MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! The River Gambia Expedition team reach the Atlantic Ocean, Banjul, The Gambia after over 1100km road and river!

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The River Gambia Expedition team reach the Atlantic Ocean, at Denton Bridge, The Gambia – after over 1000km of road and river l-r: Helen Jones-Florio, Ebou Jarju, Abdou Ndong, Jason Florio. Thanks to Terry, of Denton Bridge Watersports, for his hospitality on our return (and the chicken and chips!)

Tuesday 22nd January 2013

After two months on the road and camping on the banks of the River Gambia, we bloody well did it!! The River Gambia Expedition team reached the Atlantic Ocean, in The Gambia, yesterday, 21st January – over 1100km later: 700km canoeing the River Gambia and 400km over-landing through the Fouta Djallon Highlands, in Guinea-Conakry – to pay homage to the source of the River Gambia, in the village of Horé Dimma.

No support boat or vehicle. No motor. Just the four of us (at one time, five) and pure and simple paddle power!!

Yellowbrick route map 2013

The River Gambia Expedition route map

Last night it felt as if we had suddenly shifted into another reality. Our great friends Geri and Maurice, who run a beautiful eco lodge – Sandele – in Kartong, came to meet us in Banjul, to help us haul the Ally 811 canoes (A.K.A. ‘The Twins and more recently A.K.A. ‘The Ally Cat’)and all our gear back to their place by the beach, for some much needed r ‘n’ r. To mark the auspicious occasion – a double celebration, as it was also Florio’s birthday – G and M cracked open a bottle of champagne and a presented Mr F with a freshly baked carrot cake. We were in an odd sort of heaven…we even had our own plates! After having spent the last couple of months eating from a ‘family bowl’ – a very common West African way of eating is by sharing a big bowl of food.

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Family bowl – West Africa style, Hore Dimma, Guinea-Conakry

BUT! We need to rewind – quite a bit, actually – and go back to where we left of on the last post – and fill in the blanks of the journey. Because we have had so little chance to on line for the last month or so we have a backlog of photos, road and river stories to share with you. However…please bear with us (again!) as we readjust to being back and catch up on the practicalities of ‘normal’ life. We have return flights to the UK to book (big thanks to The Gambia Experience) to see family and flights back to NYC and home – at long last. We’ve been gone a while. We also have to go to Banjul port tomorrow and claim our itinerant box, filled with materials we needed for the River Gambia Expedition, which arrived about a week ago – nearly 3 months late – which has seemingly done the rounds, in the Atlantic Ocean, of various ports in West Africa!

Stay with us…we will be back shortly – we promise!

The Florios – H & Flo

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check our route on the YellowBrick Tracking page


‘The Twins’ are out! The ’811 Ally’ canoes are going on the Alahein river this morning, Kartong, The Gambia/Senegal

Florio re-assembling one of ‘The Twins’ – Sandele Eco Retreat, Kartong, The Gambia. Image © Helen Jones-Florio

We broke our own world-record yesterday – Florio and I put together the Ally 811 canoe in 28 minutes!! Considering it took us almost 5 hours (with tea-breaks) the first time, we ain’t doing too badly.

Today, we are taking ‘The Twins’ (yet to have their naming ceremony – Gambia style) out on their maiden voyage on the Alahein River, up in the village of Kartong, which borders Senegal. In fact, passports in hand, we may well pop over the watery border and have lunch in Senegal.

In training for the ‘River Gambia Expedition – 1000km source to sea African odyssey’

More later on how we get on.

Thanks for stopping by

Helen & Florio


Delay tactics and the birth of the UN – by Jason Florio (update on the River Gambia Expedition)

Tobaski girl – Kartong – The Gambia, West Africa – Jason Florio©

The journey becomes it’s own once you have bought the ticket. Chucked through a portal into the dripping West African flora and crawling fauna from *”Our Safe European Home” one must give one’s self to the inevitable slings and arrows of delays. There are the known delays, the known unknown delays, and my favorite, the unknown, unknown delays. And so we wait, our jump off date from Gambia to Guinea planned for November 1st will be but a speck in the well fingered re-view mirror of a Peugeot ‘sept place’ as we hurtled towards the source of River Gambia in two weeks time… inch’Allah. Er yes, two weeks. Merde! So our beloved Peli case stuffed with tents, Kelly kettles, hiking boots, assorted cables, power bars etc was last seen chatting up a Banjul bar bound, scantily bubble wrapped fridge-freezer on the dock at Antwerp last week – it seems the container with our gear had been taken off the ship a few thousand km early. Thus the delay, as the Peli case and his trusty companion, our OverBoard Ninja bag stuffed with 11p Morrison’s pot-noodles, once lost but now found, are re-directed around Spain, down the coast of Western Sahara, passed the desolate Mauritanian coast with a loan Tuareg sipping a sweet tea on a dune waiting to ambush a lost Paris-Dakar driver, passed a gang of Talibé children on the sea wall at Dakar begging for money while their pimp/marabout gets fat on the prayer mat, and finally to the port at Banjul, where, in 1943, Franklin D. Roosevelt stopped on route to meet Churchill in Casablanca. F.D.R was so disgusted at the state of colonial British Banjul and it’s citizenry, it was said that it **“helped crystallize Roosevelt’s thinking about the role of the organization he was envisioning to help guide the post-Empire world: the United Nations”.

