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Come early October we will be paddling the River Gambia from source to sea.

During our journey, we’ll be travelling through the homelands of several West Africa tribes – beginning at the Fouta Djallon highlands of Guinea, we’ll then cross over the border into Senegal, to canoe and trek through Niokolo Koba National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and finally into The Republic of the Gambia – following the same course as the early gold and slave traders had done century’s ago.

Photo © Jason Florio

We know that we will encounter hippos all along our route, both on the river and the land. Niokolo Koba National Park is particularly abundant with hippos – an estimated 6,000 of the beasts wallow in its waters! And, we’ll be paddling the river through the park for around 200 kilometres – trying to dodge them/not bump into them/paddle over them – anything to avoid pissing them off!

[quote]Slap the canoe paddles – as rapidly and as hard as possible – on the surface of the water, whenever we you see a hippo fully submerging![/quote]

This is what I’d heard British travel writer Richard Grant say at a launch of his new book ‘Crazy River’, in which he dodges bullets, hippos and crocodiles along the Malagarasi River in Tanzania and Burundi. Apparently, the vibrations scare them away….whoever knew. I keep (half) joking with Jason about attaching mechanical paddles to the canoes which, at the flick of a switch, beat the bloody water hard and fast! Either that, or I’ve thought of acquiring an outboard engine attached for a quick and smart getaway.

Photo © Jason Florio

We’ve been strongly advised to take an armed guard with us, from someone who lived in the park for over seven years. Not to shoot the hippos, we hasten to add, more to deter them (and the poachers – but that’s another story). We will heed this advice, but, if anyone out there has any other advice or experience with hippos, aside from beating the water really hard with paddles, please leave your comments below.

Shenton Safaris
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British born, New York based husband and wife team – award-winning photographer, Jason Florio, and photography producer, Helen Jones-Florio – have worked together on assignments in Mexico, DR Congo, Kenya, West Africa, and the USA. They met in the Gambian bush over 15 years ago and in 2009 they made the first recorded circumnavigation of The Gambia by foot. 'A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – a 930km African odyssey’. Jason produced what became an award-winning series of portraits of village chiefs Now they embark on their second expedition in this part of the world: ‘River Gambia Expedition 2012 – 1000km source-sea African odyssey’