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Krys's Travel log

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Welcome to my travel log! You will find here a lot more than in the travel reports, stripped from political correctness. Enjoy!

Log entries 131 - 140 of 1158 Page: 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Sep 08, 2011 06:00 PM Bridgetown (BB) - Tropical Storm Maria

Bridgetown (BB) - Tropical Storm Maria Tropical Storm Maria spoiled weather in Barbados. It was passing a few miles north of the island, but its arms reached the resort paradise. There was no sunshine for most of the day and light showers kept coming frequently to the southern tip of Barbados. The northern part of the island had much worse weather with heavy rain and gustly winds.

So, this last bit of the trip really turned into nothing else but sitting at a beach bar and occasionally walking up to the water's edge to snap the passing storm leaving dramatic sky. It could have been much worse. In the afternoon, a few thin gaps on the heavy dark clouds passed by and then the showers stopped. It was then possible to lounge on the beach and do some body surfing in he ocean. Maria did provide a few swells, so the waves were a real fun.

In the evening, even the Moon appeared and it was dry. A perfect last night of the trip to party. I went to St Lawrence Gap, where the island's nightlife was concentrated. The bartenders at the Hilton told me about three spots: the Cafe Sol, McBrides and the Reggae Lounge. I picked the last one. At 9:00pm I was the first customer and it was not until 10:30pm before the party really kicked off. I met a bunch of Texans at the Hilton and they joined me at the Lounge. So for the first hour, we had the venue to ourselves really. A few people trickled in by 10pm. And then at 11pm, the place was really busy. It was a good mixed crowd with plenty of Bajans and visitors. The DJ put mainly reggae tunes but at the request of a Texan girl, an entire string of Rhianna's songs dominated the repertoire for good 45 minutes. By 1am I got a little bored. It was all reggae and for some reason there were not that many attractive people to look at. I also had a peek at McBrides but situation there was exactly the same. It was obviously time to call it a night. A taxi charged me BBD30 to go back to the hotel - not a cheap ride, considering it was just 3 miles to go.

Sep 07, 2011 06:00 PM Georgetown (GY) to Bridgetown (BB) - an R&R

Georgetown (GY) to Bridgetown (BB) - an R&R Now, after all that travelling, the time has come for some R&R. All 48 hours on Barbados, in the Hilton Hotel & Resort. Before I departed to the rather remote Georgetown (GEO) airport, I wanted to see some more of Guyana's capital and needed to change some money, so I could pay the taxi fare (GYD5,000 eqv. of USD25) and the departure tax at the airport (GYD4,000).

I got up just after 7 o'clock and after breakfast headed towards the Republic Avenue. I was a little careful with my camera at the beginning, considering that Georgetown was not entirely safe, although that was the case during the hours of darkness. However, later I just took the camera out completely and held it in my hand, which, as usual, resulted in invitations from the locals to take their pictures. One was a construction worker pulling buckets of cement on the site of the Palace of Justice, and the other was a man sitting at a gate of an NGO building.

I asked an older gentleman where I could find a cambio, a local name for a bureau de change. He actually almost took me there. It was not far, about 100 yards. The cambio was hidden behind a kitchen of a fast food restaurant, and the guy told me to be very careful. I was.

I hiked a little more about the city, taking pictures of the St. George's Cathedral (reportedly the tallest wooden structure in the world), not much smaller wooden and very flamboyant Townhall, the Parliament Building, the Stobroek Market building with the double laced clock, a Technics Institute, the Public Library, the Internal Affairs Ministry, two wooden schools, a few smaller wooden churches and colonial buildings scattered in the area. It was very, very hot and yet the clock was showing 09:15am. I left my sunglasses at the hotel, so all that squinting and sweating bothered me a bit too much. Fair enough, I had to go back to the hotel and pack (and shower!) in order to be ready for the 11:30am departure to the airport.

The ride was long. It took almost an hour, so suddenly the USD25 fare did not seem this outrageous. The checking in was painless. LIAT let me carry on the entire luggage, which I welcomed. I got used to not waiting for the luggage to come out, and just proceed to taxi/bus/metro.

The immigration experience was rather poor. Mainly due to the attitude of women officers. All three, one in each of the three booths, moved extremely slowly, adopted a grimace as if something smelled really badly around them, did not greet the passengers and one of them was chewing gum. What an awful atmosphere! It did not really created a feeling that one would want to come to the country with a send off like this.

