Published: May 31st 2011May 30th 2011
I wasn't even sure this deserved a blog, but in the end I decided to do one for two reasons: first of all for continuity, otherwise some of you might wonder how I teleported from Cayenne to Rio; then because when I was looking for info on the Cayenne-Macapa route, I remember there was very little available, so it might turn out to be helpful to someone.
I had to be in Rio on the 1st of May, so I left Cayenne on the morning on the 29th (don't worry, the route involves getting on a plane!). My friend dropped me at the bus station where I caught a shared minibus. Thinking that because you're in a French county, the standard of driving might be slightly improved would be a serious mistake and the ride from Cayenne to St Georges was one of my scariest road journeys yet. Maybe the driver wanted to give us our money's worth (40€) of high adrenaline ride, but I didn't pay to go to go to Alton Towers. Maybe he was trying to make up for lost time (we left 20 minutes late), or maybe, just maybe he was INSANE! The journey from Cayenne to
the border town of St Georges normally takes 2 hours, but we took closer to 1h30. It was not really a surprise as I kept seeing speed limit signs and glancing at the speedometer to see we were going nearly twice as fast.
When I got off the bus alive and asked where the immigration office was, the driver looked at me funny and said “why didn't you tell me you had to go through immigration earlier? You have to walk back, it's 10 minutes up the road.” In all fairness to him, being French, I don't technically need to go through, but as I got an entry stamp in St Laurent, I wanted to get the exit one, just to avoid problems further down the line (and also to get to the next page on my passport so that Brazilian immigration was less likely to spot the lack of Guyana exit stamp). So I walked back up, got my unnecessary stamp and walked back down with a stop via the boulangerie for my last real French baguette for a while and down to the Oyapoque river. There, the only boatman left started talking to me in Brazilian and didn't
know a word of French... A sign of things to come! During the short river crossing, I got a good look at the bridge being built and which is almost finish, thinking that if I ever come back this way, I could probably save myself the 5€ for the boat.
As I arrived on the Brazilian side, it started pouring down with rain and by the time I'd got off the boat, up the stairs and under the shelter, I was half soaked... I waited for a few minutes and the rain stopped, so I made my way up the hill towards Brazilian immigration. This was a rather longer walk than I expected (seeing as anyone crossing the border there would arrive by boat), but I got there eventually (it was about 10-15 minutes I would say). The nice lady didn't speak anything other than Portuguese but between that and my Spanish, we managed to exchange the basic information required and I got my passport stamped with 30 days but no piece of paper to go with. I asked, but she said “no, no papel”... So I left it, hoping I'd be OK when trying to leave the country.
walked back down the hill towards the shore, where I found a French speaking Brazilian tout. He wanted to get me to make the journey to Macapa in a 4X4, but I wasn't having it as I wanted to get the normal bus to save costs. Then he said he could get me in a 4X4 for 100R$, so he got my attention as that was only slightly more than the bus. I asked how long it would take and what time we would arrive. I explained I didn't want to arrive until the following morning because I didn't want to pay for a hotel just to stay half the night. He replied I would definitely not get there until morning, so I eventually agreed.
Once my stuff was loaded, I was told that actually, this car was 130R$, not 100 but that was because it was better and I'd missed the one that was 100 anyway. By that point, I'd also heard that the bus might not be running because it had rained, so I guessed that was why the price had increased and despite my haggling attempts, I ended up paying the 130R$. My travel companions for the
end of the day and night were 2 Brazilians whom I didn't really speak to due to language issues and Lucia, a Spanish girl who spoke Spanish, Portuguese, French and English. She was lovely and explained she'd travelled this road before and would not have recommended taking the bus in that weather (it really wasn't that bad but the piste gets affected quite quickly and the bus is not best equipped to win the battle with the mud). The idea was that you never know how long the bus journey takes and it can be up to 24 hours sometimes, which would have meant I would have missed the plane I was supposed to catch from Macapa.
Chatting to Lucia in the car, it transpired that we were catching the same flight from Macapa to Belem. The only difference was that I had planned to go straight to the airport, whereas she was going to a small hotel she knew in town. Our journey went smoothly and we all managed to get some sleep. I was keen to rest as much as possible to avoid being exhausted the next day. But as we got to the end of the piste and onto the tarmac, it became apparent that we were going to arrive in the middle of the night in Macapa, just what I didn't want... After a final stop at one of the food joints on the side of the road, it was non stop to Macapa. By that point, I'd decided to tag along with Lucia and stay at the hotel she'd mentioned. We arrived there at about 1am, much earlier than I had anticipated and I was glad to have chosen this option rather than an airport bench (and at 45R$ the room between the 2 of us, it really wasn't too dear).
The next morning, I was up and ready at about 9am and decided to venture out in search of breakfast. I got to reception and asked the bloke if he spoke Spanish (no), English (no), French (no) or even Italian (still no). “Portugues” he said to me with a smile... So sign language it was then! It wasn't so hard and he pointed me in direction of the bus station (just up the road) where I managed to buy a packet of biscuit (it was that or a greasy pasty). I didn't really know where I was, where to go or what there was to do in Macapa, so I decided to wait until Lucia woke up. That turned out to take rather longer than anticipated (those young people hey? They can just sleep through the whole morning!) so by the time she was up and ready, it was about time to head for the airport. From what I understood, there wasn't an awful lot to do in Macapa anyway (there is some sort of centre of the Earth monument because the Equator goes through Macapa) so I wasn't too fussed.
Once at the airport, we waited and checked in as normal. Only I'd forgotten to take my Swiss Army knife out of my hand luggage and to put it in my rucksack, so when my bag went through x-ray and the security woman started looking a bit weird, I wasn't sure why. Eventually, the knife was discovered and confiscated and Lucia and I had a laugh at how I'd gone from illegal immigrant to potential terrorist...
The flight left early afternoon and an hour and a bit later, we were in Belem. I hung around the airport with Lucia until 5pm, when she had to go and board her connecting flight and then I just had to wait. My flight wasn't until 2.40am but I didn't really want to go for a tour of Belem by night, so I decided to hang around the airport. The tour didn't take long, but I managed to kill some time chatting to an English speaking shop guy, going to the internet café and having some food at a chain called “Bob's burger” (for an astronomical 19R$ for a burger, fries and drink). By about 9pm I'd gone through security and found my bench for the night. I inflated my pillow and set my alarm for 1.30am and went to sleep... Another first for me: one night on an airport bench. It was a hard bench as well but by then I think I'd acquired the ability to sleep anywhere. When I woke up at about 1.15 because of another flight being called, the waiting lounge was almost full and it wasn't long before it was time to get on the plane. Once on board, I went back to sleep and by the time we were arriving in Rio, shortly before 7am, I wasn't feeling too bad at all.