1. 'A Short Walk in The Gambian Bush - a 930km African odyssey' 2009 - West Africa

    Image © Jason Florio - the expedition team at dawn, leaving Kalaji village, The Gambia, West Africa

    October 2012 Update: forthcoming expedition: 'River Gambia Expedition - 1000km source to sea African odyssey'

     
  2. I’m in the middle of writing the book (long overdue!) based on A Short Walk in The Gambian Bush - our 930km African odyssey - and I’m almost at the end of our journey. The last day was a particularly tough one - the cart wheel coming off three times was only part of a nightmare of an extremely long and frustrating day.

    Here is Adama, the mechanic from Makasutu Culture Forest, doing his best to secure the wheelback onto to the cart again so that we can make the remaining few miles home. Janneh, Samba, Momadou and myself (Flo is taking the photo - heavy work, holding that camera, eh, Flo) transfer our gear, from the cart to the truck, to lighten the load, in an effort to move faster on the last leg of the walk…wishful thinking.

    More on the book soon…

    Image © Jason Florio - Serrekunda, The Gambia

     
  3. Random road shots: Almost the end of the journey - Helen Jones-Florio on The Barra-Banjul Ferry - across the River Gambia

    Image © Jason Florio - A Short Walk in The Gambian Bush - a 930km African odyssey

     
  4. Random Post of the Day: Blog Entry: 12th December 2009 - A Short Walk n The Gambian Bush - a 930km African odyssey’


    The wheel comes off the donkey cart - again! Jones and the expedition team wait in Kanifing for a mechanic to re-attach the wheel. We are just a short 20km or so from the end of the walk.

    We lose the wheel yet again and this was on the last day of our journey! So near to Makasutu, yet so bloody far. It would turn out to be the longest wait and walk of the entire 930km journey…by the time we get back to Makasutu, stumbling around in the dark with exhaustion, leading the donkeys (after having eventually abandoning the cart in a small village), at 1.30am the next morning!!

    All part of the adventure…

    Image: Jason Florio – The Gambia – 2009 A very patient Jones & Janneh – adopts, what is by now, a well-rehearsed pose!

     
  5. Archive: Amazing Travel Stories.com - choose Helen’s piece about our 930km walk around The Gambia, West Africa, to feature on their site.

    Images by Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio

    See Florio’s award-winning portraits of village chiefs - ‘Alkalo’s’:

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

     
  6. 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

     
  7. 'on-the road images' Cattle skulls, donkeys and walking - 930km around The Gambia, West Africa, 2009

    Image: Florio-2009

     
  8. 'On-the-road stories & images' - The expedition begins!

    We had no real idea of what to expect once we all put one foot in front of the other on our what would turn out to be a 930km walk around The Gambia, West Africa, in late 2009. A great adventure!

    Looking back at the beginning of the journey proper:

    Blog entry from Monday 1st November 2009

    Image: Jason Florio, 2009

    WE ARE OFF!! Once we get the donkey cart fixed, that is!!!!!

    Expedition check list:

    2 x Brits – Florio & Jones (Expedition Leaders)

    3 x Gambians – Janneh, Samba & Momadou (our Gambian team members - invaluable participants who we couldn’t do without)

    2 x Donkeys – Neil & Paddy (we definitely couldn’t do it without them either!)

    1 x Donkey Cart (specially adapted by Makasutu carpenter, Lamin, to take camera equipment cases – i.e. two wooden planks from the timber yard in Brikama screwed to the sides!)

    1 x spare wheel and bearings (insh’Allah both wheels don’t go kaput!)

    2 x Machetes/cutlasses (to cut the grass for the donkeys & whatever else we may need them for - again: insh’Allah!)

    1 x Loan Permit from The Gambia Horse & Donkey Trust for Neil & Paddy - in the inevitability that we get stopped by the police or army, wanting to know what two ‘toubabs’ (‘not from these ‘ere parts’ people) and three Gambians are doing walking around the country with donkeys!

    1 x Donkey Permit Health Check and ‘official stamp’ from Brikama vet (D200 later!)

