My trip to French Guiana almost was over before it started. I hadn’t realised that a yellow fever vaccination card was required, somehow this was waived in the airport before boarding in Brazil.
Flying across the mouth of the Amazon for almost an hour it was astounding to see how big the river really is, the muddy waters showing how far out into the Atlantic it goes and as it gives way it is just thick jungle in all directions to French Guiana.
French Guiana is an oddity in South America as it is a French overseas department. As such it is exactly like any other department in mainland France and thus part of the European Union and Eurozone. Check on the back of a Euro banknote and indeed there it is down in the corner, not to scale I don’t think.
Getting through Felix Eboué airport was a bizarre experience as within two hours I had travelled from Brazil to France. The gendarmes dress identically to Paris, there is a tabac selling Le Monde and Charlie Hebdo and the currency is the Euro.
Without any public transport to rely on it was me and the Renault Clio heading into Cayenne. I was in luck as the day I arrived was carnival down the main street Avenue Charles De Gaulle (what else!).
People in fancy and even cross dressing were parading along the avenue to metal drum and brass bands.
One contingent was covered head to toe in molasses and as they ran by one girl exclaimed in French ‘You’re too white’ and covered my arms with molasses and another apologised for her friend by kissing on two cheeks leaving another two marks – much to the amusement of all.
French Guiana is mostly black or mixed race but there are a smattering of Chinese and Hmong refugees who settled in the 1970s in the interior to create a small bit of Laos in South America.
I recovered from the sleight to my proto-tan and watched as the parade and merriment went by.
Cayenne itself is a small town which has alternated between French, British and Dutch control over last few hundred years. There aren’t many sights but a few old colonial style buildings and pleasant enough to wander around for a day.
The municipal museum was open housing a historical exhibit on the first floor including a bust of Napoleon alongside some chains as it was he who infamously betrayed the ideals of the revolution by re-instituting slavery in French colonies.
On the ground floor some of the indigenous stuffed fauna was on show including a startlingly large black crocodile and jaguars and sloths (not much more active that the real thing).
The town hall looked like it had been lifted from deepest rural France and I climbed up to the hill and old fort area overlooking the town and harbour.
In the evening the place to be is on the veranda of the Bar Des Palmistes overlooking the main square with a cold beer in the still humid tropical heat.