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French Guiana
-- 24th December 2011 to 5th January 2012 --
“You’re going to Guiana?... but, why?”
Such was the usual reaction of fellow ocean-crossers we met in the Cape Verdes, most of whom set sails directly to the Caraibean. Our usual answer was that we wanted to touch the American mainland (not only the islands), after touching the African mainland in Senegal. If anything, their surprise only confirmed our choice: if a place is out of the beaten tracks, it’s good for us! Further than that, we didn’t know what to expect from this equatorial land, not really a country as it is part of France, yet so different from everything we knew…

More pictures of deep forests on our page "Pictures".

Sailed 43 miles
6751 miles since the start
We stopped in : : Degrad des Cannes (pontoon), Ile Royale (anchorage), Ile Saint-Joseph (anchorage)
24th December to 3rd January 2012 : moored in Degrad des Cannes
Degrad des Cannes is the main harbor close to Cayenne, on the Mahury river. The marina there has a bad reputation on most forums and sites. It’s said to be full, not well maintained, squatted by people leaving off the society, dangerous… Not such a lovely place to land after some weeks at sea one might think. Yet after considering the alternatives we decided to give it a try. Good for us – we found ourselves welcomed there as never before!

The marina lies on the edge of the forest, after the commercial docks on portside
As-a-matter-of-fact most boats are inhabited by people living here. They are French sailors, stopping in Guiana for a couple of years to top up their bank accounts (and retirement account) before sailing away to the Pacific, the South or any other great destination again. Some of them helped us to moor; others came alongside with a “welcome bread” – fresh baguette! - and lend us the key to the bathrooms. When the wind started to raise a nasty short swell, Alain offered us to come inside and moor alongside his boat. Less than 5 minutes later, we were sitting at his table, sharing some wine and fresh fish caught by his friend Bubu! “Make yourself at home” he said. His water-hose became ours, we plugged our electricity cable to his line and used the common washing machine on the pontoon (because of course, every pontoon had a couple of washing machines, some fridges and freezers, bikes…)

A washing machine? Of course, at the end of the pontoon, isn't it an obvious place for a washing machine?

Trying to get things to dry before the next squall
Everyone is extremely helpful! Tara gives the last “Voiles et voiliers” magazines, Molokoï lends a hammock and an excellent walking guide, Clovis has a chart of the Devil’s islands for us, Ratafia a USB key full of charts and softwares etc.

We progress quickly down our to-do list with all this additional help! During the crossing we didn’t break that many things luckily: only the wooden block holding the pilot, some fatigue in the genoa ragging on the balcony in the front, and our navigation lights (on the top of the mast, green red and white, we turn on at night for others to see us). Bubu enjoys using is sewing machine – that’s the genoa repaired. Jean-Marc works at a carpenter’s and finds a nice piece of ebony (strong rotproof local wood), Alain gives us a hand with his strong electric drill – and here we go, brand new support for our pilot! We also connect the battery isolator we had ordered in Dakar and received at the last minute in Mindelo, this is the end of our “crocodile clips” period, the batteries are being charged again automatically! Only the navigation lights remain on our list… well, that can wait, we have a pair of battery powered spare lights anyways!

Around the pontoons there are some funny fishes to see!
The internet was right: the marina is not managed at all – that means, we don’t pay either. Water and electricity are available. There are showers as well, but small and not comfortable: we quickly embrace the local customs – showers in bathing suits on the pontoon with the water-hose.
The main drawback to this marina is that it´s located 15km away from Cayenne, in the middle of the forest, with nothing around and certainly no bus. You have to rent a car to move about (cheapest rates at “Cayenne locations”, route de Baduel, from 15 eur/day or 20 with airco). Internet access is not convenient either: except for the cybercafés in the city, we have been told about wifi access on the parking lot of the Geant Casino, and in front of the townhall in Remire and Matoury – tbc… Entry and exit formalities by the friendly customs officer in the commercial harbor, 1km down the river from the marina (open in the morning only from 7.30am). That’s where you find the first snackbar as well – better not to want a cold beer too bad when you land… :o)

