Tembo the Elephant

Besides elephants, rhinos, hippos, buffaloes and various types of antelopes today in Kruger Park, we came across the perfect specimen of Afrikaner redneck, Arthur, pro big game hunting, anti arm-control and pro-Trump. I should have taken a picture of him. But, missing that I’m sending one of me with Tembo the elephant. It might look more like a tree trunk than an elephant, but I swear it’s an elephant, the photographer just had a warped sense of perspective.

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I swear, it is a real elephant!

Tembo is a tame elephant. Intelligent and sensitive, with eyes to melt your heart, he is accustomed to stand patiently and put up with us, pesky tourists. Hazyview éléphant oeil_8414_previewOf course, I could have pretended that I tamed him from the wild and coaxed him into such accommodating behavior, but I strongly suspect that nobody would have believed me. In fact, we visited an elephant camp where they rescue injured or orphaned animals. Tembo had an interesting history of escaping a reserve after fighting with a rogue elephant who had opened a breach into the fence. The rogue’s intention being to come after Tembo’s sister which the latter gallantly defended. Followed a series of misdeeds and more fights until he was brought into this camp where he retired from his misspent youth.
Anyhow, I wish the photographer had caught the whole elephant, rather than just a leg. It would have been more… credible.
This elephant camp had nothing to do with the one in Laos where I found myself a few years ago, the only visitor to ride the elephants in the mountain at night and pick them up at dawn, muddy and dusty, for a much needed early morning bath in the freezing river.IMG_0569
Talking about freezing, you can probably tell, from the way I’m dressed, that it’s not exactly warm here.
We arrived last night in the Machadodorp area, on the Highveld plateau at about 2,000 meter altitude. It looks somewhat like the English countryside, as if it had been photographed with a wide-angle lens, the same rolling hills, greenery and horses grazing, but expanded, stretched out to a very far away horizon. Except that in England, the same scenery would have been compressed, closed in.g1907604

We stayed in Kloppenheim, a sumptuous country estate. my huge room could have belonged to an English manor: fireplace, French doors opening to a terrace overlooking an endless panorama, heated bed, bathtub with boiling water:french-country-bedroom-ceiling-light-decor

And TV5 relating the latest shenanigans of Saudi Arabia: Have they kidnapped Harari or did he, as a supporter of Saudi Arabia, seek refuge in Riyad ?
But… no Internet!

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Swaziland?

You knew nothing about Swaziland?  Neither did I, let alone remember the name. I kept confusing it with Botswana.

A little over one million souls and a king and queen ruling team, except that they’re not husband and wife but mother and son. It’s always like that in this matriarchal society, you become king on virtue of being your mother’s son. The Queen is chosen and the son follows.

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H.M. King Mswati and H.M. the Indlovukasi (literally the Great She-Elephant) of Swaziland

He doesn’t marry but takes concubines (13 at the recent count) and being the king’s son doesn’t give you a right to the throne.

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King Mswati the III and his wives


We met one of those strong women this afternoon, the Umphakatsi village chief. Quite a personality!IMG_0501

On the picture, I’m wearing a pareo at the very effigy of King Mswati III. You make sure not to put it on upside-down or inside-in, that would be disrespectful. And women shouldn’t wear pants in the village. IMG_0512Not that it would offend men, because there aren’t any to be seen. Apparently, the stay in the shade, drinking and playing cards, women doing most of the hard work.

A long walk in the Milwane reserve this morning. A chance to get moving mostly, as the animals remain elusive to say the least: a few wildebeests far far away, a couple of zebras, a lonely warthog, several tame antelopes and many termite hills. It’s like being home: lantanas and termites!Lantanas

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I discovered that the woody, granulous termite excrements that I sometime find in the least appropriate corners of my house ( as if there were appropriate places!) are essential to the savannas’ ecosystem. Without them as fertilizers, the herbivores would starve as well as those who feed on them. Termites’ social organization is similar to ants’, except perhaps that termites feed on fungi grown on what they collect. They might also be the inventors of the first air. conditioning system as they manage to keep the nest at a fairly stable temperature ranging between 27 and 31 C.

Well, I won’t bore you with termite talk as you can easily find the information on internet.

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A “little” termite nest

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Crazy Race

Arrived in Durban at noon.

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Jacaranda-lined avenue

This trip so far has been a crazy race.  I don’t usually pick such hyper travel companions.

Truth is I’m mentally, if not physically, exhausted, have no time to write, let alone to think.

So I took the day off today!

Enough is enough!  “I vant to be alone”( Greta Garbo).

