1. Helen “do I have enough power?” camping on the roof of the chiefs compound, Sila Kounda, Senegal  © Jason Florio

    Our latest West Africa expedition: ‘River Gambia Expedition - 1044km source-sea African odyssey’

    To read the full story about 'A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush' - our 2009 930km walk around The Gambia, West Africa - please scroll further down.

     
  2. Crikey…we did it! You did it!! Kickstarter success!

    We can’t thank everyone enough for all the support and encouragement over these last months, including ‘An Exchange’ for Jason Florio’s fine art photo prints (still running on the River Gambia Expedition blog by the way, so it’s not too late!) and on Kickstarter.

    It’s our last day before we fly down to West Africa and lots of running around (nothing new there, then), to begin the River Gambia Expedition proper. We’ll post more updates later…soon…once we can breathe again ;)

    BIG LOVE and gratitude to everyone…we are truly humbled.
    Jason & Helen Florio x

    Image: Florio & H – ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – a 930km African odyssey’ 2009 The Gambia, West Africa

     
  3. Random road shots: The Alkalo (village chief), Dam Sallah, and the village elders come to meet the team - Kerr Sat Maram, The Gambia, West Africa

    Image © Jason Florio

    A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush - a 930km African odyssey

     
  4. Random Post of the Day from A Short Walk in The Gambian Bush - a 930km African Odyssey:

    Wednesday December 2nd, 2009 – Kerr Batch. Distance walked to-date: 659.24km – Sleeping amongst the ancestors.

    It’s been a really long walk today. We covered over 30km by the time we reach Kerr Batch, the home of more ancient stone circles, said to be the burial grounds of former kings.

    The stone circles are actually located a little further past the village itself. We stop in the village to ask directions and for the guys to go and buy cigarettes and phone cards. I’m impatient to get to the stones so that we can get settled in for the night. It’s already past 4pm, which means if we don’t hurry up we won’t be able to do the portrait of the alkalo (village chief) today. Flo, infuriatingly, tells me not to worry, ‘chill out’, as he can always do the photo in the morning. But then that will mean that we set off much later than usual – upsetting our whole routine. Why don’t we just hurry up and get a bloody move on!

    After twenty minutes of taking their time in the village, I decide to walk off ahead, in the direction of the stones. They can catch me up. The pathway takes me through open fields – a vast sense of space, which, right at that moment in time, makes me feel like the only person on the planet. And then ‘Nanga-tah, nanga-tah!’ (move). That’ll be Janneh with Neil, the donkey. I guess the team are right behind me.

    The gates to the compound that houses the stone circles of Kerr Batch is closed and locked when we reach them. However, within minutes of us standing outside, the watchman approaches us from a large building, to the left, inside the compound. He greets us and tells us he had been waiting for us. ‘Stone Man’, the watchman from Wassu stone circles, had called him on his mobile to tell him that we were on the way. Ah…the wonders of technology and how times have changed. The proliferation of mobile phone usage in The Gambia is pretty astounding, since my early days here.

    The watchman tells us that his father, Samba Camera, is the village chief of Kerr Batch and that he is one of the oldest chief’s in the country – at the grand old age of 79 years. The chief had arrived in the village during colonial times and had been in charge of the village for over nineteen years. Also, conveniently for us, he lived right next door to the stones.

    We ask him if we can camp in the compound, amongst the stones. He tells us that its not usually allowed but…if we are prepared to pay, he will let us – just this once. We negotiate him down to a much more mutually agreeable price than he initially asked for, and he opens the gate to let us in.

    The site is much smaller than Wassu and a more rural setting too. There is also a museum on the premises (the large building in the compound), which the watchman is particularly adamant that we take a look at - at a price, of course, despite the fact we had probably paid well over the odds to stay on the site.

    Although there was no running water (we could fill our containers up at the chiefs well, in his compound), there was a proper toilet block, attached to the museum – loo seats and all – something we rarely saw on the road. Apparently, a lot of tourist buses come through, to see the stones and the museum (which, incidentally, turned out to be really interesting and informative on the history of the stones and the surrounding area) and they had to be catered for. Just inside the doorway of the toilet block, there was a big bucket of water, for flushing and washing.

    We begin to set up camp, as Flo goes off with Samba to meet the chief and ask his permission to take his portrait. Although, his son, the watchman, assures us that this will be fine (I wonder if he’ll charge us for that too). Its definitely too late today, to shoot the portrait, so they’ll arrange to do it in the morning after all. Flo appeases me by saying that we only have to walk a short distance tomorrow – around 13km – to the next village where we will camp – so, even if we set off by 9am, we can be there by noon-1pm. “Lets just relax a bit, H, and enjoy having the stones to ourselves”. He is right. We are extremely fortunate to be in this situation – amongst these relics of the past.

    Later…it’s a full moon, the mosquitoes have gone on holiday, and we unroll our mattress on the ground, lie on our backs, and look up at the enormous full moon and a gazillion stars. There is a definite energy here, amongst these ancient stones – we all feel it and comment on it.

    As we lay there, commenting on the energy we all feel, Samba says that as long as we respect the stones (i.e. don’t climb all over them like the watchman’s kids did – jumping from one to the other!), we would be safe amongst them. ‘The Kings will look after us’ he says, in such reverential tones, that we have to stop ourselves from giggling.