The security screening was only slightly better. The guys seemed in much better mood, but they did not give impression of proper training. At the metal detectors, they asked me to keep my wrist watch on, but ordered to remove my tiny leather taekwondo shoes. I said that with my watch I was likely to set off the machine while my shoes was not made of metal. They responded that the guy at the other side would want to massage me anyway. Oh, well.

The GEO airport was not much. Three duty free shops (I visited one to get the 21 year old El Dorado rum - voted the best rum in the world) and a single departure lounge with a snack and coffee stand and a small bar. The air-conditioning could barely manage to control the temperature of the hall.

My LIAT flight (USD115 incl. taxes and charges) to Bridgetown was on time. For some reason, I thought the airline was operating ATRs (at least I think that was what they operated when I flew with them several times in 2006) but this one was a Dash-8. And the inflight magazine said that this was the aircraft they only operated. Anyway, it was a very noisy (those who've flown on Dash-8s should know) but rather smooth flight. For the most of the journey, the sky was almost cloudless, yet as the aircraft approached Barbados, some 30 minutes before landing, nasty clouds carrying electrical charges and rain appeared. The captain said that he wanted to avoid going through them and warned about a few bumps. However, the flight remained very smooth.

We landed 5 minutes ahead of schedule. The immigration procedure was formal, but professional and, since this was my second visit to Barbados, I was welcomed back. Hilton, despite a few online reports, had no shuttle service from the airport, so I had to take a very expensive taxi ride for BBD42 (USD21) to do those 10 kilometres. Well, as soon as I stepped out of the taxi, one of the bell boys spotted that my iPhone had fallen out of my trousers pocket onto the cab's seat! This is the very first time this happened to me!! I was being conscious not to lose the spare change I had in that pocket, and that's what happened. I guess I had too many bags with me and the bell boy's kind greeting and his opening the cab's door distracted me.

After check-in, I took a ride to the sixth floor, opened my curtains and saw the expanses of the Atlantic. Good one!

Sep 06, 2011 06:00 PM Guyana - a river trip to the interior

Guyana - a river trip to the interior Rising at 6:15am. A shower, coffee, passion fruit and orange juice and a short hike to the travel agent for the 07:00am departure. My co-travellers were slightly late and so was the driver, so I walked up the reportedly world's tallest wooden structure, the cathedral of Georgetown. It was a very elegant whitewashed structure standing majestically on a square between two busy streets.

As soon as my travel partners arrived, two from Canada and one from Austria, the driver came as well and we could depart. First, it was a 30 mile ride to Parika town to board a speed boat. The boat could take about 20 people, but there was only four us plus the guide. So, it was a very comfortable ride. Well comfortable about the seating arrangements, but the short waves on the giant river made the flying boat bump a lot!

The first stop was at the giant island called Essequibo where the very atmospheric ruins of the rather impressive Fort Zeelandia, dating back to 1774, still stood. The village also had another old building, which once functioned as a church and a trade centre. The small belfry had its cross crooked, which really looked funny and clearly indicating that the building was no longer as it once had been.

Then the boat passed by Eddie Grant's island, where his large house stood. It was no Electric Avenue, but it was most definitely very cool spot. And inaccessible!

A short ride farther upstream of the Essequibo and Mazaruni rivers and the boat stopped at a beach resort. It was completely empty and for sure needed some serious redevelopment in the accommodation space, otherwise it was a great spot to lounge on the beach, contrmplate the river flow on the large verandah or shoot pool. The guide had lunch for us served there. It was nothing special but a piece of chicken, rice with beans and mashed potatoes.

After about an hour, we took a boat deeper into a smaller (still very large) Mazaruni river, where waves were much smaller and the ride was smoother. About 20 minutes into the journey and we got to rapids, which the boat could not make, so we had to disembark and continue on foot. This part of the escapade was for the Bara Cara Falls. The waterfall was very special. The water had the colour of Pepsi and the foam the water drop created looked almost as the head on the pint of Guinness. The guide joked that these were Guyana's main export items.

I was hoping to catch a glimpse of some wildlife en route to the falls, some 15 minute hike through the jungle. ?Yet apart from a small rodent and a fine line of ants, there was nothing to spot. It would have been nice to see an anaconda or a rainbow boa. No such luck.

