks in the best condition’ (gee, thanks); ‘we take it small, small’ – where just a few of the wheedling words, used by the boys, whilst trying to convince me. Finally, ‘It will be cheaper than taking the vehicle!’ said Florio – pulling at my expedition budget purse-strings – that clinched the deal!

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Alternative transport? Mali Ville, Guinea Conakry, Fouta Djallon Highlands © Jason Florio

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Florio checks out other possibilities to get the team down the mountain and to Senegal © Helen Jones-Florio

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Moto – motto – Mali Ville, Guinea-Conakry © Helen Jones-Florio

After the usual to-ing and fro-ing about the price, with the main moto rider, called Ebu, for hiring four motorcycles, we assumed a reasonable price had been reached. Meanwhile, I muttered a mantra to myself: ‘ok, I’m terrified but I will overcome this fear’ , ‘ok, I’m terrified but I will overcome this fear’… - Ebu (who, to me, had the ‘best bike’. Guess who I’m going with then) went off to get the bikes fueled up. However, when he returned, with all four moto riders revving to go, he announced the words we had heard already, and would continue to hear throughout the entire expedition wherever taking local transport was concerned: ‘the price is too small’. WHAT?!! We have a deal – which had already taken over two hours to negotiate! We then spent until 2pm – four hours in total – re-negotiating with Ebu. We even checked around town to see what other moto-taxis were charging. They all confirmed that the amount charged was to cover expensive fuel costs and the price of laissez passé – a permit to allow them to take their motos over the border from Guinea into Senegal. Ironically though, despite thinking we would be saving money by taking the moto’s, it turned out more expensive per person than taking the vehicle option. It seemed like an extortionate amount to us for what would be a ‘two-three hour motorcycle ride’. According our main moto main, Ebu, when we were trying to make the initial, lengthy, deal with him: “Come, we go now, now! We will get to Kedougou in two hours” he assured us – compared to 6-7 hours in the vehicle. In the end, we haggled a deal for roughly $28 per person – down from $35 per person. Hey, when on an expedition, every single dollar saved counts.

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The money shot – Guinean Francs – Mali Ville, Guinea Conakry © Jason Florio

The next step was getting all of our luggage onto the back of the four bikes – and we had a fair bit of it. Four 60 litre Overboard bags, Florio’s camera backpack and my rucksack. And, just one of the many things that I love about traveling in West Africa – everything is ‘no problem!’. Therefore, within 20 minutes, our bags were tied onto the four motorcycles, with pieces of string and strips of old rubber inner tubing – an ingenious bit of recycling, used for strapping all manner of things onto vehicles, motos, donkey carts, bicycles etc. in West Africa. At long last, almost five hours later, we were ready to hit the road, Ebu, was still adamant we would make Kedougou by dark. So much so, he very convincingly stated: “and I will also return tonight, to Mali, with a passenger from Kedougou too!”. In actual fact, we would not reach Kedougou until 10pm that evening!

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Florio, Abdou and Ebou – downtown Mali Ville, Guinea Conakry © Helen Jones-Florio

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Overboard backpack tubes – Mali Ville, Guinea-Conakry © Helen Jones-Florio

If we had had even a hint that we would be on the back of those motorcycles for almost nine spine-juddering hours, not one of us would have been smiling, and joking, half as much as we did when we set off!

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River Gambia team member, Abdou, and his ‘moto’ rider – Mali Ville, Guinea-Conakry © Jason Florio

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H & ‘moto’ rider, Ebu and River Gambia Expedition team member, Ebou with his rider – leaving Mali Ville, Guinea-Conakry © Jason Florio

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Youtube: Florio – On the road – Mali Ville – Kedougou. Filmed by Helen Jones-Florio © Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio. Click image or here to view footage

We rattled and bounced out of Mali Ville over the rocky, riverbed-like, roads. And, it continued that way for 99% of the journey. At times, the ‘roads’ were so bad, and/or too steep, that we – the passengers – had to dismount the bikes and walk up or down a hill, as the riders negotiated the roughest of terrain. “This is a new road that I do not know it” Ebu tells me, as he asks me to dismount the bike for the third or fourth time. I looked at him to see if he was joking with me. The ‘new road’ was a steep incline, made up of various-sized boulders – not a smooth spot or patch of tarmac to be seen. When I eventually got back on, Ebu told me – would turn out be his mantra throughout the ride – whilst I desperately hung onto the metal luggage rack for dear life, as he expertly maneuvered the moto over and around the rocks: “the roads are too bad, here in Guinea”. No shit Sherlock! “The government…they do nothing for the people of Guinea” he adds. I tell him that it is such a shame that the roads are so very bad. “More tourists would come to Guinea-Conakry, if it was easier to get from one place to another” I say. “the Fouta Djallon is breathtakingly beautiful”.