Up at 5:30 to see the elephants; IMG_0569 the rhinos;Hluhluwe rhinocéros blanc_5787the giraffes;IMG_0463 (2)buffaloes;Botswana Parc Chobe Buffle_6258_previewwildebeests;Parc Kruger gnous_7018warthogs,Botswana lodge Phacochère et bébés_4014_previewall that in a semi-coma. I declined the visit to the Zulu village (fake in my opinion) and a second safari in the afternoon.

Went back to my tent  after breakfast and slept until 11.

Being a pathetic photographer, it’s only because the animals were rather lethargic themselves that I managed to catch them in semi-action.

Today is pretty good though, the lodge is practically empty, I just had lunch in blessed aloneness.

I’m sitting on the wide veranda overlooking the savanna with its acacia trees and listening to the songs of weaver birds and sing-song Zulu talk of the personnel.  It almost sounds like very fast-spoken Italian.

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Zulu Nyala Heritage Hotel

My travel companions are no younger than I am, but they all seem to be on some sort of crazy mission, as if it were their last trip: they have to see everything, go everywhere non-stop, rush from one destination to another and comment everything . You’d believe they’ve never seen anything, perhaps have I seen too much… Let’s say that I prefer to see one thing and see it well.

I usually organize my own trips, rent a car and keep some time to loiter, do nothing, get lost, absorb, listen… This time we have some sort of a mini-van.

Well, live and learn.  Organizing a trip takes a lot of time and trouble but it’s worth it, you hold the rudder and sail your ship at your own rhythm.

Moment of grace this afternoon: As I was walking under the yet to be identified tree where the weavers have set up their GQ.  The little guys were busy fluttering in and out of their woven egg of a nest.weaver-bird-nests-img_6552c2a9maria-de-bruynres Fluffy, tiny yellow and black creatures.  Hluhluwe lodge Tisserin intermédiaire - Lesser Masked-Weaver_5983_preview (1)

Sounds of the night: some huge croaking frog or toad; something like two bamboo sticks knocking against each other; the birds have gone to sleep.Botswana Parc Chobe paysage coucher de soleil_3168_preview

It doesn’t take much to make me happy, to make my day.  The aloneness and little yellow birds. Walking fast on a red earth road, this morning, the endless savanna and nothing else ahead of me, except for the occasional baby antelope.terre rouge

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Baby Roan Antelope

 

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Capetown – October 2017

I don’t have the impression to be in Africa yet. Big western style cities;

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Capetown

manicured gardens;

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Kirstenbosch Gardens

Disneyesque hamlets restored to evoke their European or Malay origins but failing to be entirely convincing;

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Franskhhoektown

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Malay Quarter – Capetown

otters and penguins difficult to conciliate with one’s idea of Africa;

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Hout Bay

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Boulders Beach

 

hordes of tourists everywhere and so many smiles and hellos from people who might have every reason not to smile. That makes you wonder how sincere they are. They look and sound sincere though.

This is all rather rushed and much too fast for my own contemplative rhythm. I need to be alone. I need silence. I’m not complaining, I’d just like to be able to hear myself think a little bit, decant what I see, assimilate it. It’s been difficult so far. I always remember Africa as I first saw it in 1975: the huge empty spaces;

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Masai Mara – Kenya

scenery evoking prehistory as one imagines it, being practically alone in the Ngoro Ngoro crater;

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Ngoro Ngoro Crater – Tanzania

in the reserves, the noble Masai defiling spear in hand along the roads, their cattle in tow.

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That was a time when you felt you had pieces of the world all to yourself. I think I’m a bit nostalgic…

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Crique Angèle, the very best hike!

At breakfast, I observe a brightly-colored caterpillar: coral and black. It’s very busy trotting on its many little legs, applying saliva to the dining carbet’s banister and sometimes rising its little head which is hard to distinguish from its fan-shaped tail, a bit like a lobster’s tail. ChenilleCuriously it will turn into a dull colored moth while the fluorescent blue morpho butterfly starts as an ashen caterpillar.morpho

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Guyanese prisoners were given the task to catch those mythical butterflies, then used to dye US $100 bills. The three of us leave at 9 for our expedition. We should be at the creek by 12:30. Much more than we bargained for. There is a path to Crique Angèle, but since it’s not often used, it is obstructed by branches, fallen trunks, roots and invaded by vegetation and treacherous lianas that wrap themselves around your ankles. A certain type of root forms traps like croquet hoops, if your foot gets stuck in one, it’s fast plunge forward.jungle We walk on a thick carpet of dead leaves and fallen palm fronds. If you’re not careful feeling the ground with your walking stick, a soft muddy spot may suck in one of of your feet. It can sometimes be quite muddy and slippery allover, particularly in the descents, but Nathan precedes us, hacking us a way with his machete.IMG_1213 Black flies the size of hummingbirds are constantly buzzing about us but they don’t seem interested in biting. Nathan fashions a fan of noisy palms to ward them off. Stick in right hand, fly swat in the left, we are equipped. We are also quickly drenched in sweat, going up and down hills.  This is not his kind of thing but I cannot renege my Amerindian heritage and forests and jungle throw me in an ecstatic, meditative state, so much so that as we cross a creek on a tree trunk, I miss a step and fall into the creek with my backpack. It’s not very deep, but deep enough for me to swallow a mouthful and get even more soaked than I already was.jungle1 I’m mostly worried for the contents of my backpack but no choice but to keep going.

