The Maroni River makes up the border between French Guiana and Suriname, and some miles up the river you find the town of St. Laurent, the capital of the former penal colony in French Guiana. We had a beautiful sail from the Salvation Islands – until I realized that we were going much faster than expected, meaning that we would arrive at the entrance to the river at low tide. The charts say that the depth is 0.3 meters in parts of the channel leading into the Maroni River, meaning that we wanted to arrive close to high tide. So when Esben came up to take over for his night shift, we took the main down, and he continued on with only the genoa out. The decrease in speed was also good for the dinghy, which we were towing behind the boat. The high speed had thrown it around more than we liked.
We continued the nice sailing through the night, but as light came back the next morning, I could see some big squalls building behind us. And sure enough, soon the wind increased, and it started pouring down. Somehow, this tends to happen on my watch… When we arrived at the first buoy of the entrance channel, it was difficult to see the next because of the rain, but luckily, the buoys were located where the chart said they were, and we slowly moved from one buoy to the next, with the wind against us, the current behind us and the waves coming from the side. Not the most comfortable way of sailing.
And then we were on the river, and everything was calm. We had hit the tide at exactly the right time, and were pushed onwards with the current. The river banks are covered in jungle, with only a small hut showing every now and then, and it was a beautiful, and of course very warm, sail. After a couple of hours of sailing we could see a small island, which is actually a wreck, behind which the mooring field of St Laurent is located. On land, the buildings of the penal colony were hidden behind a small park, and it appeared that the whole town was gathered for a celebration on the water front. We found a free mooring, and soon we were relaxing with a cold drink in the cockpit while the sun was setting. And there were no mosquitos!
One of the reasons for us to come to St. Laurent was that the people who are organizing the moorings had let us use their mail address to send in some things we needed. We had already received e-mail notifications that the two of the packages were ready to be delivered, but that they had found no-one to receive them. So the next day Esben sailed in to figure out how to get a hold of these packages. One of them, a part for our water maker, arrived the next day at 8.00, and we were happy to be on the waterfront, ready to receive it. And the other one, new school books for the kids, was delivered in the marina cafe without any problems. What a win! Now, we were just waiting for a new autopilot to arrive. The old one died in Brazil, and though we love our wind vane, it only works when there’s wind, and that is not always the case – especially not when you choose to cross the doldrums twice in less than six months. Hand steering for longer periods in the heat is awful, so we were looking forward to receiving this piece of gear. And then I realized that I had not ordered all of the school books needed, so another order went out to German amazon… Consequently, we spent a couple of weeks around St Laurent, waiting for our mail.
The town was a bit strange to us. It had been built by the convicts of the penal colony more than 100 years ago, and many of the houses were incredibly pretty – but also incredibly run down. The whole place had an air of laziness about it that we didn’t find very inspiring. We heard from people living there, that many young girls see child birth as a desirable career – the French will pay you money if you have a child, so the goal is to have as many kids as possible. And the number of stores that are closed for most days seem fit well in this narrative.
But the Hmong people, originally from Southeast Asia, were busy enough for everybody. We met them every Wednesday and Saturday when it was market day, one of our favorite places. We walked down through the many stalls with vegetables in every color and looked for what we wanted to eat the next few days. The vegetables here were the best we had had since leaving La Gomera, and we were happy to be able to make many dishes that have been difficult without good vegetables. People were incredibly friendly, and usually tried to have a chat with us, even if it wasn’t easy with our poor french. Some stalls also sold Asian fast food, and we tried the pho soup (again), but also the fresh spring rolls. A lovely place.
And we, of course, went to see the old prison – or the “Bagne” as it’s known. These buildings are located right next to the waterfront, so the convicts could be easily transported from the boats to the prison. We walked on to see the houses where the convicts used to live. Now it’s used for different cultural projects, which seems like a nice idea for a place like this. We would have liked to visit the closed off parts of the prison, but you would have to get a guided tour, and after showing up four times for a promised tour in English, we realized that all the guided tours were in French, and gave up. We could have gone on a French tour, but figured that we had seen enough of the prisons by now, and ended up watching a youtube video made by someone on the guided tour…
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