You expected a quiet, peaceful morning. But as soon as the sun starts rising, the ruckus begins. Baboons bark as they swing through the tree canopy in search of breakfast. Two mongooses splash in the river. A huge monitor lizard hisses as it strolls along the shore. A Goliath heron flaps its strong wings. You watch, silently, from the deck of your stilted river lodge with a cup of very sweet atire tea.
Welcome to the Gambia in West Africa. The smallest country on the mainland of Africa is surrounded by Senegal, except for a small strip of the Atlantic Ocean. The Gambia River runs through the center of the country. You’re on a tributary of the river at the Mandina River Lodge.
The riverside lodge is located within the Makasutu Cultural Forest, a secluded area filled with mangroves, palm forests, a savannah, and wetlands. Jungle lodges, set back from the water, have rooftop terraces overlooking the mangroves. River lodges float or sit on stilts. They have solar power, a roofless bathroom, and a second-floor lounge. After your own breakfast, cooked at an open-wood fire, you go for a swim. Birds sing around the pool, which is the largest in the Gambia.
After your swim, ride a dugout canoe to explore other tributaries along the river. Fishermen cast their nets into the water, women collect oysters at low tide around the exposed roots of mangroves, and a crocodile might be watching you in the distance. Go on a guided walk through the forest to watch red colobus monkeys play, and start to distinguish between bird calls. Tour the Kim Kombo Distillery and taste liquors made from locally grown fruit at the plantation.
Then watch thousands of egrets fly across the sky as they return to their roosting sites at the end of the day. Munch on roasted ground nuts, drink more atire tea, and listen to kora and djembe music by the fire pit. And eat an al fresco dinner as the fire flickers behind you.
Your day ends much like it began, on the deck of your lodge. This time you can’t see what’s floating across the water, lurking along the shore, or flying overhead. But you’re starting to recognize the sounds around you. Most of them, at least.