Saturday, June 03, 2023

My French Guiana adventure: Day 3

I wake up in French Guiana! I heard my business hotel has free breakfast, so I zoom downstairs. The hot cops are still here, flirting with the restaurant staff, who are all young Brazilian women. 

I love free hotel breakfasts in America. It's usually platters of scrambled eggs, sausages, and bacon. The French make a valiant effort at a facsimile, but it's just different. The cook is in no hurry so the eggs never arrive, no matter how hard I use my psychic abilities to will them into existence. The baguettes, however, are fantastic. I make two sausage sandwiches for myself.

I go back to my room and this is my view. I have to go back to my original hotel, clarify the mess, and move there. 

I go back to Hotel des Palmistes. The hotel staff apologizes profusely and shows me to my suite. I come to realize that I have the best room at the best located hotel in all of Cayenne. I really dig that old timey airline poster in my bedroom. That's the town square my room is facing.

My living room. I do all of my trip planning and napping in this room.

Not bad for 106 euros a night. The toilet is kind of weak and the shower is like a coffin. But that's France for ya.

Other than my wife's bout with cancer, I really don't have any fears, living a privileged life in America. So these oddball trips to faraway lands give me thrills. My original plan was to travel throughout French Guiana in cabs and vans, but that was going to be difficult logistically and expensive. My best decision was to rent a car. I was fearful of driving in a foreign country. I was fearful of getting carried away by flood waters. I was fearful of getting lost without GPS. It all worked out.

I rented a manual transmissioned Peugeot 208 with 61,000 kilometers from Sixt. It cost 260 euros for the entire week-- a bargain. It was a lot of fun to drive, although I got passed by other cars constantly. It has a three cylinder engine, after all. My biggest weakness was traffic circles. They are everywhere. It was never clear if they had one or two lanes. And the GPS on my phone gave terrible instructions when I was driving in them, But again, everything worked out great.

ETA: Two more things gave me pause about the car. It has a lane centering system that tugs at the steering wheel. But because the lines here are so poorly marked, the car yanks the steering wheel at inopportune times. Finally, the car did not come with a spare tire because it had been used by the previous customer. I was given a tire repair kit. That scared me a little. I was going to some remote places.

I got the car in the late morning and head out for Cacao. It's a tiny jungle village populated by Hmong refugees. They produce 90% of the vegetables the country consumes. The Sunday market is a huge attraction. I am there on a Monday so everything is closed, save for one restaurant.

A young, tall, chubby Asian guy takes my order. We can't communicate so I point at a photo of a big bowl of noodle soup. It is so hot and humid, my eyebrows can't hold back my forehead sweat. As I wait, it starts pouring rain, albeit briefly.

I look at the condiments. They are either from China or Thailand.

What a meal. This reminds me of my favorite meal of all time. After a long bus ride in the Atacama, I got off in the port town of Iquique in the Christmas heat and ordered a seafood stew at La Surena II. Something about hot soups on hot days after long journeys.

After the meal, I head to the spaceport. I have a 7am tour the next day and I want to check out the rendezvous point today so I don't get lost tomorrow and miss the tour. Ahead of me on the windy road out of Cacao, I see some kind of buzzard eating a big ass lizard. The yellow Peugeot scares off the bird. I just had to take a picture of the victim.

There's a turnoff where you get a nice view of the jungle canopy.

Though the town of Kourou is tiny, I get lost finding the spaceport. I finally had to turn on my phone to get GPS. The Ariane 5 replica (1:1 scale) in the parking lot is a good marker.

Now that I know where to go, I drive back to Cayenne.

I walk to the highest rated Chinese joint in Cayenne. The owners tell me it's closed on Mondays. I go to a different restaurant and order mapo tofu. The drinks here must be subsidized. Beer is 2 euros a bottle at restaurants. A one-liter bottle of water in markets is 1 euro.

The restaurant is empty of customers. A Chinese couple are eating, but I suspect they are the owners' friends or relatives and eating for free. The large table is taken up by five girls, all under the age of eleven. They are sisters and cousins and are dressed in Chinese costumes. They probably just came back from Chinese school where they had rehearsals. 

I briefly talk to the owners. They've been here for ten years, later than most of the immigrants. But they admit they are still able to make good money here. Apparently the Chinese here are all from Zhejiang province (near Shanghai). That's where my dad's side of the family is from. In the 1930s, they left China for Japan in search of riches.

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