French Guyana by Franci

Believe it or not, but since we left Cape Town – during this entire trip – not one fish was interested in our trolling fishing line. Well. . . okay there was one, but we only noticed because there was no longer a lure on the line when we pulled it in. I changed the lure one or two times, always choosing fish lures (the lure looks like a little fish swimming through the water), but finally when I decided I would give our squid lure a try, and hey presto! We actually started catching fish! Before Guyana we caught 5 fishes. Nothing spectacular, just big enough for two of them to give us one meal each.

     After we had passed the place where the Amazon river flows into the sea, the water turned a ugly watery brown, even though we were miles from the shore. We also swam a bit and the water actually tasted less salty!
We arrived at the Salvation islands and spent a day there before going to the main town of Kourou [pronounced “koe-r/g (combination of the two)-oe]. The three small islands (really tiny, one of which is Devil’s island) are so called because long ago France tried to make the area a colony, but they sent too many people and thousands started dying from yellow fever. The people fled to the islands where there were no mosquitos and so some settlers survived.
France saw they could not make the area a colony, so instead made it a prison, treating it like England treated Australia. The prisons on the islands were active till after the Second World War, and were absolutely terrible. One of the three men who finally put a stop to the prison, compared it to the Nazi prison camps. We saw some of the prison remains and it looked pretty much like the dungeons in stories.


This is the Chapmens and another friend

This is the Chapmans and another friend

To get to Kourou you have to go a little way up the river, then you anchor right outside the town. Here we met an older SOUTH AFRICAN sailing couple (the Chapmans) who showed us around and helped us clear in at the customs. It was so nice actually speaking Afrikaans to other people : ).
It was a bit weird to now hear and read French everywhere instead of Portuguese. The prices were overall very high, but  Dad said we weren’t paying mooring fees,  so we could afford a few luxuries (like ice cream ; ) .
French Guyana is very much covered in Amazon rainforest, lots of birds : ), & the river banks were pure mangroves.
The three attractions of this country are the ESA (European Space Agency, from where they launch actual real-life rockets with actual satellites in them)  the Salvation islands & the Zoo. The ESA holding great attraction for my Dad.  We got booked for the next tour on Wednesday and decided to stay the weekend at the Salvation islands.
Friday very early we got up to go patrol the beach for turtles (we only saw one, and she was returning to the water) before going to the fresh produce market, and then going back to the islands. It’s round about here that my sisters led by Marike started sleeping outside in our hammocks (we aquired two while in Brazil). I finally tried it one of the nights we were back at the islands,  but it is not for me. I keep waking up and checking that it won’t be raining on me.

Fresh produce market


We got back to Kourou on Monday & Wednesday went to the space centre.
DSC07119 DSC07133It was cool : D. We drove around in a lovely air conditioned bus (the stuff were a few kilometers apart) & got  see the different launch platforms. The ESA have three different rockets, one can carry up to 1.5 tons,  the middle one up to 5 tons, and the last one up to 10.



We saw the room from where they control the rocket with the rows of computers just like in the movies.

The tour was mostly in French,  but the guides (2 busses, 2 guides)  did their best to fill us in during the gaps.
 After the tour we learnt that a rocket was to be launched the following Thursday, the 20th Aug. She also told us of a good place from which we could actually watch the launch, about 14 km away from the launch site. So it was decided we would stay the extra week to try and see it.
That Friday we hired a car to drive to the zoo. It was so nice to drive in our own car again! I thought Dad might have a little bit of trouble driving since he hasn’t done it for the last 9 months, but it was no trouble at all.
DSC_0060When we got to the zoo we were a bit unsure of what we would get because the parking space was dirt & quite small. But the zoo was lovely.

The two anacondas were in there

We got an audio tour and it was Marike’s job to punch in the numbers and retell what the machine was disclosing to her. The cages were big and all the animals looked happy and well looked after. There were two anacondas sharing a cage,  the longest was 3m and we could get really close because our side of the cage was glass.


