Evening paddle among the mangroves
On one of our days at Mandina we had a late afternoon / early evening boat ride with Amadou, paddling along the mangrove-edged waters in search of bird life and just generally relaxing in the cooling air.
We passed some fishermen near a village, casting their nets in the traditional way, and some women returning from a day spent collecting oysters from the mangrove roots. Among the birds seen on this trip, which lasted a bit over two hours, were:
~ Senegal Thick-knee
~ White-faced Whistling Duck
~ Swallowtailed Bee-eater
~ Goliath Heron
~ Pied Kingfisher
~ Grey Heron
As we returned to the lodge we saw some baboons settling down in the trees for the night, although they were too hidden in the trees to get any photos. The sun was setting and we did get some good photos of the lodges in this beautiful light as we returned to our own - just in time to freshen up for pre-dinner drinks in the bar.
Next tip: the innovative Wide Open Walls project
- Jungle and Rain Forest
An early morning walk
On our first morning at Mandina we were up quite early, woken by the birds and a waiter bringing our morning coffee. Once we had drunk this sitting out on our deck it was time to meet up with Amadou to go for a walk planned with him the previous evening.
He led us out of the lodge complex and along the main track a short distance, before turning off into the "forest". In truth it is more a wooded scrubland but was very pleasant to walk through at this time of day, with a fresh breeze wafting the scent of mint and other herbs across our path. Amadou was very alert to any movement in the trees and we saw lots of birds. I was particular taken with the pretty red Bearded Barbet and the impressive Crested Eagle (there’s a photo of the latter in my birds travelogue).
We emerged into open space surrounding a dried up lake where local villagers often grow rice (see photo four). From here the path led past a small cashew grove and back towards the hotel complex. As we approached the gate we saw that a large troop of baboons had gathered there and we were able to get lots of photos of their antics. The dog who had accompanied us on our walk (one of six that live at Mandina) was challenged by the largest of the baboons and retreated sheepishly behind me and. Chris as we stood there taking pictures!
After this we were ready for breakfast so headed back into the lodges complex and the restaurant area, very satisfied with our morning outing.
Next tip: the baboons of Makasutu
- Jungle and Rain Forest
One of our morning walks with Amadou took us to the area they call Base Camp, the location where the founders of Makasutu and Mandina, Lawrence and James, lived when they first came to this region. They spent the first seven years living in tents on the land, with no running water or electricity, really getting to understand the environment and plan how they would develop it without spoiling it. This led to them first developing the area around their base, thus the name of Base Camp, and later Mandina Lodges.
The Mandina website explains how this part of the forest was developed:
“The area was developed in a sensitive way, making sure that no trees were cut down in the development, and actually designing the buildings to fit into the spaces that the trees dictated. The site took seven years to develop, and finally the day park was officially opened on the 20th July 1999 by the then Minister of Lands and Local Government, Mr Bajo, on behalf of his Excellency President Jammeh.”
Today Base Camp functions as a base for day trips to Makasutu, with a pool where visitors can cool off, a restaurant which serves traditional food for the visitors’ lunches, and a stage for cultural performances. A brand new four storey tower sits at the edge of the creek, from the top of which you can get sweeping views of the mangroves and forested areas. I loved the views from this but felt the structure looked very out of place. Its gleaming whiteness can be seen from some distance away (we spotted it from the jetty at Kubuneh) - something more traditional-looking might have blended in better with the landscape.
There are some colourful murals and various sculptures dotted around, reflecting Lawrence’s interest in art. And if you come here do ask someone to show you where the barn owl roosts inside the roof of the bar/restaurant (see the photo in my birds travelogue).
Next tip: shopping for crafts
- Jungle and Rain Forest
Wide Open Walls project
Some years ago, one of the owners of Makasutu and Mandina, Lawrence, who is a keen artist, decided to use art as a way of bringing some income to the local villages. He invited internationally known artists to stay at Mandina after the end of the tourist season, and to create street art in the most unlikely of settings, the small rural Gambian villages dotted around the area. The idea was that the works would function as a valid art installation in their own right and at the same time promote The Gambia as a tourist destination and thus benefit local communities. Progress has been slow, mainly because of the recession, but gradually the project, known as Wide Open Walls, has begun to create more and more interest.
You can read more about it on the Mandina website, here and in an interview with Lawrence on the Gambia Blog. There is also a Wide Open Walls Facebook page.
Amadou brought us to one of the villages, Kubuneh, about a half hour boat ride from Mandina Lodges, where these photos were taken. It was fascinating to see them as they seemed at the same time both incongruous and totally in their right place. They are on public buildings, private houses, walls and even on the trees! And because quite a number of artists have been involved since the project began, there is a good chance you’ll find some that appeal to you.
The village is still largely untouched by the extra attention it is starting to receive (see following tip for more about the village) but there are some early seeds of the development of a tourist infrastructure. I hope that this will benefit the local people but not spoil the special atmosphere here – from what I have learned about Lawrence I think it is fair to say that is unlikely.
I took a lot of photos of the artworks so have added more to a separate Travelogue
Or go straight to my next tip: life in Kubuneh
- Arts and Culture