Thursday, June 01, 2023

My French Guiana adventure: Day 2

The Air France staff at Miami airport cared more about checking my yellow fever vaccination card than my boarding pass.

I love looking at the Departure board. Pointe A Pitre (Guadeloupe). That's where I'm going!

I like to think of myself as being a geography and history nerd. But I had no idea where Guadeloupe and Martinique are. Or their history. So I read Wikipedia the night before.

First, it was "discovered" by Columbus in 1493. When you fly over this part of the Caribbean, you quickly realize how easy it is to discover pieces of land. Islands are everywhere.

Second, the island was so prosperous (slaves and sugar), France gave up all of its Canadian possessions in order to get the island back from the British.

Third, it was owned by Sweden from 1813 to 1814.

There it is.

A highway. There was nothing like it anywhere in French Guiana, and it's one-sixth the size of France.

Though Guadeloupe was not my final destination, I did enter France so I got my passport stamped.

I heard about the legendary rum here. For six euros, I got the most expensive rum for sale at the rinky dink airport bar. It was called Rhum Vieux. My next flight was boarding so I had to finish it in three big gulps.

Back on the plane for a 30 minute hop to Martinique.

Per Wikipedia, Columbus spotted it in 1493 and landed there in 1502. Like Guadeloupe, Dutch Jews expelled from Brazil settled in Martinique. During World War II, it was controlled by the Vichy bastards so German U-boats went there for fuel and supplies.

Martinique looked pretty developed tourist infrastructure-wise. Lots of multi-story hotels.

As we hit French Guiana, it's just green, dense jungle. The only interruptions are caused by rivers.

Cayenne airport at sunset.

As I step out of the airport, I am hit by the humidity. I have a guy in a Hyundai Tuscon taxi cab drive me 30 minutes to my hotel in "downtown" Cayenne. As we pull out of the airport, it is a two-lane road with barely any traffic. It has a rural Japan feel. There are a lot of billboards selling four things-- an automatic Peugeot for 18,900 euros, cheap vacations to Fortaleza (Brazil), frozen chicken nuggets at a supermarket, and military/police recruitment.

I get dropped off in the dark at my hotel. The popular restaurant/bar on the ground floor is closed and dark. It is Sunday night. I approach the side door and there's an older, lanky, slovenly dressed guard sitting in a plastic chair. He speaks English with a Caribbean accent. He tells me the hotel staff is gone and he was not told that I would be checking in. I ask him to call the staff. He tells me he suffered a brain injury earlier that day and he doesn't know how to use a phone. What?! 

I leave my backpack (my only luggage) on the table and pace around in the heat. What do I do? The entire city is closed.

Then, a guy appears out of nowhere and offers to help. He is a hotel guest from Mainland France and he has an Australian accent. He works for an aluminum company and currently ranks as the third most frequent flyer Air France has. He is only in French Guiana for work for two days. His shortest work trip distance-wise is to Dakar. He spends 240 days a year traveling. Though he tried hard to help, I couldn't get a room.

I had booked a nice suite at this hotel for my entire stay. Frustrated, I was told to walk down one block to the fancy hotel next to the police station. I'll stay there for a night and come back tomorrow morning to sort things out. Fine.

I check in at the Hotel Amazonia, which appears to be a business hotel affiliated with Best Western. It costs a bit more than my original hotel. It is filled with cops. Dozens upon dozens of cops from France are here to protect the head of the European Space Agency, who is here for a visit. What's odd is that every single cop staying at this hotel is in their 20s, blond or brown haired, with the same physique, and the same height. The ones not in uniform are wearing tight t-shirts, short shorts, and shower sandals. And they're all eating pizzas.

Famished, I go to the hotel restaurant and get the cheapest entree, this fish.

Exhausted, I collapse on my bed. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring.

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