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 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.
Join my 'Behind the Scenes' newsletter
Delivered monthly to your inbox with all my behind the scenes news, latest posts and giveaways exclusive to my subscribers.