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Moto taxis Guinean style – Mali Ville, Guinea-Conakry © Helen Jones-Florio

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On the road: Mali Ville – Keodougou © Jason Florio

Regardless of the bone-juddering, jaw-clenching ride – and before we realized that we would not be making it to Kedougou before dusk – from the back of the motorcycles, we enjoyed the magnificent scenery of the mountainous region. Its tropical lushness reminded me of parts of Costa Rica. However, it wasn’t too long before the tension in my arms, from gripping the luggage rack, and squeezing my thighs, to avoid being thrown off the back of the moto, the constant bouncing of my coccyx on the hard seat, and my clenched jaw, began to manifest as extremely uncomfortable aches and pains. And…lets not forget the ever-present red road dust – we were all coated in the bloody stuff!

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H – quite enjoying herself by this point! Image taken from film footage by Jason Florio

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The beautiful Fouta Djallon Highlands and rocky roads (from the back of the moto!) © Helen Jones-Florio

At one point, when we stopped for a break, our man-of-few-words, teammate Abdou, said: “Helen, you are a man!” I looked at him…huh?! “Florio, you marry a strong woman!” he said admiringly. “My Hawa (his wife) would never be on a moto”. More to the point, after his comments on how dangerous speeding motorcycles, with female passengers, in both Guinea and Senegal, were he would probably never allow Hawa on a moto in the first place! Abdou is endearingly old-fashioned – and very, very sensible!

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Jason ‘have I got dust up my nose?’ Florio © Jason Florio

Helen 'dust? What dust?' Jones-Florio

Helen ‘dust? What dust?’ Jones-Florio © Jason Florio

Ebou 'do I look good in this colour?' Jarju

Ebou ‘do I look good in this colour?’ Jarju © Jason Florio

Abdou 'you talkin' to me?' Ndong

Abdou ‘you talkin’ to me?’ Ndong © Jason Florio

Further into the journey, we were speeding down a relatively ‘smooth’ section of road – small rocks as opposed the large ones. In reality, we weren’t actually doing much more than 20km an hour, but it felt as if we were hurtling down the hill – even more so because, to my left, we were about a foot from the precipice. Instinctively, I leaned over to the right. “Do not be scared” Ebu said, as he felt me shift in the opposite direction – i.e. away from the sheer drop. “These are my roads…I come here every day”. Well, that’s easy for you to say, I thought. “I hear you, Ebu, but I would rather prefer not to look directly into the valley below. Thank you very much!”. But, credit to those moto guys, they do seem to know each and every rock, as they adeptly negotiated the motorcycles over and around, up and down, the Fouta’s dire roads; almost as if they had walked the route every single day of their lives. Gradually, as the journey went on, their adroitness began to give me more confidence – to relax my iron grip…somewhat. And, for a while there, from the back of the moto, I felt almost joyful to be able to take in the wondrous surroundings of the Fouta Djallon Highlands. Plus, I felt immensely proud of myself for having overcome my initial abject fear of getting on the back of the motorcycle with a complete stranger. And, despite the pervasive red dust, it was such a freeing feeling – to see the Fouta that way – and a huge contrast from being crammed into a vehicle with 15-20 sweating, smelly, bodies – mine included. That was until, at a river crossing point later on, Ebu, the moto, and I, took a ‘dip’ in said river; when Ebu got a wee bit too cocky – or stoned, is more like it! However, we’ll get to that bit in a minute.

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Youtube: Ebu – moto rider – on the ‘new road’ Mali Ville-Kedougou. Filmed by Helen Jones-Florio. © Jason Florio and Helen Jones-Florio. Click here or on image to view footage