After this, the boat departed to Bartica town, a beehive for miners in the area with many Brazilians including prostitutes imported from Brazil too. They mined gold and diamonds in the area.

About ten minutes after departure, having spotted massive and almost green, dark green, clouds I said that we were about to run into a wall of rain. And the captain agreed. This was an open boat. So, for most of the trip we were basking in sunshine with the wind in our hair, this was going to be very wet. The captain handed thick sheets of synthetic leather (plastic sheets on a base of thick fabric) to shield our bodies and belongings. When the rain hit, the boat did not slow down even for a fraction of a mph, and the raindrops hit my face like bullets from a suppressing machine gun. I kept my sunglasses on for extra protection and trying to keep the plastic cover on with my elbows, I covered my face with my hands. I really did not want to lose my contact lenses! The boat was moving very fast, the wind created larger waves, so the bumps were harder, yet it also meant that within about a quarter of an hour we passed through it, and the sun and wind quickly dried our hair. The clothes and the rest of the body was a different matter.

When we got to Bartica all sogging wet, one of the muscular miners just arriving half naked on a small boat demonstrated how fit the mining kept him by striking all muscle pose for my photo. He was just about to climb onto the very pleasant pier bar. It was a massive pier, like a terrace, and from the stools of that bar there, one could admire the Essequibo river or watch people embark and disembark. One of the most attractive places to have a bottle of cold Bank lager along the river. And that bottle was the regular bar price, GYD300. The all muscle miner, still holding his t-shirt in his hand, said that deeper upriver and at the mines, bars charged up to GYD1,500 for the same bottle of Banks, and it was not always nice and cold.

There was not much to Bartica. A few shops sold gold jewellery and watches. And although the rings, bracelets and necklaces had all rubbish design, the gold watches were all rather very good. After seeing the boat where the authorities found 3 tonnes of drugs belonging to Mr Khan, whose island was nearby (complete with an airstrip to accommodate 30 seater aircraft) and who is now serving time in a federal prison in the US, we departed back to Parika. But this time along the Amerindian bank of the river, where we were supposed to spot a few monkeys.

And we did. We saw three large trees with monkey families, each with about 5-7 members. They were ginger monkeys (I need to find out the proper name of these species) and they were positively ugly. I did not have a telephoto lens and they were rather high above the sheet of water, but I managed to snap a few decent pictures.

About an hour before sunset, we disembarked and headed back to Georgetown. It was a good day.

Sep 05, 2011 06:00 PM Paramaribo (SR) to Georgetown (GY)

Paramaribo (SR) to Georgetown (GY) So, today the plan is to transfer to Guyana, my 140th country, if I count correctly. As with majority of afternoon departures, I take the morning easy; roll off bed late, take my time with breakfast, pack slowly, and check out of the hotel in the last minute.

I have seen it all in the old town of Paramaribo. The city boasted a good number of religious buildings for each of the many beliefs the Surinamese people practiced. There were a few large mosques, flamboyant as always Hindu temples, and simple Jewish synagogues. I passed by a few of them in the last three days, without stopping. I have seen all those temples elsewhere in the world and I have not read anything in the available literature that those in Paramaribo were going to be any special. So, I skipped visiting them more thoroughly.

I was looking forward to my flight from Paramaribo to Georgetown in a small aircraft. The last time I was in a small airplane was probably in Kenya in November 2005 on a private charter I took from the Meru National Park to the Nanyuki airport over the Mount Kenya. It was the smallest airplane I was on, actually. I was the only passenger, sitting in the seat by the pilot and it would have taken only two more people at the back. In June the same year, I was on a slightly larger plane taking a hop to and from the hear of the Okavango Delta in Botswana. And in May 2001, I had my first experience on a small aricraft, the Canadian Twin Otter, at the beginning of my six weeks holiday in Madagascar, when I was weighed together with my luggage, which was very motivating. I lost about 20kgs by the end of the trip. But that was rather easy: plenty of hiking - some 20kms a day on average for six weeks, light seafood meals and no alcohol. I really need to go back to Madagascar! ;)

As it happened, the Gum Air also weighed everything and everyone coming on board the 12 seater Grand Caravan C208B aircraft. The check-in was happening in the hangar next to the taxiway. A customs offer made a short appearance, had a look at the passengers and decided that no-one's face was giving away that drugs or anything else illegal was being smuggled out of the country, and left. A lady from the Immigration authorities came up some 15 minutes before the departure and stamped passports. Eleven passengers travelled, including me.

