About French Guiana

The French simply call it Guyane. It's a French Overseas Territory and France's only foothold in South America. It's the first of the three Guianas along our passage (French Guiana, Suriname (formerly Dutch Guiana and Guyana (formerly British Guiana). Based on first impressions, it seems more like a French Caribbean island (Martinique or Guadeloupe), than a piece of South America which we usually associate with the Latin cultures. map of french guiana

French is the official language and we're flying the French flag. The ATM dispenses Euros. For the first time in a long time, we're only one hour ahead of EDT in the USA, which makes Skype calls home so much easier. We're attempting to speak French, but so far everyone can speak a little English and seems happy to do so.

flying the french flag on nine of cups

The largest city in French Guiana, and also its capital city, is Cayenne (like the pepper) where about half of Guyane's population of 250,000 dwells. St. Laurent du Maroni (SLM) is the second largest city with about 40,000 people. We'll explore SLM in the next few days and we're planning to visit Cayenne on an inland trip, so you'll have to wait for details until we get more organized.

It was after the second Anglo-Dutch war that the Treaty of Breda was signed in 1667, in which the Dutch retained Dutch Guiana (now Suriname), but ceded the area east of the Maroni River to France. The Brits maintained their colonies to the west of the Suriname River, now Guyana. By the way, in exchange for maintaining its colonies in Guiana, the Dutch ceded New Netherlands in North America to the British...producing the colonies of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware!

We already talked about the French trying to grasp a foothold in South America by sending an unprepared, unsuspecting group of colonists to French Guiana to settle it. Tropical diseases and climate killed all but 2,000 of the initial 13,000 settlers. Then, of course, French Guiana became a dumping ground for French undesirables. During the course of nearly a century, France transported approximately 70,000 prisoners to bagnes (prisons) in French Guiana. Fewer than 10% survived their sentence. The prisoners all began their imprisonment right here in St. Laurent at the Camp de la Transportation, right across the street from the marina office. We'll visit there soon.

entrance to camp de la transportation french guiana

A little Guyane trivia …

Most of the population lives in the urban areas closer to the coast and along the rivers. Dense rain forest lies just beyond the coast. In fact, about 95% of the country is still virgin jungle. Le Parc Amazonien de Guyane (Guiana Amazonian Park) was created in 2007 and its 12,000,000-hectare expanse makes it the largest rain forest park in the world.

parc amezonian map french guiana

Plage les Hattes at the entrance to the Maroni River is the world's single-most important nesting site for leatherback turtles. Olive Ridley, green and hawksbill turtles nest here as well.

leatherback turtle

In 1964, the French constructed a space-travel base in Kourou to replace the Sahara base in Algeria and hopefully stimulate economic growth in French Guiana. Guyane was considered particularly suitable for the purpose because of its low population density and its access to the ocean. What makes this location particularly unique is that it is so close to the equator, the planet actually gives launched rockets extra velocity due to its rotation. The Guiana Space Center (Centre Spatial Guyanais) is now part of the European space industry and has had commercial success with launches of its Ariane rocket series.

ariane rocket launch

The rain forest is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. Jaguars roam wild, colorful scarlet macaws fly in tree canopy and giant anteaters plod along on the forest floor. The endangered tapir, black caiman and giant river otter abound along the river systems. Two spectacular birds, the harpy eagle and the cock-of-the-rock are also found here.

cock of the rock french guaina

As you can see, we've got our work cut out for us beyond the boat repairs and maintenance. Stay tuned. We're making plans.