The art of walking, and the people you meet along the way…

 

‘Dawn over Kalaji Bridge’ © Jason Florio – from ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – 930km African Odyssey‘
‘Dawn over Kalaji Bridge’ – Helen Jones-Florio and the team © Jason Florio – from ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – 930km African Odyssey

 

Wherever we are in the world, we walk, a lot, Florio and myself. As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the only ways to truly discover a place – and the people who live there. One time, in 2009, we decided to walk around the small West African country of The Gambia. A mere 930km, with three Gambian friends, two donkeys (‘Neil’ & ‘Paddy’.), and a cart to carry our camping and photography equipment. As one does.

Along the way, we met many people and photographed quite a few of them. Amongst them, around 43 village chiefs and elders, the photos of which are now award-winning portraits, ‘Silafando – a gift to you on behalf of my journey

‘Silafando’ The Gambia  © Jason Florio

 

Another time, we took it upon ourselves to take a stroll along the coastline of The Gambia – a much shorter walk of around 80km. Again, we met and made friends with many people along the way.

Our constant companions, during our walk around Jinack Island, Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio
Our constant companions, during our walk around Jinack Island, Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio

 

Making friends, Jinack Island, the Gambia © Jason Florio
Making friends, Jinack Island, the Gambia © Jason Florio

 

Historian and local fisherman, Modou Sonko, Jinack Island, Gambia-image © Jason Florio
Historian and local fisherman, Modou Sonko, Jinack Island, Gambia-image © Jason Florio

 

And, our walks in certain places always seem to attract a good deal of attention

'Any chance of a bit of privacy?' Camping in a the village chiefs compound comes at a price ©Jason Florio
‘Any chance of a bit of privacy around here?’ Camping in the village chiefs compound comes at a price ©Jason Florio
Image: ©Jason Florio-2009 Gambian boy on his horse & farmer, on his bicycle, near the town of Basse, The Gambia, West Africa
Gambian boy on his horse & farmer, on his bicycle, near the town of Basse, The Gambia, West Africa Image: ©Jason Florio-2009
For some reason, we seem to attract dogs, wherever we go! Jason Florio and ‘Seven’ (from Footsteps Eco Lodge) talking to the cockle collectors, Gambia – image © Helen Jones-Florio

 

Of late, we’ve taken to meandering – going off-piste whenever possible – discovering the clifftops, valleys, and crevices of Malta.

Graffiti - President Trump and broken wall, Malta ©Jason Florio
Graffiti – President Trump, Malta ©Jason Florio

 

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.

Scenes from Malta - photography by Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio
Scenes from Malta – photography by Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio/Instagram

 

Victoria Lines, with Jason Florio
Walking the Victoria Lines, with Jason Florio – image © Helen Jones-Florio

Are we in Texas?!

Are we in Texas? Wind turbine, Malta © Helen Jones-Florio
Are we in Texas? Wind turbine, Malta © Helen Jones-Florio

 

Valletta, through a window © Jason Florio, Malta
Valletta, through a window © Jason Florio, Malta
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These boots, and Birkenstocks, are made for walking
These boots, and Birkenstocks, are made for walking
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Walking the Coastline of The Gambia, West Africa

Walking the coastline of beautiful Gambia, West Africa. Congratulations on the beginning of a new era, Gambia! We look forward to being back there – images ©Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio

PHOTOS TELL STORIES

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 8.49.57 PM HJF, The Gambia coastline – image © Jason Florio

Jason and I have just completed our Gambia coastline walk and what a truly lovely experience it was; albeit mighty humid – an average of 90% humidity every day. ‘Mad dogs and English (wo)men…’ kept springing to mind. Even now, as I sit here typing in the relative coolness of our house, my fingers feel as if they sticking to the keyboard.

The story was assigned by an airline in-flight magazine. So,  unfortunately,  until they publish it we can’t really say too much about the walk. However, we can share a few images from along the way – most of Jason’s, so we’ll have to hold back on until the photo editor decides what they want to use (updated: January 2015- see Brussels Airlines B.Spirit Magazine feature about our walk).

We’ll be posting more images over the…

View original post 57 more words

Walking the Victoria Lines, ‘The Great Wall of Malta’

Walking along the Victoria Lines, Malta © Helen Jones-Florio
Walking along the Victoria Lines, Malta © Helen Jones-Florio

 

‘Originally known as the North West Front and sometimes unofficially known as the Great 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!

