Deux Crepes avec sucre et citron!
Trip Start Dec 30, 2010
84Trip End Jul 06, 2011
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This is the leg of the trip I've been nervous about! There is very little written about the Guiana's and to be heading to Cayenne without even a place to stay is not a great start, but I'm positive I'll figure something out! From the sky French Guiana is a mass of dense jungle/rainforest, very few settlements, few roads, little industry, I still have no idea what to expect when I reach the capital!
Lonely Planet suggests sharing a taxi to town but no-one I asked was using a taxi, so it was 35 euro to Cayenne. I asked for one hostel, but apparently it closed, so suggested a cheap hotel and off we went. Checked in, dropped my bags off and I was straight to the Suriname consulate. I'm unsure how long the process will be to obtain the Visa to enter Suriname, but on the way, I need to get some passport pictures! Luckily I walk by a Kodak shop and the owner doesn't have one of those booths but a special camera that prints out 4 passport sized pictures. Get to the consulate and it closed at 12, but the security guard hands me the application form to fill in ready for tomorrow.
I walk back to the hotel and then the heavens opened!! I'm in French Guiana during their wet season! I know it rains some in the UK, but imagine all the rain in the UK falling on one spot in Cayenne, then you have an idea of what it is like! I pull out the plastic raincoat I picked up in Foz when visiting the Brazilian side of the falls......hmmm it smells awful, I hadn't dried it out in the last three weeks, so I throw that away and walk back to the hotel as quickly as I could!
The afternoon was taken up by a visit to a Chinese restaurant called Denis, the usual chicken curry was ordered and was very cheap and tasty!
Miles walked 1.52
Temp 24C 78F
Day 60 March 4 - I try wake early to be first at the embassy. I get there two minutes after it opened and I'm tenth in the queue! I have been given a form that says please return on Tuesday to collect your passport. Today is Friday, oh man!! Four days to stick a form in my passport, unbelievable. You visit Laos or Cambodia, and it takes two minutes. This changes my schedule completely. I had planned two days in Cayenne, two in Kourou, at the same time heading west nearer the border. Hopefully, I can ask the consulate to complete the formalities in a quicker time.
After 30 minutes, its my turn. The lady does speak some English, she looks at my form and asks for proof of my return to the UK. I explain to her I am travelling and have no idea when I will return, she repeats herself again. I have to be careful here, raising my voice or looking annoyed will mean one thing, refused entry to Suriname. I keep a smile on my face, explain where I have been, where I am going, I also cheekily ask if the application can be done quicker. She huffs, chucks my application to one side and calls the next person in line and tells me to take a seat!!
An hour goes by, she calls me up again; still wants evidence that I will return to the UK. I have no flight booked, I explain I have insurance up until a certain date and again explain I am travelling and as part of my trip wish to visit Suriname. I don't plan to stay, just visit, maybe take a tour, eat some chomps and move across to Guyana. Again I take a seat. After another hour, she calls me up again, tells me application cannot be processed any quicker and now can I pay the fee of 42 Euro (which is cheaper than the 100 quoted when applying for Suriname visa in Netherlands or France). So, my application was successful; but now what, 4 more days in Cayenne?
Figure some breakfast is due, and I've read about some French Guiana law that says any ginger gringos in the city must, every morning, eat deux crepes avec sucre et citron and drink un cafe!!
While I'm eating, I'm figuring out what to do? This takes time, but my first assumption is to stay in Cayenne where my passport is. There are beaches to explore, a day trip to Kourou and then find a tour for a day. OK, plan sorted. I head back to the hotel to add on another three days and seeing as the sun is out, head to the beach at Montjoly.
The beach is 8km away so I'll get a taxi there and walk back, if I can follow which direction the taxi driver is going. I hop in the taxi, I start the journey on a cheap tariff; and funnily enough, during the journey, it flips to the most expensive tariff for gringos. I question this but he says it's the correct one, sure it is!
I get to the beach, and wow! It is nothing like I have seen before!
