Thursday, 11 December 2014

Waiting in French Guiana

Although we've been in French Guiana for about a week and a half, there isn't a lot we can tell you about.

In our first town over the border, St Georges, we found a wonderful French Patisserie. Small, but good. 

Then we drove to Cacoa, which is a settlement of Hmong people from Laos. The guide book tells of it's wonderful Sunday fresh produce market and a butterfly place, but it was Wednesday that we went and, unfortunately, pretty much everything was closed and there wasn't anything interesting that we found. 

Next we went to the capital, Cayenne. Cayenne isn't a big city and it has some nice coastal areas. At the visitor centre we put our names on the list for tickets (Free) to see the shuttle launch scheduled in Kourou Space Centre, on Thursday, December 4. But for the tickets we'd have to return to Cayenne on the Tuesday. 

We left the city and headed to Kaw. Unfortunately I had a head cold. We tried a hike in the forest, but I really wasn't up to completing it. I did like the forest, the clear stream and the little leaf like frogs that hopped through the leaf matter. We also met some tourists (in a hire car) and shared a boat with them to visit the town of Kaw, but it really wasn't very interesting. You can also do wildlife spotting boat tours there but I wasn't well enough to commit to a few hours on a boat. 

Returning from Kaw we stopped 2 nights in the town of Roura. I was most delighted that a woman there had a pet monkey. Then I was horrified to learn that people shoot the mother monkeys so as to orphan the baby and take it as a pet. 

Back in Cayenne, we got our tickets for the shuttle launch and came to Kourou. We are still in Kourou because the rocket launch (it's to launch some satellites) keeps getting postponed to the next day. So, we are really doing a lot of sitting and waiting. 

Once the shuttle launches and we've seen that, we hope to visit the 'Salvation Islands' (Illes du salut), we can't do it prior because currently they are closed to visitors due to the shuttle launch. So, for now, this has to be a waiting game, or we skip French Guiana's main 2 attractions. 

The wait is over
Two days after the scheduled launch date it happened. We were all loaded onto buses and taken to the viewing site. The launch itself was quite spectacular. It was 'Ariane Flight VA221', and, I hope I get my terminology right, the Ariane 5 mission was to launch 2 satellites. One for DirectTV to deliver satellite TV to the USA and Latin America, and the other an Indian communication satellite. The mission was successful and fireworks will look pitifully small forever more, in comparison. Ironically, we'd met some international yachties and we were all chatting so much that we almost missed seeing the 'lift off'. 
Hendrik captured some great photos, but I'll have to put them up later. 

Hollywood lied!
The launch means that the next day we were able to visit the Salvation Islands. They were a brutal part of the former French penal colony that was here in French Guiana. You can go across on a Catamaran for a day or stay overnight. We went just for the day, which is enough to visit the ruins, hike and see some wildlife. 

The islands are also famous for the legendary character 'Papillon' who was quite the escape artist. There's an old Steve McQueen movie about Papillon (it's called Papillon too). The movie is very good. In the movie Papillon makes one of his escapes by making a raft of a sack of coconuts and throwing himself and the raft from a cliff on Devils Island into a rough sea below. But!, H and I didn't see any suitable cliffs for this. Did we just miss a bit of the island? Or did they just make that up for the movie? 

The island ruins are good to see, but unfortunately there was no information in English so if I hadn't seen the movie it all would have been just a pleasant day trip for me, but not interesting. For us there was a more spectacular element to the islands: at lunch time a bright red and blue Macaw visits the restaurant and steals food from people's plates. He seemed to like cheese... H said its because he's a French Macaw!

Update later again:
Finishing up in French Guiana
I still haven't found a working Internet connection to upload this post so I keep adding to it. 
Having done what there was to do in Kourou we headed to the border. We stopped along the way at some wetlands (Pripri) , stayed overnight at a (free) camping area on a creek, and in the morning did a 3km hike in the Pripri wetlands. We saw a few birds and it was a nice hike.
Then we continued to the border town of Saint Laurent du Maroni. It has what was the former Transportation Camp where they processed and imprisioned convicts sent to the penal colony. The facility here is in very good condition and in the transportation camp grounds and around town there are good information boards with information in French and English (finally!, thank you). 

Finally, it was time to leave French Guiana and enter Suriname. 
The Araine 5 going up!

H trying to escape from a cell 7n the old prison.

Some of the old prison buildings were in good condition.

The gate to the Transportation Camp, Saint Larent du Maroni. 

And finally, the 'French' Macaw that likes to eat cheese and chicken salad. 

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