The aircraft took off bang on 16:00 sharp! As it climbed it was a little bumpy crossing small rain clouds (although it was not raining in Paramaribo), but for the rest of the journey, the flight was smooth and very pleasant. I was sitting in the second row behind the sole pilot. I tried to read the dashboard and guess the speed and the altitude. But the fuel gage grabbed most of my attention. I think the altimeter showed the maximum of 20,700 feet, as it felt definitely higher than 10,700 feet.

The views were not very inspiring I have to say. Nothing to write about. The aircraft landed on time! The Ogle International Airport, as it branded itself, was tiny and had no facilities. No bureau de change, no taxis. Nothing. The immigration passport control and the customs were swift. I was out of the building in no time. A guy offered me a ride to town for GYD1,500 (GBP5), which I accepted happily as there was no other option really. But he wanted to take another person as well, so it was more worth his while. That was fine with me, but he obviously gave the other guy a ride, which was in the suburbs, out of the way, so I had a chance, albeit unwillingly, to see some of Georgetown. Then, the driver tells me that all bureaus de change in town would be closed by now, as they try to finish business before 4pm, otherwise it was too dangerous to be around money later than that. He suggested I changed money in the street for better rates, but I refused. I said that the hotel should be able to help me. And they did.

I also told the hotel that I wanted to take a flight to the Kaieteur Fall the next day. They immediately picked up a phone to a travel agent, but found out that no such tour was available as no aircraft could be secured for the entire week. That sucked! Instead, I booked a different tour. On the river and to see a different waterfall, the Essequiho and Mazaruni, entire day, all inclusive for USD157. Not sure what to expect...

Sep 04, 2011 06:00 PM Paramaribo (SR) - getting the next step secured

Paramaribo (SR) - getting the next step secured It was an early day. I had to go to the Zorg en Hoop airport to get my ticket to Georgetown for tomorrow. It was a short SRD20 taxi ride. I am not sure if I actually saw the airport. I saw the office and the hangar of Gum Air, and it was like on a film set. An open hangar with a couple of small light aircraft in it and a few door and offices around, a little maze actually. The hangar had only daylight coming through the main openning and a few people in tracksuits lingering around. Seriously, I felt like being on a film about smuggling or drug dealers, who'd fly lint aircraft into the jungle for something.

Anyway, I got my ticket with no problems. Then, a friend of mine, who is a resident manager of the first Amazon Wellness resort in the country, under construction. The Jacana Amazon Wellness Hotel. The grounds already look promising and it surely is set to become a great venue. It is located just a minute walk from the small airport, so convenient for the day trips into the jungle. The place will have all the amenities of a four star wellness spa. The plans estimate the hotel to open in the first quarter of 2012, and they plan to charge USD120 for a standard room. Not bad it seemed, I have to say.

We went for a ride around the town, including the posh area around the mouth of the Suriname river. The town looked really civilised at that end. The interesting thing was the architecture. A few old style buildings still stood there set within lush gardens. Some of them slightly converted and modernised. And a good number of large modern villas and real palaces, too.

After this, which was around 11am, it was time for some more old town exploring on foot. I did that solo again. It was really hot, so I did not get very far. I did discover a few new spots around worth taking pictures of, but by 1:30pm I started dragging my feet. The top of my head was burning and my forehead was like the Iguassu Falls. I made a midway stop at the T Vat bar for an obscenely expensive soda water (SRD6!) served by a very blas? bartender, and got to my hotel for some air conditioning and breeze from the riverfront.

I grabbed an early dinner at the Bougainvillaea Terrace restaurant (six perfect and large skewers of chicken satay in a marvellously spicy and beautifully nutty sauce for USD15) at 5:30pm and when it got dark, I changed into long sleeves and ejected myself into the old town for some night photography. Disappointingly, few nice buildings were lit up. It was just the White House, the Ministry of Finance, the Zeelandia Fort and an Art School. So, it was a short night session.