Well firstly the beach is empty except some guys who are fishing and the odd child running into the sea. The sand is hot and black in parts. I tie my sandals to my bag and head off. I'm lucky to have such great weather, I was expecting the beaches to be bigger and busier, but I'm not complaining. After Rio, it's a pleasant change to be the white man walking on the beach not looking out of place!
I pass many rock pools and areas of the shore to dip my feet into, observe sea creatures swimming around, jumping around, and it the perfect tonic to spending 5 days in Cayenne!
At the edge of the shoreline is lines and lines of trees, it's as if the rainforest squeezes up to the ocean. I find a dry place to sit and sit and reflect. It feels unique to be in French Guiana, sat on a beautiful beach in an area of the world where few could actually point out on a map. It is nothing like Europe, more like a South American version of the Caribbean. I enjoy these moments of reflection, I think about how far I have travelled, I think about my family and I ponder on the challenges ahead. I look forward to seeing the Guiana's but I will be relieved to see the back of them. Logistically, they are a nightmare, but we shall see!
It's getting into mid-afternoon, I have about 8/9 kms to walk, so head north along the beach, well as far as I can walk. Twice, I come across an area of rocks, which seem impassable on the shoreline, but I attempt to walk past. The tide doesn't seem too strong, well until one wave splashes me and now I have sand everywhere, so my slow walk turns into a trot, just to get away from the rock section.
I come to another set of rocks and there is a woman sun bathing topless, I think. She has her back to me and has what seems like a tattoo of a bra on her back?? Very odd. I get to a set of rocks, cannot pass so turn around, and yes, she is now putting her top back on and running to her car. Do I really look that bad? I guess covered in sand doesn't help!
I have to walk to the road and I begin my two hour walk back to my hotel. There were times along the way where I questioned if I was going the correct way, but had faith in myself. Like I said, it took two hours and luckily, the sun stayed out and there was no rain.
When I finally returned to my hotel, it was of course time for a siesta! Then dinner! With no lunch, I was pretty hungry, it was now raining hard but that didn't stop the ginger man walking to a food joint and selecting Batia. Kind of a sea food stew, with fish, chicken and pork, with rice. Very tasty, the waitress tried to tempt me into some dessert, but I was full, to the point of rolling back to the hotel. I was pleased with my day, finally got some things sorted out and had an afternoon of sunny beach time.
Miles walked 5.9
Temp 30C 86F
Day 61 March 5 - Now that I am spending 5 days in Cayenne, today was a rest day. So a long lie in ensued! From time to time, I am simply exhausted, what will all the travel, issues to sort out and walking, ahem and tasty crepes to digest!
I woke late, walked to my crepe house and ordered two crepes the usual way and a cafe. Today was also going to be a catch up day as well, as I've said before, I've planned so far but need to do some more planning. I have an adventure in Central America and the USA to plan, not forgetting the next five countries down in South America. In my head I have a route, and the route is possible, I just need to spend some time thinking about it and consulting the calendar.
I'm sat here trying to think what I did next. I did walk to the market in Cayenne, it was busy on a Saturday
So, Cayenne, is it a capital city? Well it is, but there is not one building above three storeys high. You can walk from one end to the other in ten minutes. There is no CBD, there are no areas dedicated to certain backgrounds, there is no football stadium. It feels like a small Caribbean Island, with the types of food, the weather, the local people and the vibe. No-one is in a rush, everyone seems very chilled out and happy.
I spent some of the afternoon watching football scores on BBC text and the rest of the afternoon asleep. The evening was another visit to a Chinese restaurant and an early night with an early start tomorrow. Oh, I forgot to mention, it rained again, like it was the end of time! I was stuck near a shop, maybe two minutes from my hotel with a stray dog as company. I waited an hour for it to stop, but caught some people braving the rain with umbrellas!
