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Guyana: the craziest department to visit in France

Guyana

It is the only region of the European Union located in South America. It was known to metropolitan residents for its prison and its space center. Since the success of the “Guyana” series on Canal +, we have discovered that this land of adventure conceals many other treasures. No need to run around the world: the great adventure is on our national territory! Our reporter has crisscrossed it for you.

Cayenne: the Eiffel-style market

The trip begins with a visit to Cayenne whose history merges with that of Guyana. Its history is quite complex, linked to the colonization of the city. First Native American until the arrival of European settlers and their African slaves.
From this period, Creole-style buildings remain, which now house the administrations. We arrive at the Place des Palmistes which is an emblematic place of Cayenne with its 3 hectares planted with palm trees. It is a place where locals like to walk and meet up in the evening. But the most picturesque place is undoubtedly the market, and there, all to your Smartphones! The colors burst, you feel that this is the beating heart of the city, which by the way, is quite calm. The market is very busy and the stalls are full of local fruits and vegetables: rambutans, limes, pineapples, bananas, grapefruits, green and red peppers …

The sparkle of peppers in the Cayenne market.  Without adding light!  March 2018
The sparkle of peppers in the Cayenne market. Without adding light! March 2018© Atout France / Puzzle Media / Vladimir Kinnoo

Under the hall, an Eiffel-type structure, you can eat a Chinese soup and buy specialties: jams, rum and Native American crafts, lovely necklaces of seeds. Fifteen euros, not given, but after all, we are in France. Our walk continues to the old port, where fishermen sell fish that are totally unknown to us. Some seem to come out of prehistoric times, with their shell and their legs allowing them to come out of the water. These marsh fish, Atipas, are very popular here. Small sharks are also found, commonly eaten grilled. From the market to gastronomy, there is only one step.

Walk on the Maroni river where a few caimans spawn… March 2018
Walk on the Maroni river where a few caimans spawn… March 2018© Atout France / Puzzle Media / Vladimir Kinnoo

The artisanal miners: become serial heroes thanks to “Guyana”

Gold from Guyana stirs up greed and trafficking of all kinds. Clandestine extraction is largely the case, in remote areas of the forest, with deforestation as a consequence. We could see recently one of the darkest aspects, in the Guyana series. And besides, we can now visit the house that was used for the filming in the Amerindian village, Favard, in Roura. In some places in Guyana, you can pay for your purchases directly with the precious ore …

The local star: rum

Ti-punch is the star aperitif in Guyana. It is prepared with sugar cane syrup, lime and rum. In Guyanese cuisine, we find smoked meat. Smoking is a smoking and preservation technique. This meat is then incorporated into stews, with spices and accompanied by white rice and red bean soup. This typical menu is served in this famous restaurant in the village of Kaw, in the heart of the marsh.

The most “trendy” restaurant: “New ginger”

It is “the place to be”, at the same time, there is only one in this village of 140 souls (book absolutely). This establishment is run with authority by a sympathetic big mama-like woman. It looks like a guinguette but in Creole fashion: colorful plastic tablecloths and pretty napkins. It’s delicious and downright folkloric as the life of the owners’ family interferes with the atmosphere of the restaurant; vociferations and laughter from the children running everywhere guaranteed.

Lunch on a beached sailboat

“La schooner” is an excellent restaurant installed on a boat that has come to die on the bank of the Maroni river. You can taste the famous Awara broth, a staple of Guyanese cuisine. Awara is an Amazonian palm tree whose orange fruits are part of the composition of a paste which is the basis of this recipe. A kind of stew in which we find all kinds of smoked meats, and fish. It is served on Easter Sunday and at Pentecost. The preparation is long and is a family affair.

