Thursday, December 01, 2011

Dacca Village,French Guyana, France. Regular France. It's just like Brittany really. It's not a colony in any way shape or form.

French Guyana is categorised as a departement. It's not autonomous or anything. The roads are good, the cops are thick (one of them was wondering where my visa for France was), the prices are European or higher and people are snooty (the expats at least). It has got few things that are markedly different. The vast majority of people here are creoles, there are dead sloths on the road and my passport now has a French entry stamp. Another significant difference from the rest of France is that there is no public transport. This means travelling here is tricky and expensive.

The plan was to hire a car and sod off to find the only cheap sleeping optons in French Guyana which are carbets. These are basicallly shelters where you can sling a hammock for 5 to 8 euros. Chucking in a few extra euros will get you luxuries like showers. My plan failed on the first day. I had met a French couple in Suriname. We would go to the border together and they would give me a lift to Cayenne in their hire care. I would go to a car hire place and get out of the rather charmless town of Cayenne. Being in la republique screwed this plan.

The couple's car had had its window smashed in St Laurent du Maroni (France-Suriname border) despite parking in front of the cop shop. Said cops were also so busy letting crime happen that they would not take a complaint untill 15.00. This made things very tight but still feasible time-wise. France still had a trick up its sleeve. The authorities have decided to participate in the South American sport of having constant pointless checkpoints. More time-wasting and explaining to the gendarmes that Brits haven't needed a visa or France since forever. Finally got to Cayenne 1 minute after closing time and, this being France, the idle bolshevik tossers couldn't remain open and extra 10 minutes. One very expensive night in Cayenne.

The next day I hired a wreck and went to Kourou, home of the 2 famous places in this country/region. The first one is the Isles du Salut. Frenchies and students of Gallic antisemitism know this place as where Dreyfus was sent. The rest of the world knows it through Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman and butterfly tattoos. I decided to skip this for several reasons. I would have had to spend another night near Kourou as the boat leave at 7ish AM, the tour is pricey and I have seen islands and ruined prisons before. I therefore chose to go for option number 2 that is both free and much rarer. The Centre Spatiale Guyanais, home of the European Space Agency and named Europe's Spaceport. Being in South America doesn't seem to bother them.

It's actually very interesting and good fun. I am old enough to be impressed by space stuff and the free tour is pretty impressive. They put you on a bus and drive you around the complex (it's huge). The guides try to be educational and give you info in the form of a Q and A. Why French Guyana? It's close to the equator and benefits from the slingshot effect (my mumbled answer: If it fails and the rocket crashes into a small village in FG, the French politicians can probably live with that). Who guards the place? The Foreign Legion in what I suppose is the less romanticised part of their jobs as they basically shoo away maroon poachers before a launch. Why is the fire brigade from Paris? They are soldiers hence are cleared for high security type stuff (my answer: They are soldiers and hence can't refuse to be posted here).

The quiz was held between slow drives past the huge hangars where they prep the rockets. The final destination was the launch pad of that great example of European space pioneering: Soyuz.

Europe has developed Ariane, a huge rocket, and Vega, a small one but they needed an intermediate launcher. Soyuz was proven (It's not often but when the Russians do make something that is reliable it is very, very solid) and the Russkies have the problem of their base being really far from the equator and verything else. Basically, the ESA have subcontracted the Russkies hence the Cyrillic at the Soyuz launch pad. The guides told us there is a bizarre set-up to avoid tech stealing. The top 2 floors of the mobile hangar are European only as they put on the payload and the lower floors are only for Ivans. I presume shitloads of spying goes one.

Anyway, got to stand on the blast exhaust trench and wonder if anyone had cooked something in it. After that it was back to the main base and the Jupiter control room. Old footage of NASA launches have conditioned me to think it would be huge with many shiny buttons. Not so. PC's have really taken the romance out of Space travel. Even more disappointing, there is no button or key or anything to launch the rockets. Boo!

After that, I hunted down a carbet on a farm nearby. The plus side was that the farmer let me pick bananas and mangoes, the minus was that he showed me the whole place. I'm glad I saw where coffee and chocolate come from but to be fair it was a bit dull. I am now in a Laotian village (more evidence of a colonial past) near the Kaw swamp where I might hire a canoe or just faff in a hammock. I'm definetely hunting for Laotian food.

Not sure what to make of FG. I see why it's dismissed by the trail. Without speaking French it's nearly hopeless to visit. There is a strange resignation even in the tourism adverts. One of them asked you to spend an unforgettable experience in French Guyana. The last sentence was "no one will believe you". Quite. More amusing for those who speak French was "La Guyane, ca vous bagne". A play on words on a more famous ad campaign for Brittany and referring to the mythologised French Guyana of gold-rushes and prisons. Amusingly there is still loads of illegal gold panning here with consequent dumping of mercury and anti-Brazilian attitudes and there is, of course, a prison but it's locals only now.

It is pricey and most of its tourism industry is based around weekending expats. Apparently FGis not a cushty posting in the Frog civil service and something of a punishment which might explain the jaw dropping stupidity of the plod. Basically FG from a tourism perspective is overshadowed by Suriname. Even local people prefer the old Dutch colony for hols. The bizarre official reality of the place makes me ponder as to wether or not I have been to a different county or a very weird and moist part of France. Fuck it. I'm counting this as one in the bag and I have the stamp to prove it.

I'm not sure when I will post again. I am going to Brazil tomorrow to try and catch a boat across the mouth of the Amazon to Belem. Even if all goes well and there is no waiting it's a 2 hour trip to the border, a 15 hour nightbus to Macapa and then a further 25 hours on a boat. Realistically I will be in Belem in 5 days. Should be fun.

Take care,



Post a Comment

<< Home