 

Off-piste! Where has the Victoria Lines gone to?! © Helen Jones-Florio
Off-piste! ‘Where have the Victoria Lines gone to now?!’ © Helen Jones-Florio

 

Walking the Victoria Lines, Malta
Back on track – the Victoria Lines, Malta © Helen Jones-Florio

 

Signpost - Victoria Lines, Malta
One of the very few signposts along the Victoria Lines, Malta © Helen Jones-Florio

 

Guard dogs - with wagging tails! © Helen Jones-Florio
Guard dogs – with wagging tails! © Helen Jones-Florio

 

And very friendly donkeys!
And very friendly donkeys! © Helen Jones-Florio

 

Victoria Lines, with Jason Florio
Walking the Victoria Lines, with Jason Florio © Helen Jones-Florio

 

Well recommended. So, get your walking boots on!

Helen Jones-Florio

Almost done! Walking the Victoria Line
A fine vista and almost done! L-R: Davide, Andrej, yours truly, Zane,RYP© Jason Florio

 

Reference: Walking in Malta by Paddy Dillon  & Map Guide

GPS Map - Victoria Lines, Malta
Thanks to Mr Florio for keeping track – GPS Map – Victoria Lines, Malta

 

The Mass Attraction of Dawn walking in Malta

   It’s official, I have joined the ranks of the walking   masses!

 

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The sun rising in the East, over the Mediterranean Sea, Sliema, Malta iPhone image © Helen Jones-Florio.

 

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?

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Me and my shadow – the rising sun towards St Julians Bay, Malta iPhone image © Helen Jones-Florio

 

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.

Helen Jones-Florio

More images on Floriotravels/Instagram

Press: ‘The Spirit of the Seaside’ – walking along the coastline of The Gambia, West Africa

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Waiting for the boat over to Jinack Island, The Gambia – Image © Helen Jones-Florio

 

March-May 2015Wings Magazine/Arik Air

As my wife, Helen, and I set off on an 80km six-day ramble along the sun-soaked coast of The Gambia’s relatively short coastline, it’s not
merely the splendour of the coast and heat of the sun we are after but also its mystical heritage... ” read the whole feature here – words by Jason Florio / Images by Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio

ARIK WINGS_GAMBIA BEACH WALK
Images ©  Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio

 

Walking along the beaches of #Ebolafree Gambia – come on down, the water’s fine!

Jinack Island, the Gambia
Rounding the Southern most tip of Jinack Island, in the Atlantic Ocean – where, at this point you in Senegal. Image © Jason Florio

 

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.

Fajara beach
Fajara Beach, down from Ngala Lodge. Image © Jason Florio

 

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).

Kids on Jinack Island
Jinack Island (where to stay: Jinack Lodge). Image © Helen Jones-Florio

 

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…

Smile Gambia Beach Bar at Ghana Town fishing village
‘Smile’ Gambia beach bar, a locally owned business in  Ghana Town (where to stay: Leo’s Beach Hotel and Restaurant). Image © Jason Florio

 

…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.

Cockle collectors near Gunjur
Cockle collector, near Gunjur fishing village (where to stay – The White Horse Residence or Footsteps Eco Lodge). Image © Jason Florio

 

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.

Jinack Island, the Gambia
Jinack Island. Image © Jason Florio

 

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.

Footsteps dog '7' near Gunjur
Twitchers paradise! There are over 500 species of birds in The Gambia. On the way to Kartong, with ‘Seven’ dog from Footsteps! (where to stay: Nemasu Eco Lodge or Sandele Eco Retreat). Image © Jason Florio

 

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!

Nemasu eco lodge, Gunjur
The view from Nemasu Eco Lodge, Madina Salaam. Image © Jason Florio

 

A friend from the UK visited recently, for the first time, despite her friends and family recapitulating monotonously: ‘but what 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!

Boys from Sambuyang village near Gunjur
Messing about in the surf, Gunjur to Kartong beach. Image © Jason Florio

 

There are many beautiful places to stay, along the coastline (cue The Travel Show intro music).

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The White Horse Residence, Batakunku. Image © Jason Florio

 

 

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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?

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Another beautiful sunrise over Cape Point Beach, walking the dogs – sublime. Image © Helen Jones-Florio

 

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!

Helen Jones-Florio

HJF coffe break
Image © Jason Florio

 

You may like to check out what has been bringing us back to The Gambia, time and time again: ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – 930km African odyssey‘; ‘River Gambia Expedition – 1044km source-sea African odyssey‘; ‘Traditional Masquerades

Press: Gambian Beachcombers – walking the coastline of The Gambia, West Africa

Walking Gambia coastline_Brussels Airlines
Image © Jason Florio – B Spirit Magazine

Our first press of 2015 – ‘Gambian Beachcombers’, a feature for B.Spirit Magazine (Brussels Airlines) has just come out.

