Tuesday, October 8, 2013

French Guiana Part 2


Every Sunday there is a big market in the Hmong Village of Cacao and I really wanted to go cos it sounded quite interesting according to all the locals. The Hmong people arrived in the 1970s after being forced to leave Laos as a result of Laotian Civil War. Apparently they worked really hard to establish their new lives in this part of French Guiana and now produce about 80% of the nation’s fruits and vegetables. Go them.

I took daytrip on a motorised canoe from Roura to Cacao. It was really nice. I am so into motorised canoe rides through the jungle in South America. It’s an excellent mode of transport (unless it pisses down rain and then it’s less fun) and you get to see loads of nature.

This was not our boat.

This was our boat.

Since French Guiana is full of French tourists, I was the only native English speaker on the tour. Being here is such a different experience to everywhere else I’ve visited in South America. I haven’t met any other native English speaking tourists in this country and I speak mostly to locals. My French is coming back to me despite using some Spanish words automatically! Everyone is very intrigued that I’m from Australia, just because it is a massive pain in the arse to get to French Guiana. I don’t even know how you’d do it. What I do know is it would take bloody ages and be super expensive.

Tree balls.

We went past this and I thought "what a nice flower". Then the girl reversed the boat and ripped it off the tree so we could take a better look.

Along the way we stopped for a drink. I thought this would be water. Not in French Guiana! We had rum shots with some local sugar syrup and lime. I still hate rum though so I only had one. Then for snacks we had palm hearts with a dark chocolate chaser. That was quite good actually.

I thought the market was a bit expensive for crafts. Basically you can buy all this stuff in Asia for about $1 compared to about €10 here. 

However, what you really go for is the food. You get authentic Asian food cooked then and there relatively cheap (considering it's in euros).

This drink/ dessert called Nam Van is so delicious. It's made from tapioca, coconut milk, sugar syrup, jellied fruits and ice. I love it (I wish I had one right now while I was typing this).

This green papaya salad was awesome. The lady made it fresh so it didn't have fish sauce in it. Score! Also Asians speaking with a French accent, weird.

This was some kind of sticky rice and banana desert. Good.

Giant grapefruits. I don't know what they are called. I actually like these a lot and wish we had them in Australia. They are a pain in the arse to get into without a knife though (that is another story for a future blog update).

I've never seen yellow/ orange watermelon before.

Across the road from the market is an Amazon bug place. The guy is very enthusiastic about insects. I'm just glad I didn't come across any of these in my hammock!

There are some live ones too.

You could also feel tarantula skin. It's very soft and even though it's just parts of dead tarantulas, it still freaked me out to touch.

There are a lot of weekend houses (being covered hammock areas with a kitchen/ bathroom) along the river so rich French people can enjoy their expensive boats and jet-skis!

Ilet la mere

One of the places I really wanted to go was Ilet la mere because I heard there are lots of little monkeys there. I got the boat from Roura, which was quite a nice journey down the river and then a few km out to sea. Again, this place is a massive pain in the arse to get to unless you have a car since the main ferry stop is in the middle of nowhere. Going from Roura therefore makes sense.

There are no facilities on the island so you have to take everything you need with you for the day. I stopped at the shop and bought a French bread stick (of course) and some fruit and other things.

I was not prepared for how many monkeys there would actually be. I started eating some bread when we got off the boat, and as soon as they saw food, they all ran towards me and started climbing on me trying to pry it out of my hand.

At lunch time, they just went crazy. I thought I was going to have to stand in the sea and eat just to get some peace. However, they didn't see me eat on the beach so I was safe, unlike these people.

There are also lots of agouts there. I like these rat-like creatures. They remind me of Miss Guatin from when I stayed at Merazonia.

The island also has some ruins on it. I believe it was a penal colony at one point before it became an ecological research island.

Monkeys, monkeys, everywhere!

There are also some gorgeous views and big, majestic trees.

On the way back, we got to see red ibises coming in to rest for the night. Apparently they were almost extinct at one point, but there is a ban on hunting them and now there numbers are strong again. Beautiful birds.

Sorry, bit hard to see on the photo, but the boat is not allowed to get too close and I have a shit camera and am shit at photography. Just use your imagination or google them.

Illets du Salut

The next day I hitch hiked back to Kourou. This involved walking 2km back to a street that had cars since no one passed me getting from the campsite back to the main town. Then some real estate guy picked me up and drove me to Cayenne. I learnt about the house prices in French Guiana.

Then another guy picked me up to go to Kourou. This guy was cool. He was driving to Paramaribo to buy car parts for the car we were in so he could drive around South America for a year or so.

The next day I went to Illes du Salut. These are three close together islands about 8km off Kourou. I went down to the boat ramp area to buy my ticket and the guy is like “no, we are full today. Wait over there”. So I wait and he’s like “no, we are full, come back tomorrow”. This game went on for about half an hour. Then as the boat was about to leave and I was wondering what the fuck I was going to with my day, he goes “ok, you can go. Quick, the boat is about to leave”. Sometimes it pays to be just one person travelling. Also, everyone here keeps telling me "you should have called and made a reservation". Well I would just like to point out that it’s a bit hard when some fuckwit stole your phone. Furthermore, public phones are like buses here - they don’t exist! So no, I can’t phone ahead.

