“Isn’t it more expensive than France?”
Ask most backpackers about French Guiana, and that’s what they’ll say. It’s counted as part of France, they use the Euro, all their post is directed through France, they speak French, and yes it’s very expensive. Think €65 for a basic double hotel room. There are no hostels, and the only way around it is to stay out of town in hammocks at carbet sites for €10 a night, and hope you don’t get eaten alive by Mosquitos.
It doesn’t take a genius to guess which accommodation option we chose.
After a taxi collective from Parbo to Albina, (S$25 – we couldn’t find the S$8.50 public bus) we took a boat to St Laurent du Maroni on the FG side. The guys were brilliant, taking us via both immigration offices, and even giving us their phone to call Benedicte (the lady from our first carbet) when we arrived. Benedicte was also lovely, driving us to an ATM and offering to stop at the Super U, before heading back to her Gite in Terre Rouge, an Amerindian village 5km from town. It was clean, we had hot showers, a washing machine, and our own bamboo hut. Much better than an overpriced hotel that smells of drains.
St Laurent is famous for being a penal colony, and the prison didn’t close until the 50s. It’s most famous guest is probably Papillon, though his full story is open to debate. We went into town the next day to see the colonial buildings, the Camp de la Transportation (prison), and source some red wine for dinner*.
On Kadidiri I’d started to despair with my high school French when no one understood the majority of what I said. In contrast people in FG welcomed my efforts, even telling me my French was good! I guess it’s like in the French part of Switzerland where people appreciate your efforts, yet five minutes away over the border they respond in English unless you’re fluent. Either way it was refreshing part of the trip, to be able to converse with locals in their own language, albeit on a rudimentary level.
A quirk of FG is that hitchhiking is very common and considered reasonably safe. We never specifically tried to hitch but we were regularly picked up by passing cars and vans who were heading in the same direction. In the unrelenting tropic heat we were never going to turn down a free lift, and luckily it turned out OK.
Our original plan for FG had been to spend one night in St Laurent, but because we wanted to visit Kourou on a week day (and avoid the capital Cayenne with it’s lack of carbets) we had to save Cacao (a Laos settlement with an amazing 18km hike) for a future visit giving us three nights to relax. It did mean I got to see this amazing sunrise from my hammock though.
*We might be in South America (home of Chile and Argentina), in the most expensive country, but this seemed to be the cheapest place we’ve found vino. French vino, I might add. Were both missing Asda’s three for a tenner.