In the land of the Amazon forest

The color of the water slowly changed from bright blue to murky brown/green and somehow the smell had changed. We were getting closer to land, and the smell was the smell of the Amazon rainforest. We knew the coast wasn’t far away, but we couldn’t see it. The first sign of land was a dark spot ahead of us; the Salvation Islands, or, as they are better known, at least in Scandinavia, the Devil’s Islands. After 1400 NM of sailing, we had reached French Guiana.

We anchored in a small bay between the Île Royal and Île St. Joseph, both covered in palm trees, and immediately went for a swim. After cleaning the boat up after the trip, we learned from the only other boat in the bay that we would have to leave the next morning, as a rocket launch was scheduled for that night. The Guiana space centre is located just across the water, on the mainland, and the islands are right in the path of the rockets when they are launched. In the event of a rocket launch, everybody has to leave islands in order not to risk being hit by debris from a  rocket. So after a good night’s sleep, we were off to Kourou.

The entrance to Kourou is well buoyed, but kinda shallow, and we were happy that we had waited until almost high water before starting the trip in. Soon we were on the river, in the hot sun, surrounded by rainforest. We sailed in to the anchorage, waving hello to the other boats –  we hadn’t seen more than two cruising boats in one anchorage since leaving Mindelo, so it was nice to have neighbors. The town of Kourou has a reputation of being a bit sleepy, and that isn’t very far from the truth. It used to be a small village, but has now been developed to a larger town to accommodate the people from the space centre. The feeling we got walking through, was that the town planners had been planning for more people than necessary, and now everything is spread out on way too much space – meaning that we had some walking to do if we wanted to do anything in town. The shops along the main street never seem to open, and you only see a few people out and about. When we went to check in to the country, we were told that the office wouldn’t be open until next Monday – luckily we were not in a hurry.

The rocket that was supposed to be launched was postponed, and we decided to rent a car to see a bit more of the country while waiting to be able to go back to the Salvation Islands. The extraordinary thing about French Guiana is that the rainforest is everywhere. It seems like the forest takes back the land as soon as the people are not making an effort to keep it away. As visitors, it is, however, not so easy to go further into the rainforest. So in order to see the animals that live there, we drove to the Guiana Zoo, a couple of hours away. In this zoo you can only see animals indigenous to the country, and we had some very good hours walking around here. The animals are in fairly big cages, with lots of plants, water etc., so it can be difficult to spot them, but we had arrived early, and were lucky to see the jaguars and tapirs before it disappeared from view. The zoo is located in the forest, and the wild monkeys seemed to have found out that they could get an easy meal if they stayed close to the tapirs at feeding time. A little sad to see wild monkeys running around everywhere, while their cousins were stuck in their cages, but I suppose that’s the price of having a zoo. We also got to take a walk through the treetops in the back of the zoo. Here, it was very clear why all the animals need to be able to either swim or fly, because the ground was basically covered in water.

Our next project was to visit the village of Cacao. This village is home to the Hmong people, who were given land here after fleeing from southeast Asia (the french are everywhere). They were not really welcomed by the locals, but through hard work, these people have managed to grow vegetables in the middle of the jungle, and are said to now provide 90% of the countries vegetables. The winding road led us in through the jungle, and soon we were in a small village, that looked like it had been moved here from southeast Asia. Asian people were everywhere, buying or selling vegetables, pho soup or embroideries at the small market. We saw a sign saying “Butterfly museum”, so we had to go and take a look. In the little museum, we saw plenty of butterflies, but also giant insects, walking sticks and many other insects from the jungle. A guide was giving an hour-long tour in french (covering a single room), he must have known a lot! But we don’t speak enough french to follow, so we escaped out in the butterfly garden, where live animals where flying about. In the pond there was a small cayman – but we weren’t sure if it was alive…

The Hmong people were very friendly, and unlike many other people we had met in Kourou, they were actually interested in talking to us. In Brazil, we had gotten so used to everybody at least greeting us and each other on the streets, and there, people were generally very happy to chat, despite of our not-so-great Portuguese. In French Guiana, the people are more guarded, and don’t necessarily reply when we greet them. So it was a nice change being in Cacao, chatting with smiling people in a mix of french and english. We had a look through their vegetable market, and bought some delicious plants, which the seller wasn’t convinced we were able to cook, so after explaining to us in French, she called a friend to tell us in English what it was – we in the meantime thought we could handle spinach, but it was nice talking to them. We had some delicious pho soup, which made us sweat like crazy in the tropical heat, but we figured the liquid was healthy for us. And then it was time to leave.

Before going back to Chip-Chip, we made a stop in one of the big supermarkets to stock up on drinks and other heavy food items. I did mention that everything is far away in Kourou, right?


In the Amazon forest

To see our current position, click here and scroll down.

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