1. 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

     
  2. A Short Walk in The Gambian Bush - a 930km African odyssey: afterthoughts and musings about a very special West African adventure.

    Main Image: Florio-2009 Mr & Mrs Bah, Tuba Dabbo Village.

    The road to Fatoto -  the last village at the end of THe Gambia, before Koina

    The road to Fatoto - the last village at the very eastern tip of THe Gambia, before reaching Koina village (our half way point)

    Image: Jones – The Gambia – 2009

    Friday 18th December 2009 – Mandina River Camp, Makasutu Culture Forest.

    It’s been almost a week since we returned from our Short Walk In The Gambian Bush expedition. The week has not been as laid back as we had wished for, or needed, however there has still been time to reflect over the last 6 weeks on the road.

    Firstly though, we bid a poignant farewell to Neil and (p)Hadley yesterday – our four-legged friends who walked all around the country with us. They were picked up by their vet Gibril and they should be back at The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust in Sambel Kunda by now, ensconced in their familiar paddock and stables – their home. We will truly miss those beautiful animals. They are amongst the most hard-working, loving and loyal creatures that you can come across. It’s almost like having a dog (they helped me not to miss Mr P, my dog back in London, too much anyway!).

    Momadou will also be back in Sambel Kunda with his new wife. I’m sure she will be very happy to have him home again. Janneh is taking a much-deserved week off, spending time with his two sons and continuing to build his house and we look forward to seeing him back here at Makasutu on Sunday. Samba carried on his usual day job here at Makasutu when we got back but is now taking a couple of well-deserved days rest too with his two wives and seven kids!. However, we did have to drag both him and Janneh out last night to do the ‘Fatou Show’. She is the equivalent of Oprah to The Gambia it seems!

    It was a live show and we had about 5 minutes to plug Gardens For Life, The Balabu Conservation Area and Makasutu Wildlife Trust before an all-singing, all-dancing Senegalese group came on to mime their tribute to the president of The Gambia (Yahya Jammeh) and his family members! Gambia TV is entertaining stuff, to say the least.

    The 'Short Walk' team are welcomed back to Makasutu by the Jola women dancers and Gambia TV

    The ‘Short Walk’ team are welcomed back to Makasutu by the Jola women dancers and Gambia TV

    Image: Jones – The Gambia – 2009

    Florio and I continue to work (and get some more walking in too, now that we are addicted to it!) – no rest for us but then when you have the Madina Balong and the mangroves as your back yard, and the scorching sun high up there into the bargain, we can hardly complain. Thank you to James and Lawrence – our trusty old mates and hosts (here at beautiful Makasutu Culture Forest). You guys are the business.

    Florio has a travel piece to write for The Indepedent newspaper, in the UK, and we both have to edit the gazillion images that we’ve taken to see what we want to do with them. We will put as many as possible up on the blog before we run out of space! After that, we’ll probably link a site of the rest of the images from his website (www.floriophoto.com).

    We also have to carry on pushing to raise more funds from the walk for Gardens For Life through http://www.justgiving.com/gardensforlifegambia which the expert fundraisers at The Eden Project in Cornwall, UK, will be taking over from us for now. They will ensure that any further donations come here to the Gambian schools within the Balabu Conservation Area.

    Aside from all of the above, we will also be looking at potential exhibitions in London, New York and The Gambia. Maybe even a book in the making……who knows……

    We all feel richer from this journey, in so many ways. By choosing to walk, we were able to see so much more of The Gambia which has been fantastic. It was such a perfect time of year to walk here too as the rains had just finished and the country was alive – on the land, in the air and in the rivers and balongs. I have never seen so many shades of green in one place. Visually, it was truly stunning. Harvesting of groundnuts, cassava, melons, rice etc surrounded us, throughout the whole journey. This country is abundant in its agriculture. And the Gambians work bloody hard! That’s something else we witnessed along the way.