Marina, parking lot, forest… and nothing else !
To enter the river it’s easy, you just have to follow the beacons. The current is rather strong (2kts), better to reckon with it. As we were in the rainy season, we saw some big trunks and huge branches floating down the river, sometimes dangerously rapidly and close to the boats. In the end we’re happy with our choice as we could compare with Kourou: there the entry seemed less easy, more current, less space at the pontoons… The only annoying locals are mosquitoes again: we’re having a preventive treatment against malaria during our stay in South America.

That's our view for the week
24th December to 3rd January 2012 : visits
It’s a new continent, a whole new adventure starting for us… just like in Galicia, in Porto Santo, in Graciosa (Canarias), in Dakar, we feel like we’re landing on a new planet. Our set of references is gone again, everything looks, smells, feels different. New plants, new animals, new sounds, new shades and colors and smells… We go back to square one and happily go through the exploration and adaptation phase again, to get used to everything. Every step we take we must pause and wonder at a bird or a flower, some giant trees, some weird noise… the air is filled with bird songs and loud noises of huge crickets, resembling an electric drill so much that Laure was convinced that people were working on some big construction works in the middle of a deserted Cayenne, empty at siesta time.

On the Palmtrees Square
The city displays the charm of an old colonial town built out of wood and corrugated iron. Two-floor houses are painted with bright colors; on the main square there stand gigantesque palm trees. In the streets nearby, many many many Chinese bazars and shops. A few sites are worth having a look (the little fort, the old fishing harbor…) but most streets are plain and dedicated to basic shopping. Other neighborhoods are very dangerous: petty crimes and violence is growing there, maybe under the influence of the very close Brazil?
Yet there is little problem outside if the city. Our first steps bring us to the beach on the Mahury river, along a street of coconut-trees and holiday villas. A couple of snackbars are decorated for Christmas and there’s a band playing in one of them, people are having BBQ with their family, it’s Christmas day… The beach is golden, green coconut-trees moving in the wind… we´ll be well here!
On the beach along the river

Cannonballs tree
Once we have a car we explore other walking tracks, generally well indicated. Firstly in the area of Cayenne: in the “Salines de Montjoli” we see iguanas and pick up our first coconuts. Some kms further the Rorota path offers giant bamboo bushes, lazy sloths and sumptuous butterflies with steel blue wings called « morpho ». Most of the trees reach phenomenal sizes so close to the equator, and they’re all funny, weird and/or useful: coconut-trees, white and red mangrove trees, “cannonballs trees”, devil’s trees, cashew nuts trees etc.
On the next day we set off to explore the waters. Renting a kayak we paddle up the Gabriel river. Along the shores, we enjoy spotting the cacao-trees and admiring the beautiful roots elegantly folded like draperies. The current is strong and we find it hard to paddle against it – on the way back it’ll be much easier, we’ll be drifting effortless back. A few kms up the river the forest lightens up and becomes swamps. One wonders whether we would see the caimans swimming amongst the high herbs… The river reaches another forest and widens, flooding the trees. No ground is to be seen here, no river bank: it´s all trees and water, roots tying up together in complicated patterns mirrored by the ever-present water. It is like a fairytale forest, we are floating around, not knowing where is the ground where is the earth, having long lost from sight the beginning and the end of any path, half expecting to see ghosts and fairies amongst the trees. Magic!
Kayaking in the swamps

