There are some regions on this planet which gives numerous people a hard time to point out on a map or are even completely unknown to them. These counties often share a part in history, in which they were colonized by almost every country ever visited. In this context, the Guiana’s, located in the northern end of South America, belong to that group. The Guiana’s are known as; hard to access, expensive, less developed, not entertaining and therefore often ignored as tourist destination. Today the “triplets” are named as Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana. The first impression may suggest similarity but I was surprised how different and diverse they are, therefore it’s almost impolite to merge them together into one post.
The former british colony creates the impression of the “big troubled brother.” There are only two possible land border crossings, one in the south coming from Brazil and one to the east from Suriname. Until today there is no possibility of crossing by land from Venezuela to Guyana. This led me through a long detour down to Brazil from where I had to head north again and then conquer the tiring Lethem – Georgetown Highway. The 500 kilometer “highway” runs directly through the dense rainforest. A small aisle, cut through seemingly endless rainforest, with a unmaintained dirt track makes this trip a 20+ hour endeavor. As I got on the 12 seated minibus, I occupied the last seat. But there was still another lady outside and the driver told me. “Give it a little squeeze, will ya. She comes just till Town-X, we are there just now”. I didn’t trust this comment as I assumed that this would be for about two – three hours. I had the belt-buckle already up my a** when we reached Town-X an unbearable 10 hours later. “I give you a squeeze, just now”. The road is in such bad shape that we had to stop occasionally to fix punctures, reattach the exhaust or stop somewhere so that the driver could sleep for a while. Arriving in Georgetown I felt like I was back in a city of sub-Saharan Africa. Endless piles of trash, a lot of noise, traffic chaos and plenty signs of poverty and ethnic conflicts.
Having a huge diversity of cultures, after a long history of interchange as a colony ruled by different countries, Suriname shows a very promising and open interaction between all the values of its inhabitants. The capital city, Parimaribo appears almost to be ruled by Chinese immigrants as they own almost every shop or restaurant in town. Like the other Guiana’s, almost the whole population lives along the coastline as the rest of the country is covered with dense rainforest. The beauty of the rainforest can be discovered with some effort. Travelling five hours south from Parimaribo to the town of Ajoni brought me to the upper Suriname river. From here the only way to head further into the jungle is by the small local river boats. Small towns are scattered along the river side where the women are washing their clothes, dishes and themselves at the same time. I alight in Guiaba, a town of about 2,000 inhabitants. Little huts, which appear to be placed randomly, create a big labyrinth of trails in between, spreading for about a kilometer into the bush. The only spoken language here is Tiki Tiki. After some awkward interaction attempts I managed to find the Captain. He is the official head of the town and in charge, in absence of any further political system. I am allowed to hang my hammock in an unoccupied hut and stay for as long as I choose. For hours I get guided around town by a guy called “Gulli”. Everyone turns out to be from his family. I get introduced to dozens of brothers, cousins, aunts, wives and so on. Gulli himself has 10 children with a handful of different wives. This is about the norm. Extending the family appears to be the second occupation after passing time while sitting in the shade. I do have my moral conflict with the tribal mind, as certain values and habits are just incompatible with mine. Polygyny (only men are allowed to have more women), witch craft and ghosts are still widely accepted. A huge crowed gathers in the middle of the town where they beat the shit out of a guy, as they claim he is possessed by bad ghosts. In absence of a common language to intervene, I decide not to be a part of this, but it becomes ever more clear to me that cultural tolerance results in ignorance too.
Europa’s adopted child. Having visited almost all the French oversea departments, it was not surprising to find the same culture here as well. France has this ability of imposing its culture onto his former colonies. This is a french only society! It doesn’t matter how many languages you speak, if you visit a tourist office, the space center or a guest house, if you are not skilled in the french language then you are the narrow-minded person here. The same applies for food, as cheese, wine and baguette is the standard consume. I like to joke about this with my generous couchsurfer hosts in the cities of Saint Laurent, Kourou and Cayenne. Kourou is also the host of the European Spaceport. The three rocket programs, Ariane 5, Vega and Soyuz are operating manly as space-taxis for commercial satellites as research and exploration missions are quiet scares. But for most historians, French Guiana remains still in the heads as the former “Camp de la Transportation“, where France sent its prisoners, punished with hard labor for life.