So we cross the border river Maroni - coming from Suriname - we are greeted conspicuously. On the other bank, in French Guiana, a metal stick sticks out of the ground. At its upper end is a blue shield with twelve yellow stars. Welcome to the EU. In northeastern South America, we are back in European soil after almost two years.
French Guiana is the only country on the continent that could not renounce its former colonial ruler. Today it has the status of an overseas department, synonymous with Martinique and Réunion.
Of course, people speak French, Patrice hears from the loudspeakers, there is, if you wish, a glass of wine to eat at every street restaurant, in the supermarkets there is an endless selection of cheeses and even more excellent French red wine. With the latter, however, you have to be careful. If the bottles are not stored in a cool place, the wine quickly tips over in the humid, hot climate, becomes poor and tastes rather unworthy.
In the small, sleepy border town of St. Laurent, we face the road. Our thumbs are pointing in the distance towards the capital Cayenne. It's a hot afternoon. The road is light and so it takes a long time to find a ride.
The sun has already set, as Eric holds for us. Our French is not available and its English more than rudimentary, yet we can somehow communicate. He also wants to go to Cayenne. Before we get in, he asks to see our ID. A circumstance that we have never had before and that lets us be cut off.
Eric explains a bit awkwardly that he wants to make sure that we are not illegal in the country. He can not afford further trouble with the police right now. We do not ask further. Even when we stop two hours later from a police check, Eric plays it safe. We have to leave his car 500 meters before the control and walk in the darkness past the control station. No problem. Although we feel a queasy feeling, but when Eric actually picks us up a few hundred yards behind the security post, all doubts are eliminated.
The police laugh a lot and are in a good mood. Your English is a disaster. We communicate with our hands and feet, but mostly with our thumbs straight. When we say that we have just come from Suriname, the French officials clap impressed in the hands. They actually believe that we have managed to walk from Suriname to here. We leave them in the faith. They would not understand us anyway. As we go, one of the policemen still proudly calls us a "Good Bye".
In Cayenne we live near Sebastién in one of the suburbs of the 63,000-inhabitant city. Our couch is this time a shared flat in the tropics. The kitchen is located on the open veranda, is also living room and dining room. When we arrive, Sebastién apologizes briefly and beats a coconut from the palm in the garden with his machete when he wants to offer us something to drink.
In the house you can hardly stand it. At night it is much too hot and so we move our sleeping space out into the open onto the terrace.
The WG is a colorful bunch of adventurous Frenchmen, all of whom have been living in French Guiana for some time. Cayenne is teeming with European continental Frenchmen, Frenchmen from the metropolis, as they are called by the locals. In search of jobs, she finds herself on the other side of the Atlantic. Most stay only for a few years. They earn a very good salary in outsourced departments of French companies and then return home.
During their time in French Guiana, they let it crack loud. Emigrating to French Guiana is an easy risk for many Frenchmen. It is still the same state, they speak the same >
If you ask Frenchmen from the metropolis how they compare life in Guiana with life in France, most of them do not understand the question at all. "This is France," we get each time as an answer.
They fully understand French Guiana as part of the motherland. However, only very few actually know a local. The French from Europe stay among themselves.
When European Frenchmen and South American Frenchmen meet, they always remain in their own small groups. For us, it seems that some people can not do anything with the others and vice versa.
The original native population is mainly black, goes by bus to the city, works for little money and does not see himself as a Frenchman. They are proud of their homeland, of French Guiana, of their flag. France is something else for her.
French from Europe, on the other hand, are in their own car all day long. We did not see a single white man in public transport in two weeks we spent in Cayenne. Their lives are much more cocky and often accompanied by various kinds of intoxication.
The different perception about the country is also reflected in the historical evaluation. We still regard French Guiana as a kind of colony, a state that never achieved its independence. Many Frenchmen from Metropolis contradict that rigorously. French Guiana is not a colony, they argue, because there were no people in the area before the French. The French would have landed here on unsettled terrain. The indigenous indigenous people probably do not like that.
Cayenne, the provincial capital of the department (French Guayanas is of course subject to the capital of Paris), is a small, European-style city. Along the Av. du Général de Gaulle, the main shopping street, is lined with restaurants, clothes and technical shops, as we know them from Europe. There are chic clothes to buy, expensive French cosmetics brands, whole shops full of machetes. The considerable weapons are available in terrifying sizes. With the indicated saw blade, they act on us like butcher's equipment; but are sold here completely legally to everyone.
In the side streets but it goes to something South American. At the big fruit and vegetable market there are the best tropical fruits, mangos and passion fruits. At the bakery next door delicious baguette. At the other end of the street we eat crêpes.
As everywhere in South America, the informal sector is very large. However, many workers live here without papers. They are illegal, come from Colombia, Venezuela or Guyana and try to lead a slightly better life in Europe than they can in their own country. Yasmin is one of them. She works as a seamstress and came about a year ago through Brazil through the jungle to Cayenne. Life here is difficult, she explains, but still better than in her native Colombia. She invites us to her home, makes an effort to be a good hostess in her modest living conditions. Countless Afro-Colombians live in confined spaces in the apartment. Yasmin herself calls six square meters her own. More than a bed and a small table with sewing machine, her workplace, do not fit into it.
As we approach New Year's Eve, Sebastién invites us to a celebration with his friends. We drive out of the city, sit in the dark with a shaky nutshell over a river and reach after a ten-minute boat ride a wooden hut on stilts in the midst of huge swamps and forests. The house is large, with a wide terrace on which sits on a long drawn board already a good-humored pack. All French from Metropolis.
The evening is getting wet. There is a bit of electricity from a noisy generator. A marbled, moss-covered jetty leads off a few meters into a small toilet room. Around us the jungle grows. No light source is wide to make us wide. Only us and a group of loud Frenchmen in a wooden hut in the middle of the humid swamps of French Guiana. At some point, so it seems, cocaine comes into play. The adventurous French make the most of their time. It is the first New Year's Eve of our life, which we spend without fireworks. It is quite quiet - apart from our celebrating group.
The next day, we spend much of our time on the wooden terrace. It is raining heavily and no one feels special desire to get on a boat under these conditions. So we sit in the jungle of French Guiana and wait, lie in the hammocks on the terrace until the cloud cover tears open again.
The country is sparsely populated and even Cayenne does not get beyond the charm of a small town. French Guiana is almost exclusively overgrown by spreading jungle. Immediately beyond the city limits begins the mighty forest. Energy production throughout the country is through the burning of wood. Wood abounds here, it seems.
Although there is still the European Space Center in Kourou, but also this place is rather contemplative.
Days pass. We spend a lot of time on the beach, the diverse coast around Cayenne or hiking with Jess, a roommate Sebastién, through the nearby jungle.
It's also Jess who shows us Cayenne's surroundings. This is how we get to Cacao. The village is about 75 kilometers from Cayenne. A little bit of Laos in South America. The village community consists mainly of members of Hmong, an ethnic group that has to flee Laos in the 1970s and find a new home in French Guiana. Since everything is imported from French Guiana and its own economy hardly exists, the Hmong now provide 80 percent of the agricultural products in the country.
Every Sunday, a small weekly market opens in Cacao, where traditional Hmong crafts and Lao food are sold. Especially the market cuisine is so popular that every weekend dozens of cars from Cayenne make their way to Cacao, just to sip a warm soup.
After two weeks, the time has come. We hold two airline tickets for a domestic flight across the Atlantic in our hands. Tomorrow morning we land in Paris. A bit wistful, we sit in the concourse of the terminal. Adiós américa del sur. Nos vemos otro dia.