Sleep in the sweatiest jungle in the world:

The hotel offer is classic in large cities but there are no very luxury establishments. The majority are hotels ranging from one to three stars. There are a few charming addresses, such as Ker Alberte, ideally located in Cayenne, a beautiful Creole residence.
But the must is elsewhere. Guyana is also developing ecotourism and the experience of nights in the forest are magical moments like in…

The Wapa lodge

The Kaw marshes that you can explore by kayak or paddle.  March 2018
The Kaw marshes that you can explore by kayak or paddle. March 2018© Atout France / Puzzle Media / Vladimir Kinnoo

The pier is thirty minutes from Kourou and to reach our refuge for the night, it will take twenty minutes by canoe in tropical rain (with your best ally, the rain poncho). There is no electricity. In the evening, you are only lit by candles, which means that there is no Wi-Fi either. But it all has a crazy charm. I had to fight to finally be shown a plug in the kitchen to charge my cell phone.
The Lodge has several carbets, traditional Amerindian habitats, where you can spend the night, in a hammock or in a bed. I opted for the bed but it seems that the hammock is very comfortable, as long as we explain how to position yourself there.
There is every comfort, it is nicely decorated, wood, objects brought back from travel. The toilets are shared, which upsets you a bit in your habits. The shower water is not heated but you get used to it quickly. You step out of your comfort zone and that’s all the luxury of this place, where you also eat extremely well.
The adventure really begins at bedtime: all of your bug spray and your mosquito net. And there, you will try to fall asleep in the rustle of the Amazon rainforest and the cries of the howler monkeys. After a very short night, you are ready for new adventures: canoe or paddle under the canopy of greenery then swim for the bravest in a river with an unfathomable bottom. In any case, we must remain vigilant because the forest, even tamed, remains hostile. A member of our group crossed the path of a spearhead or wire rope, a small snake, certainly, but poisonous which had ventured near our camp.

The prison of Saint Laurent du Maroni where the detainees from metropolitan France arrived

The experience of the forest is also the humidity and its 80% humidity. Suddenly, an olfactory festival since there are 1200 species of trees listed. The light that infiltrates tens of meters above allows you to observe all of life at ground level: frogs, lizards, snakes, even tarantulas.

Kaw Marshes

We continue our discovery of Guyanese nature by exploring the Kaw Marshes Nature Reserve, which covers 94,700 hectares. We do it with a guide on a canoe and off we go for kilometers to navigate in the middle of this aquatic savannah.
Our boat glides over the water and we see a multitude of species of birds: cocoi herons or great white egrets enthroned on the trees emerging from the water. In the distance, small monkeys pass from branch to branch. That’s wonderful.
During our progress, we meet zebus grazing in submerged fields. These are the only bovids that can live in this biotope. They even cross in front of our canoe.
Further on, an entire herd returns to the farm, a magical and unusual spectacle at the same time.

After an hour, we arrive at a floating Lodge. It is possible to sleep in the marshes. Here, no mosquitoes, it’s surprising but the water is too acidic and does not allow their development.
We indulge in nautical activities without concern. Soon it is Ti-Punch time and we are served dinner as night falls.
Our hosts come equipped with headlamps and show us the head of a huge caiman that is flush with the surface of the water. At the distance of the eyes, they estimate its size to, at least, 3 meters. Impressive. And we remember with fear our previous trip in canoe or paddle in the same place … It’s time to return. We take our boat and go up the marsh at night in the opposite direction. Our guide turns on his headlamp intermittently looking for the slightest sign of the presence of another specimen with red eyes … We are like children who fear to see a monster appear from the river. We meet two smaller ones on the way back. An unforgettable experience.

Kourou and the space experience

We continue our journey by visiting the CSG (Guyanese Space Center) and there we arrive in the lair of the most sophisticated technology. We are at the old firing of Ariane 5, on 04/05/2018, almost 50 years to the day after the launch of the first Véronique rocket, at the Kourou Space Center.
Anyone can attend as long as they have booked in advance. What looked like a sanctuary is actually a very welcoming place. We even enter the Holy of Holies, the Jupiter room, where the operators work. On the screens are displayed the parameters of the shooting which must take place the next day.

Spend the night at … Bagne

The prison past weighs heavily on the perception that visitors have of this region.
It is in that of Saint-Laurent du Maroni that all convicts arriving from metropolitan France were disembarked, and then distributed to the various centers of Guyana. The objective was less imprisonment than to see inmates, once their sentence had been served, to colonize this province. On leaving the prison, they received a sum of money, a piece of land and had to stay in Guyana for a time equal to their sentence. This was rarely the case. The conditions of detention and the illnesses took over the lives of many of them.

