There is no rest for the weary when traveling so I got up this morning again at 3:30am and had my dutch only speaking driver bring me to the border with French Guiana to get the 8am ferry crossing over to Saint-Laurent du Maroni. That didn’t happen exactly how I planned it as the road from Paramaraibo to the the border town of Albina, Suriname was brutal and we didn’t make it to Albina until just after the ferry left. I was kind of annoyed but at the same time I knew I had a second option…sneaking into French Guiana via small dugout canoe, which is exactly what I did.
At the border points between all three Guianas (which are all separated by rivers) there are two options that travelers and locals alike have to take. The ferry is obviously the smartest and the safest way to go which will also afford you legal entry along with all your proper stamps and customs formalities. The second option if you miss the ferry or their scattered timeframes don’t fit your schedule is to go with a local kid via his dugout canoe which is actually much faster and certainly cheaper than the ferry. There are two problems with this however.
First, it is technically illegal and they drop you off at a point far from the immigration line so you cannot be stamped into the country. While that is not necessarily the worst thing on Earth, it is annoying to try to explain when you want to leave the country-why you don’t have an entry stamp. You obviously play dumb but in these smaller countries they love their beaurocracy and love to mess with Americans. Additionally, I would have to re-enter Suriname without ever having gotten an exit stamp which is another no-no.
The second major problem is that these boats are prone to robbery, both armed and regular. This is common knowledge amongst those who may choose this route so I saw it wise to leave my stuff with my driver on the Suriname side of the border. I brought only enough cash to keep any armed felon happy while not losing enough that it would piss me off.
It worked like a charm. I crossed over to French Guiana with absolutely no issues and gave the english speaking kid who steered the canoe $5 for his troubles and asked him to wait here for me as I wouldn’t be too long, maybe an hour or so, and I would give him $20 more on the return. He excitedly agreed and I was off into Saint-Laurent du Maroni, French Guiana.
I have to admit it was a really exciting and weird feeling knowing full well you just snuck into a country. I had previously been in countries illegally but it was never intentionally and I was always pretty freaked out and tried to set things straight with the embassy before trying to exit because I hate issues and holdups at borders. However, this time I had a fool proof plan and I was feeling pretty good about it. The only thing I was a little worried about was getting back into Suriname without being robbed or snagged by border police when returning…but that was for later.
Saint-Laurent du Maroni was a pretty cool town actually and is French Guianas second largest and a former French penal colony. The architecture of the buildings were quite interesting and there actually were quite a few tourists. As I strolled along the streets, I stopped to look at some T-shirts (shocking for me I know) when suddenly a random 50 something French Canadian woman started chatting me up.
It caught me by surprise but I always love talking to people when I travel, thats part of the fun of it. After a few pleasantries about where we are from, she mentioned that she was sore from walking around so much. I was like, “Ok, sorry to hear that Ma’am” I mean what can I say right?
Then she says, with her Quebeci accent something to the extent of “I just recently got butt implants”.
I looked at her doing one of those quizzical, “Did I hear you correctly?” looks and I was trying to figure out what else she could’ve said as she spun around for me to show me the goods, obviously with her shorts on.
I stood there in shock for a second, not just that she got butt implants as I thought the Jlo craze was over, but that after 20 seconds of coming up to me, a guy 20+ years younger and certainly not interested in her in any way-that she would solicit that kind of information. Needless to say, I felt really uncomfortable and didn’t know where this was going or why it started in the first place. So I said that I had to go and catch my boat back to Suriname and that’s exactly what I did.
I am sitting here back in Parbo typing this now and am still weirded out by that event but these are the types of weird things that happen to me while away–very strange. I mean why would a 50+ French Canadian woman do that in the first place and why would she be in Saint-Laurent du Maroni, French Guiana soon thereafter, thats pretty random, even for me–something doesn’t make sense there and I am glad I didn’t stick around long enough to figure out what it is.
Anyway, I am back in Parbo and after seeing it in the daylight today and sampling a little of the town last night before heading to sleep, there is a lot to offer here for travelers with bars, discos and food stalls. They speak Dutch here but a lot of people do speak English and some Spanish as well. There are apparently very good restaurants here and my hotel is graciously sending me to the “best spot in town” tonight so hopefully it will live up to it’s billing. After that I may try to head out for a drink but I have another early wake up call tomorrow morning as I am flying to Trinidad and Tobago at 4am.