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french guiana

October 2022

Jungle, rockets, and Papillon.

French Guiana is a land unknown to most people, including the French. It's a small part of South America, which is an overseas territory of France, just like French Polynesia or Reunion, similar to how Puerto Rico is to the United States.

We went in October 2022. Our initial idea was to packraft some jungle rivers, but this had to be shelved when we learned of the conflicts between the military and the illegal miners in the jungles, and the impossibility of access, and the need for authorized military permission. All in addition to higher-than-Europe prices. Many areas are also swamplike, and much of the terrain would be miserable for foot or paddle travel.

Difficulties aside, we developed mixed feelings for this place. People are generally friendly, but some are not. Cayenne is not the nice city you would expect from France, but it's changing quickly. There are no tourists anywhere, so it's nearly impossible to find out bus schedules or where to stay in the cities. Prices are very high, sometimes out of need, and sometimes for no clear reason. There are also strange customs, like things closing early, and the public pools requiring you to wear speedos and swim caps instead of western bathing suits.

That said, we had a great time, and ended up hitchhiking and getting picked up by the air traffic control tower operator, and spent several days at his house discussing this fascinating land.

Another highlight was visiting the Îles du Salut, a trio of small islands off the coast of Kourou, which served as an official French prison until the 1950's, in what would otherwise be considered a tropical paradise.

If you go, plan ahead, make sure you know basic french (though Spanish and English will get you pretty far), and allow yourself more time than you think you need. Also, get a place with a pool - the heat here is unbelievable.

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