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On entering the buildings, the dormitories, the individual cells with their wooden beds fitted with justice bars, to which they were chained, we are literally seized.
There are names that are familiar to us: Papillon, Seznec or even Dreyfus who was also detained on Devil’s Island, alone, watched by several guards. Escape was nearly impossible, the currents and sharks discouraged even the most reckless.
On the Salvation Islands, it is possible to sleep. There are air-conditioned rooms, some of them located in the old battlements of the penal colony as well as in a large room, as long as you have a hammock. It’s a little cold in the back but the attendance is there. There is also a restaurant which has a magnificent view of Devil’s Island and the sea as far as the eye can see.
This trip to Guyana was dense and full of emotions. Of course, there are no turquoise waters or lagoons, but so many other things to see and feel.

Our travel guide

This large piece of France located on the South American continent enjoys an equatorial climate, hot and humid; tempered on the coasts by trade winds. Temperatures are on average 26 ° C to 33 ° C which is very bearable.
This green, almost virgin paradise, 97% covered with primary forests, is full of biodiversity that cannot be found elsewhere in France.

To prepare for your trip, here is some information:

  • Capital: Cayenne
  • Area: 83,534 km2 ( 2nd largest region in France)
  • Population: 282,731 inhabitants
  • Language: French
  • Time difference: 5 hours in summer / 4 hours in winter
  • Currency: Euro

In principle, you only need an identity card to get there, but it is still advisable to have a passport if you want to continue your journey in a neighboring country (Suriname and Brazil).

To be done before your departure

The vaccine against yellow fever is compulsory. As for antimalarial treatment, the Pasteur Institute recommends it if you sleep in the forest.

Don’t forget in your suitcase

  • Sports or walking shoes
  • Sunscreen (big clue)
  • Anti-mosquito products for skin and textiles
  • A mosquito net if you are camping. For my part, I experimented with the vinyl bracelet impregnated with essential oils and repellent plants (sold in all good pharmacies). It has proven to be absolutely effective (to wear day and night). On arrival, not a bite in seven days.
  • A good first aid kit is essential. It is common to get stung by ants which can be extremely painful.

When to go?

  • The tourist season revolves around two major events:
  • The carnival which stretches over 3 to 4 weeks, from January to February, and the turtle nesting season between April and August, bear witness to the nests on the beaches.
  • The dry season extends from the end of July until the month of November, but there is also a parenthesis in the rainy season called “small summer of March”.
  • Whatever the case, your best friend will be a waterproof poncho to protect you from sometimes extremely violent showers …

Guyanese

To understand Guyana, you have to be aware of the diversity of its population who live mainly in the big coastal towns, but there are many villages in the forest and along the rivers.

The main communities are:

  • Native American
  • The Creoles
  • Metropolitan
  • The Brazilians
  • Haitians
  • The Hmong (refugees from Laos in 1977)
  • Black chestnuts or Bushinengés
  • The West Indians
  • The Chinese
  • Lebanese

All these communities that we come across are trying to keep their traditions. This is what makes the cultural richness of this department. The Guyanese are extremely open and happy to help you discover their region, aware of the deficit or the bad image it suffers from, linked to its penitentiary past.
Some of these communities live off the river and by the river. Example: the Maroni, which you can cross in a pirogue for kilometers and stop in these isolated villages where the Amerindians or Bushinengés live. The latter are descendants of slaves who fled from the plantations. They live in traditional wooden houses, in apparent poverty, make objects that they can occasionally sell to passing tourists. Some build canoes with planks of trees nearly ten meters long. The price of these boats, around 6000 to 7000 euros, seems surprisingly high. During our walk on the banks, our guide shows us drawings carved on rocks, traces of very ancient populations.We also cross a good number of platforms which probe the bottom of the river to extract gold.

To get there

From the mainland, there is one daily AIR FRANCE flight and four weekly AIR CARAIBES flights which connect Paris-Orly to Félix Eboué airport. AIR CARAIBES is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Paris-Cayenne link this year. => Guyana Tourism Committee): http://www.guyane-amazonie.fr

Budget

Guyana is a relatively expensive department, the most expensive in South America, unlike its neighbor Suriname.
Small budget: 60 euros per day
Average budget: Count from 80 to 120 euros with visits and means of transport.
Big budget: 150 to 250 euros per day and per person with accommodation in more expensive coastal hotels.

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