Kourou Space Center
French Guiana is also known for the spatial center of Kourou, where the French rockets Ariane have been launched from since the 1970’s. Now the Russian Soyouz and European/Italien Vega are also taking off from there. It’s a Friday morning at 8am, between Christmas and New Year’s Eve: the center is empty, nobody working of course, and the small group of visitors have the ground for themselves. The tour is somewhat shorter today because of the lack of personal. It’s gratis, as always. The two guides are extremely good and enthusiastic, they share their passion with such a conviction that we couldn’t be more satisfied even if we had been on the launching site itself. The control room and the viewpoint closer to the launching installations are already a great visit! From the viewpoint we have an excellent view on… local spiders as well :o)
We are less enthusiastic about the city of Kourou itself. It looks awfully like the suburbs built in the 1970’s around Paris, hosting all the drugs problems and American-like gangs of outlaw youngsters. It must have been built at the same period as well, since the Kourou village counted only 600 inhabitants before the Space Center started. A few boats lay on their anchor there in the river, some other boats are moored at a crowded pontoon – and some are slowly being swallowed by the muddy banks.
There is a market today on the square and we take the opportunity to refill our stocks of sweet potatoes, plaintain bananas, mangoes, papayas (green they’re a good alternative to zucchinis, ripe they’re a delicious dessert)… today’s new vegetable is a sort of long green beans, sold in little bundles of thick green stems. More efficient, as you have less ends to cut off! We have a quick roasted pork and marinated fish lunch out of a stall in the market before going back home.
The next day is the last day of the year. Everyone is getting ready for a noisy and busy party. Good occasion to flee the noise and hit the jungle, seeking the quiet emptiness of the forest. We start to walk from Cacao on the Molokoi path, the longest track of Guiana (18km). The goal is to stay for the night at the shelter in the middle of the track (there are a couple of iron roofs, wooden tables and hooks to hang your hammock by the river – reservations and payment of a 5 euros fee to be made at the pensions before leaving). There are heavy rain showers today, it doesn’t stop more than 5 minutes in the 4.5 hours that it will take us to walk the 8km to the shelter. That’s less than 2km/h, walking at what felt like a good tempo except to cross some rivers or go around fallen trees… and the place is much flatter than the Teide for example… disappointing! You just can’t walk fast in the jungle. This plant is called a "sensitive"
Anyways, that doesn’t matter so much as we finally reached our destination way before dark. We are quiet, alone, nothing else than a roof above our heads and the noises of the forest around us. At dusk bullfrogs will come and share our roof, which we welcome because they eat away the annoying flying termites. We wring our clothes, we unpack and lay our stuff on the table, hanging our hammocks, washing in the river, getting ready for the night…there is a pile of dry wood under the roof – we light a fire! “Foie gras” toasts grilled on a woodfire… we’re not about to forget our New Year’s Eve!

How about a little stroll in the woods ?

Yummy the toasts grilled on the fire!
On the next morning the sun is shining –sometimes- and we walk more than half the distance before being soaked through again. As the rain is not beating on the leaves we can enjoy the birds’ songs much better, frustrated that we never manage to see them while they sound so close. Under the huge trees it is often dark and always wet. Frogs are jumping away in front of us, a little snake and a big centipede watch us passing by, motionless (not sure who’s the most scared of us…). The funniest thing is a plant looking like a mimosa and called “sensitive”, that folds itself instantaneously as something touches it! Back to Cacao we have lunch on the market. Every Sunday the Hmongs living in the area offer typical food and handcraft there. The Hmongs are a community coming from Laos. They used to help the French and the Americans during the independence wars there and therefore had to escape the communist regime in the 1970’s and 1980´s. In Guiana the Hmongs produce most of the fruits and veggies of the department.
In spite of all our visits we have seen only a tiny portion of French Guiana, the largest of all the French departments. Actually 30% of the territory is said never to have been explored! In the deep of the forest there is gold as well. That can provoke some tensions at the border with Brazil, but most of that activity is invisible from Cayenne. Except maybe when you see an helicopter flying hurriedly above your heads, carrying a big bag of liquid. “Some water maybe, there must be a fire in the woods somewhere” you tell your neighbor naively, as you are both hiding from a heavy rain. “Nope, that’s gasoil for the oil diggers, up there in the jungle!” Who said “safety first”?

Guiana is green and brown...