And so we turn the delay, for our River Gambia Expedition, into another Julbrew, more research and GPS fiddling, and give thanks to Geri and Maurice of Sandele Eco Retreat who have given us a bed and vitals so good to make even our dear hero, Mungo Park rise from his watery grave in the Niger River.

ETD to Guinea coming… once the boat comes in.

Florio & Helen

Kartong, The Gambia, Nov 1st 2012


* Joe Strummer /Mick Jones – The Clash

**Donald Wright is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at the State University of New York College – His books include Oral Traditions from the Gambia and African Americans in the Colonial Era: From African Origins Through the American Revolution.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ally canoe is taking shape! Image © Jason Florio

Almost there! Image © Helen Jones-Florio

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks as always for stopping by.

The Florios

Blimey…we woke up in West Africa!!

Departed 16/10/12: Gatwick Airport, UK – on a very cold October early morn

H & Florio – Departures, Gatwick Airport – Oct 16th 2012 (thanks to Dad/Rodger & mum/Wendy Florio for getting us there!)


Arrived 16/10/12: Yundum International Airport, The Gambia, West Africa – on a bi candita baci (very hot!) October mid-afternoon

Florio, Yundum Airport, The Gambia (is that the President’s plane in the background?).

We were dreading our arrival into The Gambia – only in the respect of going through customs with all our luggage + two canoes…we were a custom officers dream – and our nightmare. So, imagine our complete delight to see a pretty young Gambian woman, holding a card up with our names written on it, on the luggage pick-up side of the customs barrier! Fotou, from the Gambia Tourist Board had come, permission letter in hand, to guide us seamlessly through customs – bypassing masses of bemused (and some, I swear, looking downright hostile), hot and sweaty tourists waiting in line, as we swanned through the barrier, on the coat tails of the GTB; with not even a peek in our ‘heavy weight’ bags. Thank you to the Director General, Benjamin Roberts, Lazar and Fatou, of the GTB, for facilitating our extremely easy entry into The Gambia. ‘Welcome to the smiling coast’ – it was indeed.

‘The Twins’ – 2 x Ally Canoes – and the Overboard bags are on board, African style. Image © Helen Jones-Florio (‘Tijan the Birdman’ to the far left

We were met in arrivals by ‘Tajin the Birdman’. Not only is the ‘Birdman’ an extremely knowledgeable ornithologist (he has even presented on the subject at schools in Norfolk, UK), but he also has a mini-bus to transport all our gear – and, not only that, he is an amazing source of information, having travelled to some of the areas we are about to , in Senegal (thanks to our friend, Owen, for the intro)

So, here we are, ensconced at Sandele Eco Retreat – with big thanks to old friends, Geri and Maurice – enjoying a few short days of luxury: electricity, running water – hot water too! and the Atlantic Ocean, within spitting distance. It doesn’t get much better than this. Actually, we hope it will (no disrespect to Sandele)…once we start the River Gambia Expedition proper.

An update and a few words of thanks, from us two (and, introducing the Sandele cat) to everyone who made this happen.

A message from Helen & Florio (and introducing the Sandele cat) – Sandele Eco Retreat, The Gambia, West Africa – Oct 17th 2012

More updates coming as soon as – such as meeting up with our old friends, and Gambian team mates, Abdou & Ibu, on Friday. So, please keep checking in.
The Florios (H & Flo)

P.S. And, if you want to see where we are on the map, right now, check out our Yellowbrick Tracking webpage here

Yellowbrick 'YB3' Tracking Device - follow our (almost) every move on the expedition

Please click on the logo to go to our River Gambia Expedition map

Product sponsors and backers – on board so far, for the River Gambia Expedition 2012. Thank you to everyone!

We have some amazing product sponsors on board so far…thank you so much to every one of them! We have a few more in the pipeline too…tbc…watch this space.

We also have ‘An Exchange’ for those individuals who would like to own one of River Gambia Expedition 2012 co-leader, Jason Florio’s, limited edition fine art photography prints which he will take whilst we are in West Africa. Please click on the image below to watch Jason reveal all, on Vimeo, about how to jump on board too:

One of Jason’s fine art photography prints, available in ‘an exchange’ from the last expedition ‘Alkalo (chief) Masanneh Cham, Chamen Sosseh The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio