Each and every one of them has real character, which we also have A.K.A. names for too: White Tip / ‘It’s All About Me‘ (because she demands ALL the attention); Rascal/’Little Titch‘(the smallest, yet the feistiest of the pack!); Wolf/’Silent Bob‘ (the stealthiest dog I have ever met); Kalu/’Black Dog‘ (ermm…not a very inspired AKA…he migrated from the Indian restaurant across the street to #9, and ‘Kalu’ is an Indian word for black); Junior/’JuJu‘ (and, sometimes, ‘Teenager‘, because he can sleep for Gambia!).
Follow @floriotravels on Instagram for daily travel, dogs, the occasional cat or monkey, photo updates, with a little of our documentary work thrown into the mix.
Searching for images on my hard drive back-up, recently, I began to see a pattern – dogs feature prominently, in our various journeys and travels.
And, the dogs who have a piece of my heart – The Gang of Seven:
Lest we forget… the inimitable, Mr P (a.k.a Poet, Poe, Poetta, the P-sta, P-Diddly…), the dog star of Portobello Road, London. We rescued him when he was two or three years old, and he graced us with his serene presence until he reached the grand old age of 17 or 18.
And, just when you think that you’ve seen all it has to offer, the small island in the middle of the Mediterranean (sandwiched somewhere between Sicily and the North African coast) never fails to reveal something more of itself.
‘Originally known as the North West Front and sometimes unofficially known as theGreat Wall of Malta…a complex network of linear fortifications known collectively as the Victoria Lines‘
What a revelation… to find so much nature, and tranquility, particularly after having read recently the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta equated with the word: ‘cementation’‘. And, in some areas, justifiably so. Where we live, for example, we are surrounded by deconstruction, reconstruction, new construction, behemoth cranes, and all the constant racket (and dust!) one can expect from the aforementioned.
From our starting point in a small village near to Mgarr,on the west coast of Malta, we walked along the Victoria Lines, across the country – with views (largely) unimpeded by towering metal structures – clambering up and down steep man-made steps, down into rocky ravines, clambering over lush countryside (yet another, much welcomed, revelation), with ‘distant sea views’ (much used by island estate agents), all the way to Medlienna on the east coast. Although officially 12km distance, we managed to cover a total of 22km, mainly due to the Victoria Lines wall no longer being there, in places, causing us to go (albeit pleasantly) off-piste a couple of times!
What goes around: On our most recent trip down to The Gambia, West Africa, we were excited to be able to donate Jason Florio’s award-winning portraits of Gambian village chiefs and elders, ‘Silafando: a gift to you on behalf of my journey‘ to the National Centre for Arts & Culture, in The Gambia.
In April last year, we exhibited the portraits in The Gambia (with huge thanks to the organizers of the Athens Photo Festival, where Florio was invited to exhibit this series, in 2013, for shipping the prints all the way from Greece to West Africa!), which were taken during our 930km walk around one of Africa’s smallest mainland countries, in 2009.
In the coming months, once we hear back from Hassoum, Baba Ceesay, and all at the NCAC, we’ll be posting more news as to where the portraits will eventually be housed and exhibited, in their permenant collection, in The Gambia next.
It’s official, I have joined the ranks of the walking masses!
Not that I haven’t always been a walker (Florio and I once walked around an entire West African country – albeit tiny, but 930km is by no means a stroll along the beach – oh, hang on, actually we’ve done that too!), but the point is I have never been one to gravitate towards what the masses do – right from my young punk rock self, back in the day in the UK, drawn towards a scene where we were then considered ‘outcasts of society‘ (that’s the polite way of putting it – you really don’t want to know the shocking names we got called, or what we got thrown at us, as we strutted past a bunch of market traders on a weekend, cockily showing off our newest Crazy Color barnet (fair/hair, get it?) de jour – red, blue, pink… .).
“Och aye, Helen Jane, you’ll grow out of it“
as our old lovely Dad was apt to say – rather wistfully. Somehow, though, thankfully I never did. Ok, not that I sport a different tropical-bird-coloured hairdo every week (he was right about that part), these days, but I do still tend to steer away from what the masses do, preferring to go down the route less travelled, which could mean making the very easy choice of Kinshasa, DR Congo over, say, a nice pre-planned itinerary holiday on a Greek island, to going out of my way to find a less-trampled country pathway, where I feel sure there will be little chance of bumping into anyone else.
However, after spending the last week heading out of the door just before the sun comes up, iPhone in hand, walking purposefully down towards the sea, only to find dozens and dozens of other people who gravitate to the seafront early every morning too, running or power-walking along the promenade, I can certainly see the attraction, can’t you?
