Saturday 12 April 2014

French Guiana


Entering the EU by clambering off a narrow motorised canoe onto a jungle coastline is a bit of an unusual experience.  Indeed, we'd just gone straight from a remote outpost of Brazil into France. Not some former colony, or dependency or some other watered-down version of the place.  French Guiana is a bone fide department of the République française.  Everyone born on this side of the river is a full EU citizen, can live and work around Europe freely and enjoy all of the state benefits accorded to any French citizen.

But.... It really seemed like a timewarp to seeing what life in the old colonies like Algeria might have been like before decolonialisation.  Sure, it seems stable enough now - there's lots of good revenue flowing in, particularly with the investment in the CNES space centre in Kourou.  The going is good, so there doesn't seem to be too much dissent....

However I can't but stop to think that it could so easily turn right upside down if the gravy train slows down.  Might people grow upset as things get harder and political dissent simmers?  Who knows.

ANYWAY - soapbox musings aside - it was awesome to check out the space centre.  To actually get to walk around on the launch pads for the Ariane and Soyuz (yes!) rockets is totally cool.  Can't help but think how completely toasted we'd be should we be standing where we were in that photo by the Soyuz exhaust flume (check out that little car below!)  Also somewhat concerning to see that many of the monitors in the mission control room displayed "ERREUR FATALE" in bold red letters, and that the screen wallpaper belies their reliance of the (depricacted) XP operating system!

Although in South America, French Guiyana is part of France and as a result has European prices. Hotels and restaurants are expensive and there is no public transport as such as everyone has cars.  This meant we had to get creative and as a result the 4 days that we were there involved a new style of travel for us. I had been told about Couchsurfing and had attempted to give it a go but it hadn't worked out for us. A few days before we arrived in French Guiyana I put a request on the website and fortunately someone replied. Ty and I felt a little apprehensive about staying on some strangers couch but we were up for giving it a go. Luckily for us, our hosts were amazing and very kind. They collected us from town, cooked us meals and gave us Guiyanan rum, booked us on a tour of the Space Centre and drove us all the way there and back and took us on a walk around the jungle. The aim of the jungle walk was to spot a sloth, but unfortunately we never got to see one. However, we did get to see an iguana and loads of monkeys. 

After a few days with our hosts we needed to travel across the country to get to the border with Suriname. As there was no means of transportation except astronomically priced taxis we had to hitch! It took 10 hours and 4 hitches but eventually we made it to St Laurent du Moroni (the border town). It was fun to see the smaller towns along the way. in St Laurent we looked around the ruins of the prison, built in the 1850s and operational until 1946 where thousands of convicts were sent from France and her colonies.

Ty and I really enjoyed the few days that we spent here. 

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