Miles walked 0.98
Temp 26C 79F
Day 62 March 6th - Today I shall visit the Hmong refugee village in Cacao. It will take all day and a great way to see deeper into French Guiana. I'm picked up at 725am at the hotel by someone from the tour company. I was expecting a minibus or something bigger than a Peugeot 206. In the front was a girl conversing in French to the driver. The drive to the boat/start of the trip was 30 minutes, but so interesting. South of the city is a place called Chicago, the lonely planet guide recommends a visit but recommends also not to go as it is dangerous?? There are still some people drinking at 730am. Yep, it's been an all nighter!! The further away from the city we drove, the more dense the rainforest became, but there were also examples of larger industry on the outskirts of the city, plus some pretty tidy houses.
We reach the destination, I introduce myself to the German girl and ask if she speaks English and she does! She says she much prefers English to French, perfect. It will be great to chat to someone today, it's been 5 days since I last had a decent conversation on my little escapade in Rio. There seems to be two boat loads of people, wait, when I say boat, I actually mean a long canoe with a motor on the back! I'm reminded of my trip to Peru five years ago, that day we spent 7 hours in a canoe, but we had back rests to the seats and I endured a badly burnt elbow as I read the Da Vinci code, not realising my elbow was stuck out in the sunshine. The terrain reminded me of Laos.
We don lifejackets, grab a quick free coffee and jump in. Not really sure what to expect today, but I am expecting to take some pretty decent pictures.
We continued on for a while till we randomly turned left into what seemed like a river bank, but behind the branches was a narrow path leading deeper into the jungle. Again, ducking under branches, looking left, looking right, there was mist, dense jungle, random creatures walking around, it was exciting!
We dock and slowly exit the canoe. We walk for ten minutes to an open path and the driver points in a direction down the road and returns to the boat. OK, it's one of those tours, where it's not a tour just a guy driving a boat, typical of South America. The German girl and I walk on (I did ask her name, but my short term memory didn't store it, so until she emails me, she is German girl) and we walk past a few locals and a spikey pig!
Turns out, we were dropped off near an indigenous village, so we could explore the village and gain a feel for the place. When we finished there was a table of items we could purchase. Everyone lived in huts, built above the ground, this can be for the wet season, but as I found out in Laos, also for religious purposes. Under the huts I was not expecting to see cars, washing machines, broken down cars and broken washing machines.
The next two hours involved a very numb bum and chatting to my new German friend. Turns out that Cayenne Carnival is on over the next few days, so my trip to Kourou tomorrow will be cancelled in favour of the carnival, how exciting! However, maybe thirty minutes from Cacao, we stop randomly on the river. Are we looking at something? Maybe a monkey? A snake? Another dinosaur? No, wait, we are handed a plastic cup and some strong spirit is being shared out, with limes and lemon syrup. It's a local drink, and no matter how much I drink of the strong stuff, my cup keeps refilling! Wait, am I at Lorens in Calgary!! (haha, can't wait for some rumskis!!) The German girl tips her away, good idea really with no food in the belly and drinking a couple of these strong drinks, well I was more chatty after that!
We dock at the Hmong village and are told we have three hours to come back. It's been tipping it down for an hour, luckily my German friend has brought an umbrella, we see a restaurant and get lunch. We both missed breakfast with the early start so by this point, we were very hungry. Not really sure what I had, but it was chicken in some random sauce, but it was delicious!
The rain had eased off after an hour long lunch and I was excited to see the Hmong village. It has it's market once a week on a Sunday. But, it was another area, nicely built up, fancy cars and the market, well, it was small and packed with gringos having lunch. As ever, a disappointing tour/trip that shows nothing of the Hmong people, their history or culture. We did look around the market, German girl bought a treat but I just wasn't interested. Another Gringo sold down the river.
The rain starts and stops again and we head out into the rest of the village. I spot a French Cock
The drive back was so frustrating. A quiet driver on the way to Cacao became very chatty and we stopped every 5/10 minutes to look at a tree. Everytime he stopped, I was expecting to see a giraffe, maybe an elephant, but it was just more trees! This continued to the point where some people started shouting at him, especially as it took him longer and longer to restart the motor. at one point, it took 5 minutes for him to start it, so everyone assumed, OK, now just drive us back! But wait, hang on, there's another tree, near a bush and the motor is dead. Thirty minutes it's still dead, and it's beginning to rain again! Oh man, if only he hadn't stopped so often! Luckily, the other boat was still around and he towed us most of the way back.