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Wet and filthy, we reach the creek on time and this is heaven! Five hours away from all civilization, a creek to wash in, as I’m quite dirty by now;

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a cascade (which stole my rubber tongs) with myriads yellow butterflies fluttering over in a disneyesque scene; a “carbet” (open shelter) to hang our hammocks and wet clothes that may or may not dry and Nathan’s good sandwiches and rum punch.Crique-Angel037IMG_1220 Of all the hikes I’ve done in my life, this is by very, very far, the best. Hard camping but talk about exclusive! There is absolutely nobody around! The boys have lit a fire and we’ll roast a baby peccary for dinner.IMG_1201 Tonight, we’re sleeping deep into the heart of the jungle. Monday, August Crique Angèle I can’t say that we slept all that well. That hammock has me tossing and turning to find an approximately comfortable position. We leave after breakfast and the trek back seems a lot harder on the way out than in, even though it’s only half as long. The sun is out today and created patterns of light and shadow that mask obstacles. All in all, we have walked 25 km since yesterday. My still wet shoes are not that comfortable either. We are grateful to see Manuel waiting for us with the pirogue that will take us back to the “semi-civilization” of Saut Athanase.

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Saut Athanase, French Guyana

On the road again… To Regina this time. I drive. For those who might be familiar with Maui’s road to Hana, this road is a close contender.

Road to Hana

Road to Hana, Maui

One hairpin turn after the other. But it’s going pretty well, except for my passenger who seems ready to faint. Nevertheless we make it, park the car in front of the Gendarmerie (police) and get on the pirogue to Saut Athanase.fleuves_-_crique_gabriel We have to cover 40 km to get to destination, that is nearly two hours of pirogue on the l’Approuague river. The river is mirror smooth and reflective, a black-billedCoumarou flower toucan flies over, but apart from that lonely apparition, not much fauna to be observed.Black-billed_Mountain-Toucan Then suddenly, Alfonso, our Brazilian pirogue driver warns of rapidly moving waters. Rare phenomenon, the river suddenly ascends to a higher level, two meters higher as if we had to go up a water staircase, step by bumpy step. In fact, it’s as we were climbing a cascade in reverse, negotiating rocky moguls. Nothing too threatening but enough to send us carefully jumping and zigzagging between stones. The pirogue driver has to know every stone and the depth of water to safely wend his way between them.saut Then it’s dead calm again, alternating with more variations in levels. Some of the basaltic rocks are blooming with feather-shaped pink flowers.

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Coumarou flower

The scenery is indeed wild, untouched, spectacular, but the installations at Saut Athanase have suffered with time and the change of owner and we find them rather dilapidated. You can either sleep in a “carbet”: a shelter with a roof but no walls where you’re provided with a hammock or in a bungalow.

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A carbet

Well, things do change and we’re back in squalor: a torrid bungalow with no A/C, holes in the mosquito screens, a furry, none too clean bedspread, with wool pillowcases, no sheets and a door that doesn’t lock. It’s very much like summer camp for underprivileged children. But, hey, we’re accustomed to that stuff. We’ve seen worse. On a positive note, lunch with three French couples and the son of one of them, is delicious: rum punch, salad, smoked peccary stew and sugary sweet pineapple. Apparently, if you take a male banana bud, take away the blossoms inside and chop the outer layer, it will flavor the sauce you cook it with a smoky taste. I’m not so sure about that but worth a try. The French just left and we now have the run of the place. The camp at Saut Athanase is basically run by a father and son team: Manuel and Nathan, from the Karipuna tribe in the Oiapoque region in Brazil.

