Published: May 21st 2011May 20th 2011
My visit to French Guiana started well, with a guided tour of St Laurent du Maroni in a police car. The first shop I saw was a boulangerie and that's when I realised “I'm in France! This is home! Well... Kind of...” Then I stumbled across a couple of French supermarket chains and was almost laughing to myself. It felt good to be “home”, probably better than it has felt going back to France every now and then over the last few years. It was a bit like having a break from the travels without actually having to fly half way around the world.
I was only in St Laurent for a couple of hours, waiting for the bus that would take me South, to Kourou. With all the Suriname débâcle, I was arriving a little later than I'd have liked, as it was Sunday morning. The disappointing thing about this was that if I'd arrived only two days earlier, in Kourou, I could have seen the Ariane (satellite launcher) take off, but it just wasn't to be (oops, another excuse to come back to this part of the world!).
Once in Kourou, Stephanie, one of my friends from school would
pick me up and take me to Cayenne, where she lived. We hadn't seen each other for a long time, but got back in touch a couple of years ago thanks to the wonders of Facebook and I was really looking forward to a good catch up with her and her other half Rémi, as well as meeting her two boys aged 6 and a half and four (the last time I'd seen her, she had been pregnant with the first one).
It felt almost strange to speak French again and even more so to understand everything I was being told. Whilst I waited in St Laurent for the bus to set off, I went to Carrefour and bought some madeleines (little French cakes)... Perfection! Then we left and 2 hours minibus ride (and 25€) later, I met Stephanie and the family as agreed. After a quick tour of Kourou and some lunch, we made it back to her neighbourhood, in the countryside near Cayenne. I was staying there for a few days and was going to enjoy some luxuries I wasn't used to anymore, such as unpacking properly, using a washing machine, having my own room (with a double
bed – oh yes!), taking hot showers and having some really nice food... Had I died and gone to heaven?
We spent the first afternoon chatting away and decided that we would go and see the turtles that evening. I might have missed the Ariane take off, but at least I had managed to arrive during one of the turtles' season. At around 8pm, as we left, I was probably more excited than the kids. We drove to the beach and then went for a stroll along until we found one of the turtles (it was massive) and a group of people watching it, including one of the local volunteers, explaining the whole process. It was amazing. One of those things you dream of seeing in your life time. The only downside was the lack of consideration shown by some people: everybody knows you shouldn't use a flash when taking pictures, other than at very specific times (which the volunteer highlighted,) as it can disorientate the turtle and then she might struggle to find her way back to the sea. Well, obviously, you had to have one or two idiots flashing away thinking that it wouldn't matter... Thankfully, the turtle
You can only see the eggs for a couple of seconds, the rest of time, she's hiding them
we watched made it back without problems. After this unforgettable experience, it was time to head home and to bed.
The next day was Easter Monday and we started the day with a tour of Cayenne, I had been warned (and it was no lie) that there wasn't much to see in the city. The guide book made it sound (as is often the case) much more appealing than it really was and it didn't take long to see the sights. The rest of the day was spent back at the house, where my friend was having a bit of an Easter lunch party (including omelette, which is a tradition in the part of France we come from).
On Tuesday, we went for a hike to the nearby forest. Luckily, Stephanie being a teacher, she was on her Easter holidays, so I got the chance of having my very own “local guide” telling me about the fauna and flora we encountered and spotting the sloths up in the trees (there was no way I would have seen them on my own). It was the first time I was seeing them and I was really chuffed. It was also funny to
see how such things were amazing to me but seemed so normal to the children. I remember them telling me about some big spider (called “Matoutou”) that they have around there. I'd never even heard the name until that point and still, they were talking about it as I might talk about squirrels...
The following day started with a trip to Cayenne's market. There we bought amongst other things some fruit called ramboutans, which taste like lychees (but look a little brighter and hairier) and enjoyed a glass of freshly squeezed local fruit. After the market, we grabbed some lunch on the way home before setting off for a boat trip in the afternoon. This was a journey on-board a pirogue to somewhere called the Crique Gabriel. The little boys were feeling mischievous but we made it through the afternoon without capsizing. After a couple of hours on the boat, I had learnt yet more information about the local plants and animals, such as where do hearts of palm come from or the difference between roots and lianas. I had also smelt rosewood and been informed that if lost in the jungle, termites are a good survival food. The trip
ended on the main river, facing a local village with a pretty church and drinking Ti'Punch (one of the traditional rum based local drinks).
It had been a thoroughly enjoyable day and to top it all up, that evening we ended up going out to a restaurant to sample the wonderful local delicacies. I went for something called “pack” (sorry, no idea what it's called in English but I wouldn't be surprised if it was the same), a rodent, which tasted a little bit like rabbit. I also tried some of Rémi's Iguana. That was really good and tasted like nothing I'd ever tried before. The restaurant offered a whole list of dishes containing animals I'd never heard of and I would have needed to come every night for a couple of weeks to try them all.
The next day, was my final day in French Guiana and I was going to go an visit the famous Iles Du Salut, so good they deserve their own blog, which means you'll have to wait for the next instalment...
There are more photos below