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Published: November 18th 2017
12-11-17 After breakfast we flew from Paris to French Guiana arriving late afternoon, in time for a swim at our Hotel Ker Alberte. The temperature was a pleasant 31degrees a contrast to autumn in Paris. Dinner was outside by the pool with our fellow travelers, a small group of twelve including our guide. French Guiana borders Brazil and Suriname with a population of 250,000 with just three inhabitants per square kilometre, one of the lowest densities in the world.
13-11-17 We found Cayenne an interesting mix of cultures, South American, European and we felt mostly Caribbean. We walked the narrow streets which were lined with buildings with colonial wrought iron balconies and louvered shutters painted in pinks, yellows and turquoise. After our city tour we left Cayenne driving to Kourou to visit the Ariane Space Centre. In 1964, the French decided to look for an alternative spaceport from their existing one in the Sahara. After studies conducted in all French Colonies, they settled on their jungle clad colony of French Guiana and the town of Kourou, which is just 500km north of the equator. This proximity to the equator makes it ideally placed for launches into orbit as few changes
have to be made to a satellite's trajectory. Launchers also profit from the 'slingshot' effect, which is the energy created by the speed of the earth's rotation around the axis of the poles. This increases the speed of a launcher by 460m per second. These important factors save fuel and money and prolong the active life of satellites. We toured the space centre but were unable to understand much of what was being described as the tour guide only spoke in French, luckily some of our fellow travellers were able to translate. We found the various launching pads to be over an enormous area, the size of nearby Martinque. We later checked into Hotel Les Roches which was located on the seafront and we were lucky to have a room overlooking the sea towards the Salvation Islands.
14-11-17 We boarded a catamaran to tour of Iles du Salut, known as the Salvation Islands, located off the coast of French Guiana 14 kilometres north of Kourou. These island were part of a notorious penal colony from 1852 to 1947 for the worst criminals of France. We visited Ile Royale, Ile St Joseph, with its depressing solitary-confinement cells, and we sailed
around the notorious Ile du Diable - Devil's Island, know as 'green hell', once feared as the worst place on earth. Two thousand prisoners endured a living death dubbed the 'Dry Guillotine. Escape was almost impossible because of the penitentiary's two mighty guardians - the sea and the jungle. The tangled roots of trees and dense foliage have over taken some of the complex, reminding us of Angkor Thom in Cambodia. This is the place that inspired Henri Charriere's acclaimed classic, 'Papillion'.
15-11-17 This morning we started on our journey to Suriname, driving to St Laurent Du Maroni, the border town between French Guiana and Suriname. Before our river crossing we visited the infamous Çamp De La Transportation', once the largest prison in French Guiana. Here boat loads of convicts arrived after a three week crossing of the Atlantic. In one of the cells, which once held Henri Charriere, his nickname 'Papillon'is inscribed on the wall. We crossed the river into Suriname in a wooden long boat which was an interesting way to travel across a border.
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