    Shopping for vegetables and dried fish, Chamen, The Gambia

    Shopping for vegetables and dried fish, Chamen village, The Gambia

    Image: Jason Florio – The Gambia – 2009

    Whilst on the walk, we  met interesting and inspirational people all the time – from West-South-East-North. And, of course,  multitude of kids surrounded us everywhere we went (regardless of whether we wanted some peace or space at times!). However, they have to be the most unashamedly tactile and loving kids you can hope to meet.

    Gambians have big families and they all tend to live together in one compound – virtually on top of each other. This means that the kids, from toddler-size upwards, are often left to their own devises, to roam around of their own free-will and pleasure, whilst the mums get on with a multitude of everyday chores that include washing, cooking, cleaning the compound and working in the fields with the men. However, the small kids every move will inevitably be watched by an eagle-eyed older sister (in most cases, it seemed the females played the carer role whilst the boys will……well….. be boys!) – even if it looks as if she isn’t paying attention half the time! I say older, but she may only be 2 or 3 years older than her younger sibling. Nonetheless, they take on the mantle of surrogate mother very early on and with apparent effortlessness and this commands a certain respect – which they receive from their younger family members.

    A tired Florio - camp for the night, Chamois Bunda, The Gambia

    A tired Florio - (counting cows) - Camp for the night, Chamois Bunda, The Gambia

    Image: Jones – The Gambia – 2009

    It was so refreshing to see this community spirit. It reminded me of when I was a child and my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and sisters were always near by. But then, as one gets older that inexorably changes. Grandparents may pass, aunts, uncles, cousins move away and you may move on too. Conversely, this does not happen a great deal in the majority of Gambian families. A son or daughter may go off to find work or go to school in the bigger towns (or even another country) but this is so that they can help support their families back home. And, they often come home, back to The Gambia. There is a real sense of loyalty, commitment and, especially, that respect within Gambian families that is a joy to behold. They stick together!

    Jones, Momadou & Neil with our usual audience of curious Gambian kids

    Jones, Momadou & Neil with our usual audience of curious Gambian kids

    Image: Jason Florio – The Gambia – 2009

    As mentioned, we found The Gambia to be both culturally and agriculturally rich. We were truly enthused by how much we experienced as we traversed the dusty roads, sandy pathways and ventured deep into the Gambian bush.  It’s a beautiful country. Come see it for yourself. I doubt very much that you would be disappointed.

    With love and thanks for stopping by to share our journey

    Jones, Florio, Janneh, Samba, Momadou and Neil & (p)Hadley

    PS we will continue to put up our walking images – each one has its own story to tell of the journey, The Gambia, the people and anything else that we may have forgotten to add! So, please keep checking in x

    Images: Florio & Jones - 2009, The Gambia, West Africa

     
  3. A very sad goodbye and thanks ‘jarama’ to Neil and (p)Hadley the two donkeys, who walked 930km with us around The Gambia, as they leave Makasutu to go home to the Gambian Horse and Donkey Trust, further up country in Sambel Kunda, The Gambia, West Africa.

    Images: Jason Florio – The Gambia – 19th December, 2009

     
  4. Meet the expedition team behind ‘A Short Walk in The Gambia Bush - a 930km African odyssey’ Portraits by Jason Florio (and Helen Jones)

    Images: #1,3,4,5 - Florio #2 - Jones 2009, Makasutu Culture Forest, The Gambia, West Africa.

    #1- Helen (‘Boss Lady’) Jones - Co-expedition leader and photography producer

    #2 - Jason (‘Mappin’ out The Gambia’) Florio - Co-expedition leader and photographer

    #3 - Ablie (‘The Negotiator’) Janneh - security, negotiator and Mandinka language teacher

    #4 - Samba (‘Silafando’) Leigh - cultural advisor

    #5 -Momadou (‘Jamtang!’) Bah - chief donkey handler (The Gambian Horse and Donkey Trust)

    December 19th 2009 

    Thanks to our good friends and hosts at Makasutu Culture Forest, James English and Lawrence Williams http://www.makasutu.com/

    Also, David Jefferies at Addict, UK for the clothing and tents http://www.addict.co.uk/

     
  5. Day 1 - A Short Walk in The Gambian Bush team begin the walk and we meet and photograph our first village chief (known traditionally as an ‘alkalo’)!