Sep 03, 2011 06:00 PM Paramaribo (SR) - a day of chilling

Paramaribo (SR) - a day of chilling The Zsa Zsa Zsu club was great. It was modern, and I think it might have been purpose built. I got there at about 01:30am. The crowd was still gathering force. I expected to be standing in a long line at that point, considering that doors opened at 11:00pm. Well, this is want their Facebook page said - come on time or wait in line. I am never too keen to wait in long lines, so I was pleasantly surprised.
The club charged SRD15, and there was virtually no door policy, so one could wear whatever they wanted, but all had to pass through a metal detector.
The dance floor was large, probably good enough for about 300 or 400 people. There was a balcony with two bars at each end, from which one could observe the dance floor. I liked the eclectic mix of people and very good DJ-ing combining virtually all styles of contemporary music, from disco, dance, hip-hop, soul, reggae, etc. Lager was SRD12.50 for a can of Heineken, so not the cheapest but not stupidly overpriced.
I lasted until 4:30am. The club was still very busy, although not as busy as it was at about 03:00am, when everywhere was packed.
So, I slept in. It was a very long day yesterday. I got up at about 06:15am and went back to bed at about 04:45am the next morning, plus I had all that travelling and running away from beggars in Paramaribo old town. I rolled off my very comfortable bed at the Eco Resort Inn at about lunchtime. I had some lunch at the hotel (perfectly fired prawns), relaxed a little on the bar terrace they called Bouganvilea Terrace.

The day was partially cloudy and very hot. I really did not feel like doing anything. As it was Sunday, the town was totally closed. No action anywhere, so it did not make any difference where I would chill this day. Then, the mosquitoes flew in, and it was too dangerous to linger anywhere in town. I got bitten several times already, and that was definitely enough.

Chilling was what I did for the rest of the day, over beers, rum, and sprite, although not necessarily in that order.

Sep 02, 2011 06:00 PM Cayenne (GF) to Paramaribo (SR) - on a hot day

Cayenne (GF) to Paramaribo (SR) - on a hot day Departing Cayenne for St Laurent du Maroni was easy. I got at the bus station at 07:30am. Already one person was sitting in the van. There were eight passenger seats in the vehicle, so It looked like the driver would want another six passengers. Fifteen minutes after two other people came at about 07:45, we departed. Almost bang on 08:00. I thought this was too good to be true - four seats empty and we are already going? And soon I thought it actually was too good to be true, as the van did not follow the road signs for St Laurent du Moroni. I was wrong, though. The van cruised in suburbs of Cayenne for 5 minutes but only to pick up pre-booked passengers. Two of them. One rather chunky with a nice beer belly and another extremely thin and veiny. As soon as the brothers boarded, we took off to St Laurent. With two seats spare! Those free seats were at the front. I sat at the last seat at the back on the left. It was actually very comfortable there with the other two blokes. I had more room than on any Ryanair flight. A few kilometres west from Cayenne, the driver picked one more guy, who sat at the front. The driver handed in tickets stating EUR20, so I sensed there was something about to happen en route.

For some strange reason, yet predictably, we had to change vans some 100kms before St Laurent. The other driver charged EUR15 and suddenly everything fell into place, as I was told that the fare from Cayenne to the border was EUR35. But at the destination, the bastard driver charged an extra EUR5 for the 2km ride from the St Laurent bus station to the boat landing. That was not cool, because the other driver in Cayenne said that the ride was to the border. Anyway, I got there at 11:15am. Not a bad timing at all.

Now, since I was travelling in French Guiana on my National ID and not my passport, I ignored the immigration procedures in St Laurent. That would have required a trip further afield to the ferry terminal, where customs and immigration were based. Instead, I just jumped inside a small pirogue at the low bank of the Maroni river - all of the boats had a little roof for rain and sun protection - and waited 10 minutes before there were six other people in it, so we could go. The charge for crossing the river was EUR5.

Let me clarify a few things for some travellers wanted to head to the Guyanas:

- there was no bridge over the Maroni river;

- ferry did 3-4 trips a day on certain weekdays, but usually just three crossing - two in the morning and one in the afternoon;

- there were 2 morning ferries on Saturday (7am & 9am);

- taking a pirogue across the river was not illegal and took only 5 minutes;

- traveling on EU passport did not require exit stamp out of French Guiana if there was no entry stamp into French Guiana;

- entering and exiting French Guiana could be done using an EU national ID card instead of an EU passport;

- In Albina, one must obtain an entry stamp (a trip from the pirogue landing to the ferry terminal some 1km upriver was therefore necessary); and

- In Albina, immigration and customs asked no questions to EU passport holders, one must complete a landing form and that's it.

