In my quest to visit all South American countries, I chose to explore the Guyanas, three non-Spanish speaking countries.
When I voiced this idea, all my friends raised a red flag: don’t go there, it’s dangerous, there are murders and kidnappings, these are pirate states!
Then I read governmental travel advisories that said pretty much the same…
OK then, now I must visit!
A few months later, I landed in the Guyanas with my trusted Brompton.
Avoid walking alone around Georgetown, even in the main areas and don’t walk anywhere at night.
– Gov. of UK
If there had been a direct flight from Bogota to Georgetown, it would have taken me about two hours. If only… But the shortest route I found was 16 hours with two long layovers.
The bright spot could’ve been the layover in Trinidad and Tobago, an unexplored part of the Americas for me… if only I could have gotten out of the airport.
While there, I had lunch. The only options were Kentucky Fried Chicken, Church’s Chicken and Royal Chicken. Needless to say, I had chicken for lunch.
Upon my arrival in Georgetown, I went to the airport ATM to get local currency but to no avail. Luckily USD are widely accepted.
I headed downtown where I had reserved a hotel. The hotel was nowhere to be found. Their phone didn’t answer. I asked my taxi driver to take me to another hotel. Around midnight I was finally in a bed.
First thing in the morning, I went to the Surinamese Embassy to get my tourist card. I was secretly hoping it would take longer than expected, forcing me to stay in town until next day, not to admire the local attractions – there’s nothing of note – but to give me time to catch up on sleep. Unfortunately, they processed the card right away. I took off around 11 am, way too late: I had 110 km to cover before the nightfall and about 7 hours to do it.
From G-Town – as they call it here – to New Amsterdam lays an endless string of villages with names ranging from the mundane like Washington to the peculiar like Rebecca’s Lust. Things got hard early on: about 20 km in I thought I’d have a heat stroke. After that, I stopped every 10 km to have a few minutes in the shade. Halfway through I stopped again and was ready to cry – I was dead tired, it was hot and humid, the wind was in my face, I was running out of time, and there was still 55 km to go. I started stopping every 5 km because it was a more achievable goal. By 6 pm I had made 100 km, my day’s destination was now within reach. But these are the tropics so darkness fell quickly. I pushed even harder and a half hour later I finally arrived in New Amsterdam. I stopped at the first hotel I saw and called it a night.
I did it on 3 liters of water, 6 apple bananas, and a Snicker.
The next day was supposed to be easier: the distance was shorter, I started earlier, I stopped every 5 km to rest. But it was the same sun and the same headwind. By midday the heat became unbearable and my rest stops became longer. Whenever I got in a bus stop to get away from the sun and lay on a bench, people would ask if I was OK. They would ask where I was coming from and going to, then “wow – on such small bike!”, then “good luck!”. Often, when I was passing people by they yelled: “Nice bike!”. Occasionally, I heard: “Press on, white boy!”. Or they just waved. In short – people were friendly. There was also a lot of honking – the exact reason was obscure to me – was it to salute me, or warn me of their approach, or to salute each other? Since many people in Guyana are of Indian descent, Bollywood music was blaring from houses and passing cars.
Around 3pm, I finally got to my second and last stop in Guyana – Skeldon, a busy village about 10 km from the border with Suriname. I got a room at the Ritz Hotel, where I am laying under a fan while writing this. Tomorrow I must wake up very early to catch the once-a-day ferry to Suriname.
See you on the other side!
Guyana in numbers:
198 km – distance covered
28°C – average temperature in Guyana
Banditry and lawlessness are a problem along the East-West Highway.
– Gov. of Canada
I got up at 5 am, packed up, and off I went for my last stretch in Guyana. It was still dark, cool and calm so I was rolling fast on my Brompton. I had to pedal extra fast when stray dogs would try to bite my legs; one was particularly persistent and followed me for a while but in the end I prevailed.
When I got to the ferry that would bring me to Suriname, it was surprisingly deserted. Perplexed, I checked my phone and realized that it had jumped ahead to Suriname time overnight, so I was one hour early.
Fast forward 5 hours and I was on the other side of the Courantyne river, in a new country. Because the ferry cross took longer than expected, I opted to stop at the nearby town of Nieuw Nickerie rather than push the envelope and go for an extra 115 km to the following town. Thanks to a tip from a guy I met on the ferry, I got a cheap room at a hotel that wasn’t listed anywhere. The room even had A/C – a luxury around here. On the flip side, it had no hot water and only one TV channel. There are probably things to see around here but I wouldn’t know – too tired to explore.
Legend has it that Ozzy Osbourne once snorted a line of ants. I had leftovers from dinner that I intended on eating in the morning. So I got up, grabbed the food box, got a spoonful of chicken rice, chewed and swallowed it, got another one and only then did I see a swarm of ants inside! Too late to spit it out. Ozzy’s ant story is exotic, mine is typically tropical.
I started predawn and quickly covered the first 10km. Then I hit a brick road that had the effect of a washboard on my already battered bum. I rolled like this for about 50 km. The fact that for the past couple of days, there hasn’t been a single shaded place to rest started catching up with me. When I tried to rest in the shadow of roadside trees I was immediately attacked by insects, including mosquitoes who didn’t give a f@&k about how much “Off!” I put on. So, by the time I reached the 70 km mark I was exhausted and overheated. My butt was sore to the point where I could only ride for 4km, then walk for 1km. The more tired I got, the more often I looked at my fitness tracker, the slower the kilometer display was changing.
Finally, at 10 km till my destination, there was a police roadblock where they let me rest on a bench in the shade.
It took me almost an hour to cross that final 10 km. It was one hell of a day. I finished it up with a couple of well-deserved beers and chicken, yes, more chicken.
From Totness it was a big push to Paramaribo: 150km. It was more of the same. Ass busting. Take it as you will.
At 130km I threw the towel and called Lloyd, my Couchsurfing host, and asked him to pick me up. A half hour later I was in the comfort of an air-conditioned house with a cold Ridler in hand.
Lloyd was a very generous host: he showed me city’s landmarks, he brought me to a restaurant, he cooked me breakfast and lunch, he dropped me off downtown the next day so I could take a few pictures, he drove me out to the city limits so I didn’t have to pedal as far to my next destination… and he promised not to tell anyone about it.
Paramaribo’s downtown is a UNESCO World Heritage site consisting of mostly wooden buildings that date a couple of centuries back. I braved a visit to Palmentuin, the only public park in the city, infamous for robberies but safe during the day.
While snapping pictures I bumped into a guy who stayed at my guesthouse in Georgetown. He came here by bus. He is a dentist who quit his job and is on an 18-month trip around the world. We chatted for a while, waiting for a thunderstorm to pass by. I cycled back to Lloyd’s house and relaxed before my next ride.
I did well for the first 100km: done under 5 hours. However, it was too good to last for the entire ride. The wind picked up at the same time as I hit small hills, the temperature went up, and obviously, I was getting tired. When I finally arrived at the ferry to cross to French Guiana, I was told that the boat was broken and there would be no ferry today. WTF? I ended up crossing the river in a small private boat. So just like that, I arrived in France – technically speaking.
Suriname in numbers:
404 km – distance cycled
5 – meals with chicken in it eaten
There have been cases of foreign tourists being kidnapped and held for ransom.
– US Dept of State
It’s the third country of my trip and the third language change. Luckily my French is way better than my Dutch, so I should be fine. I could feel that I was in France right away: it was Sunday and everything was closed. I had to go to a Chinese supermarket to get food and drinks. I ate my lunch in front of the statue of a Bagnard, or prisoner of a bagne, where the French would send their criminals for hard labor and eventual death from tropical diseases.
I spent the night at Julien and Cecile, a French couple living in Saint Laurent. We had a couple of beers, dinner and chatted about living in Guiana, what brought them there, and of course about Cirque du Soleil.
Saint Laurent is located more in the interior of French Guiana. The road weaved through many kilometers of the hillside. Nothing dramatic, but enough to wear me down, so much so that when I finally hit the flats I could barely pedal. I pushed myself to push the pedals until I got to Iracoubo. I was dismayed when I realized the only hotel of the village was closed. I asked around but to no avail. I even considered flagging a car to the next village. I finally found a guesthouse and for €50 (!) I got a basic room without Wi-Fi. There wasn’t even a Chinese takeout in the area. I got beer and chips and called it a day.