    Image: #1 Florio - Leaving Makautu Culture Forest

    #2 Jones - Pirangue village L-R: Enjoying tea - Samba, Florio, Momadou, Alkalo Duta Fofana, Lamin Forfana, Janneh (crouching), Paddy (the donkey)

    #3 Pirangue village L-R: Enjoying tea - Samba, Jones, Momadou, Alkalo Duta Fofana, Lamin Forfana, Janneh (crouching), Paddy (the donkey)

    #4 Jones - Florio cutting melon for the team (after the donkeys had had theirs!)

    #5 Florio - Jones and the team on the red dusty African road 

    #6 Jones - Florio gets the first stamp from the Alkalo

    #7 Florio - Jones and the team make tea for breakfast in Pirangue

    The team and donkeys step out of the comfort of Makasutu Culture Forest and turn left at the gate! And Florio gets his first village chief portrait of the expedition!

    Blog Entry: Tuesday 3rd November 2009

    Leaving Makasutu Culture Forest & reaching village#1

    We eventually left Makasutu Culture Forest, near Kembujeh Village, at around 3pm on Monday 2nd November. We almost didn’t make it out at all because we found that when we went to pack the  fallo serrato (donkey cart) the customization hadn’t been completed! We searched and searched for the drill and eventually found it a couple of hours later by which time it was around 10am and if we had set off then, we would have reached the main road from the village at the hottest part of the day. Not wise – especially on our first day on the road. Florio and I discussed the possibility of starting the next day but the other team members were eager to get going (as were we) so we decided to start around 3pm to get to the first village on our travels by night fall.

    We had a grand send off from everyone at Makasutu (our good friend and founder of Makasutu, Lawrence Williams, kindly filmed our departure, interspersed with many jokes, so we hope to get that (edited version!) up as soon as we can get a faster connection) and then when we reached the main road, James English (the other founder of Makasutu) was there to greet us with even more of the staff to wish us a safe journey and return with shaking of the left hands all around (a local tradition and superstition).

    After months of preparation, all of us in high spirits, we set off on our odyssey proper.  We only covered a meager 7km to Pirangue village before dark but it was a start. As we reached the village, we could see a whole bunch of people waiting for us and the reason being was that Ibrahim Jatta and his crew from Gambia TV & Radio were there to greet us and to wish us well on the start of the journey! Another interview was given and they promise to track us along the way.

    Florio got to take his first portrait of the journey of a Gambian village chief, Duta Fofana


     
  6. The Short Walk in The Gambian Bush team and Makasutu Wildlife Trust are interviewed for Gambian T.V.’s ‘Expedition Gambian’ series
    Image: L-R: Florio, Jones, Ibrahim Jatta (presenter), James English (Makasutu WLT)


     
  7. On your marks, get set, goooooooo……A Short Walk In The Gambian Bush Expedition starts today!!

    Image: Jason Florio - The Expedition Route Map, The Gambia, West Africa

    The map of the route we are walking - once we get the donkey cart fixed!!!!!

    The day of reckoning! Almost 6 months after our crazy idea was conceived (over a couple of beers in Brooklyn, NY) and plenty of hard work on pre-production for the expedition, we are leaving the comfort of Makasutu Culture Forest, turning left at the gate, and begin the long walk around the small West African Republic of The Gambia. Approximately 6-8 weeks walking every day, camping in different villages every night,  communal eating from a ‘family bowl’ and washing from a bucket of cold water at the end of every day! And, getting to know each others (every) habits, rather intimately….. you can be sure of that!

    But first, the check-list. Do we have everything we need? If not, then too late now!

    Blog Entry: 2nd November 2009

    On your marks, get set, walk!! A Short Walk In The Gambian Bush starts today (a 930km African odyssey)!

