The Guianas - 2008


This trip brought me to Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana in 9 days. Flying from Billund, Denmark through Amsterdam into Suriname, return flight from Suriname to Guyana, overland to French Guiana and return from French Guiana through Paris to Copenhagen. The trip was booked through www.klm.com where you can make multiple-segment trip planning. 1440 US$

Guidebook: I bought the Guianas chapter on-line at Lonely Planet - you can buy chapters from the South America guidebook. Costs just a few dollars. I had also brought an old version of the South American handbook, but I didn't use it much. I read most of the fantastic 'Shantaram' novel during the travel time - highly recommended, though it is Indian based and has nothing to do with South America...


Currencies:

1 US$= 200 Guyana Dollars - in Guyana
1 US$= 2.75 SRD (Suriname Dollars) - in Suriname
1  Euro = 1,5 US$ - in French Guiana

28.2.2008 Aarhus - Paramaribo, Suriname
Was to leave on the first flight this morning from Billund, so got up at 3, bus at 4, flight at 6:30, Amsterdam 7:30. The flight on to Paramaribo was around noon, and I was at the gate 45 minutes before - the boarding was proceeding, but a huge line and slow x-ray control caused a delay for 30 minutes. The Boeing 747 was without personal screens and all the stewardesses looked like the were prototype Russians...

Arrival 17:30 - through passport control, luggage pickup, money change and customs in 15 minutes. The bus transportation was free (pre-booked through the hotel) - all hotels have a common bus-collect. It takes some time to unload a 747 and get everybody through the small airport, so at 18:30 the last guests were in the bus. Surprised that the driving was in the left side.
One hour later we were at the hotel. Eco Resort (80$), next to the river and 'the Strip', just north of the centre. The Strip is an area around Hotel Torarica (a luxury hotel) with many good eating and drinking places. I had very good Brazilian 'Carne mixto' and Caiparinha. The country has many Indian, Indonesian and Brazilian immigrants, so the option for food is very good.



29.2.2008 - Paramaribo, Suriname
The hotel was full, and I was the only none Dutch tourist here. Most aged 50+
Breakfast at 7 - a good breakfast buffet with my favourite fruit, Rambutans and other strange fruits.
Swift trip with taxi to the city airport (20 minutes drive) to pick up tickets with Blue Wing Airlines for tomorrows flight to Guyana. "Ah, Mr. Futtrup! We emailed from Denmark!" - big smile. The flight is fairly new and flies 3 times a week to Georgetown - 275$ return. There is no connection to Cayenne - the problem is that it is in the EU, and the restrictions and control of flights to EU are very strict.
The drive through town gave some inspiration of what to see. I rented a bike from Cardy Adventures & Bike Rental. 10 Euro. Good service and very popular (20-25 people left just before I came). I got two locks, pump and repair-kit - and repeated instructions: 'remember! Left hand traffic!' I got a small map and instructions for a trip to the east side of the river.
Paramaribo is the size of my city, Aarhus and it is easy to grasp the layout of the centre. The houses are wooden. Went around to take some photos - the big Jewish synagogue - literally next door to the main mosque. The city is multi-ethnical with Dutch, Afro-Americans, Indian and Indonesian people. The large catholic cathedral has according to the guidebook been closed for several years. It is undergoing restoration - so it might open up again.
Cross the river to Meerzog on the right bank. A Dutch bakery is right on the landing with many tempting lunch-options. Going north, several kilometres are still 'city'. My thought was that it was much third world country with half finished houses and messy houses, but not too much garbage on the street. I had to rethink - yes, the amount of garbage in the streets and roadside almost break records - it's bad. I think a deposit on recyclable bottles could do miracles. The plantations had exotic names like 'Jagtlust', 'Dordrecht', 'Lust en Rust' and 'De Morgenstond'. In Niew Amsterdam where the Commewijne merges Suriname river, there is a fort and with some searching, I found a place to take a boat back to the Paramaribo side of the river. The rivers are quite big. At places several kilometres here near the coast. Back in Parbo at 13.30. In the afternoon, I had a ride around the market and the city centre with my bike, returned the bike and enjoyed the Torarica (Luxury hotel) and it's swimming pool until 18:30.
In the evening, I went to the Strip and had great Indian food, served by an English speaking Afro-American Surinamese woman whose first language is Dutch...
I found the people to be nice and not too inquisitive; a friend who travelled about the same time as me found the people quite rude and were often scolded for taking pictures.



1.3.2008 - Georgetown, Guyana
Flying west out of Paramaribo at 8:00 - a small 10 person's propeller - Anatov An-28. The flight through Suriname showed plantations in a big radius from Paramaribo - all of the same type: a canal was made perpendicular to the river each kilometre - and all plantations then again laid out on both sides of the canal. Finally it hat to give way to the jungle. 70 minutes later we arrived in Cheddan International Airport in Guyana. Guyana - famous for: Jonestown massacre and birthplace of Eddie Grant as LP highlights. A big plane was just landed and we had not received immigration papers - so it took 45 minutes to go through. I had booked a taxi-pickup through my hotel, but it was not there. A persistent taxi-driver wanted to take me and called the hotel for me who would check for the missing pickup. After more waiting, busy phones and entanglements, I went with 'Omar' (a black, English speaking Afro-American Guyana Hindu with a Muslim name - in a Christian country) - we exchanged some family stories and pictures and told about the different factories into Georgetown. About how dangerous it was here - and in the same sentence that I should bring my family next time...
Michelle at the hotel (Ariantze - www.ariantzesidewalk.com ) was very helpful and excused much for the taxi. Michael, a Canadian ex-pat was very talkative and underlined again how dangerous it was here - and suggested removing my watch and ring. We had some good talks during the next days. He was working in the computer industry and was back to give lectures, ideas and material to high schools - for free, but had a tough time getting the local government and leaders interested.
A bit more about security: You don't go down and have your money changed - no, the hotel calls the money changer who then arrives at your hotel shortly after. And my tour to Kaieteur tomorrow - they also wanted to send someone to pick up the payment instead of me going down there - 3 blocks away.
Walked to the famous St George's cathedral (allegedly the world's tallest wooden building). It was open but just a couple of local tourists were visiting and I spend some time here - it was quiet and peaceful.
The pimped up Toyota vans are out of a boy child dreams. With extremely wide tires, racing each other through town with deep base sounds pumping out. The passengers typically with dreadlocks and/or black sunglasses, heads hanging out the windows. This was the public transportation. Went carefully on to places that seemed quite peacefully. Like the Promenade Gardens - it has a special and rare tree - a 'cannonball' tree where the fruits really looked like cannon balls.
During the day, I had not met other white people than a couple at the airport in the morning. A few homeless in the streets, but besides that just a few questioning faces. The ex-pat told me that even he was easily spotted out as a foreigner immediately.
Ordered a Pizza from Pizzahut. Pepperoni? No, I could choose between cheese, chicken or turkey. After eating half, I gave the rest to the receptionist and cleaning woman. They got really happy - 'we are the little people' as she said. And it was probably not everyday they got half a 2000$ pizza.
About the price level - it is kind of weird. Things are 'expensive' (taxi was 22 US$ from the airport, the hotel 65 US$, the Kaieteur trip 190 US$ etc.). And still is has the messy feel like third world countries.
The Pizza and a small bottle of red wine brought from home were to celebrate my country no. 50.




2.3.2008 - Kaieteur Falls, Guyana
A slow morning. Pickup at 10:45 - a 'special flight', as the guide Ann from Dagron Tours called it since only two others were joining. Ron from New Jersey and Stephen from Australia. Both had travelled a lot, but in different ways. Stephen was writing a book about a person that had been in Guyana at some time in his life. We quickly got along well. There was some waiting time before taking off. It turned out that the pilot had to finish his 'nap'. Meanwhile we were weighted, and it almost became 13'ish before taking off. It was a 6 person Cessna plane - an old, noisy one. Out of the city, it was endlessly jungle, only disrupted by a river or a bauxite mines (for aluminium). One hour later, tree-covered mountains came up, and I thought I could see Mt. Roraima to the west. Back home I checked it on Google Maps and it showed as no-name mountains - Mt. Roraima was further north west out of sight. And then out of nowhere the huge waterfall came into view - Kaieteur Falls. We had two circles over it - spectacular. The runway was right next to it. The fantastic thing was that there were just the 3 of us and a guide (and the pilot sleeping again in a bush). Incredible that you can find solitude at one of the worlds wonders. I think the waterfall looks a bit like Gullfoss in Iceland or Lower Yellowstone falls, just much bigger - 210 metres. And very spectacular with the continuation of the river down through the canyon. We visited 3 different viewpoints - all right on the edge of the cliffs, and the last one, you were right next to where the water spilled out over the cliff. We had talked about taking a swim, which we ended up not doing, but we could jump onto rocks a couple of meters before the edge. Two blue Macaws flew right over us and the waterfall. We also saw the strange red national bird, Cock-of-the-rock, but no golden frogs. Just impressing. We had about 2 and a half hours in the places, so we were all satisfied when leaving. We talked about the 'missing tourists' in Guyana. Stephen thought he had heard about 450 visitors came each year - I asked the guide and he said he had about 10 visitors a day at the Kaieteur Park.A lookup at the internet says 100.000 tourists to Guyana - but that can't be true at all. So the right number is between 450 and 100.000.