The above points are to bust a few myths about the crossing between Suriname and French Guiana. There were voices that not crossing on the ferry and instead in a pirogue was illegal, and I found that this was rubbish. Also the stories regarding entry and exist stamps into/out of French Guiana, which were supposed to be diligently checked by the Surinamese immigration officers in one's passport did not actually relate to the EU passport holders, but might have been valid to all non-EU passport holders, immigration treatment for whom in French Guiana was different and the Surinamese authorities knew about it.

So, on the Surinamese side, a car owner scrape me from the pirogue landing a d offered a ride to the immigration office and on to Paramaribo for EUR20, which was within my budget (I planned EUR40 for the taxi). He lured two other people and I was on the road within 5 minutes, and the clock was showing 11:45am.

The road between Albina and Paramaribo (aka Parbo) was under renovation. At least parts of it. So there were sections of sand, gravel, old tarmac, fresh and smooth like a table asphalt and the rest was a very old somewhat sealed road full of gaps and potholes as large as a truck! So until the road is finished, one should expect plenty of bone rattling, rollercoaster-like ride with plenty o acceleration and sudden breaking.

I read a blog of a traveller from early 2011 (seemed a very nice guy, actually), who stated that travelling in the Guyanas was a logistical nightmare. With all due respect to the fellow traveler, I have to strongly disagree. There were a few minibuses from Cayenne to St Laurent (line 9) a day with at least one departing the capital of French Guiana in time to meet the first morning ferry crossing, and at least one in the afternoon for those, who wanted to arrive in the evening and stay at the border over night. The Maroni river could be crossed in just five minutes with boats taking from six to twelve people doing the trip continually, also at night, and one did not have to get wet at all. Then, on the Surinamese side, countless vehicles, be it minibuses or shared taxis (five seat passenger cars) waited for scrape people from the boat landing. Not a problem to get a ride at all.

Now, travelling in parts of Africa (e.g. Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique), where public transport in parts is virtually not existent, where a bus leaves only once or twice a week and without hiring a car and a chauffeur one would not move. That is a challenge. Compared to that, having multiple travel options in the Guyanas seemed rather simple. Certainly, moving inside the Amazonia, deep into the jungle, was a different matter. And I am sure this could be at least as challenging as in parts of Africa.?

Anyway, it was 14:30 when I reached the front desk of my hotel, the Eco Resort Inn by Torarica (USD69 for large double room with king size bed) near the fort and the offices of the president. The hotel normally required check-in after 17:00 but my room was ready. So, I dropped my bag, changed and off I went to the old town to snap some photos in the afternoon light, as the low angle sun rays gave long shadows.

The old town was packed with great wooden white houses with large balconies and colonnades, and with the window shutters painted black. It was a very interesting sight indeed. I stopped for a chicken snack at one of them, which set me back by SRD15 (GBP2.80 or EUR3.20) complete with a small bottle of Royal Cola, whose imitation of the real thin was not bad at all. I then snapped a few shots of the former White House, where the president no longer resides and a few of the old fort. Soon after, I found a delightful riverfront with a few simple bars selling ready meal snacks, beers and liquor. A few plastic tables branded with Parbo Bier as well as a few wooden benches were scattered around under large trees right on the river bank offering a grand view of the impressive bridge. It was a very popular spot for locals chilling on Saturday afternoon listening to, curiously, Cuban music. I ordered myself a large Parbo Bier, which came in 1l bottle and cost just SRD10. What a great place! Great view of the river and beyond, excellent music and cheap lager. Eh!

Now, as the sun set, I'm at the hotel terrace bar called Toucan Bar and the friendly bartender Junior serves me rather good Surinamese 8 years old rum called Borgoe. It is positively delicious. Perhaps later on I will check this night out spot in the suburbs of the capital, Zsa Zsa Zsu. It was supposed to be the spot for Saturday night.