    Check list:

    2 x Brits – Florio & Jones (Expedition Leaders)

    3 x Gambians – Janneh, Samba & Momadou (our Gambian team members who’s invaluable participation 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 extra 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 (to cut the grass for the donkeys & whatever else we may need them for!)

    1 x Loan Permit from The Gambia Horse & Donkey Trust for Neil & Paddy (just in case we get stopped by the police wanting to know what two ‘toubabs’ 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 village the Akalo’s from Chief Bojang of Kombo Central (he is the BIG chief of the Kombo area where Makasutu is located)

    1 x Letter of Introduction from the Gambia Tourist Association (to say that they are aware of of ‘cultural expedition’ around the country 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 to the village chiefs we meet to help  facilitate a warm welcome and our onwards journey - the ‘Silafando’)

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

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

    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 allows us the ‘guaranteed’ access to the internet in the remoter parts of this tiny but beautiful country.

    Jones, Florio, Janneh, Samba and Momadou – putting one foot in front of the other around 8am GMT on 2nd November 2009 – Insh’Allah (more like 10am GMT now!!)

    www,makasutu.com


     
  8. Image: Lamin the carpenter/Makasutu Culture Forest, The Gambia, West Africa

    The ‘Short Walk..’ Team: L-R Samba, Momadou, Janneh, Jones, Florio & Gibril

    Its now only about 2 days to go before we begin by putting one foot in front of the other and begin the Short Walk In The Gambian Bush (930kms!). We decide its about time we all road-tested our tents - nothing quite like leaving things to the last minute! Samba manages to snap a tent pole on his first attempt at putting his tent up (ermmm……rather embarrassingly, we realise that we had forgotten spares…hmmm….lesson #1 learned) and Momadou proves to be very adept at the tent-putting-up business, putting us all to shame in the process - and he had never even seen a tent before!!

    Blog Entry: 31st October 2009

    Getting together with the Gambian ‘Short Walk…’ team members, haggling for the best deals on equipment (and gtound nut hay for the Neil & Paddy, the donkeys!) in the market in Brikama, Serrekunda and Banjul, interviews with Gambia TV……

    Its been a whirlwind of a week since we landed on Gambian terra firma a week ago. It feels as if we have been here for ages and we haven’t even started the expedition proper!

    Thanks to James (English)  and Lawrence (Williams), our good old mates here at Makasutu, we managed to borrow the little jeep to do our running around (apologies to Kawsu for taking what is usually his running around vehicle away. Thank you for being so patient with us!). We would have had to have relied on public transport which is actually pretty good and reliable but perhaps not when you are searching every market in the area to get the best deals on buckets, shovels (don’t ask! except to say that we are going to be very eco-friendly with our bio-degradable personal waste). And, the thought of trying to squeeze into a bush taxi armed with all of the above and 5 other passengers in this humidity doesn’t bear thinking about!

    The whole expedition team spent some time together, learning how to pitch out tents (Big shout to Dave at Addict for the donation of tents and gear www.addict.co.uk). Within a week, we’ll be able to pitch with our eyes closed. We’ll certainly be putting them up in the dark at times, that’s for sure, as it gets pitch black here by 7pm!

    Thanks to the Gambia Tourist Authority we were interviewed by the very affable Ibrahim Jatta (spelling) from Gambia TV for his, coincidentally called,  ‘Expedition Gambia’ program, which should be aired this coming Tuesday evening. We’ll try and get a copy and upload it onto the blog when we can.  James was also interviewed by Ibrahim about the Balabu Conservation Area/ Makasutu Wildlife Trust , which encompasses the ‘Gardens For Life’ schools (website)

    On a separate note, we were just informed that very sadly, Aljou Ndong passed away recently. He was Abdou’s brother – who is one of Florio’s oldest and best friends in The Gambia (Abdou is the man with the crocodile in the B&W image on an earlier posting here on the blog) He rescued us on the balong last year when we got caught in the strong current, coming back from Joya (we were basically rowing round in circles when Aliou and his 10 year son came by to help us row back to Mandina). We wish him a safe onwards passage.