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Nathan

At 4:30pm, Manuel asks if we want to go fishing. I say “¿Perdon?” As usual, I’m distracted and I try to decipher his French sentence as if it were Spanish. It takes me a few seconds to readjust my mind to the proper language. “Fishing? Why not?” Back on the pirogue. It bites. I catch a pirai, a small silver fish with a patch the size and color of a lemon slice behind its gills. I feel sorry for it. I don’t like watching him agonize in the bottom of the pirogue. I beg Manuel to hit its head somehow and put an end to its misery, but we have no gloves, no appropriate tool and catching the fish by the tail to hit its head against the boat is tantamount to catching a wet bar of soap.Fish Manuel catches two cumarus, large flat-bodied fish and a few smaller ones. I don’t like that. I pull in my fishing rod and, sitting on a life-jacket in the bottom of the pirogue, try to meditate the fish away. It seems to work. No more biting. I’m quite pleased with myself. Everything is perfectly peaceful, except for bird cries, parrots cawing and the whistling of… ocelots. Manuel explains that ocelots have the ability to imitate various bird and animal cries to attract their prey. Never knew that, how clever of them? A flight of parrots quickly goes overhead.Parrots

On the shores, the jungle is as dense and vividly green as moss. Occasionally, the high purple top of a “bois-vache” (cow-tree that gives a sweet milky sap) peeks through the foliage. An immense rainbow, neatly painted on the sky, widely straddles the horizon. Several times, we approach the shores, duck under the low hanging branches, lianas brushing against our faces, as Manuel hangs the smaller fish we caught as bait for larger catches. We’ll find out tomorrow if he’s had any luck. The sun is setting and crossing the rapids at dusk is a risky enterprise as you can barely see the rocks hidden a few inches under water or barely touching the surface. Hitting a rock might be fatal as the shores offer no refuge and passing the night on a rock is none too appealing. …….. We meet Nathan in the kitchen, it’s only the two of us, Nathan and his father. Nathan is cooking and we chat around our rum punches. Nathan is 25, already has three children, the first one fathered when he was only 13. He’s extremely bright, mature, knowledgeable and his fish couscous is to die for. Tomorrow, we are leaving with him for a two-and-a-half hour uphill hike to Crique Angèle, a hard to reach destination in the middle of the jungle, five hours away from all civilization.

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Cayenne and the Salvation Islands

We will definitely leave our Airbnb rental, which had bad vibes including a cat, and take temporary domicile in Cayenne, in the pretty and well-located Hotel des Palmistes where we stayed on our first night.  It’s a colonial house, classified National Monument.  After 5 weeks of hardship, we decided we deserved it and that luxury is a much better option.place-des-palmistes

Everything in Guyana, except for its nature and rivers, l’Aproague, le Maroni, le Kourou et l’Oiapock, seem miniaturized, pristine and well-maintained: the towns, houses, narrow roads.  French organization after Brazilian chaos.  This is not the Third-world anymore, but it’s not the First either.  Guyana is populated with small civil servants from the Metropolis with boosted pay, who stay a few years to accumulate a nest-egg; scientists and engineers working on the Space Center in Kourou and a largely subsidized population of unemployed Guyanese.  One could say it’s a welfare state keeping up with appearances, thence the absence of quality consumer goods and upscale restaurants.  But after Brazil, everything here tastes like ambrosia.

We drove to Kourou yesterday.  I mean I drove to Kourou since my friend forgot his driver’s license.  I warned him that I have a very personal style of driving and that it was not for weak natures.    I guess he didn’t know what I meant, but hearing him hissing, whistling and emitting diverse tsk-tsking sounds indicated that my style is making him pretty nervous.  To be honest, driving here with all those blasted roundabouts and tortuous roads makes me pretty nervous too.

In Kourou, we took a Guyavoile catamaran and sailed to Saint-Joseph Island, one of the three island off Kourou having been the sites of penitentiary colonies since late 19th Century until 1958 when all were dismantled.  Guyavoile-1Hard to believe that those islands of breathtaking beauty could have been the theatre of such misery.  Saint-Joseph Island is by far the most beautiful tropical Island I have seen and I’ve seen many.  The reason for that might very well be that nature has reclaimed its rights upon the old penitentiary, that the island is left to the maintenance of two soldiers from the Foreign Legion (one Mongol! and one Pole, that’s probably why they’re called the “Foreign Legion”) and tourism limited to strolling on sandy lanes through the jungle of banyan and coconut trees and swimming in the clear turquoise, but dangerous waters off the beaches.  You can’t swim very far because of a strong undertow.  We could have begged for hospitality to the two legionnaires, just for the privilege of passing the night on the island but didn’t…IMG_1214

We had to get back to the catamaran and that part of the expedition might have been the most pleasant, I don’t remember feeling any less than ecstatic on a sailboat.  After I find my spot near the mast, I need nothing else from life than being rocked as in a cradle, preferably with a good book.  The Planter’s Punch was not bad either.

We disembarked on Île Royale and had lunch in the one hotel on the Island. From our table overlooking the ocean, we could see Devil’s Island with the little house where Dreyfus, accused of high treason, was held in solitary confinement for nearly 5 years before being granted his rehabilitation and reintegration into the French Army.  He apparently wrote more than a thousand letters from Devil’s Island.  I wish I could set my hands on them.  To be researched…

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Devil’s Island with Dreyfus’ detention house

The prison director’s mansion has been turned into a museum.  Suddenly a flash: a large brown “animal runs on top of the banister surrounding the terrace.

