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Mandina Lodges: A touch of luxury in the forest
Mandina consists of a small group of very individual lodges set among the mangroves in the Makasutu Cultural Forest. Three of the lodges ("Jungle Lodges") are tucked among the trees, with a roof terrace that looks out over the forest. Four of them ("Floating Lodges") are moored among the mangroves on the edge of the river. The two most luxurious are large two-storey affairs - one on the river (the "Stilted Lodge") and one slightly set back from it (the "Mangrove Lodge").
We stayed in Floating Lodge 1, a short walk along the boardwalk from the communal area. The room was large, with a centrally-placed four poster bed facing out over the water. It all looked lovely, but you are in a remote area so there are some compromises within the apparent luxury - no A/C (we had a ceiling fan however), erratic electricity supply and a composting toilet that was inclined to be smelly at times. But while the room got rather hot during the day, by bed-time it was always comfortable and we even found that we needed the cosy bedding provided; while a good door kept the toilet smells at bay!
Stays at Mandina are on a half-board basis. The dinner menus are somewhat limited, constrained by the remote location and the availability in the local markets, but the food is of a good quality and well-prepared. The chef will find you each afternoon somewhere around the lodge to explain that evening's options and take your orders, also confirm what time you want to eat. Make sure you factor in time for a sun-downer at the attractive bar area overlooking the mangroves! And after dinner you might fancy another drink around the fire pit, sharing the day's experiences with the other guests. Be aware though that, like the dinner menu, the drinks list is somewhat limited, although some decent house wines and the local Julbrew beer should satisfy most tastes.
Outside each Floating Lodge is a large private deck with sun loungers and chairs, from where you have wonderful views of the river with lots of passing birds, and local people in their various crafts. Every morning tea or coffee is brought to your deck and you can sit here watching the river come to life as you drink. Floating Lodge 1 has been adopted as home by one of the 11 resident cats, Jenny, who joined us here each morning as well as regularly visiting us inside (at our invitation). There's a good chance you'll see the local Goliath Heron here in the mornings as he often comes on to the lodge decking to fish. You can watch the local fishermen paddle past, and the women in search of oysters which they gather from the mangroves.
Every lodge is assigned a private guide - ours was Amadou. Your guide will consult you each day about the next day's plans and make some suggestions for walks and boat rides, all of which (apart from the Sunset Cruise - see separate tip) are included. Among the outings we had with Amadou were a lovely early morning walk in the forest, a trip to a local village to see an impressive art project (Wide Open Walls), and a relaxing evening boat ride among the mangroves. Amadou really knew his stuff, including identifying loads of birds for us. For an extra payment you can also do a sunset cruise - do it, it's amazing!
Despite the small privations and quibbles mentioned above, we had an incredibly comfortable stay here. There is a large pool with loungers and seating dotted around the shady gardens and riverside decking. Attentive, if slightly soporific, waiters will bring you cold drinks, ice cream and lunch (all reasonably priced). It's a very good combination of well-run boutique resort and jungle camp!
Next tip: Meals at Mandina
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