Chaz Powell: Walking the length of the Gambia River

By Chaz Powell

Photo Credits and team member: Tim Roberts

The source of the Gambia river

My next adventure was to be a world’s first source to sea trek along the Gambia river. An epic journey to follow the West African river by foot through Guinea‐Conakry, Senegal and The Gambia for 1,120km.

After a long 2‐day journey we eventually reached the source of the Gambia river. The river itself starts in the remote highlands of the Fouta Djallon in Guinea‐Conakry, and is a wild, rugged landscape consisting of steep hills and remote settlements.

Paths along the river’s banks were minimal and we were often forced into climbing the steep tracks away from the river itself! This was the beginning of what would turn out to be an incredible yet wildest journey, where we found ourselves tackling this challenging environment, but were treated like kings in this land of warmth and kindness. Leaving us feeling overwhelmed and fascinated by the amazing cultures and the hospitality we received from the most humble of people.

The river started to widen and consisted of numerous twists and turns. Its presence left us feeling speechless and in a mesmerising state of isolation along its wild banks. We came to rely on it not just for the water it gave us to drink and cook with, but for the sense of freedom it bestowed upon us with its beauty and grace.

It was home to not only the good people who accommodated and fed us whilst wehiked its waters edge. But also to the wildest of animals and the most magnificent of ever changing wild landscapes.

One of the most incredible parts of our journey was walking through the Niokolo Koba National Park. We hiked and skirted along the rivers edge until reaching the parks gates.  We were first denied access to the park as a permit to cross it could take weeks. The alternative route would take an extra 3 days, which would take us away from the River Gambia. We weren’t sure what to do. Luckily, a friend of mine had a contact there who knew about the walk and the great cause it was for. By one miracle or another, we were granted a pass and allowed to enter the park which was a massive relief and we were very thankful.

Unfortunately during those 4 days I felt at my lowest. My appetite had disappeared and the heat/lack of food was seriously draining my energy supplies. We would often nearly run out of water on the way, walking nearly 40km in 6 hours with not a lot of water at the end was tricky. We carried dried food with us, anything that we could get our hands on in locals towns. Things like dried spaghetti, sardines, onions and tomato pastes were perfect, and we could cook it over an open fire. Even if I was feeling my lowest, these guys got me through and made it by far one of the most memorable moments of our source to sea journey.

The park was dangerous to walk through, we had to stick to the road due to wild animals in the park. Even if you were tired, you had to have your wits about you as lions could jump out at any minute. I saw a lions, antelope, baboons, warthogs and a hippo in the park. However, it was obvious the wildlife was decreasing and there was a desperate need for conservation help in Africa.

After the park we continued to walk and stumble across communities as we went. When times became difficult, it was often the good people we met along the way that would lift our spirits and inspire us to keep pushing forward with our journey. People who had very little in the way of possessions, but would often open their doors and hearts to us to make us feel welcomed.

Communities often didn’t have a lot, so we were offered refuge in schools at the end of the day. We would sleep on the floor and cook there too as the rooms were often large and spacious.

They would cook communal meals for us, where 5 or 6 people would sit around at once. The meal would consist of rice, fish and vegetables on a large plate and everyone would grab a spoon and eat.

The paths along the route were long and windy, we camped night after night in different places, fascinated by our surroundings. I got bitten a lot around my upper neck and hands– but my NosiLife Adventure shirt kept me protected from a lot of the bites and I never got bitten where the shirt was covering which was fantastic.

On reaching the Atlantic Ocean and the end of our 1120km, 47 day source to sea journey by foot. We were left feeling a huge sense of satisfaction, elation and overwhelming joy. We had become the first known people to take on and complete this mammoth task, and we knew that this difficult yet humbling challenge had all been worth while.

We had hiked through some of the wildest regions in Western Africa and been welcomed by all that we had met on our path. This was an adventure that will stay with me forever and one that will be difficult to compare with any of my future ‘the wildest journey’ expeditions.

If you have any questions about the trip, ask my on on social media. My instagram is @thewildestjourney or on Twitter as @WalkTheZambezi

Check out my content online with #FootstepsOnTheGambia

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