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Île Royale, Prison Director’s mansion

Is that a dog?  A small pony?  I can’t see too well.  As I go out, I discover a capuchin monkey.  He stops for a moment, looks at me and scuttles away.

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To be followed…

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Belem-Oiapoque-Cayenne

We took the flight to Macapa this morning, after a last stroll on the Rua Santo Antonio, that used to be the Champs-Elysées of Belem in its long gone golden age.
Its most elegant store, “Paris en America” remains, with its Art nouveau decor, massive chandeliers and double staircase.teatro
Bolts of cheap fabrics have replaced the models shipped directly from Paris.  But the street has an undeniable atmosphere with its hagglers and little kiosks selling every gadget one can imagine.  Belem has somewhat of a schizophrenic personality: the elegant and well maintained, side by side with filth and dilapidation.

So, here we are, back in “beautiful” Macapa, the iron town!  We arrive around 2:30, take a cab to the bus station with Daya, a French-speaking Brazilian born grandmother and resident of Cayenne.  We follow her like ducklings: she knows where to go and what to do.
The bus is not leaving until 6pm, so we have a good three hours to kill, waiting in the sweltering heat.  I try to spot a restaurant nearby that might have air-conditioning.  None, but some sort of a hotel across the street, Posada Ester.

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We go in and sit by the fan waiting for someone to ask us what we’re doing here.  A few girls, all obese and wearing short shorts are lolling in what can pass as a lobby. A transvestite minces by, also in short shorts.  A fat, rather menacing dragon of a woman finally asks us if she can help. She must be the madam and this has every aspect of a brothel.  “Oiapoque?” she asks.  We play innocent, not wanting to reveal that we are using her fine establishment as the waiting room for our bus to Oiapoque on the Guyanese border.  “Não, não, we’re waiting for a friend, she says she’d pick us up here.” She takes interest in my fan, borrows it.  I’m wondering whether she has any intention to keep it in exchange for her hospitality.  Her smile has something vitriolic about it, but she decides to tolerate us.  Three girls and a guy go upstairs.  I hope for them the room as A/C.

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Lots of traffic at Posada Ester

We decide to leave before getting into trouble.
The bus leaves on time, at 6pm, we have inherited the very last seats in the bus, but two are still unoccupied and we start fantasizing about the space we’ll have to ourselves.  Short-lived fantasy, at the next stop, an entire family gets in: papa, mama, a toddler and a baby in full vocalizing form.  Ear plugs a must!  But…but… why is my seat wet?  It is definitely wet!  Condensation?  Something else?  Better not to know but it smells sort of funky in here.
Nevertheless at 9pm, all lights are turned on.  Everybody to the bathroom and the trough. I’m barely awake and wonder if we will be awakened every three hours for such pit stops.
I went back to sleep until 5am, if one can call sleep that constant repositioning in one very exiguous space.
5am – Oiapoque Bus Station

IMG_1166We have to wait until 8am to have our passports stamped by Brazilian immigration.  A very enterprising lady has set a stand where she prepares breakfast.  Fried egg in a bun, manioc pancake and coffee.  She moves like a well-oiled robot, not a superfluous gesture, it’s almost like watching a ballet.
I opt for the manioc pancake.  It has the look of a little white washcloth and the texture of a sponge.  Taste: non-existent.  If I continue on this diet of manioc, rice, potatoes, white breads and cake, I’ll probably come back undernourished and as barrel-shaped as 95% of Brazilians.manioc
We take a cab to the border station, then a launch to Saint-Georges in French Guiana.  I must have my passport stamped again, since we’re now in French territory.  The shuttle driver who must take us back to Cayenne tells us not to worry, he’ll take us to immigration or whatever takes place of it.  He probably assumes that I own a French passport.  Halfway through Cayenne, which is a good two-and-a-half hours away from Saint-Georges, two police officers stop the vehicle and wince at my Canadian passport.  I should have had it stamped in Saint-George, or maybe Cayenne.  No problem, the driver will take us to the police in Cayenne. But, as I thought, this issue has nothing to do with the police but with Immigration.  The police send us to the Airport, but not without severely reprimanding the driver first.
At the Cayenne Airport, same story.  The passport should have been stamped at the border in Saint-George.  The driver offers to drive us back: two and a half hours to go, same to come back.
That is beyond our strength, we have been traveling for more than 24 hours, eaten no real food in that long and enough is enough.  At least he reimbursed our fare, plus the fare to go to Saint-George and back, not that we have any desire to do so.
We take a room at the pretty Palmistes Hotel on the main square of Cayenne, have a well deserved lunch and siesta. We’ll think about that tomorrow.

