Since we had arrived in Brazil on a Sunday and anyway we
were too tired to deal with all the formalities, we had to deal with all the
red tape on departure from Recife. That included temporarily importing the
plane. The whole business took four hours and it was after 1 p.m. when we at
last took off. Fortunately, it is pretty dry in the northeast of Brazil at
this time of year so we didn’t have any weather worries. We landed at São
Luis after dark five hours later.
We had stayed in São Luis on a trip around Brazil in 1996-7, so knew it was
a pleasant small city with a charming old colonial town. We put up at the
Pousada Colonial, a short walk away from food, live music and the young “gatinhas”,
particularly appreciated by o Senhor Flemming.
We thought departure the following day from São Luis would be relatively
easy, but we were wrong! The procedure took about two hours, quite a long
time considering we were just leaving the country and all our papers were in
order. The guy in the airport office who had to work out the landing fees
was quick and efficient – only his computer was painfully slow. To save time
he suggested we went to see the Federal Police while he waited for the
computer to cooperate. I think the policeman was not at all used to dealing
with foreigners departing Brazil. After spending about 20 minutes just
studying our passports he asked why we didn’t have a Brazilian visa. We had
to explain that we didn’t need a visa for Brazil. Then he asked us what our
nationalities were!! We wasted a total of 45 minutes in his office.
It was 10h50 local time when we finally took off and we would be crossing
the intertropical convergence zone again on our way to Cayenne. But we were
in luck and the weather was good. We flew back into the northern hemisphere
before leaving Brazilian territory and started our descent soon after
entering French Guyana. Although we are against
deforestation, of course, it was always a relief to see the odd landing
strip or road cut into the jungle beneath us. Engine failure over thick
jungle would be a lot worse than over the big wide Atlantic ocean.
After speaking Portuguese for most of the trip (apart from the brief stop in
Tenerife), it was fun to be speaking French again. And there was no airport
hassle!!! But what a blow when we discovered that all the hotels in Cayenne,
including the giant Novotel, were fully booked (if not overbooked). The guy
in the airport office was really helpful and tried to call just about every
hotel. Then I asked if there were any “chambres d’hôtes” (or b&bs) in
Cayenne. The other airport office employee offered to try his parents who
had received paying guests once or twice in the past. They confirmed they
had room for us, so their son gave instructions to the taxi driver on how to
find the house.
The house turned out to be in the countryside about 20 minutes from Cayenne.
Clearly we would need a rental car so a tired Flemming had to return to the
airport with the taxi driver to make the necessary arrangements. Meanwhile I
made the acquaintance of our charming hosts, Annie and Jocelyn. They offered
me a glass of carambole juice – a polished looking yellow tropical fruit
sometimes cut into star-shaped slices in smart French restaurants. Annie
showed me the carambole tree growing in their garden right next to a mango
tree. I wandered around the garden, taking in the trees and the birds, and
discovered a couple of tortoises that turned out to be pets. This peaceful
haven was better than Novotel any day!
We enjoyed an excellent gourmet dinner at the Patriarche restaurant in
Cayenne. They should have warned me, though, that the red “cherry”
decorating my plate was a whole cayenne pepper kernel! My mouth was in
flames for a good 20 minutes, until a combination of water and bread finally
doused the fire.
The original plan had been to tour the space station at Kourou, about a
40-minute drive north of Cayenne, but we received an email while in Olinda
to say that the visit was cancelled because they were preparing for a rocket
launch. Sadly we missed the launch too as it was scheduled for 2 days after
our departure. But at least we were able to visit the space museum. Actually
for me the highlight was the Musée départemental which contained a whole
array of different items from trays of dried beetles to the history of
French Guyana, the gold rush of the 19th century, and paintings of the
convicts in the days when it was a penal colony.