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Monday, December 17, 2012

BORDERS & BARGES


 

Our weekend at Rio Grande just outside of Oiapoque ended up being very enjoyable. Our host family looked after us and I think they were sad to see us leave. But the barge was beckoning. First we had to finish checking out of Brazil. We had to get some more paperwork for the ferry captain to take to French Guyana. As a result we were late for our ferry. Fortunately there were now 3 other vehicles also crossing and one hadn’t arrived yet. Phew! And as a bonus the price was reduced from $125 to $80.  Our ride was about 45min, going under the lovely new bridge that no one can use yet! Then more paper stamping for GR2 & our passports – in 2 different locations of course. We are now technically in France & everyone is speaking French & using Euros.

The road is tarseal and there is hardly any traffic, so before you know it we have reached Cayenne. We head straight to the Surinam embassy because we need to organize visas. It has already closed for the day, so we explore town before heading out to the beach for the night. We find a nice spot, but the locals think it may not be safe, so we ask at the Novotel if we can use their carpark. No sorry! Oh well we continue hunting. When we see some police I ask them. After much discussion they take us back to the Novotel to camp outside.

 

The embassy opens at 9am, giving us time to find chocolate croissants & coffee (remember we are in France). John is hoping to sweet talk the lady at the embassy into getting our visas in 1 day. Not a hope there!!! She won’t even accept our photos. We have to get more done – very grim ones with no smiles! She is much happier with these & takes our 80Euros. Tomorrow we can collect our passports.

During this time we have been trying to book into a tour of the Guyanese Space Station, but have not been able to navigate the French website. So we head back to the info office. We ring from there. No we cannot get a tour – all tours are cancelled this week because there is a launch on Friday. I decide I would really like to wait & watch the launch at 11pm. Tonight we head into a national park for the night returning to collect our visas the next morning. Time to head to Koura to see the Space Centre.

We wile away a few hours at the beach, then head to the Space Centre. The museum is excellent –in French & English and bonus, bonus – it’s free. We still have to fill in 2 more days, and there really is nothing else to do. So I decide NO let’s carry on – we have a lot of bad road to cover and the wet season is very close. John is relieved!

Back on the road again to yet another border. We reach the town of St Laurent do Maroni where a local policeman backs into us with minimal damage, luckily John is in a good mood. We have enough time to explore the Transportation Camp where the prisoners were brought to from France, & drive around the lovely old buildings. We want to get to the ferry early to get our paperwork done & get in line. There are only 2 ferries this afternoon. Paperwork takes all of 5 minutes and so we wait. There is a truck in front of us and the barge is very small. Once the truck is loaded there is no room for us, just 2 small cars. We wait. Eventually he returns and we have our 30min ride for the sum of $75. Another set of customs. Passports stamped, but now we have a problem. They will NOT accept our insurance and so after much arguing from John we are forced to buy some, probably useless, insurance (minimum 1 mth for $37 – the price started at $217). Finally we are let loose in Surinam.

We now have to drive on the LHS and the locals speak Dutch. There are no signs to remind us to keep left, or for that matter any signs at all, and our GPS is totally useless. We have to rely on a very basic paper map & asking locals. We head out of town. Parts of the road are brand new seal, parts are red dirt & parts are potholed. It is getting late & the countryside is like a huge marshland. Not suitable for camping at all. Eventually we pull over near a police checkpoint and stop for the night. There is lightening & some very heavy rain. The wet season has arrived. We need to keep moving. We have heard that the road from Guyana to Boa Vista in Brazil is bad.

The next day we reach Paramaribo during morning rush hour. There is no parking so we find the Info office. They suggest a few spots, so we park & set off to explore. There are gorgeous old black & white wooden buildings from the Dutch era. By midday we are hot & pooped, so we decide to find the Isuzu dealer in town. What a pleasure to finally find Fernandes Motors. They have the parts we need and will fit them. We only have to pay for the parts, they will fit them for free in the evening, so John and 2 mechanics set to work, not finishing until nearly midnight. It is the night of the rocket launch, so I stand outside looking…nothing! Oh well. We head off to camp beside Fort Zeelandia, and return the next morning to do a newspaper & TV interview. Fernandes Mtrs are hoping for a bit of free advertising. Sadly it is not to be, the interview is edited heavily. We watch it on the national TV at a local bar that night and instantly become heroes even signing their wall of fame. The next day after exploring the fort we head out of town.

During our time in town we have been trying to get our email address back up & running. Bigpond closed it down!!! After over an hour on the phone, and speaking to 7 different people, our phone cut out. All of our $50 credit was used up. Back to square one. Thank goodness for Stacey. She rung Bigpond for us and spent another hour on the phone, speaking to 8 different people. Finally we have emails again, although a weeks worth have completely vanished.

Out of town there are lots of waterways, canals, dykes & masses of rice growing. Finally we find our next border ferry. There is one crossing tomorrow morning so we camp on the terminal overnight to make sure we get on. By the time the gates open at 9am there are queues of people & cars. We think we have saved the correct amount of local currency, but when they see us the price goes up. We simply have no more money and they don’t take credit cards. Stalemate! Many of the passengers are on our side and complain to the authorities on our behalf. Eventually they accept all the money we have (which is the list price -the locals don’t have to pay a new price!!) We board the ferry & cross to Guyana. There is a massive queue here so we have coffee and fill up with water while we wait.

In Guyana they speak English & also drive on the LHS of the road. We drive on to Georgetown passing village after village with quaint names such as: Good Faith, Now or Never, Experiment, Content, Fellowship, Profit, Rebecca’s Lust etc etc. The land is flat and wet. Everywhere there is rice, sugar cane & coconuts growing.

At Georgetown we park at a hotel before heading off to explore. It is busy, dirty, scruffy city, but has some lovely old wooden buildings from British colonial times. It doesn’t look as if there are any British people left. We would be the only 2 whites around. Next morning we wake up surrounded by puddles of water… time to move on to the dirt road to Brazil. Again there are no signs, so we often have to stop to check we are on track to Letham. We eventually reach Linden where the tarseal ends, then it is 80km of potholes before we hit the red dirt. Finally we reach the jungle. Here there are 3 police checkpoints, 2 tolls, many wooden bridges and 1 ferry across the Essequibo River. At the first police checkpoint they tell us we have to buy ferry tickets back in Georgetown. No way are we going back. Fortunately we can buy them just before the ferry (we think it was the guy’s cash money as we got no receipt! At least we got across) We are amazed how much traffic is on this road/track. There are heaps of little bus/vans full of people, old Bedford army trucks who take over all the road & 4x4s. If the road was any wetter it would become virtually impassable. It is the only road out of Guyana to Brazil!

On the plus side the jungle is amazing. We stop for a swim in the Essequibo River….although when John reminds me of the piranhas I exit pretty quickly. We also stop to walk a treetop walkway which isn’t very exciting. Finally we reach the end of the jungle and drive through the savannah, passing many Amerindian villages. Finally we get to the border and cross back into Brazil. Then it is not long before we are at our next border….Venezuela.

Coming soon: Angel Falls.

 

 

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