After we had just crossed a shallow ford, one at a time, on the motos, Florio demanded “is someone smoking a joint?”.Yes, that will be my rider” I answered. I’d spotted Ebu lighting up whilst we waited for the other riders to blow any excess water out of their exhaust pipes and wipe dry the spark plugs, on their bikes. “Please DO NOT do that” Flo said, angrily, to Ebu “you have my wife on the back of your bike!”. “No, it is no problem…I feel good and strong now” Ebu said. “DON’T! It is a problem for you, if anything happens to her” Flo said, pointing at me. “Sorry, sorry. It is all gone now…look” Ebu said as he took the remainder of the joint – which wasn’t much by then – and threw it into the bush. We all re-mounted the bikes and sped off. By this point, we were riding through the bush and the sandy pathways, which meant that Ebu could speed up – way ahead of the others. I began to wish that I hadn’t gotten back onto the back of his bike, after the joint debacle. We reached another ford, which to me, looked much deeper than the last one. Ebu revved the engine of the moto and announced “we go, now!”.Are you sure?” It looks deep to me”, I said. “No no…we go”. Oh, what the hell, I thought. It’s all part of the adventure – in for a penny, in for a pound. Holding on tight to Ebu this time, as opposed to the luggage rack, we plunged into the river and promptly got stuck in the mud! The moto toppled sideways and we were both, rather unceremoniously, dumped into the river. As I had suspected, it was much, much deeper than the last ford.

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Total gridlock! Mali Ville – Kedougou © Helen Jones-Florio

As I squelched out of the river, onto the opposite bank, I heard the other motorcycles approaching. “That’s what you get for smoking weed, you %&*#!!” Florio shouted across the water. Once they all reached our side, he shouted at Ebu “I told you not to smoke, you %$*#&#* stoner!”. After things calmed down, and the motos were once again cleared of water, Flo stated that he would ride with Ebu and I would hop on the back with his rider. I can’t say that I wasn’t relieved…but now I had Flo to worry about, on the back of a motorcycle with the stoned biker!

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Moto fixing – and shaking out the river water! On the road to Kedougou © Jason Florio – taken from film footage

We had a couple of breakdowns – a flat tire here and there (not surprisingly, considering the state of the roads) – which meant that we didn’t reach the Guinea and Senegalese border until after dark. It was way past the 7pm cold beer we had been promising ourselves when we’d set off from Mali Ville hours earlier. We spent a good hour at the Senegal border post whilst our team mate, Abdou’s, rider tried to get his headlights fixed – as in, he didn’t have any in the first place! The rider had been so convinced that we would reach Kedougou before dusk, that he didn’t think he would need lights. We all watched, exhausted, hungry, filthy, and cold by now, as the bike appeared to be taken apart -– springs, screws, wires were strewn all over the sandy floor. Because we’d been assured by Ebu, back in Mali, that we would reach Kedougou in ‘two hours’, we hadn’t taken much food and our warm clothes were packed deep inside our bags, which were tied tightly onto the back of the motos. It just seemed like too much hassle to untie everything to get them out. We also knew that the Senegalese border post was only about 20km from Kedougou – food, a cold water bucket wash, and a much-needed bed. Forget the cold beers!

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When the roads get really bad, get off the moto and walk! Florio & Ebou – Fouta Djallon Highlands © Helen Jones-Florio

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Moto fixing – Senegalese border © Helen Jones-Florio

Eventually, every single part was reconnected to the moto and, miraculously, it had now had headlights and they worked! Wearily, re-mounting the bikes, we set off once more, on the final leg of a long journey. And, less than 100 yards into Senegal, Adbou’s moto’s engine spluttered, juddered, and then went silent. Although the moto now had lights that worked the engine no longer did! After some juggling of luggage, between the bikes, our convoy of four motos became three – as Abdou jumped on the back of Ebou’s moto with his rider. It’s not uncommon in Guinea-Conakry, and parts of Senegal, to see three people, or more, on one motorcycle. The roads were noticeably and instantly better in Senegal – thankfully, smoother to ride on. This made the last 20km to Kedougou much speedier – and, because we were completely knackered, I was past caring anymore that the speed picked up – zooming in the darkness through narrow sandy field tracks and along dusty roads; ducking and dodging tree branches as we sped along. We rolled into our host’s (we love you, Peter Stirling, for the sanctuary of your home!), compound at around 10pm – eight plus hours after we set off from Mali Ville. I could have kissed the ground as I dismounted the moto, but then my stiff legs wouldn’t allow me to.

Suffice to say, it was GREAT to be back in Kedougou!

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H looking at where we’ll be in a few days – on the River Gambia – Relais de Kedougou hotel, Kedougou, Senegal © Jason Florio

Coming next:…..

Getting the ‘The Twins’ into the River Gambia for the first time; close up and personal encounters with hippos…

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The Ally canoes are in the River Gambia – we are off, at last! Keodougou, Senegal, West Africa. Thanks to Henk Eshuis for the use of the photo

Stay with us! River Gambia stories coming shortly.

