Alex and Lydie, my hosts in Cayenne were going back to France for Christmas to introduce their son Camille to the family. Even though they had a new born, and were leaving soon, they were happy to let me stay for a few days. On the weekend, they invited me to spend a night at a carbet to celebrate their friend’s birthday. I’m not sure exactly what a carbet is, but it seems to be a log cabin without any walls where people go to get away and sleep in hammocks. The carbets I’d seen signposted so far had been in the middle of forests, but this one was on the river, so we got to take a boat to it. Our group, of 10 adults and 7 children were the only ones staying there that night, but there was a group of navy sailors having a party which involved some very patriotic sounding singing. I got to try out my new hammock, and with a bit of help from Alex, and Gonzalo, managed to put it up without issue. My small thing is that I’m not great with knots, so I’m going to have to learn some to make sure I don’t wake up to a bump in the night.
Alex also took me to the marina to see about finding a boat to the Caribbean, but it turned out I was a little late. Lots of boats had headed out in the previous two weeks, and there was now only one heading that way, but he wouldn’t be going until January. Rubén, my host from Kourou, very generously told me I was welcome to hang around longer at his place, but I decided to push on to Brazil as originally planned.
The road from Cayenne to the border is quite hilly, and much less populated than the western half of the country. Curtis had told me the real hills start 40km out of town, and, knowing that, I said my goodbyes to Alex & Lydie early afternoon so I’d be tackling the hills outside of the heat of the day. I tried to go to a post office in Remire, but it closed for lunch at 1:30pm. There was a sign saying that on Tuesdays and Thursdays it opened again in the afternoon at 3pm, so, being Tuesday, I rode gently to Matoury, the final small town that makes up Cayenne and got to the post office just before 3pm, to find that it was open on Wednesday and Friday in the afternoons. I guess it makes sense as a way to minimise the amount of time they have to be open, but it was rather annoying. No problem, I’d get to Regina the next day before 1:30pm and post things then.
The midday heat had gone, and almost made for pleasant riding. I didn’t really have a goal. I just figured that as the sun went down at 6:15ish, I’d start to look for a place at 5:30. That’d give me 45 minutes to find somewhere. Around 5:15, I passed a turn off and saw a group of men standing round so I went to talk to them. They were Brazilians waiting for their children and so to pass the time we spoke in Portuguese. I kind of wish I’d spent my Dutch & French learning time on Portuguese instead.
I’d half been hoping that they’d have invited me, but when their children turned up they drove off further down the road. If I’d asked them about sleeping, they’d have probably been able to help me, but oh well. I rode about another 5k, and the hills definitely had started. They weren’t long, but kicked up very steeply (around 20%). There were signs that all claimed 10% grades on roads of differing steepness, they seemed to be using them because they hadn’t got any others made up. I stopped in a sandy area to the side of the road, that looked like it had been used by construction workers. There were a few bushes that I could hide my bike behind, and some nicely positioned trees away from the road that I could sling my hammock up in. Good timing as it was almost 6pm.
The first night in my new hammock was OK, but I was a little chilly. The humidity in the rain forest meant that a couple hours before sunrise, at 4am, I was woken up by the cold. I’d just been sleeping in my waterproof bottoms, which would normally be fine in the tent. But that’d be on my sleeping mat, and also on the ground, rather than suspended in the air. Some trial and error will be needed, whether it be my sleeping pad, sleeping bag, or just wearing a few more clothes. It did however mean that come 5:30am I had breakfasted (I’d cooked 1kg of pasta before leaving Cayenne)
About 20km down the road, I found a carbet by a river but it seemed closed. There was a truck parked across the road, so I asked them if the river water was OK. They, translated through a Brazilian, told me that it wasn’t good, and Johnny, the owner of the truck, offered to fill my two bottles up at his house, saying it’d take 5-10 minutes – perfect. While he was away, I spoke to the Brazilian, who was from Macapá and would be going there on his scooter, until he left and it was just me and a Parisian who was grooming his hands with a stanley knife, picking skin off, some of it dead, some of it seemed less so. We spoke through broken English for a while, with him saying that I was crazy for my trip, but in a good way. He’d apparently lived in Canada for a while, but it was too cold, so he preferred the Caribbean life and now lived in the forest. 15 minutes later, he left. We’d definitely exhausted our mutual language skills. I sat down and fell asleep reading my book, waiting for Johnny to come back. He turned up after an hour, apologising for the time it had taken, but as he’d come back with not only my two bottles, but a third one, I was more than happy. Also, I’d enjoyed the nap!