    1 x Letter of Introduction to the village Akalo’s (chiefs) from Chief Bojang of Kombo Central (he is the BIG chief of the Kombo area where Makasutu is located and, fortuitously, an old friend of Florio’s)

    1 x Letter of Introduction from the Gambia Tourist Association (to say that they are aware of our ‘cultural expedition’ around the country, again, if we get stopped along the way by any officials. Which of course we will – even if its just out of curiosity!)

    2 x Kilo’s of Kola Nuts (traditional gift ‘Silafando’ to the village chiefs we meet, to help  facilitate a warm welcome and a safe onwards journey)

    2 x Bags of groundnut hay (to last for a couple of days from our fisherman friend, Abdou Ndongs, farm over in the village of Kembujeh – as in Abdou in the  B&W image of ‘Abdou with the rescued crocodile’  in an earlier posting on this blog)

    4 x Pumpkins (Neil and Paddy LOVE them for breakfast, lunch and dinner!)

    2 x The ubiquitous plastic bucket (multitude of uses!)

    1 x 5 (wo)man Medical Kit, including anti-malarials (essential – especially up country)

    The list is endless actually but I think you get the picture. Its been a long week of organizing and gathering all of the above in order for us to truly begin the journey in the morning. We are all more than ready to get on the road now – if only to relax a little!

    So, wish us well and please stay with us. We will update as much as our very costly Qcell dongle, which advertises ‘guaranteed wireless access country-wid, even in the remoter parts of this tiny but beautiful country……allegedly.

    Jones, Florio, Janneh, Samba and Momadou (Neil & Paddy, the donkeys) – putting one foot in front of the other around 8am GMT on 2nd November 2009 – Insh’Allah

     

  9. Blog Entry- June 2010: Pulitzer Prize-winning NYC photo editor, Stella Kramer, interviews Jones for her blog, Stellazine, about her (Jones’) ‘experience, and what she learned about herself, about travelling with donkeys, and where home really is….’
    Main Image © Jones-2009: Fula tribe boys playing in the field as Florio sets up his trademark black cloth in the background, ready to photograph the village chief.

    The inimitable Stella Kramer asked me if she could interview me for her blog, Stellazine. Ermmm……ok! I really admire her work so I was extremely flattered that she asked me. She said she was really interested in hearing my story because I had kept the blog whilst on the road (and obviously still do). Her questions were great and answering them took me back to the journey and made me want to literally be back on those dusty roads.

    Here is the interview. I hope you enjoy.

    http://blog.stellakramer.com/2010/06/short-walk-in-gambian-bush-helen-jones.html (images from both myself and Florio – i.e. he took the ones with me in them!)

    Neil, the donkey, and Jones - our trusty road companions are going home, Makasutu Culture Forest, The Gambia, 2009

    Neil, the donkey, and Jones (getting a wee bit teary) - our trusty road companions are going home, Makasutu Culture Forest, The Gambia, 2009

    Image: Florio-2009-Gambia

     
  10. The West African expedition team are welcomed into the village of Sambel Kunda by a whole school of children singing and clapping; You Tube footage of visiting The Gambia Horse & Donkey Trust and messing about on the Gambia River.

    Road Stories - Blog entry: Nov 2009

    A day on the Gambia River, near to Sambel Kunda (where The Gambia Horse & Donkey Trust is (http://www.gambiahorseanddonkey.org.uk/). We had stopped by for a couple of days rest and to drop off one of our donkeys, Paddy, and swap him for (p)Hadley – he being a slightly more mature donkey to make the rest of the journey with us.

    A Short Walk in The Gambian Bush expedition team – messing about on the river (Gambia)

    'Wobbly Productions' featuring, Samba Lee, Jones & Janneh (Florio on vocals). Momadou had decided to stay behind with his new wife who lived in the village and redeem himself - after having deserted her a week or so ago to come on the road with us!

    And check out this welcome we got at Sambel Kunda from the local school kids, who had apparently been  waiting for us for hours in the heat, singing and clapping the whole time. Amazing…….

    Paddy (the donkey) comes homeA massive welcome from the school kids in Sambel Kunda and The Gambia Horse & Donkey Trust team

    all together now: ‘Gambia, little Gambia……..’

    Image: Florio-2009-Gambia (me, recording the singing. And being the big softy that I am, at the same time hiding the tears of joy behind my sunglasses, at such a welcome from the kids – and perhaps a little from plain old exhaustion after 14 days walking!)