Friday 29th June 2012
Yesterday we had an appointment with Shane Winser, RGS’s expedition advisor extraordinaire, in the Tea Room, at the Royal Geographical Society. We had approached her prior to our last expedition – A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – a 930km African odyssey – and she was a phenomenal source of practical advice – a wealth of knowledge on all things expedition: medical requirements, mapping options, modes of transport, what we should do in the event of an emergency, and so on. There’s not a question that she doesn’t have an answer for and, if she can’t answer it, then she’ll find a man who can. Shane also edited what has become our bible for invaluable expedition information – The Royal Geographical Society’s Expedition Handbook. She’s equally as enthusiastic and encouraging of our forthcoming expedition – River Gambia Expedition 2012 – we’re very happy to say. Florio and I scribbled furiously, as she spoke, so as not to miss one tiny detail.
After our meeting, before heading down to the Foyle Reading Room, to look at some of the maps and navigation charts that Shane thought might be useful, we had a mooch around the hallowed and historic halls of the RGS, talking in sotto voce – the polished well-trodden wooden floors creaking beneath our feet, the sound echoing off the walls in the quietness which surrounded us – we ooh’ed and aar’ed over the photographs and paintings of late, great, explorers – one being that of Captain Sir Richard Burton
As we craned our necks to look up to him, as he looked down on us, I could almost hear Sir Richards voice, stern, ‘1000km’s? Pah! That’s nothing compared to my years of exploring the Great African Lakes…and we had none of this new-fangled tosh – a GPS – either!’
No cameras, no bags, no phones, no pens are allowed in the reading room. We deposited our bags into a locker, in the hallway, and entered the light-filled, air-conditioned room to see what else we could find out about our River Gambia Expedition 2012 in the RGS Collections.
An hour later, we made our way back to the Tea Room and, cups of tea in hand, we went to sit in the gardens of the RGS grounds to make the most of a (for once) beautiful summers day. The Travel Photographer of the Year exhibition is on at the moment too. So, chomping on tomato, mozzarella and fresh basil baguette’s, basking in the sun, we took turns to walk around the gallery and garden exhibit.
Dragging ourselves away from the RGS – almost three hours later (time is of little consequence once you are cocooned within the distinguished walls of the ‘Society), we walked over to Marylebone High St to meet an old friend of Florio’s, N’Deye Sompare. She is Guinean but lived in New York, where Florio met her – where she was actually his French teacher for a while back then. N’Deye’s father used to be the ‘Speaker of The House’ in the Guinean parliament and she’d hooked us up, on Skype, previously to chat with him about the Guinea leg of our expedition. So, we wanted to meet with her, to thank her, and to see if she had any further information about her homeland.
N’Deye is a petite, strikingly beautiful, woman now trying to find her place, as a singer/songwriter, in the music industry and, because I worked for many years in that very industry, we had a lot of common ground. Whilst we sat in the cafe, where we met her, super-organised, she was on it almost immediately, rapidly speaking french into her phone, trying to find out who we should make contact with, at the Guinea Embassy here in London. And, of course, she can communicate a lot easier, and faster, then we can at the moment. “You ‘AVE to concentrate on learning French if you are to go to Guinea” N’Deye warned us “NO ONE speaks English there!”. Right, where’s that Rosetta Stone we ordered!
Bidding à bientôt to N’Deye, we couldn’t be on Marylebone High St without stepping into one the best travel book shops in London (if not the UK), Daunts – Stanfords, in Covent Garden, runs parallel (especially in the map department) – aiming straight downstairs to ‘Africa’ (well, the book section at least). I love this shop – the Edwardian architecture is just beautiful – and I always want to buy at least 10 books, within 10 minutes of being in there.
And, a visit ‘up town’ isn’t complete without a promenade on the Southbank, finished off by sitting outside, on a garden chair, overlooking the mighty Thames, watching the world go by, with a pint and a packet of cracked black pepper crisps at the Riverfront Bar attached to the BFI. Perfect…
…a culture-filled day, indeed.
If you would like to see how you can help us to make the River Gambia Expedition 2012 journey to document the lives of the indigenous people who live and work along the length of one of Africa’s last big, free-flowing, rivers, please click on this link
Thanks, as always, for stopping by. More to come soon.
River Gambia Expedition 2012 Co-Leaders
Please click on the image below to watch Jason Florio as he explains how you can own one of his fine art photography prints, from a series of images he will take whilst on the expedition: