I’d originally thought that I’d have been able to get on a tour at Le Centre Spatial Guyanais easily, but when I contacted them on Monday they said the first tour with availability was on the Thursday, and in French. I don’t speak French, but the tour ended up being OK. We got shown to the 3 launch areas – Arianne, Soyuz and Vega – but couldn’t get out at Soyuz as they were preparing for a launch that will hopefully take place on the 19th. Things are quite well spread out in the centre, other than the seats on the bus, and I used my time as we drove around to catch up on some sleep.
I could kind of understand what was being said, as French is similar to English and Spanish, but having hung out in Kourou for a few days I’d got to ask most of the questions to workers there. The tour guides were both quite friendly, and offered to answer any questions I had. I saved the goodwill to the end, when I asked the one who seemed to speak better English (it’s the French Space Centre even though there’s help from the European Space Agency so the official language is French) and I recorded what she said. You can hear that at the bottom of the blog.
Other than the space centre, I got to hang out with Ruben and a bunch of his Spanish friends. It was fun to speak Spanish again, although their English seemed about as good as my Spanish, and my first time spending much time speaking with Spanish Spanish speakers as nearly all my contact had been with Latin Americans.
As well as the space centre, Kourou is famous for the Îles de Salut, islands used during Napoleon III’s reign which were used for the worst prisoners brought here. Apparently those who were given a sentence of more than 7 years were not allowed to return to mainland France, and instead were made to stay in Guiana.
On Friday morning I headed left Kourou to ride to Cayenne, where I’d be staying with another host – Lydie & Alex from Warmshowers. I’d been in touch with them about 6 weeks earlier, making it one of the earliest contacts I’d made with someone, and so had been able to get a new toy shipped here thanks to those who have donated recently. The cotton hammock I picked up in Guyana was OK, but a little small and heavy, whereas this one is much better for mosquito protection and also packs up smaller, and is lighter. It should work wonderfully for the next few months through Brazil.
The highlight of the ride was definitely when I stopped in the one town between the two cities, Tonate or Macouria, where I stopped at what looked like a community centre to ask for water. I met Phillippe and two other people, and asked if they could refill my water bottle. They said OK, and took it inside. When they came back out they were carrying my water bottle, two small bottles of water, two apples and a kilo of sugar cubes.
On the outskirts of Cayenne the large hypermarts began, as did signs about cycle lanes. I stopped at one of the hypermarkets just to see and saw the huge amounts of wine and cheese that I expected. The fun thing is that people here tell me that the cheese selection isn’t that good, which is why they sometimes get family back home to send them some. It’s important to do it on fast post though as the slow post takes a month and comes by boat. Friends have had blocks of cheese turn up and be full of worms – a heartbreaking experience when you just want some good cheese.
Alex and Lydie have recently had a baby boy, Camille, in October and when I arrived he was sleeping peacefully. A far cry from me when I was that age! After getting cleaned up, and a short nap, we walked the less than 100m to the beach where Alex tries to go bodyboarding every day. It seems a lovely place to live outside of the mosquitoes and the horrible number of flights needed to go anywhere that’s not France. They went to Cuba in April and it took 5 flights each way. Madness.
Vega and Arianne launchers