French Connection - Macapa to Cayenne

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December 4th 2012
Published: December 6th 2012
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Belem to Cayenne

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Amazing sunset over the Amazon River
Day 414 Wednesday 28th November

Up early and packing our bags for our departure from Belem and voyage along the Amazon River to Macapa. When we went to check out at 9 we discovered that the hotel had a problem with their credit card reader, which unfortunately is a common problem that we are sure is deliberate so we have to pay cash. At our hotel today I had half an inkling that once again the machine was deliberately turned off, but it is hard arguing in Portuguese when you don’t speak the language. Had to then run around the block to an ATM machine and withdraw the cash. Paid our bill and got a taxi to the port for 10 reais ($5).

Inside the terminal we had to find the guy who sold us the ticket on Monday, and when we did he handed over proper tickets. Our boat wasn’t till 11.00 so we had to sit back and wait, which was okay till we befriended a local. The guy came over to us for a chat holding a beer and obviously very drunk, which would have been fine except he only spoke French, Portuguese and
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Surfing the wake from the boat
drunkenese. I know drunkenese very well except I tend to only understand it when I’m drunk and it is spoken with an Australian accent. The guy was harmless and very friendly but had no perception that we couldn’t understand him and just kept jabbering on and then laughing at us. All the other locals looked onto us with pity and a couple of guys came over to try and help us with his ramblings, but then left us to his mercy. It was perhaps the longest hour of our travels putting up with this guy, with our only break being when he had to run over and buy another beer. Being the only gringos on the wharf we sort of stood out so there was no hope of hiding from him.

Finally we were able to board and get away from our new amigo, and we found our way to our cabin. Last time we were on a riverboat on the Amazon was back on the trip to Iquitos in Peru, where we swung on a hammock for 3 days, which was an “experience” we weren’t keen to repeat. For this trip we could have gone hammock again but

The wharf
chose a cabin instead, which at 450 reias ($220) was a lot dearer than two hammock spaces 130 reias ($65) each. This trip was only for 24 hours so we thought we would do a cabin for a different experience, but as it turned out it at least gave us shelter from our new drunken amigo. Our cabin as expected was tiny but it came with half an air conditioner. They had cut a hole through to the adjoining cabin and stuck an air conditioner in between with a piece of cardboard to fill in the gaps (see photo). There was no one next door and we couldn’t control the air conditioner as the woman running the errands refused to give us the controls. It took her a while to get the air conditioner working but once going it started to blow a frigid gale. Our choices were to sit in our cabin and freeze or stand outside in the boiling heat, and so for the rest of the day we alternated between the two temperature zones. There were about 10 cabins on our deck with the rest of the space being hammock area. There were probably about 50 people
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Our backpacks travelling
on our deck and another 50 on the deck below. At the back of the boat was 6 toilets (3 male and 3 female) with showers and as you would imagine they were very, very basic.

We left Belem at 11.15 and were soon sailing along the Amazon. The Amazon is incredibly wide and at times it seemed as if we were sailing across a lake or inland sea. When we first started out we could see lots of heavy industry and ship loaders but eventually we left all that behind and got to see more jungle areas. As thick and as impenetrable as the jungle looked there was no escaping humans, as all along the shoreline were houses and boats. It was hard to find 500 metres of uninhabited shoreline on our voyage. Not sure how these people survive as we didn’t see anyone fishing but sort of figured back from the shoreline the jungle is cleared and they are growing crops. The Government of Brazil has recently released figures showing that the rate of deforestation in the Amazon has fallen 27% in the year to July compared with the previous 12 months. Sounds great except that it

The port area
still means that 4,600 sq km of rainforest were wiped out last year and are now gone for good. Part of the reason Brazil has been on this huge economic power house over the last twenty or more years has been as a direct result of large scale deforestation for farming and turning vast areas of forest and jungle into fields of Soy and sugar cane used in biofuels. Growth rates of 7.5% in 2010 helped propel Brazil into the top 5 economies but now they are looking at growth rates of 1% for this year….I wonder what they can destroy to get those growth rates back again? In defence of the Brazilian Government, it is claimed that nearly 80 percent of the logging operations in the country are illegal and nearly impossible to stop, along with unsustainable farming practises.

