Fula tribesman – Basse, The Gambia, West Africa – Image © Jason Florio
Fula tribesman – Basse, The Gambia, West Africa – Image © Jason Florio
Wednesday November 28th 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.
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.
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.
“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
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 July, 2013, edition of Life Force Magazine features ‘Jason Florio’s Stories‘ – images of his work from past-present. Including a few from our very recent ‘River Gambia Expedition – 1000km source-sea African odyssey‘ (as in the one above – ‘Boys with Painted Faces‘ playing by the River Gambia, Senegal © Jason Florio).
The magazine have also linked our fine art photography gallery on their website - limited edition prints by Jason Florio.
Thanks to Damien Bird and all at Life Force Magazine!
Random post of the day:
Silafando: is the traditional way to greet village chiefs in The Gambia and Senegal. In Guinea-Conakry, on our most recent expedition, we found out that the tradition was exactly the same there but they used the word ‘Silafanda’.
During both the ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – 930km African odyssey’ and the ‘River Gambia Expedition – 1000km source-sea African odyssey‘, despite turning up unannounced, each village chief (the ‘Alkalo‘) that we met would kindly permit our raggle-taggle, road or river-weary, team to pitch our small camp every evening.
This was because we showed due respect, as strangers, when approaching the alkalo, by using the age-old tradition and protocol called ‘silafando’ – which roughly translates as ‘a gift to you on behalf of my journey’. This gift is often a handful of the bitter kola nuts. These walnut-sized nuts play an important role in West African culture and traditional social life. Once accepted, the chief would then share the nuts with his most important village elders. They break open and chew the nuts – valued for their pharmacological properties – which act as a natural stimulant and, apparently, an aphrodisiac.
We were then warmly welcomed into the village and, from that point on, everyone knows that you are there as guests of the alkalo - ensuring that you are treated with respect, as strangers, for the duration of your stay in the village. And, if any of the villagers dare to disrespect his guests, they would have the chief to answer to – along with the shame it would bring to their family.
Helen presents the ‘Silafando’ to the village chief in the Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea-Conakry. As you will see, it is often a lengthy process – particularly in this case, because we had to explain to the chief (and get permission) why we wanted to visit the source of the River Gambia – a sacred site, very near to his village
Florio and I were just looking back at what we’ve achieved since we got the crazy idea to over-land and then paddle up the River Gambia – from it’s trickling source (see above image, VQR) in the Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea, into Senegal, and then on to The Republic of the Gambia…where, after an eventful 1000km+, we staggered out of our makeshift catarmaran (the Ally Cat), where the mighty river runs into the Atlantic Ocean.
The interest, and support, in our journey has been phenomenal – particularly from the press. Here are just a few of the highlights…and we definitely know there is more to come. However, until articles are published, we have to hold off announcing what is to come. But…we just got news this morning that a highly esteemed publication, which we have been coveting – even since our ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush’ 2009 expedition – has agreed to take our recent River Gambia Expedition story. To say that we are thrilled is a slight understatement…this publication takes us into the realms of ‘taken-seriously-as-expeditioners‘! (That’s not to take anything away from all the other publications who have supported us!). Ecstatic/thrilled/joyous/crikey(!) would be more fitting adjectives! Watch this space…
In the meantime, a few of the highlights from the press coverage we’ve had over the last year – including a resurgence of the our 2009 expedition - particularly, Florio’s portraits of village chiefs (Alkalos) and elders: ‘Silafando‘:
For an update on what’ happening on the River Gambia Expedition front now, please check out ‘Tales from the River Gambia – reflecting on what’s gone by and what is to come…‘
Thanks to everyone for supporting our madness!
The Florios (H & Flo)
Just a taster – pun intended – of the kind of cuisine we feasted on, whilst on the ‘River Gambia Expedition – 1000km source-sea Africa odyssey‘
For an update about our River Gambia journey (as of today-6/17/2013) please check out our recent blog post here
Jason Florio will have two pieces in the above show – one from our very recent ‘River Gambia Expedition’ and one from our 2009 ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush’ expedition: the above image is from his award-winning body of work: ‘Silafando’
The second image, from our river journey, was taken in Karantaba – where the 18th Century Scottish explorer (and our inspiration), Mungo Park, stayed during his travels into the interior of West Africa.
If you are in New York on the 19th June, 6-8.30pm, please feel free to stop by the gallery – Tabla Rasa, Brooklyn – and have a glass of wine with us and view the exhibition.
For an update on the River Gambia Expedition, as of today, please visit the following blog post: Tales from the River Gambia – reflecting on what’s gone by and what’s t come…’
Before we left The Gambia, for the River Gambia Expedition, we had the privilege of working again with an NGO called Concern Universal ‘...helps communities around the world find practical, long term solutions to poverty‘ CU are doing some phenomenal work not only down in West Africa but also in India, Brazil, Bangladesh.
Taken whilst on the ‘River Gambia Expedition – 1000km source-sea African odyssey‘ – blog post: ‘Visit the beautiful Fouta Djallon Highlands …but be sure to take your own chiropractor!‘
For an update about the journey (as of today) please check out our blog post here