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Hôtel des Palmistes, Cayenne

Tonight is the launching of Ariane 5 and we don’t want to miss the event. The rocket takes off at 7pm, launching two satellites in orbit. It will be much closer and visible than the red spot we were told to watch in the sky.  The rocket boosters spitting fire before separating from the second stage were clearly visible.  For a moment, I felt as if they were to fall upon our heads.images

25th August
At 8 this morning, Yann is at the Gendarmerie with my passport.  The head officer calls the head of Immigration who tells him there shouldn’t be any problem.  That remains to be seen.  It all depends, I guess, on the mood of the Immigration officer on duty when I leave.  For the time being, I’ve entered France illegally as there is no trace of my arrival.
Mulling this over and refusing to worry too much about possibly dire consequences, I have my breakfast (croissant, fruit, guava juice and real coffee, neither instant, nor disgustingly sugary) on the terrace overlooking the Palmistes Square with its colonnades of palmtrees.  I’m happy.

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Place des Palmistes, Cayenne

We took possession of the car and checked in at our B&B, a little bit too close for comfort as far as I’m concerned.  I always feel funny, not to say and intruder, in other people’s home.
To be followed…

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La beauté du delta de l’Amazone: en transit vers Belem

Samedi 20 août

Apres s’être amusés, la veille, à changer six fois d’hémisphère en une minute, en sautant à pieds joints sur la ligne matérialisant au sol l’équateur, nous quittons aujourd’hui Macapa.

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Sur la ligne de l’équateur: à chacun son hémisphère!