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Read more here

 

A few months ago, Jason and I went out for a leisurely stroll and proceeded to walk the 80km coastline of The Gambia, West Africa. We started on Jinack Island, the farthest point North, and the ended in Kartong, the furthest point South.  Along the way, we visited some of The Gambia’s sacred sites – such as the small mosque in Sannementaring – before staying overnight in various eco lodges, dotted along the coastline, at the end of each days walk.

We also stopped to talk to many people we met along the way – fishermen, juice sellers, and cockle collectors – and yet still managed to walk for miles with only nature and the Atlantic Ocean as our guides. We were in no particular hurry, making it a  wonderful, and enlightening, experience, as we ambled along The Gambia’s soft white sand coastline – one that many of us could easily do. And, what a great way to experience the tiny West African country. Read the story here.

Walking2_Brussels Airlines
Images © Jason Florio

 

We would like to extend a huge thank you to all the eco lodges, who very generously hosted us – and fed us incredible food! – Jinack Lodge, Ngala Lodge, Leo’s Beach Hotel and Restaurant, The White Horse Residence, Footsteps Eco Lodge, and Sandele Eco Retreat . Also, a BIG thank you to old friend and taxi driver, Buba, who helped make our journey a much lighter adventure – by his daily picking up and dropping off of our backpacks to each lodge. Abaraka baci, Buba! (by the way, his number is listed in the feature, for those of you coming to Gambia (or already here) who need an extremely reliable and knowledgeable taxi driver.

Sacred sites/walking the coastline of Gambia (for Brussels Airlines 'BSpirit' Magazine) - Image ©Helen Jones-Florio
Image ©Helen Jones-FlorioJason Florio and a young boy who joined in to walk a short distance with us in Gunjur,

 

We hope you enjoy the journey too. The Florios – Helen & Jason

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‘Selfie’! Helen Jones-Florio & Jason Florio – taken whilst walking the Gambia coastline

Related posts: Walking the coastline of The Gambia

Walking in #ebolafree Gambia, West Africa

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HJF, The Gambia coastline – image © Jason Florio

 

Jason and I have just completed our Gambia coastline walk and what a truly lovely experience it was; albeit mighty humid – an average of 90% humidity every day. ‘Mad dogs and English (wo)men…’ kept springing to mind. Even now, as I sit here typing in the relative coolness of our house, my fingers feel as if they sticking to the keyboard.

The story was assigned by an airline in-flight magazine. So,  unfortunately,  until they publish it we can’t really say too much about the walk. However, we can share a few images from along the way – most of Jason’s, so we’ll have to hold back on until the photo editor decides what they want to use (updated: January 2015- see Brussels Airlines B.Spirit Magazine feature about our walk).

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We’ll be posting more images over the coming days, so please stop by again. You may also like to check out our floriotravels Instagram and Photostellstories FB pages + ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – 930km Africa odyssey‘ which we completed in 2009

 

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Our little companions during our walk around Jinack Island © HJF

 

The Florios – Helen and Jason

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Walking boots and Birkenstocks – heading back to The Gambia, West Africa

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© Jason Florio – River Gambia Expedition

 

Jason and I are preparing to head back down to The Gambia next week. After a sojourn in the UK (and a flying visit back home to NYC), our first assignment back on West African soil, for a feature article, is to walk the 80km coastline of The Gambia. So, it’s time to lace up our sorely neglected walking boots – or, my case, polish off my old Birkenstocks – hey, if I can walk 930km around the small West African country, I’ll be virtually sprinting 80km.

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A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – 930km African odyssey’ – Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio (wearing her Birks!) with Dadi Bah, alkalo of Tuba Dabbo village

 

Although we’ll be treading some familiar ground – and no doubt seeing some familiar faces along the way – but we’re excited about exploring parts of the coastline we haven’t done so before.

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© Jason Florio – walking the dogs, Cape Point, The Gambia, West Africa

 

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© Jason Florio – Ghana Town, The Gambia, West Africa

 

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© Jason Florio – Helen, heads for the beach, Sanementereng, The Gambia, West Africa

 

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© Jason Florio – The Little Mosque, Sanementereng, The Gambia, West Africa

 

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© Jason Florio – walking the dogs, Ghana Town, The Gambia, West Africa

 

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© Helen Jones-Florio – Boy on his bike, Ghana Town, The Gambia, West Africa

 

To find out about our previous 2009 Gambia walk, please go to ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – 930km African odyssey‘ and you can check out Jason’s award-winning images of Gambian village chiefs and elders, from that walk, on his website: ‘Silafando – a gift to you on behalf of my journey‘.

Please stop by again soon. Or you can ‘like’ us on facebook and follow us on twitter.

More soon…

The Florios – Helen & Jason

Boots and Birks IMG_8025
Boots n Birks © Helen Jones-Florio