Sep 01, 2011 06:00 PM Cayenne (GF) - the second day in town, and a complication

Cayenne (GF) - the second day in town, and a complication The day did not kick off nicely. I got my usual weekly text from my bank with the balance of my account. There was a lot less money in it than it supposed to be. I went online and discovered that my VISA debit card was cloned in Rio and a few hundreds of pounds were withdrawn, showing always the same ATM machine. I called my bank and they stopped the card. But I agreed that I would be withdraw cash from the nearest cash machine in Cayenne. I just needed to call the bank again and they would unblock the card briefly as I am at the ATM and when complete, they would cancel the card altogether. This meant that that for the rest of the trip I was going to rely on cash mainly. But I transferred some money from my current account to a VISA credit card, which I had not wanted to use. But given the circumstances, I had to change my mind. Hopefully that would work, yet I did stash enough cash in my secret pocket to get me through the end of the holiday. Surely, that was emergency cash, and I would not want to drain this reserve completely. I have one week to go now.

Trying not to stress too much I went on an exploration of the relaxed and pretty capital of French Guyana. Weather was great. A few clouds hang in the sky and light breeze occasionally messed what is left of my hair, which was a bliss as the thermometer showed 36C in shade. I snapped a few new photos of the Place des Palmistes, the Townhall, the Hotel de Prefecture, the House of the Academy, the entrance to the old fort, the cathedral, the museum, and a few other interesting wooden buildings. It was time for lunch, so I stepped to the Pizza Toscana at the Place des Palmistes and ordered large Guyanese pizza with prawns, one bottle of Desperados lager scented with Tequila, and Coke. the restaurant treated me with free cup of coffee on the house. It was great coffee! Uh, and I also got a free Brazilian coffee flavoured sweet. How sweet! The pizza (EUR12) was really good, too and filled me up well. Too well, almost.

Then, everything closed for siesta until 15:30. Actually, everything stops. Including traffic! So, I headed back to my hotel, Hotel Central, very conveniently located just about 150 yards from the main square, and about 350 yards from the minibus station, which I intend to use tomorrow morning for the trip to St Laurent de Maroni and the border with Suriname. I check email and browse the net for a while. Then, I go to the bureau de change to convert my last 55 Brazilian reais into some 24 euros. I better have the most convertible cash on me from now on. The euro will be better in Suriname and in Guyana than the Brazilian real for sure.

The afternoon was really hot and humid. The light breeze, which was very pleasant, was unfortunately actually too weak. Legs quickly felt heavy and the beads of sweat on the forehead watered eyelashes, which keep leaving marks on the sunglasses hindering sight. Fortunately, there were cafes with shaded porches, terraces, verandas and the backyard gardens, offering ice-cold drinks. Without them, one would dry out like a starfish on a beach.

Life in Cayenne commenced to resume at about 5pm. Traffic gained force and more people braced themselves for the burning sun. It was still a lot quieter than before the siesta. I found it a little surprising, because it was Friday, the beginning of the weekend, or fin-de-la-semaine.

I wandered a little about the town trying to spot any places to party at night recommended by guidebooks. I could find none of those listed. Not even one of them. Either live moved so quickly and now those venues have by now turned into convenience stores run by the Chinese, or people, who wrote for the guidebooks simply have never been to Cayenne. Or it could be the combination of both. I know that both happens. I met a few proprietors of hotels, hostels and restaurants, who told me that, for example, the Lonely Planet people made up a lot of stuff and mainly relied on hear-say rather than physically visiting the venues. Therefore, much of the stuff in those guidebooks was either false or terribly incorrect.

I made a short hike to the gare routiere, or the minibus station, to enquire about the ride to the Maroni river. I chatted to one of the drivers, who wanted to convince me to leave at 2 o'clock in the morning. Now, that would be so stupid. Why would I buy a night at a hotel on Friday, and then leave the town at 2 o'clock?! The three hour ride would land me in St Laurent du Maroni at 5am. Still an ungodly hour. Then, he told me that other mini buses left at 8am and 11am. I decided to appear at the station (the Chinatown aka Chicago side of the smelly canal) at 07:30 taking my chance. If the vehicle fills relatively quickly, then I should reach the river bordering Suriname just before noon.

