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

More personal thanks – from The Florios, on the River Gambia Expedition – to all those who made the journey possible

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For every single one of you who made the River Gambia Expedition possible…without your support, it would not have been possible for us to make the journey to document the lives of those who live and work along one of Africa’s last free-flowing major rivers: the River Gambia – all 1000km + of it!

And there’s more thanks here and many more to come very soon!

Big love and the utmost respect

Helen & Jason Florio x

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

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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

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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)

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

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

The River Gambia Expedition story, continued…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After dodgy directions, from a group of local boys, to the guest house, the driver had the unenviable task of having to reverse down an impossibly steep rocky ‘road’ – to find the straighter road we should have taken in the first place, which turned out to be only very slightly less rocky and less steep! We eventually arrived at the gates of the Auberge Indigo hotel, overlooking the downtown area of Mali Ville. We were greeted by Souleyman, the very helpful and informative patron (tel: 62.47.08.68 for reservations) and the first ‘porto’ (as Europeans/white people are called in the Fouta) we had seen in a while – Heidi from Finland. She was in Mali for six months, working for an NGO, and doing her thesis for her Masters degree on the cultural and political history (sic) of Guinea-Conakry. At last, I thought, much needed female company.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time!

The Florios – H and Flo

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

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

A glimpse of whats coming next…

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

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