Pour la sixième et dernière fois, nous prenons un bateau.
Notre destination est notre terminus sur l’Amazone : le port de Belem, lui aussi dans le delta du grand fleuve, mais sur l’Atlantique et à 300 km au sud-est de Macapa.
Entre ces deux points, le splendide delta de l’Amazone et son île principale de Marajo, aussi vaste que la Belgique, que l’on peut contourner de deux façons. Soit par l’est, par la haute mer, en prenant le “Canal do Norte” qui nous fait ensuite passer par l’Atlantique (cap Maguarinho). Soit par l’ouest, en passant “entre les îles” qui forment le delta et en embouquant une série de petits canaux qui étaient, il y a encore quinze ans, une zone
 infestée de pirates, “las ratas de agua”.
C’est là que le célèbre navigateur néo-zélandais Peter Blake a perdu la vie en 2001. Il avait simplement refusé de donner, à un de ces pirates, la montre gagnée en tant que vainqueur de la Coupe de l’America. Cet épisode eut un tel retentissement international qu’il provoqua un vigoureux nettoyage du delta par la marine de guerre brésilienne. Sur le port de Santana, on raconte encore qu’il y a peu de temps, certains bateaux (les “lanchas”), naviguaient en convois et embarquaient des militaires de la Police fédérale pour repousser d’éventuels assaillants.
A Santana, nous embarquons sur l’Ana Beatriz 4, prévu appareiller à 10h. La navigation va durer un peu moins de 24h et notre bateau prendra les petits canaux de l’Ouest.
Apprenez aussi qu’il y a des marées dans l’embouchure et le delta de l’Amazone et que le marnage pouvant  atteindre 2 à 3 mètres, tous ces petits canaux ne peuvent être fréquentés que par des bateaux à faible tirant d’eau. Celui de l’Ana Beatriz étant de 50 cm, nous ne risquons rien.
Ce bateau moderne (1980), est propre et bien commandé. De nombreux détails l’attestent : les lances d’incendie, déployées et sous pression, sont prêtes à fonctionner, les aussières sont bien lovées, la diffusion générale marche bien, le matériel est rangé, les ordres donnés aux matelots sont clairs…
Il a une particularité : le pont principal, le moins cher, où 150 à 200 hamacs vont être accrochés, est climatisé.
Contre la somme de 500 Reals (170 euros pour 2 personnes), la commissaire de bord nous attribue une cabine avec douche/WC/ lavabo privée. Elle précise que le petit déjeuner est offert mais que le déjeuner et le dîner sont payants (5 euros par personne).
La cabine attribuée n’ayant plus de serrure, nous sommes surclassés et recevons une “suite”: un lit double et un lit simple superposé avec toilettes privées et frigidaire. Bizarrement il n’y a pas, comme dans les bateaux précédents, de porte-manteau ou de crochets pour suspendre nos affaires. Je dois vous avouer qu’après
six embarquements, nous sommes maintenant devenus très doués pour accrocher nos sacs en plastique (de nourriture, de déchets, de savons, de linge mouillé …), nos serviettes et autres gants de toilette aux coins du lit, au sommier du lit supérieur, à la moindre tête de vis dépassant du mur …
Aujourd’hui, avec ses murs en fer, son absence de mobilier et nos six sacs en plastique, notre cabine ressemble plus que jamais à une cellule de Fleury Mérogis qu’à une “suite” de bateau de croisière.
Nous nous y installons cependant avec plaisir et sommes étonnés par sa propreté (pas une tache de rouille ; enfin, des matelas et des murs propres). Les murs en fer sont couleur “citron vert” et le sol est bleu acier.
Dans cette cabine, la surface au sol, où nous pouvons nous tenir debout, a doublé par rapport aux précédentes ; elle est passée de 1 à 2 m2….
Mais, nous n’avons toujours pas la moindre fenêtre, ni le moindre hublot. Notre suite est, une nouvelle fois, une cabine de prison mais, cette fois ci, elle est propre…
Mon équipière d’aventure constatant que seul le lit supérieur dispose d’un drap, s’étonne qu’il n’y en ait pas sur le grand lit. “Comme sur les autres bateaux”, me dit elle.
Je lui réponds que nous n’avons jamais eu de draps propres sur aucun des six bateaux précédents. Elle manque de s’évanouir…
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Pendant ce temps, le bateau se remplit progressivement et nombreux sont les passagers qui emportent avec eux leur nourriture pour 24h. À bord de l’Ana Beatriz, il me semble que nous sommes, à nouveau, les seuls étrangers parmi les 300 passagers à bord.
Ayant une heure à attendre avant le départ, nous quittons le bateau et partons explorer le petit marché local. C’est un marché typique de village de marins : beaucoup de vendeurs de filets, d’hélices, d’appâts, de lignes d’arbres, de moteurs hors bord. Beaucoup de bazars où presque tout est vendu un ou deux euros : casseroles en plastique, pots de chambre, batterie de téléphone, montres, lunettes de soleil…
Nos pas nous conduisent ensuite au marché aux fruits. De nombreuses Brésiliennes y vendent des légumes et, dans des bouteilles en plastique, des sauces pimentées “maison”.
Plus loin, un magasin attire notre regard : un magasin d’objets religieux….
Une centaine de bouteilles  proposent des huiles pour se faire pardonner d’avoir menti, d’avoir trompé son mari, d’avoir volé. Chaque péché a son Saint et chaque Saint sa bouteille. J’en achète trois que j’offrirai bien sûr car, tout le monde le sait, je ne pèche jamais…
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Plus loin, à côté de Saintes Vierges en stuc, de nombreuses amulettes, d’une vingtaine de centimètres de hauteur, représentent la personne que l’on veut envoûter ou charmer : un paysan, un chasseur, un docteur… Il y a même une dizaine d’officiers de marine marchande (tous moustachus, beurk!) avec leurs belles tenues blanches et leurs casquettes. Qu’ont ils fait pour être envoûtés ? J’en ai une petite idée. Vont-ils, plutôt, être charmés?
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En rentrant à bord, nous faisons la connaissance de deux Français qui voyagent ensemble depuis longtemps. Nous leur parlons de l’impossibilité d’acheter sur internet un billet d’avion Belem-Cayenne et de notre crainte de ne pas pouvoir, le 25 août, voler vers Cayenne. Ils nous conseillent de passer par Paramaribo et le Surinam. Affaire à creuser demain.
Au moment d’appareiller, trois personnes demandent à monter à bord quand le bateau est déjà éloigné du quai d’un bon mètre. Le commandant accoste à nouveau et les trois passagers (dont une aveugle) sont quasiment jetés sur le pont avec leurs bagages.
Nous sommes maintenant sortis du port. Notre bateau, l’Ana Beatriz 4 se dirige vers la haute mer. Aurions nous été trompés?
Une heure plus tard, vers midi, le Comandante met la barre à droite et part plein sud dans les bras du delta.
Nous passons entre l’île Quelmada et l’île do Para.
Le chenalage commence. Il va durer 20 heures. Pour la première fois depuis un mois, nous naviguons plein sud…
Plus nous chenalons, plus le chenal est étroit et plus les îles sont proches. Elles sont toutes principalement bordées de palmiers. Il n’y a pas de plage et l’eau du fleuve touche les premiers arbres ; par moment, l’Amazone rentre de 20 mètres dans la forêt.
L’eau change de couleur en fonction des courants et contre courants ; elle passe de café au lait à thé au lait. Par moment, il y a, sur l’eau, de grosses tâches  noires ; ce sont les ombres des nuages. Le courant est fort.
Nous naviguons dans un dédale d’îles ; on se croirait dans le golfe du Morbihan.
A midi, nous avons le choix entre riz/poulet/ nouilles ou nouilles/ poulet/riz…
C’est décidé ; ce sera dînette dans notre cabine
(1 brioche et deux fruits).
Nous rentrons maintenant dans un petit canal, juste un peu plus large que le canal du Midi. Nous passons entre l’Ilha dos Macacos et l’Ilha Laguna.
Il y a peu d’eau mais cela n’est pas gênant car l’Ana Beatriz, malgré ses 4 ponts,  ne cale que 60 cm.
Le spectacle est vraiment grandiose et magnifique. Deux rubans d’arbres, grands et élancés, bordent la route marron sur laquelle nous sommes lancés. Tout est vert. Les palmiers se battent pour avoir de la place car les bambous sont aussi hauts et plus nombreux. De temps en temps un arbre, au feuillage rouge, les domine. Au pied de ces géants, l’eau  baigne et touche les premières feuilles. C’est très beau et c’est exactement le paysage amazonien que j’avais dans mon imagination et que je recherchais en faisant ce voyage.river_shore
L’étroitesse du canal fait que notre vague de sillage a bien un mètre de haut quand elle monte sur les rives, fait danser violemment les bateaux et canoës qui y sont attachés et éclabousse les indiens spectateurs sur la rive.
De temps en temps, un petit village avec une église apparaît. Le cimetière, à un mètre du bord de la rivière, est plus qu’à moitié submergé et seules deux croix bleues sortent de l’eau…
Le plus souvent, les maisons, toutes sur pilotis, sont isolées. Des enfants, à moitiés nus, en sortent et agitent leurs bras.
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Quelle vie doivent avoir les habitants de ces maisons ? Quelques uns, et ils sont rares, ont des cellules photovoltaïques pour produire de l’électricité et alimenter, entre autres, les paraboles qui leur permettent de capter la télévision (photo).
Un spectacle inattendu se produit devant nous. Sur le fleuve et devant chaque village, des femmes ou des enfants sont dans des pirogues et attendent, dignes et immobiles, le passage de notre bateau.
Je comprends ce qu’elles font quand je vois des passagers lancer dans l’eau, depuis le pont inférieur, des sacs en plastique, parfaitement emmaillotés, contenant de la nourriture et, surtout, des vêtements. Elles pagayent avec force pour éviter de chavirer avec le remous créé par notre vague de sillage et, surtout, pour récupérer le sac.
Cette scène touchante se répète une douzaine de fois.
Apres un virage, l’Ana Beatriz sort brutalement du canal et arrive dans un lac gigantesque tant l’autre rive est loin et se confond avec l’horizon. C’est encore et toujours l’Amazone.
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Nous n’avons pas le temps de chercher notre position sur une carte ; le “Comandante” vient de virer à droite et de reprendre un canal encore plus étroit.
La beauté du spectacle n’est pas surfaite car tous les Brésiliens sont sur les passavants à admirer la nature environnante.
Un jeune pêcheur lance son frêle esquif contre la coque de notre bateau et réussit à s’y arrimer. Il vend des sacs pleins de crevettes dont les  Brésiliens raffolent tant.