We were back at 18:00. Later in the evening, I went to the best hotel in town - the Le Meredien who had a 'Bangkok weekend' where Indian and Afro-American Guyana people in Thai suits were serving. Very cozy next to the pool under the palms and starlit sky. Many people including about 10 white people. At the next table were 3 couples - a black couple, a Mexican couple and a 'Escobar'/Godfather type with a woman. All women where half the age of the men - and yes, they were drug barons, I quickly discovered. One of them told about his trafficking business and that he at a time had to pay 28 million us dollars to avoid going to jail. Well, they were at the finest hotel, but couldn't spend much more than the 20 us dollars the food cost. Ran into Ron again before going home. I had actually booked the tour through Rainforest Tours, and actually planned the tour for a 'guaranteed date', but it was another company, Dagron Tours, who did the tour.  Glad the companies work together to do the tours.






3.3.2008 - Georgetown, Guyana
Birgitte wrote to me that she had just found out that I was not home on our wedding day (6.3) - shock - embarrassing! I guess we have been married for a long time - no, it won't happen again. Leaving camera, watch and ring behind, I visit the Stabroek market though Michael (the ex-pat) and others warned me against it. I was happy I did - it entered directly in my top-3 list of best markets I have visited. Very diverse and mixed bunch of shops: pirated DVD's, clothes, meat, song-birds, Indian, Muslim, Rastafari, gold, fruit etc. - yes, very interesting. Had coffee in a shop outside, people watching. At the post office to buy some stamps. Later in the afternoon, I posted my postcards and continued on to the botanical gardens and the zoo (200 Guyana Dollars/1 US$). They have a small lake with a family of Manatees - had heard that those in Odense Zoo (Denmark) were from this place. Some animal cages were fine, others not - the Lion was better off dead. Their three harpy eagles were huge, the fish miserable.


4.3.2008 - Georgetown, Guyana to St. Laurent, French Guiana

Today was one of the days with a tight schedule. The plan was to take morning flight to Paramaribo, Suriname and the bus to the border and take the last tour of the penal colonies in St. Laurent at 16:30. I had yesterday made a deal to go with Ron's tour (private car to the border) for 50 Euro - to enhance the chances of carrying out my plan. At the airport, a torrential rain shower poured down, and we left about 9:30. 11:00 we were in Paramaribo and quickly on our way to the French Guiana border. Thick clouds covered the sky, but our driver made good progress and just made it to the ferry for the 15:00 ferry - there was one later at 17:30, it turned out.
The first and preferred hotel (La Tentiare) was full, but the Star had rooms. Not so nice, and the first room was being rebuilt - which I went back and told them - which they didn't understand - but I did get another room. 50 Euro were a lot for this. I was out again at 16:10 and made it to the Camp de la Transportation 8 minutes before the last tour! The tour was in French and I had no clue was they were talking about, but I had a small pamphlet with descriptions in English. You need to go on one of these tours to be able to see anything of interest. So we saw the highlights of 'Papillon', including the place of the guillotine and the cell with the inscriptions of Papillon. Great! Perfect that we made it. Some of the houses were identical to those from Con Dao in Vietnam I visited last year -large slabs of concrete where the prisoner's legs were chained to a long rod.
The tour lasted an hour and I think nobody found out I didn't understand French. Back at the hotel, I could again use my cell phone (back in the EU). The children now told everybody that 'Dad is in America' and every morning asking if dad was coming home today? Love you kids.