Somehow, we get back in one piece. Carnival is on tonight, but I am wet and as much as I would like to join Elizabeth, I get to my hotel, run to a Chinese take out place, order some food, get to my room and spend a long time in a hot shower while my food went cold. Yes, I was that cold and wet! Food was awesome, the vinegar helped with the rice, but sad to say, my camera was knackered. A blue light was flashing, which means it's connected to a printer. Oh shit! Wait, cell phone is dead too! Nuts! At one point on the way back, I did check them both, but I should have then put them in the bag, but I left them in my pocket! Nuts! Nuts! Nuts! Staying positive, they weren't soaked, just must have get wet inside, hopefully they will dry out!!!?!!?!?
I go to bed in a good mood, surprisingly, I am very excited for Cayenne carnival tomorrow and I've agreed to meet the German in the afternoon to see the carnival.
Miles walked 3.42
Temp (or mms in rain fallen!!) 22C 72F
Day 63 March 7th - Early start, lots of jobs to do again, mainly on the Internet, but I have a paypal issue to sort, an etrade issue to sort, a flight to sort on the phone and places to book in the future. My camera is still knackered, I can view one picture on the screen but that's it, sad, but it's only a camera and I'll just have to get another one. Phone is still dead, well, that isn't as important right now.
I start the day the right way, sadly it went downhill after that. Breakfast with crepes is how it's going to be from now on. All I have to do to maintain my shape is live in a climate well in excess of 30C and I can eat crepes every morning! Cafe as well, the Vietnamese guy knows my order by know and seeing my sweat I have on, provides some water as well, very welcoming.
I have trouble trying to find a fax machine, it's a long story but both payal and etrade have locked me out for strange transactions, the transactions being me sending cash to my own bank accounts in the UK and USA! Just as I'm getting somewhere, it tips it down again, I have to go back to the hotel to collect something, and I get soaked walking back. With the rain, a broken camera, issues to sort out, I'm feeling grumpy and a little low, I get back to the hotel and the random girl who can't speak French, tells me through someone else I owe another nights payment. I snapped at her, I paid for 5 nights and have one more to go. I paid one dude two nights and her three nights. Luckily the English speaking guy comes in and after five minutes realises their error. They were very apologetic and maybe my reaction was not entirely necessary but I hate being accused of overstaying my welcome. They were very nice to me after that. Being so wet, I gave up wearing normal clothes, instead, I put on my swimming shorts (without underwear) and a popper top I brought out with me. So, my first few days in Rio, if you can remember Dave, I figure if I'm going to get wet, best wear as little as possible, as well as using small flip flops for my feet. My trainers were still wet and now smell funny!
I got my jobs sorted, skipped lunch and met German girl at 230pm. Someone told her the carnival starts at 3pm, not likely so I meet her and agree to meeting later. A short sleep later and I'm outside a bar enjoying a large local beer. The German girl is post doctorate, in linguistics, there is very little written about the varying languages of French Guiana, therefore the reason why she is here. In the morning, she went to a local cemetery and met some old guy who had lived in Cayenne for 50 years. He moaned about foreigners spoiling Cayenne and how it is very different. What he means, is the influx of Brazilians and people from the Caribbean. I must admit, I'm not sure what anyone does in French Guiana, no-one seems to work, they all just shop or eat or hang out. Anyway, German girl and I catch up, whatever pictures she takes at the carnival she'll forward them on to me (not yet though).
