Having woken up to the dawn chorus of Makasutu Forest and then spent the morning taking a ridiculous number of photos of a troupe of baboons – just a few of which I shared in a previous post, The Baboons of Makasutu Forest – we stopped by what is known as Base Camp. This is where day visitors to the forest are able to cool down with a swim in the lovely new pool, relax over lunch, watch some dancing by the local Jola tribe and even join in. There is also the new viewing tower which I was eager to climb, despite my fear of heights.
Base Camp at Makasutu Forest
The view from the top, overlooking the Mandina Bolon, a tributary of The River Gambia, glistening in the sun and the lush green Makasutu Forest was ample reward for ignoring my fear of heights (although coming down required a resolute concentration on the stairs, without looking past them to the drop below!)
Swimming at Mandina Lodges
It was now gone noon and the sun was high and hot. Time to walk back through the forest to Mandina Lodges and enjoy the wonderful swimming pool there (reserved for guests staying at the lodges, hence the new pool at Base Camp) and experiment with my new waterproof camera.
A Canoe Ride to Kubuneh
Later that afternoon, when the sun was a little cooler, we headed off by canoe to the village of Kubuneh. Exploring the mangrove creeks by boat has to be one of the most relaxing things to do in The Gambia, especially if someone else is doing the rowing! In this case the guide, Nellie and Lee – Vicky and I both decided any more swapping places in a finely balanced canoe was asking for trouble!
The village of Kubuneh
At face value, Kubuneh is much like any other Gambian village – a collection of assorted compounds with a mosque and possibly a school. A number of generations from one family live together in each of these compounds, typically consisting of a small plot of land where a few vegetables might grow, with a couple of simple mud-brick houses. In the yard you might see a few chickens or a goat or two, although the later are usually left to wander freely as everyone knows whose goat is whose. Few villages have electricity (but the network is slowly expanding and a few lucky villages have solar power) neither do they have running water. Instead, they rely on water from a communal well. Visiting village homes and then returning to your luxury hotel can be a bit of a jolt to the system!
The wells are dug out by hand – yes – there is someone down there busy digging but we couldn’t see him! They need to go a long way down before they reach the water table (which I believe is slowly getting lower each year).
Wide Open Walls project at Kubuneh
Kubuneh is one of a handful of villages that are different from other Gambian villages and it is not long before we start seeing why.
The walls, trees and homes of Kubuneh have been transformed into the canvases for street artists from around the world to bring to life! Founded by Lawrence Williams, one of the owner’s of Mandina Lodges, and a great artist in his own right, in 2010, the Wide Open Walls project aims to create connections between street artists from many different nations and the local community through mural painting and art workshops, to inspire freedom of expression, to promote the Gambia as a destination for responsible tourism and hopefully raise some money to put back into the communities where the paintings appear. I’ve been longing to see this ever since I first heard about the street art in Africa project.
We spend a little time with the villagers but the sun is low in the sky and its time to return to Mandina. The rhythmic sound of the paddle is mesmerising, as the canoe glides through the water and we watch the setting sun sink behind the mangroves that line the river bank. A lovely end to a wonderful day.
Disclaimer: Although I have worked for The Gambia Experience, the sponsor of this trip, since 2005, I will always give you a completely honest opinion throughout my #BlogGambia posts, just as I would any other sponsored trip or review. My only bias, which I hope you will forgive me for, stems from my having fallen in love with The Gambia many years ago. Read more about #BlogGambia and my fellow travellers Vicky, Lee and Nellie here. See more of my photographs from The Gambia on Flickr.