1 river • 2 borders • 3 countries
Guinea – Senegal – The Gambia
Paddles in the water by early October 2012
In mid-October of this year, seasoned West Africa travellers, photojournalist Jason Florio, and his photography and expedition producer wife Helen Jones-Florio, will head down to West Africa to embark on their second expedition in the region – River Gambia Expedition 2012 – 1000km source to sea African odyssey.
They plan to document the people and cultures, along the length of one of Africa’s last free flowing major rivers – the River Gambia. They will be traveling by canoe and foot over 1000km (for 2-3 months) from the river’s source in the Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea, into Southern Senegal and through the hippo-abundant Niokolo Koba National Park (where an estimated 6000 of the huge mammals reside) and finally to where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean, on the west coast of The Republic of The Gambia.
They will travel with two local Gambian river men for the entire journey, along with hiring local guides in Guinea and Senegal – thus making it a diverse and international team –to help them better understand the traditional protocols used to travel through each country. Meet the River Gambia Expedition 2012 team.
Using those protocols, relevant to each area, all along the river they will approach village chiefs to ask permission to camp in his/her village, wherever possible. As with their previous Gambian expedition, staying with the local people will be an integral part of the journey, in order for them to understand and document the cultures and traditions of the numerous tribes they will encounter.
Plans are afoot to dam the river. Although this will bring electricity to the region, it will also create massive changes in the lives of displaced communities, and to the diverse eco-systems that the river supports, including the Niokolo Koba National Park – a World Heritage site already suffering massively from under-funding and rife poaching. The region is also experiencing ‘urban drift’ – young people leaving village life for economic possibilities in larger towns, as well as the USA and Europe – resulting in the loss of traditional culture and practices.
The Florios aim to create visual and written documents to be used as educational tools (traveling exhibition, talks, web, print media) to bring better awareness, appreciation and understanding of the diverse cultures, societies and traditions, and changes, of the communities who live and work along the meandering course of the river. By using canoes and hiking they hope to encourage lo-impact travel in the promotion of cultural exchange.
In 2009, Jason and Helen successfully completed the first, fully recorded, circumnavigation, by foot, of The Gambia, with two donkeys (to carry camera and camping gear) and three local Gambians: ‘A Short Walk in The Gambian Bush – a 930km African odyssey’, which resulted in an award-winning body of work – portraits of village chiefs and elders by Jason Florio. Helen kept a blog of their daily travels: ‘a 930km African odyssey’ and she has recently completed the book from their ‘Short Walk’ journey – publication date to be confirmed.
You can view Jason Florio’s long-term project – Makasutu – mecca in the forest – over 12 years of making large format black and white portraits of the people who live and work around a sacred forest in The Gambia.