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French Guyane. La Guyane.

Updated: Apr 22, 2023

To get here, still in Brazil, we load the car on the ferry to Macapa. We choose the route from Santarem and sail 36 hours through the Amazon River towards its mouth to the ocean. Macapa is crossed by the equator. Soon we will see the Ursa Major in the sky turned upside down, but first 640 km off-road towards the capital of Cayenne, of which over 100 km through the jungle on unpaved road. It is this stretch that makes French Guiana, the smallest country in South America, so difficult to access. You can get there only in two dry seasons. We choose February/March so later we may drive through Suriname and second Guyana back to Brazil. The most difficult section will await us there. 460 km of gravel through the jungle – the second, most difficult road in South America – after the already famous 319, which crosses the Brazilian Amazon forest. The route is passable only until the end of April. For three weeks we have not seen any overlanders’ cars or any tourists. The whole of French Guyana is covered with jungle.

For some, dream come true, for others, one day is too much. High humidity, wetlands and frequent rains, but above all, mosquitoes, are not allowing us to enjoy the beauty of primary forests. The only way leads along the coast. These, in turn, have virtually no beaches, a swampy meeting of land and ocean, and the Amazon floating into it dyes the water for strong coffee with milk.

We reach the border and here awaits us the first surprise. They welcome us to the European Union.

Very nice French customs officers - a few tips and we go towards the capital.

Along the way, a lot of abandoned and burned cars. We do not know what this means, but the locals say that they were most likely stolen and used for smuggling. We arrive at the outskirts of Cayenne, large stores of French brands. Here, of course, the currency is the Euro. It looks as if Paris is about to appear. The whole country is dependent on imports from the EU. Apples from Poland, cauliflower from the Netherlands, beer from Belgium... Do they have something of their own? That's why la Guyane is very expensive.

The market of selling tomatoes is interesting, they are from imports and cost 10 Euro per kilogram, so they are smuggled across the river from neighboring Suriname. This is so strange because Guyana has the lowest temperature of 24 degrees Celsius all year round and the maximum temperature of 31, and a lot of rain. They could grow anything. However, it is more profitable for locals to illegally mine gold. Smuggle drugs into Europe or engage in mulling across the country.

After Brazilian black beans dipped in rice, we can't wait for a baguette, a croissant and French cheeses.

The official language here is French, but more than 20 different languages are spoken. A modern Tower of Babel that uses translators on their phone. The indigenous people who have retreated deep into the jungle also speak their own way. Former slaves, brought from Africa, create languages based on their own culture. They even formed a new Maroon community. Brazilians, expats from Europe, displaced people from Laos and of course the Chinese, all speak their own languages. Poor French language, which often no longer understands itself.

Finally, we will see the carnival. It takes place on the last weekend before Ash Wednesday. Some prepare all year round. They are able to spend all the money earned. We live with Laurel Sophy. she sews outfits for carnival. The door does not close. She says under her breath, she won't go to the festival. They slowly shut down the main street and close it along its entire length.

Festival attendees from different cultures have a rehearsal today. African drums are the loudest, but the noise is so great that their rhythm is lost in the cacaphony of sounds. An endless procession of all the colors of the world with its own notes. Why all at once? The atmosphere is very friendly and joyful, but today no one will fall asleep, and tomorrow the festival... Laurey Sophy didn't go.

We're at Ping and Olivier's. Oliver is French, he came here right after graduation. His wife Ping is Hmong. in... They are the majority. The community originally living in South East Asia – fleeing from the communists - wandered all the way here. Here, too, the Hmong established the first rambutan plantation, which they planted from seeds smuggled in pouches from Asia. They are wonderful people. Olivier is fascinated by the jungle and the people who live there. He is a teacher. In France there is a compulsory teaching, and so is here. He has mixed feelings, because children taken away from the tribe touch completely different culture. they often fall into depression, and at the end of their education they no longer belong to neither of communities. We were supposed to take a boat into the jungle, but there has been a heavy rain for several days. We receive messages that the road is increasingly flooded and some sections are impassable. We give up visiting the space center. We also do not sail to the island of convicts Iles du Salut, from which Henri Charriere, the later hero of the book "Papillon" and its film adaptation, spectacularly escaped to Venezuela. We cross the border in the rain.

Suriname is ahead of us.

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