The Florios (H & Flo)

Coming next: The River Gambia Expedition team moto-taxi up and down the Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea-Conakry

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River Gambia Expedition team-moto-taxis from Hore Dimma, Fouta Djallon – Kedougou, Senegal © Jason Florio

Update – Thursday 6th December 2012:

Mali Ville – ‘we’re on top of the world, ma!’ –Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea Conakry, West Africa

We arrived in Mali Ville covered in a thick layer of red dust, from the road – it was in our hair, up our noses, in our ears and all over 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 Horé Dimma, 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 on finding it.

First impressions of Mali Ville: ‘What a dump!’

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Gare routiere, Mali Ville, Fouta Djallon Highlands – view from the coffee shop © Helen Jones-Florio

Full update coming soon!

The Florios (H & Flo)

River Gambia Expedition team leaders

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Yellowbrick YBlog - River Gambia Expedition route: Lbe-Hore Dimma-Mali Ville-Kedougou

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 – http://my.yb.tl/florio/

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

New profile pics of the River Gambia team, in Guinea (after 8 bone-rattling hours on the back of a motorbike!)

Jason 'have I got dust up my nose?' Florio

Jason ‘have I got dust up my nose?’ Florio © Jason Florio

 

Helen 'dust? What dust?' Jones-Florio

Helen ‘dust? What dust?’ Jones-Florio © Jason Florio

 

Abdou 'you talkin' to me?' Ndong

Abdou ‘done n dusted’ Ndong © Jason Florio

 

Ebou 'do I look good in this colour?' Jarju

Ebou ‘this is how to do it’ Jarju © Jason Florio

 

More to come very soon on our ‘road’ trip on the back of ‘moto’s’ from Mali Ville, Guinea, back to Kedougou, Senegal – all coccyx-shaking eight hours of it! And, that was after our main moto-guy told us it would take ‘two hours…we go now… tout suite we will be in Kedougou!’ !!

We’ll also be posting about reaching the source of the River Gambia in the Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea – the start of our River Gambia Expedition proper!

Back soon as!

H, Florio, Abdou and Ebou – the River Gambia Expedition team

P.S. Check out our route on our YellowBrick page – see below.

click on image to view site

click on image to view site

 

 

 

 

 

Update: The long and winding road…Kedougou, Senegal-Labé, Guinea-Conarkry – and back again

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The River Gambia (Fleuve Gambie), Kedougou, Senegal © Jason Florio 2012

Tuesday 11th December, 2012 – Kedougou, Senegal

It’s been over a week since we were able to get on line and update the blog. Not that we haven’t been busy, as a River Gambia Expedition team. Florio has been doing his thing – photography – so we have lots of images from our travels to come, over the coming weeks. I’ve been keeping up on my journal (some of which you’ll read here on the blog. The rest? You’ll have to wait for the book!); Abdou and Ebou have excelled as team mates, translators, and givers of cultural knowledge.

Here is what we’ve been up to since the last post. A little reminder: whenever you don’t see any updates here, you can always follow our route through our YellowBrick ‘YB3’ tracking device here

click to go to YB site

click to go to YB site

 

 

florioapp@my.yb.tl to send emails to us

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“No Photo!!” – Packing the Overboard bags on top of the pick up truck – Kedougou, Senegal © Helen Jones-Florio

Friday 30th November – Kedougou, Senegal – Labé, Guinea, West Africa

We left Kedougou bus station around 1pm on Friday 29th November, after three days of waiting for the vehicle to fill up with enough passengers before the driver would start the engine – then the damn vehicle had to be push-started; probably because it had sat there for so long! And, then only after much haggling about the extortionate price of the seats, with what seemed like the entire ‘Drivers Union of Kedougou’ – if there is such a body. It seems everyone likes to get in on the action when the ‘toubabs – that’s yours truly and Mr Florio – are around. If that wasn’t enough, after agreeing on the price for the four of us, the driver still tried to extort even more XOF francs from us, for our baggage. You can bet your bottom franc that we paid over the odds! But, we had already waited too long for the vehicle to fill up – all 20 passengers in/on top of one ancient, knackered, pick up truck. Alas, comfort and luxury not included in the already racked-up price. We needed to get going – on to the next stage of our journey.

