A Little Piece of Laos, Wrapped inside France, Within South America

Published: December 15th 2012
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Kourou to Mana


Pho at the Sunday markets
Day 424 Saturday 8th December

Had to move on today but we had no idea how we were going to do it. Shelley cooked up some eggs for breakfast and we then packed our bags. Headed out the door to look for a tourist information office we were told was nearby but never found it and so we then went to plan B and hire a car. Found the hire car firm but they had nothing left so we returned to our room to look up other companies on the internet. Discovered a couple more but they were miles away and without taxis we had no way of getting there before they closed at midday. We were then left with plan C which was stay where we were till Monday and get an early morning collective (we have been told there are no collectivos on Sunday from here to St Laurent not sure if this is true). Around 11.30 the woman running the place finally arrived and she was okay with us staying a couple more nights, but then suggested we hire a car for the weekend so we could at least get around. She started making phone calls for

The church
us and quickly had organised a car for 2 days and if we wanted we could drop it off at St Laurent, which if we could get it today meant we didn’t need to stay in Kourou. She didn’t mind us moving on and so gave us a lift to the Budget car hire place on the fringe of town where we arrived with minutes to spare before they closed.

Got a car for 56 euros a day plus we were going to be hit with an extra 60 euros fee to take the car one way. The one way fee was expensive but then a collectivo van was going to cost us 60 euros anyway. The woman at Budget didn’t speak English but we all managed to get through all the paperwork and we were soon underway. Got back to our hotel, grabbed our bags said our farewells and then hit the road. It felt so good to be driving again rather than being stuck inside a bus. It was a 3 hour drive from Kourou to St Laurent and all the way we passed people hitchhiking, which only emphasised to us the complete lack of public transport.
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Last stop St Laurent Du Maroni
Today we had a confirmation of rule number one for anyone coming to French Guiana….hire a car.

St Laurent du Maroni, has a population of 36,000 and sits on the Marowijne River that borders with Suriname. Being both a border and a port town it is rather rough looking and of all the French Guiana towns was perhaps the dodgiest we have been to. We had been warned by a few people on what to expect from this town which allegedly has a serious drug trafficking problem so we sort of got what we expected. We arrived at 3.30 and first impressions were not good there were large groups of men drinking on the main street and bottles everywhere not sure if this is a typical Saturday or a special event. Shelley navigated us to one of the town’s two hotels, where we discovered they had no vacancies. Hotel number two didn’t have a bed either and when we asked about anywhere else in town the guy just shook his head. The Lonely Planet is fairly skimp on details on this corner of the world so it wasn’t much help to us. Drove out to the tourist information office

Looking across to Suriname
that should have been open but wasn’t…..apparently something was happening and it was closed for a few days. Drove a few miles out of town in several directions hoping to spot something but didn’t, before we opted to head to another nearby town called Mana. It was 30km away but if there wasn’t anything there we would probably have to head back 190 km back to Kourou. The one Lonely Planet listed hotel in town was no more but we spotted another place on the edge of town and thankfully they had a room. So rule number two for French Guiana….book your accommodation in advance if you can.

The hotel Samana is a new hotel on the edge of town located on the river’s edge in the industrial section. The setting isn’t exactly perfect and the hotel doesn’t have WiFi or computers but the room is great with its own balcony and after the fright of perhaps not having anywhere other than the car to sleep tonight we were very happy to have it. At 7 we drove back into town for a feed and found a restaurant Le Buffalo on 36 Rue Javouhey that served great food. From

The food stalls at the Sunday markets
what we could see there was only one other restaurant that is not open they seem to be renovating or maybe it is new but there are about 6 supermarkets that sort of double as a bars. In French Guiana the people (mainly males) tend to buy beers and alcohol from the supermarkets and stand out the front drinking. We never saw any bad behaviour, fights or “fall over drunks” and to us it looked like the done social thing, like going to the pub, except the drinks are cheaper. The downside is the area around supermarkets tend to be littered with drink cans and rum bottles and the shop owners seem like they aren’t too pleased with the arrangement so we wondered if they do have trouble at times. After our feed we headed back to our hotel thankful that we had a place to rest our heads. This had been the second day in a row that things have come apart for us, which is a shock to us as it is the most expensive country in South America…Bolivia was easier.

