Arriving in a new port after a month at sea is always a momentous occasion. After traveling the 20nm up river, St. Laurent du Maroni (SLM), French Guiana's second largest city, was a welcome sight. Even its name conjures up lovely thoughts, don't you think? Though when you find out what it's associated with, it alters your perception a little. It's a sleepy little river port that sits just across the river from Albina, Suriname. The buildings are dilapidated. The roads are pot-holed. The people are friendly.
Things don't happen quickly here. It's more Caribbean than South American, but there's not much difference in the way things get done. It's just “demain” instead of “mañana”. It took us three days to get settled on a mooring, four days to get officially checked into the marina and have our passports stamped at Immigration and another day to check in with Customs. Relaxed is the word that comes to mind and nobody hassles you.
The first thing we noticed when we came ashore to the marina office was a large bronze statue of a shackled prisoner. SLM was the arrival port for all French prisoners. Convicts would be processed at Camp de la Transportation, just across the street, and then assigned to one of several prison sites in the area, including Devil's Island.
The Office de Tourisme is located conveniently next door to the marina and I'm looking forward to checking their offerings in the near future.
There are late 19th century government buildings along our walk into town. Many have been converted to other uses, such as schools. The courthouse (palais du justice) stands opposite Le Camp.
Open storm sewers border the streets, a reminder of the torrential downpours that frequently occur during the rainy season. There are no sidewalks, but traffic is light.
There's a marché (fresh market) here on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. We stocked up on fresh veggies and fruits … especially green, crunchy salad stuff.
The marché is an experience unto itself with lots of unidentifiable items that require further research, inquiry and tasting. We'll talk more about the marché in another post. Pictured are pitaya or in French, fruit du dragon (dragon fruit). We bought one to try … delish!
Before heading to the market, of course, we needed money … in particular, Euros. The ATM machine was on the way. We always hold our breath the first time we try using an ATM in a new country and then sigh in relief when we hear the whir of cash being dispensed. It was very accommodating and spit out lots of Euros for us to spend. The exchange rate is about US$1.14 = €1 ...nowhere as good as South Africa, but close to par and definitely not as bad as the last time we visited the Caribbean when the Euro was much stronger and worth about $1.42. Ouch!
It didn't take us long to scope out the boulangeries in town … purveyors of wonderfully fresh baguettes and croissants. We only needed to follow our noses. We found out the hard way that all the shops close between 1pm-4-pm and then re-open for a couple of hours in the evening...except Sundays and Mondays, when everything's closed all day.
We got a lift to the Super U, a big, modern supermarket akin to a Wal-Mart, with well-stocked shelves and lots of variety plus housewares, garden, stationery, clothing, etc. It's only about a mile or so walk from the marina, but the ride was welcome. Especially of note was the wine section … lots of French wine and local rums at very reasonable prices. We picked up some champagne … we've yet to celebrate our arrival and don't want to fall behind in our celebratory duties.
I'd lost a filling while we were visiting Iles du Salut. Good timing, I'd say, since the passage was long and it could have happened just as we left St. Helena. There was no pain, but my tongue was convinced it was the Grand Canyon. We were sitting outside the marina office having a coffee when a pleasant Frenchman showed up and started chatting with us. Gerard is a dentist who practices in town and he's also an avid sailor. Our good luck, once again. There are usually no appointments, people just show up and wait in line. I was able to set up a time to see Gerard and voila … my filling was replaced the very next day.
We've wandered around town a bit, but mostly we've been concentrating on getting settled and getting Nine of Cups in order. We'll explore more thoroughly later. In the meantime, though hot and steamy, St. Laurent du Maroni is a very pleasant place to be.