The Guianas Part IV
Kourou is a purpose built town from the 1970s the architects of which neglected to design any character into. Everything here exists to support the European Space Centre launch facility, which is here due to its proximity to the Equator and that money-for-nothing Coriollis-Force helping to fling satellites into orbit. And I am here to catch one of those launches and my timing is excellent. Thanks to the comedy of timing that comes from damaging your digit.
I camp out of town in order to save being stiffed for a shit room in Euros. Everything in French Guiana is straight from Europe, the road signs, the culture, the currency. I'm surprised to learn the laws and governance here is debated in Brussels, even though we are in a steaming jungle in South America.
Visiting the Space Centre is outstanding not least because I’m only on the standby-list for the guided tour, until three journalists waltz up all ‘hey fucken wow we’re press’ until one of them has forgotten his passport and so can’t enter the facility. Sorry chump. But that means I’m in. Next day I’m out on a catamaran visiting the ex-French penal-colony where Papillon was incarcerated amongst other infamous guests. And it’s a beautiful place all palm trees and deadly tidal currents and sharks. Quite a sweet spot if you’re not dying of scurvy or prison-guard brutality.
When its launch-day and I join the locals down on the beach for the evening satellite send-off and it’s absolutely incredible. The nuclear white light of lift off radiating up the night sky as the sound rampages over the crowd a few seconds later like something is tearing a huge hole through the atmosphere. I’m WOW-ing like a three-year-old at the enormity of what all those PhDs have pulled off, a seemingly endless series of consecutive miracles to put another 400 TV-channels up at 600 kilometers. Wow.
The Guianas Parting Gift
I have a tough day when it’s time to go. Leaving the Guianas isn’t even bittersweet it’s just melancholy and the different flavours of each country have really left their impressions on me. I know the hardships of the road there are yet to face, particularly in the immediate challenge of getting to Belem, let alone the rest of the trip and it weighs pretty heavy on me. I ride with tears in my helmet that day, a spoilt-kid wishing he was home. Given everything that's happened, the crash, the injury, the time I've had to stop and contemplate not just this trip, but my overall direction, I start to consider that concluding my ride in Rio is the wiser option. I'm much clearer about what this was all about now, these miles on the road, and once that starts to come into focus I also start to think there are other future chapters that are also asking to be written. Whilst hanging-out back in Suriname waiting to heal up I enrolled in my Masters in Psychology for when I get home, and I realise that this whole circumnavigation was leading me there the whole time. So I leave the Guianas, but the Guianas will never leave the quiet part of me that reserves it's deepest gratitude for places that sign-post me the way.
Its little wonder there’s seldom an overlander seen through these parts, the trip to get in is as much of a penance as the trip to get out. I line up all the risks ahead; getting stamped out of French Guiana without being fined for not buying their ludicrously expensive insurance for while I was there, loading Aroha into a small boat to get across the river to Brazil, getting re-stamped and re-imported back into Brazil, the mud-road to Macapa, and then figuring out how long the wait will be for the next 24 hour ferryboat ride across the Amazon delta to Belem.
But maybe that red light back in Suriname was so that all the other lights would turn green, and all those things I worried about start to fall away one by one with little consequence. Well, there is some drama in amongst it all. Like when I cross the river into Brazil in a motorboat in the pouring rain, and once across the other side one of the boatmen demands more money before he’ll let me go. I try to play nice but fair pointing out I’ve already paid his mate what we arranged but he’s not having any of it. He physically stops me from mounting-up, pushing, shoving, menacingly grabbing the windscreen threatening to rip it off Aroha, tries to rip the tank-bag off, then storms across the street to a handy pile of timber. I figure I’ve had just about enough of this so leap onboard Aroha to get the hell out of there as fast as she’ll go as he runs back across the street and catches me a glancing blow on the helmet and a side kick on the pannier. The whole thing is completely fucked-up and as I ride off toward immigration under the lead falling sky I know I’ve messed this whole situation up for the sake of a few dollars. But it’s not over, my karma is now following me through the streets on the back of some other guys motorbike. Okay, okay I concede and pull over handing him some coins and telling him to leave me the fuck alone in a tone which crosses all language barriers.
But despite the hiccups, the planets are nevertheless aligned. Brazilian immigration is near effortless, the notorious mud-road to Macapa is gloriously dry all things considered and when I finally arrive at the docks to receive-my-fate of how long the wait’s-gonna-be for the next boat out of town I’m stoked to find its tomorrow morning at ten. Unbelievable.
Which leaves just enough time for me to stroll Macapa’s beautiful Amazon waterfront parks overlooking the equatorial straits and reflect on what this truely means to sail away from this chapter. Belem feels like ‘mainland’ Brazil after being on the isolated islands of the Guianas, and leaving the northern hemisphere behind feels like closing off on a significant part of The Journey. For a moment, just a little self-indulgent second, I feel like I am on the verge of doing something big here. I feel like I might be able to really do this thing. This South American Adventure.