H and the team - leaving Kedou and the team - leaving Kedougou, Senegal © Jason Florio

H and the team – leaving Kedou and the team – leaving Kedougou, Senegal © Jason Florio

Saturday 1st December – 130km and 24 hours later and we arrive in the capital of Labé, in the Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea…

and our minds and bodies knew exactly why transport cost’s so much in Senegal/Guinea – and it’s not just the horrendously expensive fuel prices. Unraveling our aching limbs from the crammed cab of the truck, having traversed moonscape-like terrain for 20 of those 24 hours – bouncing. Hang on, lets backtrack here: ‘bouncing’? That  much too soft word to describe our journey up to the Fouta Djallon, Guinea. Lets replace that with ‘JUDDERING’ – uppercase intended – on ‘roads’ which can only be described as driving over riverbeds – the rockiest ones that you can possibly imagine, at that! “Vehicles have to be remade when they have made the journey to Guinea” one driver at the bus station in Kedougou had told us in, when we were haggling for the best price. Slight exaggeration, surely?, we thought…before we started the journey there, that is!

On route to Labe, Guinea - Florio films our ferry crossing over the River Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio

On route to Labe, Guinea – Florio films our ferry crossing over the River Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio

For every inch of those 130kms we rattled up, down, around, and over the Fouta Djallon mountain’s – fording streams; collective willing (from Florio and I, at least. ‘insh-Allah’/’god willing’, no doubt, from our fellow passengers) the struggling vehicle up 1:4 gradients; breathing in to cross narrow, barely-there bridges; getting a birds-eye view, inches from my permanently-wound-down-window (a hole where the ‘manuel’, the winder to open and close it, should have been), of the sheer drop down into the valley, whilst preying the driver doesn’t over estimate the narrowness of yet another hair-pin bend. And, despite hating driving at night in Africa – and, even worse, being driven (I’m petrified! Too many crashes and near misses with other vehicles, as they drive towards you with full beam, over the years, will do that) – I was actually relieved to remain in relative ignorance on this particular journey, as we drove through the most precipitous of mountain ‘roads’. As the darkest night slipped away and dawn took over, I tried my damnedest to keep my eyes directly on the road ahead – but, I couldn’t help myself, by looking at the too-close-for-comfort sheer drop outside my window once again!

Thankfully, Mr Drammeh, our Guinean driver, had very obviously made the route from Kedougou to Labé many times – his maneuvering over the treacherous, red-rock-filled, roads, was a testament in itself. We salute the Chinese auto industry– that pick up truck was like a ‘Tonka Toy’!

Around 2am, the truck stopped in the darkness, in what appeared to be a cluster of huts in the middle of nowhere. Without a word to us, Mr Drammeh stepped down from the truck. We then we noticed the other passengers disembarking from the back of the vehicle, with various pieces of luggage, and proceeded to unroll mats and carpets on the ground. I guess we are resting for a while then – an undetermined time, at that – no one having explained to us what was going on. A cacophony of pissing, farting – and it wasn’t just from the numerous goats doted around us – blowing snot out of noses, and, finally, snoring ensued. Then…the star-filled night was suddenly quiet. Abdou and Ebou found space on a mat, Florio took the front seats (splitting the silence by accidentally knocking the car horn on a couple of occasions, whilst trying to get comfortable! However, it’s a good job it we weren’t honking for help – because no one stirred!). I took the back seats. Not much sleep was had, but at least we had the full moon to light up the night – which made it considerably easier to find a place to pee during those wee hours.

Around 7am, after more noisy farting and pissing, everyone clambered back onto the truck, and we set off, once again; arrived in Labé around 12.30pm. For a good hour afterwards, whenever I closed my eyes, I swear that could still feel the juddering motion of the long drive. Later that evening, we met a couple from the USA and Holland – Tim and Kate – who had just made the same journey. Tim’s very apt analogy: “it feels like I have just been put though a cement mixer!”.

Saturday 1st December – Labé, Guinea-Conarkry

'Moto' boys - Labe, Guinea © Jason Florio

‘Moto’ boys – Labe, Guinea © Jason Florio

Labè’s got style!

Ghana photographer, Malik Sidibe, portrait subjects spring to mind, as we walked around the downtown area of Labé. These ‘moto taxi’ guys are seriously cool.