Around 5 pm we hear some drums, we head north and find a sheltered viewing platform to see the carnival from. It was very unusual. Having seen some of the Rio carnival on the TV the previous night, what we have is everyone cross dressing, acting a little drunk and partying like crazy! All the men seem to love wearing their dress and the women, trying to hide their enormous breasts, dress in a suit with a line for a beard and mustache. That's right, it rained again, heavy stuff, but they don't care, some chuck away their flip flops and enjoy themselves. It's difficult to explain, but they all seem one with the drum beat, one with the music, one with their part of the carnival. They do not worry whether they are coordinated, how they dance, it is not commercialized, it is local Cayenne people celebrating their carnival how they celebrate their carnival. They do not have to cater to gringos, those are all in Rio. A couple of hours went by, so did random carnival floats, I can't imagine how say Shanklin carnival viewers would appreciate what I was witnessing, but it's a different world to women sat on the back of a lorry waving, and the key stone cops, being the key stone cops. The drums were awesome, large plastic containers turned upside down and beaten with force with every beat, you feel a shudder through your heart with every beat. Amazing!
Not too long till I was hungry, there were some local vans selling stuff so I grabbed the biggest burger I've eaten in my life, with some fries. Took me ages to eat it, and by now the carnival had some to an end. I was pleased to witness one carnival at least, as much as I would have loved to have been in Rio with the people I met on my trip, my budget couldn't afford it plus I've no idea how much these people I met spent on booze, but they all seemed to have a wicked time, so I'm happy for them.
German girl and I had another beer, witnessed a street fight and called it a night. I thanked her for her company and wandered back to my hotel, past lots of groups of big black dudes, but looking confident, keeping the odd eye contact, keeps trouble away. I guess the best question the German girl asked me is what place did I stay in the longest? Well, that was Rio, but the second longest, oh man, is Cayenne!
Miles walked 2.9
Temp 22C 74F
Day 64 March 8th - Right, today, is Visa day and getting to Suriname. I have my usual breakfast and figure a cheeky trip to the consulate at 9am to see if my Visa is ready wouldn't hurt. I get there and am told to get lost. Fair enough! After an hour catching up on the Internet, I head back to my hotel, in the rain, quickly pack, and head to the consulate again. On the way, one of my flip flops comes apart. So, I carry that and walk with one on. Ouch!! What was that? I turn over my heel to find a chunk of glass sticking out, I pull it out and keep moving. I must get that Visa and get moving.
I got my visa fine, the security guard at the consulate even fixed my flip flop with a paper clip. I look a mess, I'm carrying two large bags and look like I'm ready for the beach, but I refuse to care and refuse to get more clothes wets. I head south of the city where mini buses drive west. They only leave when full. So, I reserve my place and sit and wait. I sat with a group of big black men, all smearing little drop of oil on their hands, all on their cell phones, all making comments to women walking by. I just sit with my head up, looking like I know what I'm doing!! Inside, I just want to be on the bus moving towards Saint Laurent. I will miss the last boat to Suriname, so as long as I get to the border, that will do. Then some homeless guy approaches me, hey man you from London. Oh, boy, yes, I am. We chat for a while, he has lots of teeth missing and his tongue reminds of the Joker in the Dark Knight, it's always out, licking the side of his mouth. I tell him where I'm going, stupidly, and then he asks for money, I say no, two or three times. He walks off, turns round and shouts abuse at me, but I look away, for some reason I feel protected by the other big dudes around me as well, I'm a paying fare! After an hour we board the bus. I'm sat in the middle of the back seat between a chunk of a man and a guy who just couldn't sit still and moaned the whole way. At one point he jumped up and sat on my right leg when trying to put his seat belt on. As the driver boomed out his reggae tunes, I thankfully had my dry itouch and drifted off into my own world. Without the itouch I would be lost, for me, it's a form of escapism, whatever I am doing, wherever I am, put on a few tunes and float away. I've got one eye open on the road, for the car sickness and he does like to drive fast!
We are stopped twice by police checkpoints, I reluctantly hand over my passport but all is OK. The road to Saint Laurent was flat, smooth and with little incident I'm pleased to say.
After three hours, we arrived in Saint Laurent.