Tuesday, June 19, 2012

French Guiana...or Guyane...or whatever

The ferry from Albina to St Laurent du Maroni was super easy.  It scheduled to run a few times everyday (only once around 2:30pm on Sundays, usually last boat is around 5pm) and has all the customs and immigration offices right there.  There are also private boats that dock right at the ferry landing, so if you were impatient and felt like bargaining (and lifting a motorcycle into a boat) you can cross whenever you'd like.

(ferry to French Guiana.  They only charged us for the moto at 15 Euro, making Jill and me free (should have been 4 Euros each).  This was the first taste of French Guiana prices)

At immigration in St Laurent, we were stamped in by a national policeman named Phillippe who has a big KTM 950 Adventure bike and has traveled all over South America.  He even hosts some travelers that come through.  He was really nice.  Mostly because he let us through with our questionable insurance document (the only French word that I understood when he spoke with his colleague was "photoshop").  But also because he shared a lot of information about camping in the area and what to expect in Brazil.  That, and he complemented the TA, which always helps.  He likes the exhaust note.

Couchsurfing in St Laurent was a phenomenal success!  Our host, Julien, drove into town to lead us back to his place, which is just a few kilometers south of St Laurent. Right away we knew we’d hit it off with Julien and his roommates Bertrand and Nanou. They cooked up a phenomenal pasta carbonara (but of course denied that it was any work at all) that complemented our Heinekens, Parbos (we thought we were done), and ti punch. It was a very warm welcome to French Guiana.

(Nanou, Bertrand, Julien, Jill, and Mike in St Laurent)

The next day was relaxing. While our hosts offered a few ideas of activities (including the prison that Mike had seen and some waterfalls that sounded okay but would have been a mission to get to) we just relaxed during our day in St Laurent. Until evening time. Then we were engrossed in French culture. Bertrand and Nanou invited us to learn pétanque with them, and a group of 15 or so of their French friends. The game is similar to bocce ball, but played with heavier, lead balls, with the men playing versus the women (note from Jill: the women won).  To complete the culture of pétanque, we played with a cup of pastis in hand, which is a traditional anise flavored liquor from Marseilles. C´est le pastis! A superb way to spend an evening outdoors along the Marrowijne river.

On our way towards Cayenne, we stopped by the beach at Awala to see another area where green and leatherback sea turtles lay eggs. The best time to view turtles is within a couple of hours of high tide, and we were about as far away from that window as you can get. So we didn’t see any turtles. But we did see some evidence.

(broken egg shells on Plage Yalimapo. Unlikely that those were hatched naturally given that it’s still June, but hopefully that’s what happened. Also unlikely that they were poached or else the shell would be gone too. Maybe natural predators?)

(we weren’t the only ones looking down the beach. Unless those cameras are unmonitored Which is a distinct possibility.)

Further down the very well maintained road (is this still South America?) we found an open cafe in Sinnamary, which was more difficult than we expected. Everything was closed. Even the gas station. This country closes down between 12 and 4 every day. (Confirmation that we are, in fact, still in South America.)

((empty) street view in Sinnamary)

Cayenne was a quick stop, where we couchsurfed with our very kind host, Katia. She was great, but Cayenne as a destination, kind of blah. Ever since leaving Paramaribo, Jill’s been saying that French Guiana will be like Suriname but more expensive. I had higher hopes for the road conditions, amenities, all that, but knew that it would be more expensive. It turns out Jill was pretty damn close: we think Cayenne, in general, is equal to Paramaribo plus 25%, but is much more expensive (maybe Paramaribo plus 100%).

(street view in Cayenne)

(old port/pier where we went to see ibis birds)

(ibis flying out to their nests)

(a staple of Cayenne is the street lined with hamburger vendors, open every night, only at night)

(Jill, Katia, and Mike at the vendor we picked to try. We picked well. That madras burger was great, but probably not good enough to get us to plan a trip back to Cayenne…)

(…boxed rum helps, though.)

(sunrise in Cayenne)

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