5.3.2008 St. Laurent - Kourou - Cayenne, French Guiana

Up at 6 - the night receptionist sent me back again - no transport at this time. At 7, the day receptionist (spoke English to my surprise) sent me to the southern end of Av de Gaulle where the small piroques came in from Suriname. There was also a van ready and another one saying 'Kourou' came an hour later. Lots of people came and went. When a car came, 5 piroque owners raced to capture the client. Twice the police made a raid and 'captured' several people - probably people from Suriname without Visa. A guy jumped into the water and swam out to a boat - and returned after the police left. He thought himself as a hero while trying to make his wet cell phone work.
But the time passed. The trip to Kourou takes 3 hours, so 9:45 was the absolute last time to be able to meet one of the trip's highlights - the tour of the CNES space centre. It was the last item on my carefully planned itinerary and it was about to be missed. After 3 hours of waiting, not a single other person was in the bus. It was 9:45. I walked back to the hotel and the receptionist had no other suggestions than renting a car - she called ADA close to the hotel. Within 10 minutes I had a car for two days and I could return the car in the airport near Cayenne - perfect! Lonely Planet wrote it was extremely expensive, but I thought 210 Euro was OK. Full speed east through the jungle - good roads (like home, actually) - could easily drive 100 km/h. Almost got caught speeding by a radar patrol. And you know what... I made it to the Space Centre... 9:40.
Out of the 60 on the tour, I was the only non-French. First we were in the 'Jupiter-room' for an hours where only a 10 minutes film had a dubbed English sound (through headsets). I could understand something since the 'lecture' was accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation. The 3 presenters (women) could speak English, and they asked me several times between the sessions if I had any questions. The second part was more interesting - the tour out to the launch pad in busses - wow- it was cool, and about 200 meters from the pad, we could get out of the busses. The last 45 minutes was in another centre, where I didn't understand anything at all.
Talked with Birgitte afterwards - my daughter Johanne (2) said: 'Now only sleep two nights - then dad comes home!'
Drove to Cayenne (1 hour) and checked into the Best Western Amazonia in the centre (70 Euro). I didn't have a reservation, but there seemed to be quite a few people. Found a well-equipped Internet café on Rue Mole, close to 'de Gaulle'. The was one other non-French speaking girl (first I heard today), and met her again at the restaurant I was going to - so we got to talk. Sarah had travelled for 9 months in South America and was finishing with the northern countries. Had been robbed 4 times. Was going to get visa at the Surinam embassy the next day, and was hoping for a quick service since her founds were draining quickly because of the exorbitant prices in French Guiana, and wanted to move on as quickly as possible. We had been to many of the same places and were inspired by the way she travelled - like I did 15 years ago.




6.3.2008 French Guiana - Cayenne - Cacao
The French are quite good at brewing coffee the way I like it. Walked around Cayenne for a couple of hours; didn't find it that inspiring. All my plans had succeeded and now I had an extra day and a car. One of the places I had read about was Cacao. A small village 80 km south of Cayenne in the middle of the jungle - with 1000 Lao descendants. In the 70'ies a French, Catholic nun Anne-Marie Javouhey helped Lao Hmong refugees to start anew here in French Guiana.
An hour on a good road, and the last 14 kilometres took half an hour on a potholed road and first gear driving most of the way. I was there 2 and a half hours and a bit disappointed. Yes, it was easy to see that it was Lao-people, but they were all in regular western clothes and there was just a few of the wooden buildings left - they were all replaced by new brick ones. The church was beautiful, though. The gardens were really nice with lots of flowers, rambutan-trees and other exotic fruits.
Most had a 4WD and a small platform truck (and/or a tractor). Most seemed to work hard and their prosperity seemed well earned.
Had a 'salad de papaya' for lunch, but it didn't have any papaya in it... whatever it was, it tasted fine. Called home and told Anders that 'dad is on a jungle trip'. Johanne said: 'I miss you dad'.
A mega shower flooded the streets with red water (the earth is red here), and it continued to rain most of the return trip.
I got searched big time in the customs. When the customs officer heard that I had only been in the country for two days and been to Guyana and Suriname, I was immediately asked to step into the search room where everything was taken out and inspected. They looked in my passport and my many stamps: You have been to Australia??? The sniffer dog also had a couple of rounds in the waiting room.
Departure 18:30 with Air France - much nicer stewardesses, good food (the red wine was already on all trays, own screen and a good choice of films.


7.3.2008 Paris - Copenhagen - Aarhus

Arrived in Orly, France 7:30 and an easy transfer (every half-hour) with bus to Charles de Gaulle. Long wait until 12.45, and a slow bus from Copenhagen to Aarhus. Wonderful reception of Birgitte and the children at the bus station.

Trip considerations
In retrospect, it would make sense to book a return ticket to Paramaribo, visiting Guyana as I did, but returning through Suriname. This could easily be done by public transport from Paramaribo to the French border, rent a car in St. Laurent and returning the car again there after travelling in French Guiana. Having a car in French Guiana should make travelling from Cayenne to Paramaribo possible in half a day.
What surprised me was that I only met Ron and Sarah who were travelling the 3 countries; those visiting were only visiting one of the countries. This also explains the lack of transportation between the countries and the no-flight option to French Guiana.

Visa for Suriname
The only country in South America where Danes need a visa is Suriname. The application was a bit difficult to figure out, but after a bit searching, it worked out nicely. The Embassy in Holland is: http://www.consulaatsuriname.nl/  and the visa application is here: visa.consulaatsuriname.nl/     The page is only in Dutch, but you can use e.g. babelfish.altavista.com to translate the page.
1. One month before your travel, you fill out the online visum application (you can only apply one month before your travel)
2. Pay by bank transfer (pay for the visa + post costs)
3. Send your passport to the Surinamese embassy in Amsterdam with an adressed envelope

A multiple visa costs 64€  + 9€ for posting and the banktransfer. It is expensive...

Remeber that if you go to on of the nebour countries, you need to pay for a multiple entry visa...


Hope you have enjoyed the travelogue - please write me if you found it useful or if you have questions.

Erik Futtrup
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