Late in the afternoon we went up to the top deck which had a bar where you could sit and have a drink and a snack and watch the sunset. When we got up there, we bumped into our drunken mate from this morning, who to our complete surprise was still drinking and could still stand. Of course he
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Shelley on the boat
saw us and wanted to continue his conversation from this morning. His Portuguese and French had declined but his drunkenese was now near fluent. He was nice enough to want to buy us a beer, we graciously declined and opted not to get into drinking with him. Over the hour we were there watching the sunset he managed to down 5 more beers, which considering that he had been drinking since the morning was an effort that impressed the hell out of me. Another guy who was even more pissed than our friend nearly fell on top of us and so when our new friend went off for beer 6 we said our farewell and scampered back to the shelter of our cabin/fridge.

Around 7 we sat down for our dinner which consisted of tins of tuna and crackers. This boat doesn’t serve dinner so we had to bring our own food and this seemed like the simplest meal and ended up being a great choice. Before retiring for the night we managed to find the woman who we think may have been the captain’s wife and she was able to change the temperature on the air conditioner so
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The A/C in our cabin
it wasn’t so cold. She still wouldn’t give us the controls so we couldn’t turn it off and was stuck with whatever temperature she put it on, which was still fairly cool and we had to sleep in our sleeping bags.

Day 415 Thursday 29th November

We both slept reasonably well despite the constant vibration of the boat, but at least we didn’t have to put up with blaring music all night long like our previous amazon voyage. At 8 we got up and started to prepare for our arrival at Macapa. From all accounts this voyage was supposed to be 24 hours so we spent the morning standing outside our room watching the passing scenery. At 9 the woman who ran the boat came past and asked if she could turn off our air conditioner, sure, we only had two more hours before we got off…….wrong. Our assumed 11am arrival time flew past and we had the choice of standing by the ship railing or sitting in our sweat box of a cabin.

As we got closer to Macapa we saw more and more houses and heaps of small timber mills, nothing on a
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Cruising into the sunset
large commercial level, but more for local use, but there were lots of them. By midday we were starting to wonder when we would be arriving and obviously others were too as a local walked up and asked the captain and came back with an exasperated look on his face and told us through pantomime that we wouldn’t be arriving till 3pm. There wasn’t much we could do other than stand and watch the shoreline.

Finally around 2pm the town of Macapa came into view but we veered left and docked at the town of Santana, approximately 30 km away just after 3pm. As we tied to the dock a large scrum of taxi drivers and porters wearing blue shirts started shouting at us for a fare. As soon as we got off the boat we fended off a couple of guys before settling on a guy who didn’t seem as full on. His price for a taxi into town was 50 reias ($24), which is on the higher end but we were glad to pay it, if he got us out of the heat and into a room quick. It was a long journey into town with our driver pointing out the local landmarks on the way. Got dropped off at the Frota Palace hotel and got a room for two nights. We were both feeling pretty buggered but had a shower and headed out to get a feed. Not a lot in the centre of town but ended up at a place on the river front. We had about a dozen places to choose from and settled on a place where we got a huge feed whilst watching the kite surfers on the Amazon River. The river is so wide at this point that you actually do feel like you are just looking out to sea.

Day 416 Friday 30th November

Our first job today was to get our tickets out of town and so we walked down to the centre of town to one of the main bus stops. Took us a few minutes to work our which bus we needed to catch but we were soon on our way to the bus terminal, which was about 5 kilometres out of town. After about twenty minutes we went past a building that sort of looked like a bus terminal except there was
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Sunset over the Amazon River
no signage and no buses. A woman behind us heard our discussion and she quickly tapped us on the shoulder and indicated we should get off. She rang the bell and we hopped off a few blocks from where we should have but that was better than ending up back where we began. Picked up our tickets for a bus onto the border town of Oiapoque for tomorrow night and whilst there Shelley decided to buy another watch as she lost her other one a few weeks back. The terminal had a couple of junk stores selling cheap knock offs and she got herself a lovely Seiko for a few dollars, that lasted about an hour, so she is now on the lookout for another.

