I regretted wearing my last clean pair of undies a few seconds after take off when the tiny 8 seater plane, which I’m sure was made of balsa wood, hit a pocket of turbulence and began to shake and shudder. It brought back memories of the film Alive. Below me vast tracts of virgin forest stretched away into the distance. The plane shuddered again and finally hauled itself into the air. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Coming into land at Cayenne was equally as scary. We banked into a thick storm cloud that was pouring torrents of water onto the lush land and instantly lost all visibility. Once again the plane began to shake and shudder and my bag went shooting down the aisle catching the stewardess unawares and sending cups and plates flying in a dramatic fashion.
We circled a promising clearing for what seemed like an eternity waiting for a break in the clouds whilst the pilot gave an incoherent chatter over the plane’s Tannoy system. Without warning he dropped the plane a thousand meters and with a screech of rubber, and a quiet cheer from myself, the plane touched down at Cayenne International Airport. The rain, which had now reached biblical proportions, had flooded the runway and no one seemed in a hurry to leave the cabin. Eventually a dirty white transit van pulled up and the 8 passengers and cabin crew bundled in the back for the short drive to the arrivals hall.
I knew then I was back in France, or at least French territory as not only were there no signs and no staff, all the lights were turned off and the shops closed. The customs officer, when I eventually roused him from his newspaper and cigarette sneered a stamp into my passport with contempt that only the French can manage and told me to push off. The airport was deserted, the shops were shut and I had no money. The bureau de change was typically only open for twenty minutes each day (coinciding only with arrivals from Paris) and the cash point merely sniggered when I tried to use both my British and Brazilian bank cards. I went to ask the tourist information office about buses to Kurou. I might as well have asked for a line of naked go-go dancers.
“When is the next bus to Kurou?”
“There isn’t one. Next”
“Um, OK, so how do I get there then?”
“Well, I don’t know. Why not take a taxi, but I guess you can’t afford one. So, good bye and good luck.”
I love the French, they have that certain refined charm you just don’t get in other nations. I staggered out into the pouring rain to find a taxi. Three hours later, after virtually having to pawn my entire possessions, and promising to send the driver a Christmas card for the next 25 years, we settled on an exorbitant price for the 40 minute trip to Kurou.
No sooner had we left the airport two things became painfully apparent, my taxi driver was dangerously insane and that my once excellent French was terrible.
Whilst driving at 120 km/h along slick wet streets with zero visibility my genial driver launched into a long and complex monologue about his wife, and how she only loved him for his money (I wanted to add that it certainly wasn’t for his driving, but I was too concerned with holding on for dear life to make witty comments). When he wasn’t moaning or gesticulating wildly he was fiddling with the air conditioning so that I was either freezing cold or scorching hot. When he turned on the radio and began to sing to Sasha Distell I was almost at breaking point.
I arrived at my friend’s swanky hotel shaken and badly in need of a beer. It had taken me a week to get here and I felt homesick, dirty and tired. My friend wandered in a few hours later, reprimanded me for being a week early and then complained about the weather. It had been only 2 years since we had last seen each other, so we really didn’t have much to talk about!
Whilst Kevin went back to work I sat on the veranda and wrote my diary. I thought: this has to be the strangest country I have ever been to. It’s so incredibly French, French bread in the supermarket, French beer in the bar and here we are sitting in the middle of a malarial swamp in South America. It had taken a lot of time and energy to get here and I sipped my beer with a sly grin on my face, I wrote in my diary;