... or all grey!
A week a quickly gone by! We give the car back after filling up at the supermarket for the last time (who knows when we’ll find our next cheese, butter and baguettes?). We say our goodbyes. When the tide turns we find a tiny window of blue sky and set the lines free: goodbye Cayenne !
Cayenne was the Southernmost point of our trip (4°50 N) and probably the furthest point as well from Holland! Since now on we will be sailing back to the North, making our way slowly but surely back to Europe… luckily we still have some nice islands on the Western side of the world to explore!
3rd to 5th January: the Devil’s islands (43 M)
Some ten miles off the coast near Kourou a group of three rocky islands stand out on the flat coast made of moving mud banks. They were first called “Devil’s islands” because of the strong currents, dangerous for the navigation. In 1783 of thereabout, a group of French settlers had been sent to colonize Guiana but most of them died from fever and other diseases, not used to the equatorial climate, and the few dozens that were left escaped to the islands, finding there a good shelter, milder than ashore, with virtually no mosquito. They called the place “Salvation islands” (they’re still called so in French). Clear waters, coconut trees everywhere, it looked like a little Eden indeed… until the second half of the 19th century, when the “penal colony” administration took possession of the ground and built some of the most famous prisons there. This hard labour camp went on until the end of WWII.

Our chart to the Devil’s islands – looks like a Treasure Island map
We were curious about this mythical place. The trip there was pleasant, only 8 hours at sea thanks to a strong current pushing us at more than 5 kts! Tacking close to the wind to go out of the Mahury river under a fine rain was not so funny actually, but we had learnt from our neighbors the secrete passages of the place, and dared going out of the channel to sail longer tacks (it’s always more than 3m deep after the beacon D13 to the West). We passed on the West of the “islet du Pere” (Father island) as well. Once out of the river, it’s all straight ahead! Laure keeps steering though to forget that she’s feeling a bit seasick again… what a week at a pontoon can do to you! Thinking that she was not sick once over the ocean!
We reach the “bay of the Coconut trees” for diner, in the South of “ile Royale”. No problem with our handmade copy of a chart. There’s no one else there, we’re lazy and decide to pick up a buoy for the night, tomorrow morning in the daylight we will have a better overview of the anchorage and move before the tourists boats get there.
In the morning indeed the sun rises and the anchor drops 3m on a soft mud ground. The sun is high and hot and we’re surrounded by coconut trees. That’s our first tropical anchorage in a long time! Sure enough, it’s raining less here than ashore. Yet we find it hard to out up with the heat (36,5° inside, that’s a record !). Such a relief to jump in the water! Once we’ve cooled down a bit we talk a walk ashore. We bump into a small yellow-hand monkey, not at all scared. We see also a lot of “agouti”: they are big rodents with a face like a rat and a big round orange butt, jumping around like rabbits. They love coconuts. Good for them, coconuts are lying around everywhere on the ground, rolling and piling up in some curves of the path. You just have to pick them up. We take the chance and start stocking up! The brown nuts on the ground are ripe, you have to remove the bark around it and break open to find a shiny white fruit and drink the milk. The green nuts must put cut off the tree, that’s slightly more acrobatic, and they have less pulp and more water.

Tropical anchorage

Aaaah my beloved boat!

