32 Three Guianas
THE THREE GUIANAS. January 2007
5 Ferries. 3 Languages.
The three small countries in the North Eastern corner of South America have all been influenced by various cultures: Amerindian, European, African and Asian.
Ex-British Guiana (independent since 1966) is reached by river ferry from Brazil. Driving is on the left and signs are in English. At first the 500km gravel road was good , and then we needed 4wd for a few deep mud holes followed by very slow going due to potholes.
The uninhabited white-sand countryside reminded us of the Maghadi in Botswana. Soon after, we were in the most pristine rain forest we had ever seen; 4000 km² of the Iwokrama Reserve. We found a clearing to spend New Year’s Eve. (A candle light supper outside in the jungle, with not too many bugs.) Outside the reserve, logging companies were decimating the forest giants.
After Linden, which has a bauxite mine right in the town, before Georgetown, we were stopped twice by police, checking documents. Beside the normal police side arms, they all had Uzis slung over their shoulders. This reminded us of what our guide book said about security: “Georgetown is dangerous. Period. Street crime, often violent, is common even in broad daylight …..”. Then we saw a few normal police vehicles but also a couple of the ‘special patrols’: a pick-up with open sides and roof under which was a manned swivel-tilt mounted machine gun as well as 3 policemen with automatic rifles. We realised we had to take the guidebook seriously! So we obtained permission to park in the best Hotel’s parking lot. It had 3 guards (all with dogs on the night shift). We could also catch the essential sea breeze. We made use of one of the expensive restaurants as a ‘camping fee’. “Le Poolside” was our favourite.
We found the people very friendly. (Although we could not always understand their Caribbean English). During the day we felt quite safe around town and noticed that there were fewer domestic security precautions than in Jo’burg, but the razor wire and armed response vehicles did remind us of home! Apart from older wooden houses on stilts, there were also really large grand multi-storied houses. Many Guyanese work in Canada and the USA, sending money back.
The ethnic composition of the country (60% black, 40% East Indian) often leads to friction, sometimes violent, mainly at election times, as parties are racially based.
Cricket grounds were being prepared for the Cricket World Cup 2007 in the Caribbean region. Newspapers featured the cricket scene in South Africa.
We had waited until Tuesday, 2nd January 2007 to apply for our visa for the next country, Surinam. They said “Come Wednesday”. Wednesday they said “Come Friday”. Friday they said “Come Tuesday”!!!!
We had seen in Georgetown: the Dutch-built dykes (17-18th cent.) and seawall, British-built handsome wooden Government buildings (19th century and still in use), the amazing cannon ball tree in the park and the 60cm long string beans at the markets. We had bought the Marmite, done the laundry and the e-mail, and waited…. Due to clouds we had to run the generator, but at last Jan had the opportunity to put some new music onto the i-pod. With visas at last, we drove east to Surinam through Guyana’s sugar-producing region. (Diesel US$0,75/ℓ).
SURINAM (Independent from NL since 1975)
The ferry runs only once a day and we camped there the night before. Having crossed the wide Courantijn river, a dirt track next to rice fields brought us to the bumpy main road. Reading signs in Dutch was a pleasant change. Neat villages were in clearings within the swampy rainforest. At night mosquitoes attacked viciously. In Western Surinam, the absence of roadside garbage was very conspicuous. (Diesel US$0,95/ℓ).
Paramaribo or “Parbo” for short has some restored wooden buildings and a Fort from Dutch colonial times. Every block seemed to have a Chinese-owned supermarket. Restaurants serve local, Indonesian and Dutch dishes and Parbo beer.
We spoke in Afrikaans when a Dutch-language-newspaper reporter interviewed us. One Sunday morning we witnessed the weekly birdsong competition. Macho guys in yuppie cars gather in a park, bringing cages containing their tiny black chirping birds.
FRENCH GUIANE (GUYANE FRANÇAISE)
It was the 13th country - out of 13 in South America. Unlike the other two independent Guianas, Guiane is still a department of France. They take this concept to the extreme, arguing that our insurance, which was valid for the continent of South America, did not apply as we were now in France! It took a long argument and telephone calls before they grudgingly accepted that we were geographically in South America. We had obtained our shengen visa in Surinam. Dipli loved the smooth tar roads, but not the price of diesel at US$1,39/ℓ, the most expensive we ever came across!
Due to books like ‘Papillon’, Guiane is mostly associated with penal colonies, of which only ruins remain.
We were most impressed by the European Space Station at Kourou. With 8 to 10 launches a year, 2/3 of the world’s commercial satellites have been launched from there. The coastal area is earthquake and typhoon-free and being near the equator the rockets have the advantage of extra speed for less fuel. The latest range of rockets is the Ariane 5.
“More expensive than Paris” we read. We could not bring ourselves to pay 18 Euro (R160) for a plain plate of food. The “baguettes” and French cheeses at the Supermarkets were irresistible though. We were told that pay-outs from France in the form of unemployment benefits and grants for children are enough to survive on and do not motivate local people to work.Murphy has strange ways. We are often lonely. One evening 5 sets of people wanted to chat with us - simultaneously. The next day we had an appointment to meet with a South African, and then we were delayed by a flat tyre and missed him!
From Cayenne it was 5000km all the way back: Guiane, Surinam, Guyana, Brazil, and Venezuela to Colombia to find a ship to Panama.
In Guyana one day, when braking for pot holes, Jan discovered that Dipli had nearly no brakes. He feared worse, but by the side of the road fitted a new vacuum pump and soon after, when Leoné was producing lunch-on-the-go, braked so well that she nearly knocked herself out. We retraced our route and in Boa Vista, Brazil parked again next to the wide river. There were three restaurants catching the evening breeze, all three featuring singers of shwarmy Portuguese ballads. Beers came in large coolers and caiperinhas with lots of ice. During the day we hung out at the lovely air-conditioned book shop with fast internet. Agouti
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