    During the night, I got out of the tent a couple of times, just to look at the huge moon, the stones looking eerily as if they were backlit. It was so quiet. There’s definitely some indefinable, intangible energy here… whilst I didn’t feel exactly threatened by it, I did feel that there was something far bigger then I could even begin to perceive…

    To view the award-winning portraits of village chiefs and elders taken by Jason Florio, from the 930km walk around The Gambia, West Africa, please visit:

    http://www.floriophoto.com/#/projects/930km%20african%20odyssey/1

    Main image © Jason Florio - Children playing on ancient stone circles, Kerr Batch, The Gambia, West Africa - print available in various sizes - please contact helen.jones@floriophoto.com

     
  5. 'A Short Walk in The Gambian Bush' expedition team pitch their camp in the Wolof tribe village of Balanghar Bental, on their 930km walk around the small West African country of The Gambia, 2009

    Blog entry: 4th December 2009

    Image: L-R: Janneh, Jones, Alkalo Abdouli Touray, 1st Wife, Sister-in-law & mother, Florio, Samba + assorted Wolof kids!

    Distance walked to-date: 703.59

     
  6. The expedition team make their nightly camp in the grounds of the Kuntaur Agriculture Station in the Central River Region, The Gambia, West Africa.

    Image: Florio-2009 (B&W)

    It was such a peaceful spot to camp in. Just a few feet beyond our campsite was the beautiful Gambia River. A local woman came along with a bucket of fresh fish that her fisherman husband had just caught. So the watchman’s wife very kindly cooked some up for us - along with onions, tomato’s, spices, chilli and rice. Delicious!

    Neil and (p)Hadley were in heaven too…..surrounded by all that grass and a fresh batch of groundnut hay!

    Distance walked to-date: 659km

    Blog entry: 1st December 2009

     
  7. Blog Entry: 30th November 2009, The Gambia, West Africa

    Images: Florio-2009 Taken whilst on a 930km African odyssey

    Image#1: A young Gambian boy plays with his toy - a old rubber bicycle tyre and a stick

    Image#2: A young Gambian boy gallops by on his horse. It was a strange sight to see, on the tarmac. Tarmac was also a strange site for us to see too, as we had been walking predominantly on sand, and in the bush, for the last 4 weeks.

    Image#3: The village chief, Alkalo Dam Sallah, comes to greet our team at the camp site in Kerr Sait Maram

    Image#4: Walking into the Wollof tribe village of Kerr Sait Maram to present the ‘Silafando’ (gift of Kola nuts) and to photograph the Alkalo http://930kmafricanodyssey.tumblr.com/post/1526353082/silafando-a-gift-to-you-on-behalf-of-my

    Image#5: The expedition team on the tarmac road - an odd feeling and not one that we relished, after the stillness of the bush. However, traffic was surprisingly sparse on the main road. Aside from the odd boy on a horse, our cart and two donkeys were pretty much the only traffic most of the time!

     
  8. 'Silafando - a gift to you on behalf of my journey'  The traditional method of greeting the village chiefs (Alkalo's) and elders, The Gambia, West Africa – as used by 'A Short Walk in The Gambian Bush' Expedition Team

    I just wanted to post a reminder of how we approached each village on our walk around The Gambia and presented ourselves to the Alkalo (chief) and elders in the traditional manner of 'Silafando'

    Tea with the Alkalo’s:

    All the village chiefs we met kindly permitted our raggle-taggle, road-weary team to turn up, unannounced, and pitch our small camp every evening.

    To show respect, as strangers, when approaching the village chief, the Alkalo, we used the age-old tradition and protocol called ‘silafando’ (which translates as ‘a gift to you on behalf of my journey’). This is often a gift of a handful of bitter kola nuts - these walnut-sized nuts play an important role in the Gambian culture and traditional social life. The chief would then share the nuts with his most important village elders. They would break open and chew the nuts, which are valued for their pharmacological properties - they act as a natural stimulant and, apparently, an aphrodisiac!

    Once the gift was accepted, we were warmly welcomed into the village and from that point on, everyone knows that you are there as a guest of the Alkalo. This means you are treated with respect as strangers in the village for the duration of your stay. And, if any of the villagers were to disrespect us as guests, then they would have the Alkalo to answer to, along with the shame it would bring to their family.

    Image: Florio-2009 The Gambia, West Africa

     
  9. Blog Entry: 26th Novmber 2009, The Gambia, West Africa - Expedition. The Short Walk in The Gambian Bush team are on their way to the remote Fulla tribe village of Tuba Dabbo, to stay with the Marabout (Koranic teacher, medicine man, sooth-sayer), Mr Bah. It was quite an adventure, through the bush, to find the tiny village.

    These are just a few of the images of the team on route and arriving in the village, which looked as if time had stood still there around 200 years ago - it was magical, like walking into a fairy tale.

    More to come in the next couple of blog entries about our stay in Tuba Dabbo.

    Distance walked to-date: 516km

    Images:

    #1 by Florio- Jones and the team “I know the village is here somewhere -  I think we turn left at the next baobab tree!”

    #2 by Jones - Florio and the team give the donkey and cart a helping hand, up the deep sandy pathway to the village of Tuba Dabbo

    #3 by Florio - the tiny village of Tuba Dabbo is in sight!

    #4 by Florio - the team find a big tree to pitch the campsite under, watched by the ever curious villagers of Tuba Dabbo

    #5 by Florio - the Fulla tribe are big cattle farmers - our campsite was on the edges of the cattle’s pasture and where there are cattle, there is muck and where there is muck, there are flies - millions of them!!

    #6 by Florio - cattle are curious creatures - as in, curious about us being on their turf!