Anyway now I was on the boat to Illes du Salut. Hooray! However, me and open water don’t mix very well and it didn’t take long for the sea sickness to kick in. Urgh. Finally after an hour we were there.

The boats go to the main island called Ile Royale. This is where most of the convict shit went down. Some of the ruins are pretty interesting. The rest have been turned into accommodation and a restaurant which is less interesting.

The island is quite beautiful. I can think of worse places to a be prisoner. However, they pretty much all got dengue fever or malaria and died, so maybe it wasn’t that great. Plus some guy named Henri Charriere escaped to Venezuela and wrote a book (which became a movie) called Papillon, detailing the horrors of what went on.

I doubt the prisoners made themselves a rock pool. I imagine this came later.

You can also catch a small boat over to the second island St Joseph (you can’t go to Devil’s Island) which takes about five minutes and costs €5 return. It has some ruins on it which again are quite interesting. It also has a nice beach area with really clear water. Unlike mainland French Guiana, the water around the islands is blue and beautiful. It's also really dangerous so there are signs up everywhere telling you not to swim. Guess that's how they stopped prisoners escaping back in the day. 

I saw about five sea turtles today. Awesome!

You can fully walk around both islands, and go swimming at both of them and have lunch easily within a day. So unless you’ve got kids or old people to slow you down, or you’re into sleeping on islands (which you could do for free if you take your hammock and tie it up between two palm trees (a popular option), or pay €10 to stay undercover), then a daytrip is just fine.

I think this is where old coconuts go to die.

This is Ile du Diable (Devil's Island), the one you can't go to.

The next day I wanted to try the European Space Centre tour again. But then I found out the next two days were public holidays in French Guiana. Not ideal. However, I did get the drunk engineers version of the tour (since they work there and I was couchsurfing at their house). They built an Ariane 5 replica using a rum bottle and empty beer cans, then made some satellite orbiting noises. Hmm, thanks guys I feel better now. 


The next day was a big hitch hiking day. I wanted to go to Awala at the top west point of French Guiana. This area is the world's largest leatherback turtle nesting site. I’ve missed egg laying season, which is May-July, but it’s now hatching season so I was hoping to see some baby turtles.

I hitched out to the highway, where there were about eight people already there trying to get to Saint Laurent. One woman had been waiting an hour. Then a colectivo (which I didn’t know they had) turned up and the driver said he had two seats left for €25, however a couple decided to take him up on that. Then a car pulls up with a couple and they say they will take people for €30. We bargained them down to €25 but then I ended up being the only one who actually got in the car. I think paying for someone to take you 250km is pretty reasonable, but most of them were like “no, I’m not paying”. For me, €25 and leaving then seemed better than waiting several hours in the sun for a free ride. The couple seemed ok and liked listening to Bob Marley.

We arrived at Saint Laurent and the couple dropped me off at a service station so I could hitch a ride to Awala. A guy stopped and took me part of the way. He was from Suriname and does community education programs on living with HIV. What he does sounds really interesting, and discrimination against people with HIV in these small communities seems to be changing, so that’s good.

Next up, a woman stopped. She was going to the beach at Awala so that was perfect. Her name was Silvie and I ended up spending the afternoon at the beach with her, since she was a very interesting woman and really into nature. She knew a lot about these turtles since she lives in Saint Laurent and comes to the beach all the time. She also gave me useful information on how much I should pay to take the boat across the border and the bus to Paramaribo.

Although we spent a few hours at the beach we did not see any turtles. Only evidence that some had recently hatched!

I went for a walk along the beach at 8.30pm but there were still no turtles. Dogs had appeared to have gotten into the bins though, so the rubbish strewn everywhere was a nice touch.

I walked along the beach again the morning. Still no turtles but a nice sunrise. I left disappointed. Stupid nature!

Saint Laurent

I hitch hiked back to Saint Laurent. I was a bit worried about how long it would take to get back since there were no cars about. But some guy gave me a lift to the town bit of Awala, then some other guy gave me a lift to Mana, then a woman gave me a lift to Saint Laurent. I probably waited about 10-15 minutes for each lift, but that was mostly because no cars were passing me. The woman was the most interesting. She was from Suriname and told me that Guyana is pretty unsafe, and so are parts of Suriname.

I checked into a hotel since the hammock place I wanted to stay is closed for the week. Then I walked around the town. It definitely feels dodgier here than the rest of French Guiana. Not that that has ever stopped me. 

I'm assuming this isn't part of the current hospital!

There is a lot of history in this town since it's where they brought all? of the convicts in. The Camp de la Transportation was the point of arrival.

And that's pretty much it.

French Guiana. It's difficult to get around but I managed to see everything I wanted by hitch hiking or boat. It's also expensive so don't come here unless you're prepared to go over budget if/ when necessary. However, I liked it a lot and I can understand why all the French ex-pats I met like living here. I would consider living here for a year or two if it wasn't so far away from Australia.

Next stop: Suriname!