I left Iracoubo at 4:30 am and headed to my next destination – Kourou – where the European Space Agency’s spaceport is located. It occupies a vast territory, so I had to circle around it. I did pretty good and arrived before 10 am… or was it 9? My iPhone did it again, switching time zone on its own for no reason but at this point it didn’t matter.
I wanted to do a tour of the space center but there was none scheduled that afternoon – no luck. I was thinking to go to Îles du Salut, former prison islands, but visits are only held in the morning – no luck here either.
I headed to my AirB&B and after a shower and a couple of beers, I went to a beach. Although I wasn’t too far from the Caribbean islands, the water was far from turquoise. It was rather muddy, so I only went knee deep. I was later invited to join a family dinner with fois gras, paté, and cheese. The day was going well. Well, until Expedia contacted me: my flight out of Cayenne got postponed by a few hours, and I wasn’t going to make my connection in Paramaribo. Panic attack: if I miss that connection, I will miss my three other connecting flights! I’ll have to wait until tomorrow morning to sort this out.
Cayenne, my “prized“ final destination, was a stone’s throw from Kourou, a mere 60 km. I kept my speed steadily above 20 km/h and got here before 8am.
I located the Suriname consulate, in case I need to return to Paramaribo by land to catch my connection. I checked out the city landmarks, which aren’t many and not worth mentioning. Meanwhile, I received some news about my flights: the airline will hold the plane in Paramaribo for connecting passengers. What a relief! The bearer of this good news was Lloyd, my host in Paramaribo, who personally went to the Suriname Airways Head Office to confirm. Thank you, Lloyd!
I am now waiting at a cafe where my host, a cousin of the boyfriend of Julie’s cousin, will pick me up. Since I arrived ahead of schedule and there isn’t much to do in Cayenne, I will relax and recover for the next couple of days, until my departure.
Days 5 & 6
Chloé and her boyfriend Jeff live almost 40km from Cayenne, in the jungle next to a small river. Their house is really a veranda divided into a few spaces. So you practically sleep and live outside, under a roof. There is no running water, and the shower water comes from the river. It was a bit unsettling for me, an urban boy. To top it off, a lot of different noises were coming from the forest and the river, particularly at night. In the river, according to locals, caymans and anacondas aren’t rare. Nonetheless, everybody around here swims in it at all times. Not me, though. Every six hours, the water of the river goes up. Depending on how high or low someone’s deck is, the water may come up to your ankles. It came up to mine.
There are about two hundred families living around here. Many came from France, which they left for various reasons. Many of them have lived here for a long time. This lifestyle is too exotic for my taste but is perfectly normal for people of this community. They are friendly, they help each other, they get together often. I had a fun time here, although my French failed me miserably. That is, until I had a few beers; then the conversation started to flow!
This marks the end of this adventure, or endurance challenge if you will.
French Guiana in numbers:
256 km – distance cycled
7086 km – is the distance between France and French Guiana
Ten days flew by.
I cycled through three countries. They share Creole culture with different flavors; heat and humidity; muddy rivers and muddy ocean; mosquitoes, mosquitoes, mosquitoes; very few landmarks, none of which were remarkable; natural beauty in the interior, which I didn’t visit.
The most memorable moments were the encounters with the people who hosted me.
Each country has a slightly different ethnic background and different language: English, Dutch, and French. In each country, people claimed that crime is worse in neighboring counties. However, I wasn’t mugged or even hassled in any of them. People were quite friendly everywhere I went.
I survived the mosquito bites, with God knows what exotic diseases they carry.
Was the trip worth the money and the effort? Probably not, particularly the effort. But this was an adventorture of my own making, so there’s nobody to blame but myself.
I need to rethink my approach for future cycling trips. The experience should be more enjoyable.
Until the next one!
Guyanas in numbers:
876 km – distance cycled
9 – days of cycling
3 – country visited
2 – time zones changed
0 – punctures