Aug 31, 2011 06:00 PM Belem (BR) to Cayenne (GF)

Belem (BR) to Cayenne (GF) Having made sure to have used all the comforts of the Hilton in Belem, I had the free breakfast in the last minute (I actually had to stop them taking the fruit away, as I was not quite finished by 10am), and checked out in the last minute, too. For I was not going to have similar amenities until Barbados, a full week away. I checked out at the Executive Lounge but stopped at the front desk downstairs to ask them to post my postcards, as I snoozed for so many days with visiting of a post office. They said that they normally did not do it, but for me they offered to make an exception and to send one of the bell boys to the post office for me.

One taxi ride and BRL35 later, I was at the airport checking in for the Air Caraibes flight to Cayenne. The queue was not very long (and the airline did offer me the online check-in), which ignored, foolishly) but the lady over the counter was impossibly slow. It took almost an hour to process some 20 people! And there were two check-in desks open. Anyway, I got the 11B emergency exit seat on the sleek Embraer 190 aircraft, and proceeded to departures. The Brazilians had this strange process of letting the international passengers through security in the last minute - few minutes before the boarding time indicated on the boarding pass. That was really annoying. However, once through security, there was no shopping on the airside - just a couple of small cafes. This was the case in Belem and in Salvador de Bahia. Whilst in Salvador, there was nothing but seats!

Air Caraibes seemed a very relaxed airline. For most of the flight to Cayenne, the cockpit door was wide open, like in the old days before 11 September 2001. The pilots attended to themselves with coffee and snacks as the cabin crew attended to the passengers. That was such a refreshing sight. The onboard service for the 1h50' flight was not very sophisticated.. Water, orange juice and a simple bread roll was served. Yet, not much can really be done for such as short flight in such a long aircraft (Embraer 190 is longer than Boeing 737 series).

As usual, the aircraft got some turbulence upon the crossing from the southern hemisphere to the northern. I found this phenomenon on all flights crossing the Equator. Although this time it was only a slight bump or two. So in Cayenne, water was going to spin down the sink clockwise again...

The plane landed righ on time in Cayenne. I quickly reached for a taxi, which took about 20 minnutes and EUR30 to reach my hotel, right in the centre of the town, Hotel Central. I have to say that Cayenne impressed me a little, or should I say exceeded my expectations to be exact. For I did not expect much from Cayenne, having read several reports and stories on the net about it. I found it cute and very relaxed. But that would not be difficult after just being in Belem in Brazil.

The day was beautiful. Not a single cloud. The centre was preparing for an event, the 30th (I think) anniversary of some battle. So regiments from the depertment as well as other French territories in the region presented themselves on the main square, the very pleasant and attractive Les Palmiers. Before the ceremony began, I had a quick tour and photo session in the setting sun of the centre, and then return tot he square to see what was going on. I took more photos there, but as it got dark completely, it was more difficult to take decent shots. So, I went for dinner, at the Chinese restaurant, La Perle d'Asie for some prawns in spicy sauce and the signature drink of the region - the punch de coco. I spent EUR16 there, but it was conventiently located just across the hotel.

Aug 30, 2011 06:00 PM Belem (BR) - what a filthy city!

Belem (BR) - what a filthy city! The fascinating city of Belem might have been the dirtiest and the smelliest city of Brazil that I visited. Its very attractive colonial architecture was awfully overwhelmed with chaotic, ad-hoc structures erected to support petty trade. The incomprehensible levels of traffic did not help either. The stunning colonial buildings and structures did not suffer the same level of mismanagement, carelessness and neglect like many did in Sao Luis in Mananhao. Yet, the authorities did little to exhibit the gems of architecture in this part of the country, almost as if they did not exist. Surely, the great river provided enough interest to compensate for almost anything anywhere else in the city in terms of tourism. But it did seem to me like a lack of respect to the heritage. Not always a perfect heritage, yet still part of the fabric of the city, part of the fascinating history of this remarkable country and wonderful society.

I wandered about the city for while, despite the heat. I noticed people taking a dip in the river, clearly unafraid of the river life, like the piranha, which I actualy am not sure swam in this part of the river. Some of them bathed as well, without taking all their clothes off by putting their hands inside the garments deep enough to disturb me a little. Yet obviously they did not consider this to be a problem for any passer-by.

The riverfront north of the fishing port and the open-air Market was nicely redeveloped to house very funky bars and restaurants, as well as shops and a mini-brewery. They were not the cheaest spots in the city, but they did all offer great river views. I must have had five or six lagers there (BRL 4.50 each) and it felt good to cool down...

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