The craziest 20%+ hills finished, and it just became 10-12% which you could almost roll up part of. I saw a tandem coming the other way and pulled over to talk. It was ridden by Tim & Simon, two Brits riding from Belém to Bogotá. They only had two rear panniers and a bit of space on the rear rack to hold their things. Even still, they found a way to carry a stove and a tent. They had 3 months to get to Bogotá, almost exactly how long it’s taken me to get here from there, and I gave them some ideas, including pointing out good fire stations that I’d stayed at. Simon, being a fireman, should get even better treatment than me!
I stopped at the town of Regina, being the only thing between me and the Brazilian border at Saint George 80km later. It’s a small town of maybe 3-400 people, and so it’s probably not that surprising that the post office is only open 3 hours a day, but it meant I was thwarted again. It was open from 8:15 – 11:30 and, would be closed the next two days, so there wasn’t even any possibility of hanging around in the morning. In a way that’s good, to maximise cycling in the baking heat, but I hope the one in Saint George is open when I get there.
I found an abandoned-looking shelter near the church and by the river, with some perfectly placed supports to put my hammock. I finished off the pasta and took a siesta, undecided if I’d keep going later that afternoon. When I woke up, I was still undecided, but as the goal for the next day was Saint George, and there was little chance of me wanting to cross into Brazil and start my visa, inaction won over. I got a few confused looks from locals, but outside of a Spanish girl they all kept their distance beyond the seemingly obligatory bonjour.
I’d seen a fire station on the way into town, but there was no-one there when I went past around 6:30pm. Tim & Simon had slept at the airfield, by the gendarmerie, but that was just a big field and there were clouds overhead and nowhere to put my hammock so I ended up just staying in the abandoned shelter. People would pass through, often chasing a ball as they played dodgeball, and give me some strange looks, but it seemed the best option. That was confirmed when it started to bucket it down, and being on a damp field would have been less than fun. There was a drip above my hammock which woke me up, but my tarp sorted that out.
By 5:30, I was up and packing. A heavy mist made visibility pretty much non-existent. I was a little concerned by my lack of water, not staying with anyone meant I only had 2 of my 4.5 litre capacity. Thankfully, there was a gendarmerie post on the bridge outside of town, and when I asked them for water they swapped an empty bottle for a new one of mineral water and some hearty good wishes for my trip to Brazil.
The majority of the hills were more sane than the day before, but there were still a fair share of ones that were so steep that I had no option but to laugh. The way the road had been built it was like being on a canopy walk at times as you rode at the height of the tree tops, or at least when they weren’t being cut down. The weather switched between pleasantly overcast, bucketing it down, and baking sun as frequently as a rabbit hops. It usually meant either overheating or getting wet, because of an almost complete lack of shelter, but nearer Saint George there were a lumber mill and a site where trucks loaded up with gravel, both appearing just when the clouds decided to lose weight.
In Saint George, I got to the post office, my 3rd one in the last 3 days, and found another different schedule. It was just before 1, and of course they’d closed at 12:30. The one good thing was that they’d be open the next day at 7am. It’s got to be confusing for anyone that wants to mail a letter in this country. I sat around reading my book and relaxing until about 4pm when, after being told that even though Francios Hollande, the French president, would be coming to open the bridge the next day it didn’t mean I’d be able to ride over it. Not too surprising, considering I’ve seen in a guide book from 2007 that the bridge will “open soon” and even though the actual bridge has been complete since 2011 politics means it’s still closed. You get to pay €5-10 to take a boat across the river. I went to the fire station, and was told that the chief wouldn’t be there until 7pm so I could come back then. With little to do in Saint George I went for the more enjoyable option of sitting round at a table under a shelter. The firemen, whose shift didn’t start until the chief arrived, were entertaining themselves by playing with ladders as if they were in the circus, and then a very high spirits game of volleyball.
When work started, they performed some training for about an hour before the chief vanished again. I’d just been sat round at the table working on my laptop and being entertained by the firemen. I got up to go to the loo around 8:30 and was shown a mattress and a given a key and told they’d be mine for the night. I was a little confused, until they showed me that the key was for the air-conditioned meeting room, a better bet as I’d been expecting to sling my hammock up by the table I’d been working at.