Drink Wild Air

French Guiana

I crossed from Brazil into French Guiana by land (actually by river) by catching the bus from Macapá to Oiapoque before crossing the Oyapock river to St Georges. The bus from Macapá I think qualifies as the worst bus ride of my life. It was a night bus with most of it being down a dirt track. It was so bumpy that there was no way I could get any sleep. It was on this bus I met Jaz a fellow Australian when I thought I’d be the only one.

From St George’s we got a taxi collectivo (aka mini van) to Cayenne, the capital, before we got another collectivo directly to Kourou. The reason for skipping over Cayenne was so we could witness what turned out to be one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen… A rocket launch!! Kourou is home to Centre Spatial Guyanais. We watched the launch from an observation hill located approximately 20km from the launch site. We all got a ticket as we walked through security at the bottom of the hill and mine was numbered 1289 which is a lot of people who turned up to witness this event (assuming they started at 1). Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos of he take off as just as I thought I had the perfect position someone stuck their hand and camera in front of me.

Even though we were 20km away it took about 40 seconds for the sound of the take off to reach us and what an amazing sound it was!! The satellite was an ATV which was taking supplies to the International Space Station.

The next day we headed back to Cayenne with the sole purpose of visiting the Suriname consulate to obtain a tourist visa. The Consulate is only open for a few hours each morning and we had been warned of long lines so I was there at 8am (it opened at 9am) and here was already half a dozen people ahead of me! Usually the visas have an overnight turn around time but with a bit of sweet talking and charm we were able to pick them up the same day.

When transited through Cayenne the first time I saw a few streets near the collectivos and to say I was somewhat unimpressed is an understatement. Unfortunately a lot of Cayenne is fairly uninspiring with neglected and dilapidated colonial buildings, however there is a few blocks surrounding Palmistes (the main square) that redeemed Cayenne for me. In this area there is a lot of government offices in beautifully maintained/ restored colonial buildings.

After obtaining our Suriname visas we headed back to Kourou by Collectivo as we had a trip planned to Iles du Salut (aka the Salvation Islands). There is 3 islands that make up the Salvation Islands, of which we only visited 1.

The islands which are surrounded by shark infested waters were a prison where prisoners were sent from France by Emperor Napoleon III in 1852 and continued until 1947.  Around 80,000 prisoners died during this time.  These days some of the prison buildings have been restored and now also contain a hotel.  The island is also home to a lot of animals including agoutis, capuch monkeys, macaws and sea turtles.

Trying to get a collectivo on a Saturday proved to be a bit of a mission but we managed to secure one which picked us up at 4am. There was one lady on the bus that spoke English so she helped us out and also took us for coffee before we were dropped off at the Visitor Information Centre. The staff at the Centre were really lovely and let us store our bags while we went off to do a tour of Camp de la Transport prison which is conveniently located just next door.  This is where prisoners who arrived from Fance were held for processing and some stayed for a significant period of time.

The tour was run by Lemond from the Centre who was enthaustically hilarious. Given we had been given a brochure in English so we just planned to read off it and follow along, so were pleasantly surprised when he started to also speak English.

After the tour finished we looked into hiring a car but because everywhere was closed on Sundays we opted for taking the collectivo out to Awala.  The area is known for 2 reasons, 1)  Amerindian settlements and 2) one of the worlds largest nesting sites for the Leather-Back turtle.  Nesting occurs between April and July and hatching occurs between July and September.  We spent hours on the beach that night but unfortunately didn’t get to see any turtles hatch.  There was a number of egg shells laying around so the hatching had begun and you could still see plenty of nesting sites but we were unlucky.  We did speak to a few other people who were also there around the same time and nobody saw any hatching which made us feel a little better!

Because the collectivos don’t run on Sundays we decided to hitch hiking back to St Laurent. Lucky for us we only had to wait about 20 mins before a car with a young French couple who lived there and spoke English stopped to pick us up. They were really nice and dropped us off at immigration and also helped us negotiate a price to cross the river and get the bus into Paramaribo.

I found French Guiana to be an amusing mix – Caribbean looking people speaking French with a bit of Creole thrown in for fun!

See gallaries for French Guiana here.

Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink the wild air!

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