1. 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