As I lie in bed I can feel a gentle movement in the decking beneath me or is it my imagination? I listen to the creaks and groans of the wood… splashes of water… silence… another splash. Getting out of bed I draw back the muslin curtains and catch my breath. A multitude of stars shine in the African night sky, each with its reflection shimmering in the water that surrounds me. So many stars. Deep in the Makasutu Forest, here at Mandina Lodges in The Gambia, there’s no such thing as light pollution.
There is a canoe moored to the side of my floating lodge. I start as I see a shadow move towards me in the dark but it’s only Jenny, a domestic cat that calls Floating Lodge No: 1 her home. She is permitting me to share it with her for the next couple of days.
Mandina Lodges, Maksutu Forest, The Gambia
The previous evening, Jenny sat with me while I watched a spectacular sunset over the mangrove swamps.
Mandina Lodges is an eco-friendly resort, deep in the sacred forest of Makasutu with just nine lodges (four floating lodges, one stilted lodge plus four more lodges set back from the river). You couldn’t feel more removed from the hustle and bustle of the main tourist resorts in The Gambia and yet Mandina is less than an hour from Banjul airport. It’s been over eight years since I first saw a photograph of one of these floating lodges. I have dreamt of waking up here ever since. And the experience does not disappoint, it is all I imagined it would be and more.
It’s around 6 .30 in the morning as I dose, while around me the forest awakes. I’ve never heard so many birds, so many different calls. A cacophony of sound. As the sun starts to rise, the bird calls become a little less frantic, less urgent. A new day has begun in Makasutu Forest.
My floating lodge is moored to a jetty on a tributary of the River Gambia. Sitting under a small canopy, I look out across the water. A thermos flask of hot water with some coffee, sugar and a jar of milk have been left for me. I sip my morning cuppa, Jenny by my side. For so long I’ve waited for this moment. If only I could bottle it!
I sit quietly taking it all in, simply enjoying the moment. A speckled pigeon with its distinctive red, eye mask, perches on the roof. The only bird I can see but I can hear so many more.
Nellie (Wild Junket) in the floating lodge next to mine, is up now and chats to a local fisherman. We’re both surprised to see he’s actually cooking some of his fish in his boat. Another boat gently paddles passed, then three more – rush hour at Makasutu Forest. There’s a couple of men in the next boat. “Have you been fishing?” … “No! I’m your pool guy” one of them replies with a grin. What a wonderful way to travel to work. The traffic jams and petrol fumes of a UK rush hour slip into a vague and distant memory.
I feel serene sitting by the water, just being, and it is hard to pull myself away, not just from the river but also the lodge itself which is perfect. A plush double bed sits in the centre of an elegant yet simply furnished room, from where you can look out over the water.
There’s no energy-sapping air-conditioning here, just a natural breeze through open doors and windows plus an overhead fan (which you can only use at night as the solar powered produced electricity is turned off during the day). What could be more idyllic than this floating bedroom? And I love the open-air bathroom with its composting loo.
Yet all too soon it’s time for breakfast. And beyond the mangrove, there’s a forest to explore.
More posts from Makasutu
The Baboons of Makasutu Forest
Read how the re-forestation project in Makasutu, instigated by the owners of Mandina Lodges, has seen the return of baboons to the forest.
From tree-top towers to African street art
After climbing high above the forest, I head off by canoe to explore the tributarys of the River Gambia and visit the village of Kubuneh to see some rather unusual street art.
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Wow that is beautiful the perfect place to switch off and escape from our hectic worlds .. love the pictures
Beautiful photos, it looks so peaceful there!
Thanks Becky. I’m sure the memory of Mandina will stay with me forever.
Love this post and love the new look too.
What fabulous pictures!
Thanks Solange! It was a really wonderful experience.
This place looks spectacular – lucky you!
I know very little about Gambia, to be honest, so I’m always happy to read about destinations not often talked about in travel blogs. Keep the good stuff coming! 🙂
WOW. I’m sold. That places looks amazing! After spending my last few weeks in Jakarta I’m half-tempted to just book it out to Mandina myself 😀
And there’s a really lovely swimming pool to cool down in if it gets too hot! I hope you do go one day – it is a very special place.
This looks and sounds so beautiful. Not a place I’ve been to but it seems like a gorgeous part of Africa. I can but dream…
I do hope you get to visit it for yourself one day. It is a very special place.
Wow Kathryn, what a wonderful place. Love all the pictures. Will you be blogging more about the Makasutu forest and your adventures while you’re there?
Thank you Matthew and, yes, I certainly will be – I’ve a lot I want to share!
What a fantastic place this looks – such a treat to be able to see the photos. Not as good as being there – but gives a real feel of what it must be like.
I did feel very lucky to be there. Hope you get to experience it for yourself one day.
This place looks idyllic, Kat! Just stunning! Can’t wait to see more photos!
I’m certainly looking forward to sharing more from Makasutu over the next few weeks… watch this space!
very nice photos. You are a great photographer, Kat
Thank you. That’s very kind of you to say so. Glad you enjoyed seeing them.
Wow ! This looks amazing and luxurious. The views are so beautiful and breathtaking.
That first picture is stunning, Kat… (the others are lovely, too, but that one is great!)
Thanks Paul. Sunset shots often don’t do them justice so I was really delighted this one came out so well.
Wow, this looks absolutely amazing! I remember while we were there and I was very jealous that Mallory had had the chance to sit here and watch the sunrise and sunset. Now I’m very jealous of you too!
Sorry you missed out on this one Monica! It really is a very special place.
Gosh Kathryn, I can absolutely see why you fell in love with Gambia. It is absolutely spectacular. In fact, if I had to describe my idea of paradise, it would pretty much all be included in this post!
I hope you get to see it for yourself one day Mandy. 🙂
Absolutely gorgeous. I can see why you’ve been wanting to stay there. The picture with your coffee overlooking the water is so idealic, it actually makes me relax just looking at it. And the picture of the fisherman cooking fish in his boat kind of makes me hungry… 🙂
It really was a dream come true 🙂
Wow! Looks amazing. I would love to visit West Africa one day.
It was truly amazing and I do feel very lucky to have stayed there. I hope you get to visit West Africa one day – a very special part if the world.
Looks idyllic – and a pretty darned interesting part of the world to visit. Waking to unusual bird calls would be bliss – and a sure sign I was somewhere new. Lovely photos.
There are over 560 species of birds in The Gambia and I had the chance to go bird-watching with Chris Packham’s favourite bird guide while I was there – amazing! More on that later too.
Wow those are spectacular photos – I actually gasped at the first one. I have to go there now; someday I hope. That looks amazing!
Wasn’t I lucky to catch such a striking sunset. That’s certainly a time I’m glad of a few clouds when taking photos. I hope you get to go there too one day and even if you can’t manage to stay there, you can always visit the forest on a day trip. More on that in a forthcoming post.
Inspired prose and stunning photos Kathryn – The Gambia has truly made a place in your heart and I’m not at all surprised; it looks and sounds amazing.
Thank you Suzanne. That’s really kind of you and, yes, The Gambia is just that, amazing!
A beautiful location for total peace and serenity. I was lucky enough to spend a night in one of the floating lodges and experience waking up to the birdsong and surrounding wildlife – truly magical.
It was an experience I’ll never forget and one I’d happily repeat!