Tomb with a view
Some buildings of the formers jails only have been restored and are open to the public. Walking through the cells in ruins one can imagine how prisoners used to live, just next to the nicer villas dedicated to the guards and their families. The church is simple and beautiful; on the wooden walls a talented inmate has painted religious scenes and scenes of the life on the prison islands as well. The ruins of what used to be the hospital are really impressive. They stand next to a newer lighthouse. A few buildings here have been turned into B&B’s, and you can hang your hammock in former cells. Feels a it weird, knowing that out of the 70.000 prisoners more than 50.000 died – life expectancy on the islands was shorter than 4 years. That’s the paradox of these islands, a natural paradise turned into hell by man!
We spend the hottest hours of the day onboard (actually in the water next to the boat…) and we watch with a selfish grin the day-tourists leaving “hop hop hop, everyone on their big plastic catamaran, come on!”. At 4 pm the island is virtual deserted and we go ashore again to walk around the coastal path. The views are breathtaking as the colors begin to shine in the golden setting sun. The forest on the islands is less dense and humid than on the continent indeed, we feel happy here… We see the second monkey of the day, entirely brown. Not at all impressed by our looks, it swings down of a tree to search the grass along the path and digs an egg out! A fresh chicken egg! Then it climbs quickly back to a high branch to safely enjoy its finding just above our heads!
Monkeys like eggs!
At night we enjoy the deserted tropical anchorage, playing with our coconuts… it’s actually hard work to extract a big cup of milk it takes 2h30! But we enjoy it very much mixed with sugar and rum from Santo Antao. Laure usually hates coconuts but fresh milk is ok (especially when mixed with run). Camille just loves it!

Coconuts Paradise...

... we're lovin' it!
On the next morning we take it easy and sleep in, then have a little swim before breakfast. We get the anchor up and drop it less than a mile further, in the South of the island across, called “Joseph island”. Pfew so much action makes you sweat – hop, in the water again! Here we come back quickly onboard, annoyed by little fishes that come and try to bite us with their tiny teeth. No harm, but it tickles! This island is a bit disappointing: we had hoped for more ruins and jails broken down by the roots and trees but most of the island is closed to the public and we may only walk along the coastal path. This is a beautiful coastal path nevertheless, with a splendid beach planted with palm trees of course!

Back to the boat, Laure keeps on her cutting and peeling work on the nuts while Camille takes a quick nap, anticipating on a difficult trip to come: at night we set the sails again, destination Suriname – just another Guiana, but Dutch this time!
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Your messages:

saltimbanque par iridium - 22/01/2012 09:32:55

Lisenn et Julien sur Ster Vraz - 21/01/2012 21:50:21
Sympa cette escale hors des sentiers battus! Quels dépaysement en effet! A bientôt dans les eaux turquoise des Antilles! Bises!

Traou Mad - 21/01/2012 14:18:37
Bon, c'est décidé, on y passera... mais pas tout de suite...

Biz a vous deux de nous deux ! :)

Florian - 19/01/2012 17:42:46
Bonne année!!!!
J'aime beaucoup la machette dans le dos, sur le sac à dos! Félicitations pour cette traversée! Miam les belles dorades!
Profitez bien!!!

ptithom3 - 16/01/2012 20:20:37
Avec un peu de retard, bravo pour votre belle traversée et vos récits. On vous souhaite que l'année continue aussi bien qu'elle a commencé.
Les PtitHom3

la mamou - 15/01/2012 14:02:00
juste pour voir si ça marche ...(mes copines n'arrivent pas à poster ...)

Michel CLAUDIE - 14/01/2012 11:35:06
Belle traversée belles balades en g. Bientôt les antilles vous allez vous régaler

Sylvia - 13/01/2012 21:15:51
Dus nu goed je Nederlands gaan oefenen :-) Klinkt alles heel ontspannend bij jullie. Echt een paradise lijkt het waar jullie zijn. Lekker kokosmelk - Pina Colada? Veel plezier

Didier - 12/01/2012 23:03:10
Ca faisait quelques temps que je n'étais pas venu sur le blog mais je viens de passer un bon moment à lire le récit de la traversée et le début de l'Amerique du Sud. Meilleurs vœux (un peu en retard) pour cette nouvelle année et plein de bonheur pour la suite du voyage.

hèléne et jp Lebrat - 12/01/2012 17:56:51
C'est magnifique, on admire

la mamou - 12/01/2012 17:19:40
hé bé ! .. même pas le temps de réponbre à l'articulet du blog , qu'un nouvel article arrive sur le book !
génial !!( brrrrr... les bestioles des forets détrempées ....pas trop mon truc , quand même ...préfère les dauphins ;-)) )

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