    As always, please keep checking in and let us know your thoughts too

    Nimbara Nimbara

    A Short Walk……..team


     
  9. Makasutu Culture Forest is where we started and ended the Gambian expedition - 930km by foot. Founded by our great friends, Lawrence Williams and James English.

    In Gambia the name Makasutu is a local Mandinka Base campword which means holy & “sacred deep forest”

    Please click on the logo to visit the website.

     
  10. Image: Jones-2009 - The Big Forest, Makasutu Culture Forest, The Gambia


    We are now in-situ and on the last leg of pre-production for the expedition. Ensconced in the beautiful and tranquil surroundings of our good friends eco-lodge, Makasutu Culture Forest. The Donkeys arrived today……….

    Blog Entry: 24th October 2009, The Gambia, West Africa

    A new Gambian team member, our first meeting with Neil ‘Mungo’ & Paddy ‘Park’ (the donkeys), adjusting to GMT…….(Gambia Mean (maybe!) Time)

    Sat 24th Oct 09

    We are aclimatising to the 90+ degree heat, watching the sun rise over Mandina Balong and learning how to take a donkeys temperature!

    After an evening of catching up with great old friends, James and Lawrence, at Makasutu  and a cold Julbrew (local Gambian beer) or 3 (for some!), we collapsed into bed around 1am……exhausted more from the heat than anything (I forgot how hot and humid it can get down here right after the rainy season) doors flung wide open in the hope of catching some semblance of a breeze from the balong (river).

    Woke around 6.30am just in time to see the sun rising over the balong and to watch the oyster ladies and the fisherman glide effortlessly through the mangroves in their dug-out canoes, hardly causing a ripple in their adeptness at nagivating the river. We’ve each of us tried those dug-outs a 100 times over the years of coming here and it never seems (or feels) as effortless as they make it out to be! “nimbara, nimbara” (how is the work?) we shout out.

    We were told this morning, much to our disappointment, that Mohammed could no longer take part on the expedition (at least not all of it) as his expertise as a guide here at Makasutu is needed for the new season. He may, however, be able to join us nearer to the end of the journey. However, his replacement, Samba Lee, will be an asset to us all as he has not only travelled extensively throughout The Gambia, but he is deeply involved in the Balabu Conservation project, which emcompasses the Gardens for Life programme. His maturity and knowledge will be invaluable. So, we welcome Samba Lee :)

    After a whole morning of reams of paperwork in order to get  a couple of bags of camping equipment and medical supplies released from Redcoat couriers (that we had flown down courtesy of Gambia Experience due to excess weight issues. Thank you!) we began to slowly accept the fact that we are now on GMT – Gambia Mean Time (or Gambia Maybe Time, depending on who you speak to!) – again. Which basically means, ‘danka danka’…….slowly slowly. Nothing happens quickly in this heat so the sooner you can accept that and shift into GMT mode,  the better. Otherwise, you will end up feeling completely frustrated all the time. The voice of experience speaks!

    The highlight of the day had to be meeting the very spirited and inquisitive Neil and the oh-so-timid Paddy. They were very kindly brought down the 100 miles of so  from The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust by Gibril and Momadou.  As none of us know a thing about donkeys – aside from holidays as a kid, paying to ride one with a ‘Kiss Me Kwik’ hat on (the donkey that is, not me!), on Blackpool beach -  the very patient Gibril spent the afternoon teaching us a thing or two about these extrremely intelligent and beautiful creatures which included how to adminster colic medication,  watching their weight, cleaning their hooves and taking their temperature (themometer up the rear end kinda thing!) We felt as if we were on the set of ‘All Creatures Great and Small’! Thankdully though, Florio does have some experience from keeping horses when he lived in Dallas, Texas, so I think we’ll be ok. However, he does seem loath to learn taking their temperature for some reason! ;)

    Updates incoming as and when we can get a good connection.

    Stay with us!

    Jones & Florio x

    Image: Jones2009