Mind you, I do veer off the promenade as soon as possible, for an – almost – solitary walk over the rocks, bar the occasional dog walker or a lone guy practising Tai Chi, away from the masses. Just how I like it.
I once read an interesting travel article by a writer, Guy Trebay, about how he still sends postcards from wherever his travels take him to. I say ‘still’ because it does seem, at least for the vast majority of people I know, as if the action of putting pen to paper (or card) and writing ‘wish you were here’ is most definitely a thing of the past.
What with the advent of the ‘electronic postcards’ – i.e. Twitter, Facebook, iPhones, and blogs such as this one (we are guilty – see ‘postcards‘ posts) – snail mail seems far too… well, slow. Not only from sticking the postcard in the mail box, then its journey from the senders location to the recipients location (and depending where you are in the world, you could even get back before your postcard arrives – or doesn’t even reach its distination!), there is also the physical aspect that one has to put in to find a befitting card, and then wracking your brains to find a witty way to compress your travel stories onto a tiny 3 1/2 x 5″area; if you want to avoid the clichéd ‘wish you were here’ or ‘wish you weren’t here’. And, don’t forget the postage stamp – these days, if you don’t want to buy a book of stamps (of which the remainder will probably sit on a shelf, gathering dust), as most stores no longer sell single stamps, you will also have to line up at the post office. To much time, thought, and effort… perhaps?
On the whole, we seem happy to have shrunk our worlds into the electronic medium of (often round-robin because it saves time) communication and, hey, I am more than guilty of taking this easy option of late. There was a time when, whilst on my travels, I wouldn’t think twice about sending a postcard – if only to my dad, to add to the collection, stuck on his fridge (with magnets, also from mine and my sisters travels). It seems such a shame that we don’t take the time to hunt out interesting, quirky, or clichéd postcards – or make your own from photographs you’ve taken – looking for just the right card for, say, your best mate, the one that only they would get the joke, the nuance, of the particular chosen card.
As Mr Trebay so succinctly put it:
‘Historians of Facebook and Twitter will be left to scrounge around the internet for the fugitive relics of the present communication age’.
Not for them, scene upon scene of the diverse wonders of far off places – the sun set over a Costa Rican beach; camels overshadowed by monolithic pyramids; African drummers around a bonfire; or, heaven forbid, those ‘naughty’ 70’s cartoon postcards, depicting two old men, sitting on striped deck chairs, eyes popping out of their heads as two young, comically over-endowed busty, blonds (who apparently have more fun – allegedly) walk past in itsy-bitsy bikini’s, with some lewd comment written underneath, a la: “eeeh, Stan, you don’t get many of those to the pound these days!”
Let’s not deprive ourselves of this ancient(ish) ritual – apparently, the first picture postcard was printed in 1840 in London, UK – nor the pleasure of our friends, or loved ones, picking their post up off the mat, shuffling through the usual generic brown enveloped bills, boring circulars… only to come across a flash of colour in amongst the mundane and, moreover, along with a personalised hand written note on the back.
If you have been following the blog, then you’ll know that Jason and I recently completed a 80km walk along the coastline of The Gambia, West Africa – from the Senegalese border in the North, Jinack Island, to Senegalese border in the South, Kartong. It was featured in January’s B.Spirit Magazine/ Brussels Airlines – you can read all about the walk here: ‘Gambian Beachcombers‘.
Obviously, as with any editorial, space for text and images is limited. Yet, we have so many more images to share, which we took along the way, that we hope portray just how beautiful, and diverse, the Gambia coastline is.
However, this post is not all about splendid images (hey, call me biased) – although, I do rather hope they help to paint a picture pretty enough to entice tourists and travellers alike to come to ‘The Smiling Coast‘ of Ebola-free Gambia – Ebola-free being the operative words here, and the thread that holds this post together. Since the outbreak of the deadly epidemic, in just a few pockets of West Africa, the tourists have stopped coming – at least nowhere near the numbers they normally come – and some of the airlines have stopped flying here when, all said and done, there really is no need not to come (but then, if flights are empty because of tourists being fearful to travel… catch 22).