We then thought we would do some site seeing and first on the list was the Monumento do Marco Zero. Macapa which sits right on the equator and as we visited the equator line on the other side of the continent at Quito we just felt we had to pay a visit to Macapa’s version of the line. Figured out from the Lonely Planet that we could get a bus out there from the
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Houses on the Amazon River
terminal, and once again with the help of a local we were on a bus heading south. It was a long roundabout journey but it did give us a chance to see a lot of the town. We told the conductor (through pantomime) where we wanted to get off and he got the driver to drop us off right at the doorstep. The Equator line at Quito is a big thing with a huge monument, and theme park with hundreds of bewildered tourists wandering through every day, but the Macapa line is a little more low key with just one moderate sized monument and no one but us there. Of course we had to get the usual pile of silly photos to prove we were there at an imaginary line made real, before getting a bus back into town. Last on our “to do” list today was the old town fort on the riverfront, which was built by the Spaniards to keep the French camp up the coast in its place.

The fort is a great looking structure and after walking around outside for a while we went to enter but was told we couldn’t as it wasn’t open
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Small communities on the river
yet. It was 17 minutes before opening, the door was open a guy was sitting there to let us in, the place was free, and there were no tours. I don’t know why we just couldn’t just go in, but I guess rules are rules. It was nearly 2pm and stinking hot by this stage and we were sweating like pigs, so after a look at some markets we headed back to the hotel to cool down.

For dinner we went back to the river and got another huge feed at the same restaurant as last night. Once again it was great kicking back watching the kite surfers, who continued to sail well after nightfall. As you could probably guess from the last few blogs I (Scott) haven’t been too keen on Brazil as a destination, but Macapa has helped restore some love for this country. This town has such a lovely laid back feel, doesn’t seem to have the rampant social problems of other towns and the people here are helpful, friendly and warm, a really nice place to end our journey across Brazil.

Day 417 Saturday 1st December

We are moving
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River Life
on tonight so once again we have a lost day waiting, and so we hung in our room till 12.30 enjoying the lovely air conditioning before we had to finally check out. The hotel held our bags while we did one more circuit of the town. There are not a lot of shops that would interest a tourist but we found ourselves in some of the larger ones looking over lounges and wide screened televisions mainly for the air conditioning and a way to escape the outside heat.

Around 2 we had, had enough of the heat and made our way down to the restaurants by the water where the breeze was cool and the beers colder. Made the big mistake of having a hamburger for our late lunch/early dinner and then trotted back to the hotel. Changed our clothes put on our boots and jumped into a taxi to the bus terminal. At 6pm we were settled on board and underway. Thankfully for us the bus was fairly modern and had great air conditioning, but the leg room was a bit tight and the seats fairly uncomfortable. Soon after leaving Macapa it started to rain and about 40
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Children on the river
minutes down the road we came to a truck crash. A large truck with a trailer, all loaded with timber had rolled on its side next to the road and as we stopped next to it we could see the wheels still spinning so it had only just happened. Our driver along with about a dozen other people from other stopped vehicles ran out into the torrential rain to see what they could do. After a couple of minutes the driver from the truck managed to climb out of his cabin and stood on its side and looked around as if to say “how the hell did that happen?” It was good to see that no one was hurt, other than the truck, so our driver returned and we were under way again. Of course after seeing the accident you would think our driver would have been a bit more cautious but he seemed to drive even faster. As we drove into the night we had the pleasure of watching a few huge electrical storms that lit up the landscape. We stopped at a small bus stop for a bite to eat around 9pm before pushing onward.

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Shoreline erosion caused by the boats

Day 418 Sunday 2nd December

Our journey came to a halt around 12.30 on a dirt track around some road works. We sat there for about 30 minutes while a truck helped tow a bogged bus out of a mud patch. The road between Macapa to Oiapoque is currently being rebuilt with a large part of it still dirt and we had been warned to expect such delays. Because the seats were so uncomfortable we didn’t get much sleep but it was great looking out the windows at the small villages we went through that had homes festooned with Christmas lights and decorations. It was sort of funny seeing basic little timber shacks that were blazing with lights….you got to love that Christmas spirit. Just as we were starting to doze off we arrived at Oiapoque, at 3.50am. We had to get stamped out of Brazil at the local police station and we had read in the Lonely Planet that they didn’t open till 6.00am so we chose to sit in the bus terminal till then rather than on a darkened street. There were about 6 other people and a frog hanging around the station so it
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Timber mill
seemed like the safer bet.