There were also pumas, more snakes (much, much smaller ones), parrots, an some Agouti (Look this one up, this animal was everywhere at the Salvation islands; they are a mixture between a dassie and small buck. (Sophia also mentioned them). There were also two jaguars sharing an enclosure,  a yellow one and a black one. The black one looked young and he wanted to play with the yellow one,  but the big one would have none of it!
       DSC_0481  The zoo was basically a path leading between all these lush cages. At one place the path wanders through a piece of rainforest where you walk over hang bridges. It was a very beautiful and well kept zoo : ).
Awesome close-up of a cayman

Awesome close-up of a Cayman


Squirrel Monkey


Very interesting animal =D




Where poor yellow jaguar makes his leap to freedom

Poor yellow jaguar makes his leap to freedom – he lands in the water



Giant Anteater (lying down)

Giant Anteater (lying down)






DSC_0595Now we skip a bit till Thursday. The launch was not to be until 17:53 so we had the whole day. The Chapmans invited us over for breakfast & we invited them to come see the launch with us.  We enjoyed the breakfast so much the rest of us ended up staying with the Chapmans while my dad got the car we rented for the day (a smaller car than previously, but also cheaper).

          We drove a bit out of town and found a hiking trail we could do. Since by this time we didn’t have as much time left before having to be at the place from where we wanted to watch the launch, we decided to walk only the kilometer to the first lookout point and then come back.
       DSC_0690The hike was slow and peaceful even though it was quite steep. Marike picked up a big fallen leaf to use it as a fan, and most of us quickly followed her example. It might not have been the same extreme hotness here as that which you guys in SA are currently experiencing, but the humidity is so high you just have to move for 5 minuets for the sweat to come pouring down.
     DSC_0622  Looking out from the lookout point we suddenly realised that we would be able to see the rocket launch even better from here,  as the rocket was actually in sight. It was decided that my Dad & Marike would go back to get picnic stuff and the Chapmans.  I volunteered to walk down with them so that I could get my phone out of the car as a means of occupation during the wait. The march downhill was fine, but going back uphill!. . .  Never has one kilometer felt so long. I found out the hard way exactly what the difference is between going up slow & going up fast. When I finally reached the top I (hurray!) plonked down on one of the two benches and stayed there until I felt like a human being again.
As the time crept closer to launching time a steady trickle of hikers also began to arrive. What felt like a very long time and loads of hikers later the group we had been waiting for finally arrived; looking just as hot, tired and flustered as I had felt. Marike immediately delved into the big bag of ice they had brought with them and started cooling herself down. The few blocks of ice she offered to another hot looking arrival was gratefully received. Marike loves crunching up the ice like chips, and she proceeded to eat ice from the moment the pack was opened right up until we reached the boat.
DSC_0713Anyway,  my Dad mounted his video camera on a tripod so that it was pointing  straight at the rocket, we ate lunch,  and we waited.
            When the rocket did take off it was like a movie workout sound. A red cloud billowed out from under the rocket and pushed it up, up, up where it disappeared in the low cloud cover with the fire reflecting off the clouds. All that could really be seen of the rocket was a short white stick, on top of a really long column of fire, 2 1/2 times as long as the rocket itself.
DSC_0727The rocket curved out from behind the clouds and flew over the open patch of sky above our heads. Only now did the sound reach us, a billow of thunder, and it continued to billow for at least five minutes after the rocket had vanished from sight. It felt quite weird.
Back at the car we all had to squish a bit, with Marike and I ending up in the boot.
        At one t-junction I looked back and thought I saw a tarantula on a advertising board behind us. The car was pulled over to the side of the road and we all got out to take a closer look. The tarantula wasn’t that big,  only about 4 cm in diameter, with a blue pattern on its back  and the tips of its feet a creamy colour. I admit  I got quite close to that spider so that I could get nice photos.
DSC07310Uncle Bertie went behind the board and lightly touched the tip of the tarantula foot that was sticking out over the top of the board. The speed with which that creature went  to the middle of the board was terrifying. Then my Dad decided that he wanted to make it move again; so he got a long piece  of grass  & move the spider did,  but towards the grass! The grass hadn’t even really touched it yet. The spider came off the board with  the piece of grass and would have landed on my Dad’s foot of he hadn’t automatically jumped back. If I had known what that tarantula would do, I can safely  say I would not have come so close with my camera.
