French Guiana's Cayenne and Cacao

more cayennd and a little cacao I'd read about the Hmong Sunday market in Cacao on several websites and in Lonely Planet. Cacao is a small Hmong village about 70 km (40 miles) south of Cayenne.

Lonely Planet

The Hmong people are originally from the mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. During the Vietnam War, France and the USA recruited thousands of Hmong people to fight against the North Vietnamese. After the war, Hmong refugees fled and sought political asylum elsewhere. France repatriated several thousand people to French Guiana where their industrious natures and talents have thrived. Not much goes on in French Guiana on Sundays and it seemed a worthwhile trip... so we were off.

welcome to cacao sign

We took the N2 highway, also known at Route de l'Est, heading south and east out of Cayenne. There aren't many major highways in French Guiana... the N1 and the N2. If we followed the N2 to the end, we'd be on the Brazil border. Though we weren't heading all that far, it was still a chance to get into the interior a bit. Several of the roundabouts provided a venue for public statuary which centered more on the AmerIndian tribes, the Wayana and the Wayampi.

amerindian statue in french guiana

Once we left the city limits, the road narrowed significantly and followed the contour of the land up and down (15% grades!) and around hairpin turns. We encountered single lane, wooden plank bridges that clop-clop-clopped as we took our turn to drive across.

narrow plank bridge in french guiana

We reached the turn-off for Cacao, an even narrower road, and were surprised to see several cars making the same turn. When we arrived in Cacao, we were gobsmacked by the amount of cars and people and the gendarmerie (police) directing traffic. There was no room to park closer and we were instructed to park in a gravel lot and walk the 1.5 km (1 mile) into town. Usually this would not have posed a problem, but it seemed I'd broken my toe before we left the boat (while hanging out clothes, no less … don't ask!). David explained the situation to an understanding, English-speaking cop. I showed him my swollen, black and blue toe and he let us pass the barricade into town. We continued wending our way through tiny streets, clogged with haphazardly parked cars and throngs of people. The gods were with us … we found a place to park within a few hundred feet of the main marketplace. Who could have known how popular this place would be?

hmong family in traditional dress french guiana

We headed directly to the market hall for some Soupe Pho. This variation included some coconut milk in the broth and it was even better than the last we'd tried. Slurping, however, seems to be an occupational hazard for eating this soup and it ain't pretty. (Note to self: Never let David hold camera while I'm eating!)

slurping pho in french guiana

Beyond the fruits and veggies, the Hmongs are known for their fine needlework tapestries. Some were large works of art … perhaps recalling scenes from home.

hmong tapestry in french guiana

Some were beautifully intricate geometric patterns in bright colors that boasted hours and hours of concentrated labor.

hmong tapestry french guiana

Other needlework was reverse appliqué, reminiscent of the molas created by the Kuna people in Panama. We looked and pondered whether to buy and in the end, purchased nothing. We have so much aboard already that may never be put to use, we hesitate to purchase more. Photos are the best mementos for sailors, I guess.

hmong reverse applique french guiana

There were also a few pieces of art that we didn't regret leaving behind.

coconut sculptures french guiana

We would have enjoyed exploring the town a bit more, but the crowds kept wandering to a minimum. We returned to Cayenne in mid-afternoon. The city was sleepy...nothing going on at all. All the shops, even the big supermarkets, were closed. All the restaurants were closed, save our hotel restaurant. It was a day of rest for all. Nothing happens on Sundays. We decided it was a good time for a walk. We headed first to the Cathedrale Saint-Sauveur. We were surprised to find it closed and locked up tight.

cathadrale sanit sauveur

We wandered through the Place des Palmistes. There were very few people around. The park was in a sad state. Old, ornate cement planters which lined the paths within the park were empty, chipped and faded. The grass was parched. Park benches needed paint and repair. A monument erected in 1889 commemorated the French Revolution of 1789, but it was hard to read the plaque.

french revolution monument french guiana

A statue of Felix Eboue erected in 1959, honored the first French Guianan-born black to be appointed to a high position in the French government.

felix eboue statue french guiana

Beyond the park, we passed the ruins of an old military installation, now all fenced off. The fencing, however, provided a great canvas for some lively street art which we appreciated.

cayenne street art

From the shore, we could see the muddy water mixing with the Atlantic blue and the grassy peninsula of Pointe des Amandiers not far away.

pointe des amandiers french guiana

Once again, hot and tired, we retreated to the cool respite of our room. All too soon, we'll be sweating and sweltering aboard Nine of Cups, taking advantage of the cool provides as much a pleasure as exploring. We'll head back to Saint-Laurent tomorrow via Kourou and the European Space Center. In the meantime, a cool shower, a cool room and a picnic for dinner. Vacations end all too quickly.

empty wine bottle