At 5.50 we got a taxi down to the police station for 15 reais ($7), where we discovered they didn’t open till 8.00am. A lovely French couple who are living in French Guiana were waiting there as well, and when a café across the road opened at 6.30 we all went across for a drink and a feed. At 8.00 the police station opened and within 20 minutes we were officially stamped out of Brazil (insert image of Scott doing a small dance of joy). Walked a few blocks down the road to the port where our French friends were able to point us in the right direction to change some money and then negotiate the boat trip across the river to French Guiana. We managed to get 80 Euros from 200 reias, which seemed like a great rate from a guy on the street, before hopping into the speedboat that was taking us into France. The boat was small, long and narrow and it took a level of nervous skill getting into it with a full back pack whilst hanging onto other bags. Neither of us have great balance so it was a
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River Church
minor miracle we didn’t end up in the river. Lucky for us the French couple were on hand and the trip only cost us 10 reias each ($5), we have read how others have been hit for a lot more. Along the river we crossed under a huge new bridge that spans the river that was built by Brazil and France, and is still waiting for Brazil to build a road to meet it. Our French friend sort of suggested that it is nothing more than a symbolic handshake across the river but will never be used…time will tell.

The boat trip only took 10 minutes and we were dropped off at the small town of St Georges de l’Oyapock, we were now in French Guiana. For our next leg of the journey we needed to get a collectivo taxi to the Capital Cayenne and once again our co-travellers came to the rescue in negotiating a fee. Normally the taxi ride would cost 31 Euros but because it was Sunday they wanted to charge 40 Euros. Our friends went into heavy talks with the driver and after 5 minutes got the price down to 35 Euros. Lucky for us
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The scrum on Santana Wharf
we had picked up the Euros because our driver wouldn’t have taken Reais or Dollars. The van holds 6 people and because we were only 4 we had to wait for others. We sat there for over an hour till someone else turned up and then we took off. To be officially in the country we of course needed to be stamped in and so we stopped at the other side of town at the Police station for our entry stamp. The guy at the counter had to try and find his stamp and him along with another had a good look over our passports as if they had never seen an Australian passport before.

We are now in the countries that the Lonely Planet has forgotten. The “three Guianas” as they are called, French Guiana, Suriname and Guyana, the three small countries at the top of South America are right off the tourist trail. The Lonely Planet has no full guide for these countries and only a total of 47 pages for the whole three countries in their shoestring guide. They hadn’t been on our original plan but as we headed north we kept wondering what these places
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Leaving the Wharf
were like and the only way we were going to find out was to go there. The big problem with travelling to this corner of the continent of South America is that it is expensive, due ironically to the lack of tourists, and so it isn’t probably a good place to go when funds are running low….but what the hell.

It only took 2 hours to drive from St George to Cayenne and it was through thick jungle terrain. Had to stop at one police check point but wasn’t delayed too long and at 12.30 we got to Cayenne. We said goodbye to our helpful French couple and then walked up the road to the Central Hotel. Cayenne has only a population of 63,000 which is tiny for a capital of a country but French Guiana only has a population of 221,500. Because of this small population and low tourist trade they don’t have a lot of hotels and the ones they have are expensive. Wanted to get three nights at the Central Hotel but he could only give us one with maybe a second if we check in the morning. The room was 78 Euros, which is expensive

Sao Jose Fort cannon
but it is actually a great room with air con and balcony.

After dropping off our luggage we had a shower and then hit the streets for a bit of a look around. Being Sunday nothing was open but lucky for us we found an ATM so we could get some cash out. If you haven’t already guessed or know, French Guiana is a state of France and everyone speaks French and the currency is in Euros, which makes it doubly expensive. With a fist full of Euros we got a feed of Egyptian food (as you do in French Guiana) before wandering a bit through the deserted streets. Around 5 we got back to our room and somehow managed to keep awake till 7.30pm, when we just finally ran out of steam and crashed. Both keen to see what this small country has to offer.

Additional photos below
Photos: 33, Displayed: 33



Amazon River with goal posts ?

16th December 2012

Hey guys xx, Xmas is certainly close now. Go figure that air con!Those were interesting facts about the amazon. Its a sad truth within many a country. 4.600 sq mtrs, thats a national park. Glad to here your off the beaten track, be interesting to hear of what these 3 small countries are like. Take care xx

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