        DSC_0763  It looked cool on the board but quite freaky while it was carefully walking over the grass back to the board. Uncle Bertie tried another experiment, he placed a random plastic bottle in front of the tarantula to see if the creamy tips on its legs would be able to stick to the plastic. The tarantula got right on top of the bottle without trouble, proving Uncle Bertie’s theory of sticky feet correct. Then he picked up the bottle, with the tarantula at the other end, in order to have a closer look, but put it back down rather quickly when the spider started coming towards the movement it was sensing. It was halfway back up the board when we drove away.
DSC07319We left French Guyana the next day, once again doing night watches & not feeling perfect till three days past. We caught another two fish the one day (I’m sure it’s all thanks to our squid lure, the fish lure caught nothing). At this point though, Sophia and I were starting to get a bit tired of fish, we were now too successful! We just kind of stopped putting the line out and hoping none of the fish-eaters would take the initiative to put it in themselves.
         But for one entire day there where these big fish that kept on jumping out of the water, and the moment we started seeing them, the line was back in the water. I mean, who would miss the opportunity to catch such a big fish? Even if it meant that there would be quite a lot of fish to eat over the next few days : I. While sitting on the bowsprit I could sometimes see one or two of them swimming just underneath the surface of the water.
      DSC_0810 Close to the end of the day, we finally caught one of them; a massive tuna 0.7m long. no kidding. When we cleaned it it had baby flying fish in its stomach,  throat and month. Guess what it was doing when our lure got in the way? We got like 6 meals out of that fish, for all 6 of us (yes, okay, me and Sophia liked it too. Especially as viskoekies : P [fish cakes])
On another day (When the water was flat, flat ,flat, and there was not the tinniest breath of wind) there were these big circles of see plants on the water.
DSC_0825 DSCF2817Once we went right through one,  and since it was calm we all got into the water to snorkel. It was like swimming on a reef there was so much fish! There were some trigger fish , and a big school of little silver fish hiding under our boat. The fish weren’t afraid of us, for they had never seen any humans before. When you  swam down into the middle of the school, and then kicked very hard with both your fins, the fish would surge up to take advantage of your slipstream.
DSCF2839 DSCF2819We eventually had to get out, and that’s when I realized how badly my  back had sunburned X( . We had originally thought we were only going to snorkel for a few moments, but the world underneath our boat was so intriguing that we had stayed very much longer than I had put on sunscreen for.
          When we looked back later or perhaps even the next day, we realized that the school of silver fishes were following us! They followed us all the way to Trinidad, managing to keep up even when we were going  over 6 knots.
DSCF2840They swam directly beneath the boat, but at the back you could see a few of the sticking out, swimming determinedly in our slipstream. Once or twice one of them accidentally landed on our diving platform when it dipped into the water. The first time this happened we where quite ready to start an entire rescue operation before it managed to flop back into the water.
Our engine stopped working once again (a blockage in the high pressure pump this time) so we had to tow ourselves in  again. When we reached Trinidad we had to sail for a bit along the coast to get through the opening of the bay, and his was quite scary for one simple reason: the high-speed ferries from Trinidad to Tobago. The first inkling that we had of their presence would be that an AIS dot on our GPS would be flashing red and announcing a collision course, and you can clearly see the ferry moving on the GPS screen. Then the ferry would appear on the horizon, its wake billowing up  like clouds behind it; and still the GPS is flashing red and announcing a collision course. In your mind you know the  ferry will miss you, if for nothing else, simply because of the AIS. You can’t help wondering though. . . .And its an immense relief every time the ferry does (eventually) turn away. Both of the ferries passed us twice in the time it took us to get into the bay.
        We arrived safely in Trinidad and anchored at round about 01:15. It had been a long day.. But not quite as long as the day we had gone into Salvador X (.

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