Damn tedious all this protesting and road-blockade malarkey, but hey… ‘C’est la vie’, as they say here in French Guiana. In our last blog we arrived in a charming but blockade-ridden, far-flung part of the EU. Now, after a month of disruption, the protesters toddle home and things gradually get back to normal. For us this means freedom to move around the country, the re-start of the Space Race (officially exciting!) and some first-hand proof of Hollywood’s tish, tosh and piffle!
Strikes and blocks
Over Easter the strikes continue but there are two pieces of good news: First, the shops did stock-up on Easter Eggs before the strike started, so whilst there are significant shortages of fresh food, there is no lack of seasonal choccy (phew!). Secondly, the road blockades are temporarily lifted for the long weekend. This, say the protesters, is out of the goodness of their hearts so that families can move around the country for the Easter break. We suspect it’s rather that they aren’t too keen to be stuck manning road blocks over the holiday weekend (there are limits to one’s commitment to the cause, you know! ). Anyway… we take advantage of the opportunity to get out of Cayenne and head up the coast to meet-up with Erick, a fellow overlander who is heading on roughly the same route as us but has been ‘stuck’ in Kourou over the blockade period.
French Guiana may not have an abundance of high-profile tourist attractions, but it does have some amazing wildlife and some idyllic jungle-spots with rivers and small falls for swimming. We enjoy our excursion into the countryside, but we’re effectively under curfew in that (if we want to get back into Cayenne at all this week) we have to be back through the road-blocks before the end of Easter Monday when the blockades will again be in force.
When the protests resume after Easter, we sense that support for the cause is starting to wane amongst the non-strikers. This thing is going on just a little bit toooo long for their liking. They just want their kids back to school, their freedom of movement and some fresh food in the shops.
Finally… one week after Easter, four weeks after its start and over three weeks after our arrival in the country, a massive Hurrah!!! ‘Le barrage’ is over. It takes a while for word to get around, but gradually people go back to work. The road-blocks open, supplies of fresh food start to trickle into the supermarkets, the Suriname Consulate opens for our visa/tourist permit… and the previously traffic-free streets of down-town Cayenne become congested
One afternoon mid-strike we are parked up wondering what to do with our temporary confinement, when a friendly Swiss chap stopped for a chat and invited us to his home. Vincent is a former overland-traveller who has settled here in Cayenne and very much understands how the blockade is restricting our way of life right now. Vincent and his young son Valentin are incredibly kind to us, taking us into their home, imparting lots of valuable local news, giving us a quiet place to park Cuthbert, water re-supplies, swims in their pool (bliss!) etc etc etc. We would have managed adequately in Cayenne alone in Cuthbert, but it has been a real treat to have the generous hospitality and a quiet base for this rude interruption to our travels! Big hugs and thanks to Vincent and Valentin
If French Guiana is notable for anything in the world, it is for: a) the Space Centre of the European Space Programme (more on this later) and b) the setting for the story of Papillon, made into a block-buster Hollywood movie with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman in the early 70s. Remember how gorgeous Steve manages to escape, through treacherous shark-infested custard, from the prison island off-shore French Guiana? Well, dear Cuthbert reader… we regret to inform you that it’s not true!! Shock, horror!! The Hollywood story is all tish, tosh and piffle!
We know this because we decide to refresh our memory of the movie before going out to visit Devil’s Island and the Isles du Salut on a day-trip. In true Hollywood style, Steve McQ (aka Mr Papillon) is the hero of the day, but we learn in the islands’ museum that the true Papillon story is far less exciting. He did exist and was a prisoner in the French penal colony in the 1930s, but he never actually escaped from the island at all! He did manage a fairly hum-drum escape from an on-shore prison, but that was after serving most of his sentence anyway! Nevertheless, the islands are a lovely day-trip with interesting buildings and ruins from that era… who are we to let the facts get in the way of a good ol’ Hollywood story
Meanwhile… back in the real world… the Space Race is on! The chaps in European Space Centre in Kourou are busy re-launching the space programme. One of the things we really want to see in French Guiana is a real, live, rocket launch, but the protests put a stop to this for a few weeks. Inconvenient for us, but not as inconvenient as it is for the ESA reportedly paying millions of Euros per day in damages to their Brazilian and South Korean clients waiting for their satellites to be launched. Hopeful that the programme will be rolling again soon, we renewed Cuthbert’s insurance to stay in the country for another 15 days (to 7th May) and… we’re in luck… a launch is announced to be taking place on May 4th!! Star Wars Day!! Ha ha… you couldn’t make this stuff up! :-)We’ve applied for tickets for a special viewing platform at the Jupiter Hall control centre. If we don’t get the good tickets, there are still many great public places to watch a launch. Fingers crossed… the launch will stick to the planned timescale and we’ll see it before we head on to Suriname.