21 February 2014
I had initially intended to travel 4-5 days into the interior visiting Cacao (an indigenous village with a famous Sunday market) and hiking the 18k Molocai Trail – however I met a guy from that region who told it might be possible but not much fun at the moment with all the rain. So I skipped it and travelled up the coast to Kourou famous for Salvation Islands (Iles de Salut with the prison camps) and the European Space Centre's launch site. Anaïs had helped make reservations for both as well as for a hammock space at Kalawachi (an indigenous AmeriIndian community) a bit out of town. As I expected their facilities to be very limited and it was pouring down all morning, I was in no rush to leave Cayenne – around noon after yet another big shower I walked the 3-4k to the bus station sweating like a pig with the high humidity and all my luggage (including food and beverages for the coming 4 days)... The bus left when full which was after 40 minutes so it could have been worse especially in the middle of the day. It took an uneventful hour to Kourou and the driver was kind to leave me at the sideroad to Kalawachi so I only had to walk 1½k. As expected the place was primitive but I had no trouble passing time preparing for my 2-day trip to the islands early next morning - re-organising all my stuff leaving a big bag at Kalawachi, trying to get information on how many kilometres I had to walk to the boat, etc. Nobody new anything and didn't seem interested in helping out. Early evening an English guy returned from a daytrip to the islands, so I got a bit of more insight though not of much practical use as he had gotten a ride to and from the boat – nice for him but hardly possible for me to count on early Saturday morning. More useful was the information he provided for Suriname and Guyana.
23-24 February 2014
Having the waves in the back it was a quick and un-eventful trip back to the mainland where I walked right into the local carnival – though I didn't stay long. The Peruvian guy from the boat was kind to take me back to Kalawachi – and promised to pick me up and take me to the space center early next morning. At Kalawachi there people in the 2 hammock “huts” (4 poles and a roof) so I was asked to sleep in the main hut - however I didn't get much sleep as the family came home late from the carnival and the guy next to me snored loudly most of the night....
As promised the Peruvian guy picked me up at 7am and took me to the European space centre – great to sleep more than an hour longer and even better not having to walk in the morning rain. At the space centre I was going to do the morning tour around the compound and afterwards visit the museum. I asked where to register and ended up in a long line just to realise it was for guests/people working there. Instead I was send to the museum where I had breakfast while waiting for somebody to show up. The weather improved and the sun even came out but before everybody finished registration, security check, etc. it rained again.
The tour was 2½ hours and took us to launch sites and control rooms – though most of the time was spent driving around the compound. The rain made it difficult to see anything out of the windows and not much fun getting out taking pictures the few times we made stops. Worst however was the language barrier – everything was (of course!) in French so I understood little – and it was not because there wasn't time to translate; they just didn't want to help those of us who were less fortunate language-wise. I know it's located in French Guiana but it's also the European Space Agency so other countries might have taken a bigger perspective regarding visitors (subtitles on videos, audio guides, etc.) - I wonder if they ever get rid of this arrogant approach and accept that French is never going to be a world language like English?! Afterwards I spent some hours in the space museum – decent though not much new info. Space was chronologically described from the Big Bang and man's endeavours in space was decently presented (though with a bit too much emphasis on France's contribution - every little detail was highlighted).
When I finished it was early afternoon and I wanted to check if I had a reply to my couchsurfing request for the next day in Paramaribo, Suriname. People told me to go to McDonald's for internet, so I walked some kilometres and got a ride the last way into town - no internet. I asked around but nobody seemed to know anything before I ran into Paul. He took me to a place but as it was closed he let me use his computer at home – unfortunately no couchsurfing reply but what a friendly guy. Walking back to Kalawachi I missed a right turn and ended up doing a 5k detour to the beach and waterfront – not much to see on a rainy day. Back at Kalawachi late afternoon I did a lot of practical things, getting ready to leave early next morning. Planning to leave early next morning I wanted to go to bed early but 4 young French people arrived late and kept me awake until midnight when they finally went to bed on my request.