'Moto' boys, Labe. Guinea © Helen Jones-Florio

‘Moto’ boys, Labé. Guinea ©Jason Florio

H & 'Moto' Boys, Labe, Guinea © Jason Florio

H & ‘Moto taxi’ Boys, Labé, Guinea © Jason Florio

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Florio gets the details – Labé, Guinea © Helen Jones-Florio

We met with Yayah Baldeh, who runs Galissa Voyage Trekking. He was going to supply us with a local guide and translator – Saifoulaye Djallow (‘Saif’) – who would take us up into the more rural areas of Fouta Djallon Highlands and, what we had came here for, to pay homage to the source of the River Gambia (Fleuve Gambie – as it is known in Guinea). After a year of planning, where the River Gambia Expedition would truly begin.

Saif and Yaya - Galissa Voyage Trekking, Labe, Guinea

Saif and Yaya – Galissa Voyage Trekking, Labe, Guinea © Jason Florio

Labé is a motorcycle city, over-run with thousands of, Chinese-made, taxi bikes – ‘moto taxis’ (those aforementioned extremely high fuel prices give many people little option to use anything else) – carrying a minimum of 2-3 passengers apiece. As we walk around the town, we constantly had to dart out of the way, as yet another ‘moto’ zooms towards us, at maximum speed – We have this expression: ‘taking no prisoners’ – within inches of us. “à ton à ton! There are too many accidents every day, here in Labè” Saif tells us, leading us through the dusty, stinking, dirty, litter-filled streets of the downtown area. Despite the moto-dodging, and the putrid aromas, Labè is a vibrant, animated, friendly place – ‘Jarama’s’ (local Pula language greeting), “bonjours”, and “ca va’s”, abound, from every smiling, curious (as in, intrigued by the two ‘portos’ – Guinea version of ‘toubab‘ in town), face we pass.

H goes shopping for supplies, downtown Labe market, Guinea © Jason Florio

H goes shopping for supplies, downtown Labé market, Guinea © Jason Florio

Traders. downtown Labe market, Guinea © Jason Florio

Batik traders. downtown Labe market, Guinea © Jason Florio

'Pain' traders, downtown Labe market, Guinea © Jason Florio

‘Le Pain/mburro’ traders, downtown Labé market, Guinea © Jason Florio

We stayed in ‘Le Campagne Hotel’, a short 15-20 minute walk from the downtown area (and 10 minutes to the nearest ‘Cyber Café, where we could also get a decent/fast at times WiFi connection – 68774.7GNF for an hour – about 50p). The hotel is a small, pleasant enough place – during the day, that is. After 6pm, it becomes the local hangout for well-heeled – judging by the shiny new cars they rocked up in, to park in the compound – Gaselle (Guinean beer) guzzling, good-natured, Guinean guys and ‘ladies of the night’. Loud, vociferous banter and laughter, accompanied by static, as in un-tuned transistor radio music (what is it about Africans, that they don’t seem to notice when a radio is not tuned in and/or is constantly turned up to mac 11?!), blared into the early hours. Oh, and lets not forget the 24 hour TV, blasting in the restaurant area. It was a job to pry ‘la madam’ of the hotel away from the screen – to which she sat, glued to – to get an order of drinks or food!

Hotel Le Campagne, Labe © Helen Jones-Florio

Hotel Le Campagne, Labe © Helen Jones-Florio

So…our journey continues. We will update as and when we can – which isn’t that often at the moment. We’re going to see if we can buy a ‘dongle’/network key, which we can insert our cell phone sim cards into, to get on line. However, as mentioned, if you don’t see any updates for a while, check out our YellowBrick page, to see where we are, at any given time. I think my mum is our biggest fan – she knows where we’re headed before we even get there!! You can also leave messages on the page too, to which we can respond, due to the YB3 tracking device being on the iridium and satellite network – all we need to do it blue tooth it with the iPad et viola!

Florio, YellowBrick and Concern Universal - on route to Tambacunda, Senegal © Helen Jones-Florio

Florio, YellowBrick and Concern Universal – on route to Tambacunda, Senegal © Helen Jones-Florio

click to go to YB site

click to go to YB site

 

 

 

 

Thanks, as always, for stopping by. It’s great to have you on board!

Fonyato domanding (‘until next time’)

Helen, Florio, Abdou & Ebou – River Gambia Expedition team

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy:

Overboard bags on top of yet another vehicle - Hore Dimma, Guinea © Jason Florio

Overboard bags on top of yet another vehicle – Hore Dimma, Guinea © Jason Florio

COMING SOON! Reaching the source of the River Gambia, in the Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea; toilet humour and bathing with bull’s(!); 80km and 8 ½ moto-taxi ride from Mali Ville, Guinea, to Kedougou, Senegal… updates as soon as!!