Many Gambian’s depend on the annual tourist season – particularly around the coastal areas, the beaches, where we live. An old friend, of mine, Buba who I have known since my first trip down here in 1997 – a taxi driver (and one of the most reliable, honest, and knowledgeable taxi drivers one could ever recommend – he even gets a mention in the feature) – explained to me the other day about how, during the low season, like thousands of other Gambians, he farms his land. It’s also when the main package tour operators cease to fly to The Gambia, and only the intrepid travelers venture down here, those not afraid of a bit of rain, and outstanding thunder storms. Buba – and many of his friends – will often loan a little money, here and there, to help him through the down time, when there are no tourists to pick up and ferry around. He does this, secure in the knowledge that once the high season starts again, the can repay his debts. Alas, this year’s lack of tourism trade has put paid to that…
…resulting in unpaid debts for many. And, because Buba has so very few tourists to pick up now, he will have no choice but to borrow more to make sure his family are cared for, schools fees are paid, and so on. Obviously, he is not alone in this. Debts will spiral and who knows when the tourists will start to come again. Even if they came in droves tomorrow, it probably won’t make up for the lost few months, since the high season should have kicked in, in November last year.
Suffice to say, Gambians, and local businesses, are hurting… and it’s not going to get better any time soon. Which is why I keep spouting on, annoyingly so perhaps, about Ebola-free Gambia! The beaches are deserted, the juice bars are abandoned, hotels and lodges are no where near the to capacity they should be by now (and need to be, if they are to survive), the bars and restaurants are empty; taxi drivers sit around in the shade all day and night, grateful for any trade they can get; the craft markets are too quiet – all of these places are places of work, for many, many Gambians, and business owners alike. All just waiting for the tourists to come.
We have many friends who run hotels, lodges, and restaurants. All of them struggling to retain all their staff, none of them wanting to let anyone go, because they know the consequences – if they let just one member of staff go, a whole family, and more, will suffer. One person working, receiving a regular wage, often feeds not just their immediate family but also their extended family, who live in the same compound. Unfortunately, it’s that catch 22 situation again, if businesses don’t bring in the revenue, then how can staff be paid, when there are all the other costs of running a hotel, bar, restaurant, purely in order not to have it close its doors? Regrettably, in some instances, this has already happened. As Jason and I drive around the tourist areas, we see restaurants, bars, and hotels, normally buzzing with activity at this time of year, with clients and guests alike, deserted and locked up – bar a lone watchman, sitting outside.
As mentioned, I’ve been coming down here for many years – and in recent years, with Jason (he has also been traveling down here, independently, for just as long as I have, working on a long term project ‘Makasutu‘). But, as a woman, it’s one of the few places in the world where I feel utterly safe, walking around alone. Okey, yes, The Gambia is well-known for its bumsters – those guys who hassle you on the beaches, ‘Boss lady, what is your name, where are you from‘, follow you along the street, looking to guide you, trying to find any which way to ingratiate themselves with you. They certainly have the patter down. We often joke, when you hear them all spouting the same lines again and again, about how there must be a ‘Bumster School’ somewhere in The Gambia . But, it’s really no different from most any other country in the world, where tourism thrives, that you will find variations of this kind of mentality (and who are we to blame them, when seemingly, we ‘toubabs‘ have everything?). However, on the whole, the bumsters are a pretty harmless bunch, and much fewer and far between around most of the rest of the country. Besides, if you really want to escape them, it’s not that difficult, just head down the beach a mile or so – they don’t tend to stray too far from the masses, where the pickings have the potential to be more plentiful!
A friend from the UK visited recently, for the first time, despite her friends and family recapitulating monotonously: ‘butwhat about Ebola?!‘. (we know exactly how she feels, as we get it from family and friends constantly).
‘I originally came to Gambia after so many friends or people I met came back from holidaying or travelling there and all had only positive things to report. Many return year on year and having just spent 13 days there myself, I will without doubt be returning again and again to continue exploring this beautiful country in West Africa and beyond. Such an amazing blend of cultures, sunshine, great food, beaches and nature‘ Bee, Surrey, UK
Thankfully, Bee has travelled, she did her research and concluded, rightly so, that although it was West Africa she was coming to, The Gambia is EBOLA-FREE! And, next time she wants to bring her young son. Hurrah!, and thanks from us here in The Gambia, for those who do their homework and are not deterred, despite the negative media coverage!
There are many beautiful places to stay, along the coastline (cue The Travel Show intro music).
This, the smallest of mainland West African countries has so very much to offer (I really am starting to sound like an infomercial!). And, yes, it is West Africa but, please, just look at a map, notice the distances, the borders in between, from the Ebola-stricken countries, and do your homework (WHO is a good place to start, for facts) – i.e. don’t just listen to scare-mongering news. It’s already beginning to sound like a cliché, but would you stop going to Spain, Scotland, or the USA, because there are/have been confirmed cases there? You get my drift?
So, come on down, the water is fine (although a wee bit fresh at this time of year) and you may well have a whole beach to yourself. We’ll be happy to shout you a Julebrew!