Looking back: On the road with donkeys, The Gambia, West Africa


Dawn: The team Leave the village of Khalaji, The Gambia, West Africa, 2009. Image © Jason Florio

Dawn: The team Leave the village of Khalaji, The Gambia, West Africa, 2009. Image © Jason Florio

On our 2009 expedition – ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – a 930km Africa odyssey’ – two of our team mates were of the four-legged variety: donkeys, Neil and Paddy (who was then swapped over 10 days into our journey for (p)Hadley) from The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust, in the village of Sambel Kunda, The Gambia, West Africa. Florio and I became very attached to them…there isn’t much use for a donkey in The Gambia, if its not purely for working purposes and the Gambians we met along the way were amused, and bemused, by how we treated our donkeys, almost as pets – even the fact that they had names was a great cause of hilarity (and English names at that! We didn’t name them by the way).

 

The team getting ready to hit the road, Kerr Batch, The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio

Road stories from the Short Walk blog, December 2009, The Gambia, West Africa:

‘We were pitching our tents today, when Janneh started shouting – and, judging by the sound of his voice, it was something rude – in Mandinka! We turned around to see (p)Hadley digging into one of our melons, off the cart! There goes one of them then, I thought. I put the remaining melon on the floor behind some of our bags by the tree and went on with putting up the tents. Minutes later, our usual audience of village kids were shouting, laughing and pointing at the tree. We all looked round again. This time, it seemed that it was Neil’s turn to take a chunk out of the other melon! My fault completely as I should know by now that Neil and (p)Hadley can sniff out a melon at a 100 metres! The Alkalo’s son was promptly sent out to buy replacement melons for us.’

(p)Hadley – ‘It wasn’t me!’ The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Helen Jones-Florio (2009)

A salute from the army, The Gambia, West Africa 2009. Image © Jason Florio

‘Your kidding right? We’ll get 2 donkeys, the cart, our gear and 5 adults on that little boat?!’ And, we did! Florio beckons the boat man across the River Gambia. Image © Helen Jones-Florio, 2009

Crossing the River Gambia, Dec 2009:

‘Then the fun bit really begins – persuading the water-fearing – petrified, more like – stubborn, donkeys that they really have no choice but to trot on down to the river.

As, I’ve said, I’m completely enamored with the two four-legged creatures – farting and kicking aside. So, I can’t begin to tell you how difficult it is to watch them being ‘cajoled’ down the gully…hooves digging into the sand, ears back, eyes bulging, heehawing their little lungs out. However, we really don’t have any other option. We have to cross the river. Steering well clear of their respective rear-ends, the guys eventually get Neil and (p)Hadley down to the boat. Now we just have to get them on to it. More of the aforementioned struggling, between man and beast. The guys resort to using a long, sturdy, tree branch to put behind each donkey’s hind legs – to help ‘guide’ them onto the boat. I think this was more to do with self-preservation from certain members of our team – after all, Samba and Momadou have wives to go home to and future babies to make!

Once on the boat, our not-particularly-happy little donkeys stand stoically throughout the short journey across the river, looking straight ahead; neither of them – fear of water aside – trying to make the half-expected attempt to hot-trot it over the side.  Mind you, that could be more to do with my masterful plan in the art of distracting them – dangling mangoes, enticingly close, but just out of reach, of their salivating mouths.’

Once on the boat, our not-particularly-happy little donkeys stand stoically throughout the short journey across the river, looking straight ahead; neither of them – fear of water aside – trying to make the half-expected attempt to hot-trot it over the side.  Mind you, that could be more to do with my masterful plan in the art of distracting them – dangling mangoes, enticingly close, but just out of reach, of their salivating mouths.’

And (p)Hadley couldn’t wait to get off, on the other side! Crossing from Koina to Koina Tenda, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio 2009

‘As soon as we reach the North Bank the donkeys scramble to jump out of the boat, completely unaided, before the boatman has barely anchored his boat to the shore. Astonishing – given the hullabaloo they just created in trying to get them onto the boat in the first place!’

Paddy loved a good guffaw! The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Helen Jones-Florio, 2009

Dawn – Another early start for the team – Florio and the donkey cart.  The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Helen Jones-Florio 2009

We’re kind of hoping that we’ll get to have some four-legged friends on our next journey – the River Gambia Expedition 2012 …at least some part of the way..

Thanks for stopping by – more updates on the next expedition coming soon.

The Florios (H & Flo)

Check out Florio on Vimeo  – talking about our next West Africa journey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About River Gambia Expedition 2012

Jason Florio, FRGS: award-winning photojournalist. Helen Jones-Florio: expedition & photography producer. 2009: The couple co-led the West Africa expedition 'A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush - a 930km African odyssey' - the first circumnavigation of the small West African country, by foot, with two donkeys and a cart. Resulting in the award-winning series of portraits of Gambian village chiefs (Alkalo's) www.floriophoto.com (under 'Projects') http://930kmafricanodyssey.tumblr.com/ 2012-13: The couple co-led their second West Africa expedition - 'River Gambia Expedition - 1000km source-sea Africa odyssey' over-landing for 400km and canoeing the River Gambia for 720km https://rivergambiaexpedition2012.wordpress.com
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