Day 425 Sunday 9th December

Woke to the sound of torrential rain, so we figured
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Camp De La Transportation
there was no need to be jumping out of bed early and so slept in till 8.30. By the time we got ready for the day the rain had eased and so we jumped into the car and drove to the nearby village of Javouhey for the Sunday morning markets. The village has a population of only 1000 people and the majority of them are Hmong from Laos. The French Government moved a large number of Hmong from Laos in the mid 1970’s to help them escape from persecution and they have established themselves in small towns throughout French Guiana. Before they came there was very little agriculture in the country but they quickly established farms and now produce 80 percent of the countries vegetables. We had wanted to see one of these Sunday markets whilst in French Guiana and now that we had a car we could do it.

The markets as expected were very small but it gave us a chance to have a bowl of Pho for breakfast which we hadn’t had since Vietnam. The markets had several rudimentary restaurants set up and we just picked one at random and got a large bowl of Pho
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Justice Building
(with pork, beef and prawns in it) and a pork roll each all for 9 euros….bloody bargain. Sort of strange eating Pho, whilst surrounded by Hmong (some traditionally dressed), in French Guiana, in South America….not what we had expected. After finishing our breakfast we had a drive around town as well as the local area before heading back to our room. The rain had started again and being Sunday we knew nothing much was going to be open and so we decided on a bludge day, even the supermarkets are closed today.

In the afternoon we took a drive out to the nearby town of Awala-Yalimopo which was 30km down the road and sits at the very north eastern tip of French Guiana. This is an indigenous Amerindians settlement and is also a popular nesting ground for the huge (600kg huge) leatherback turtles. Once again our timing is impeccable and we are missing not only the laying of the eggs (April-July) but the hatching of the eggs also (July-September). The town sits right where the Marowije River flows into the Atlantic, and the beach wasn’t much and the water is a muddy colour that wasn’t overly inviting. It was
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Entrance to Camp De La Transportation
a nice drive out there and we spent time on the beach staring across to our next destination Suriname.

Around 6.30pm we drove back into town hoping something maybe open and were hopeful when we saw a group of men hanging around the front of the biggest supermarket and it all lit up but the doors were closed. The only place we could see was a small shop diagonally opposite with the lights on, doors opened but closed off by a security gate so after a few circuits of town we stopped there. Through the security gate we spoke to the man who was indeed selling takeaway food, this would not have been our first choice on any other given night but beggars cannot be choosers, so we ordered fried rice and chicken the only thing we could see in the hot food trays through the gate. We sort of got the feeling that he was a bit nervy so maybe Sunday night is a bit dodgy in town though no one hassled us, the men across the road in front of the supermarket were drinking beer not sure where it came from or why they were standing in front of a closed supermarket; maybe habit. The chicken and rice was basic but at least we did not get sick.

Day 426 Monday 10th December

Woke up and still no one at reception, this is a common story here that is why you have to pay up front, that way you just leave on the last day. When we arrived on the first day another couple turned up about 5 minutes after us so we again get the feeling that is the only reason there was anyone on reception was because the other couple had prebooked and given an arrival time. We still can’t get any internet hoping we will see someone soon as I need to send a Birthday message to my brother Brett. We jumped into our car (just love saying that) and headed into St Laurent to the Budget Office to see if we can get the car for an extra day. The lady there could not get in contact with the office in Kourou but said no problem and stamped the form, we asked if we should drop the car off at 12 noon as that is the time we picked it up
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One of the Colonial buildings in the hospital
and she said no she leaves for lunch about noon drop it back at 3.00pm. Bonus for us you just have to love (or hate) the randomness of the business hours in French Guiana.

Next thing is breakfast/lunch as breakfast is an extra charge at all the hotels so it is cheaper to buy something elsewhere that is if you can find anything opened. We were lucky and found a bakery and got a sandwich which we ate at the riverfront near the Tourist Information office which is still closed.

Near here is Camp de la Transportation where the prisoners from France arrived in French Guiana for processing; the voyage took about 20 days across the Atlantic Ocean. It is here where Papillon would have been processed on his arrival with about 500 to 600 other men on his boat. A lot of the buildings look like they have been converted into community/theatre space so we did not see any original interiors. Walked around a bit but this is not as interesting as Iles du Salut mainly because we were unsure what we were looking at. Could have got a tour through the tourist information office but of course they were still closed…..wonder if they ever open. Drove around town looking at the old colonial buildings and stopped at the hotels again to book a room for tomorrow but the first one was booked out and the second one Hotel Star only had a twin available which we grabbed. Drove back to Mana stopping at the supermarket where I (Shelley) ran in to get supplies while the local men hanging outside greeted me.

At 7.00pm we headed out for dinner, Le Buffalo was in darkness so assumed it would not be open tonight, the little takeaway we got dinner from last night was open with tables and chairs out the front so there was one option. Not sure why but drove around the rest of town (the whole 6 blocks) looking for something new and found King Restaurant on Rue Elliot was now open looking very inviting. It is basically Chinese food but it does other food so this was where we stopped. The people in this town are very friendly everyone always says “Bonjour” and smiles and here was no exception every person who walked in smiled at us. Mana has a much better feel than
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Is it a ship or an island?
St Laurent so we have enjoyed our stay here even though there is nothing here. Back at the hotel we tried the local rhum (rum) as I had brought a small bottle (only 2.50 Euro) earlier mainly for the funky label and as expected it was like fire water so there is still quite a bit left.

Day 427 Tuesday 11th December

Today we are moving onto St Laurent which is where you get the boats to Suriname we checked out at 11.00am. Went to Chez Titi in St Laurent and got a sandwich which I should explain in French Guiana a sandwich is a huge baguette usually with ham and cheese and we also had an expresso coffee. Booked into Hotel Star and found out that we could upgrade to a better room which we did; the hotel is basic and it looks like they are extending it out the back. Scott asked the lady about the ferries to Suriname and she checked the times for us and arranged a taxi for 7.30am in the morning, hope it is not Frank.

At 3.00pm we drove our little car back to Budget and handed it in, it

The beach within turtles
was sad to say goodbye. The two ladies that work at Budget Kourou and St Laurent have been really nice and helpful and we really recommend them. Walked back into town passing the cemetery which is the view we get from our hotel window. We went for a walk around town stopping at a small bar for a beer just at closing time, but the staff were great allowing us a quick beer before we headed back home. For dinner we hit the streets again and ended up at a place where we got a decent pizza. The restaurant was a bit like a beer garden surrounded by trees and plants and whilst we ate huge rats about the size of cats were running up and down the branches…they looked healthy so I guess the food is good.

Our first impression of St Laurent wasn’t great but in the end we actually sort of like the place, it is dodgy but at no time did we feel threatened, and all the people we have spoken to here were so friendly. French Guiana has been great, we can’t wait to get see what Suriname is like.

Summing up French

A little fixer upper

1. Book a car….in the end it is worth it even though it seriously hurts the budget. There are so many places that just do not have transport options or inconvenient times.

2. Book in advance all accommodation (if you can) and tours as they are not used to independent tourists just turning up at the door.

3. This country is a great destination but it does not seem to be set up for independent travellers.

4. The people in general are warm and friendly and really try to help.

In the end we have enjoyed our time here and we think it may have a lot more to offer if it was not so expensive.

Additional photos below
Photos: 16, Displayed: 16



One of the streets in Mana

One of the great old buildings in town

16th December 2012

What amazing locale for Christmas Day coming up for you guys? Have a blast. I'll be thinking of you from Yellow Mtn in China this Christmas Day as we trek in a blizzard (hoping). Hoping to score my 17th Chinese provence this trip. Enjoy the sunshine!
16th December 2012

17 out of how many??
While i am boiling my bum off i will be thinking of you in your fur hat trudging through the snow. Have a great trip, Christmas and New Year
17th December 2012

Hey, You have got to stop going to places we haven't been or will not get to on our trip. Donna is getting jealous and our "in the future" list is getting longer!
22nd December 2012

The only thing better than drinking beer while at the supermarket is America...There is nothing like going into the drug store and getting medication for your chest infection plus an inhaler for your asthma and a packet of marlabro reds without an eyelid raised...
29th December 2012

I couldnt help to notice how blue the sky was in a few photo's. Very Blue! Timing may have been out for the turties but getting the car was gold!!! I like the fixer upper. x

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