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La nuit vient de tomber. Pour la première fois, le soleil ne s’est pas couché sur le fleuve mais dans la forêt. Nous naviguons vers le sud et l’ouest qui, lors de nos précédentes navigations, était dans notre sillage est maintenant sur notre côté, sur la forêt.
Comme c’est notre dernière nuit sur l’Amazone, il est temps pour moi de vous dévoiler une vérité.
L’insecte le plus nuisible en Amazonie n’est pas du tout le moustique. En effet, il n’y en a pas le moindre sur un bateau qui avance sur l’eau.
C’est le “DidGé” brésilien, alias D.J, alias Disque Jockey…. Nous en avons un à bord qui, depuis ce matin 10h, est au micro et se prend pour David Guetta.
Plutôt sympa le type ; il met du Jo Dassin dès qu’ il me voit et me fit : ” Bom djour, comment ça ba”…
Mais il se croit obligé de faire cracher ses amplis et il est absolument impossible de se parler dans un rayon de 10 mètres.
A 21h, la plage arrière est devenu un dancing.

Je pars me coucher car nous arrivons tôt demain, vers 07h

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Envoyé de mon iPhone

Transcrit par Siri

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From Santarem to Macapa

August 16, 2016

After lazy days in Alter do Chão, we begin to feel all softened and in need to go back to hardship. I got self-indulgent enough yesterday to get a manicure and pedicure for the astronomical amount of 30R (10$). In fact, I’ve been so lazy so far that I almost feel sorry for those who can’t read Y’s accounts in French, as they are far more detailed and rigorous than my very impressionistic notes. His could serve as a guide for the descent of the Amazon. So, we’re done with beaches, passion fruit juices and caipirinhas. Back to prison food!

We took the bus back to Santarem this morning. The road is still as bumpy as it is was last time. We easily found the departure pier for Macapa, got our tickets on the São Francisco de Assisi, hung our hammocks, dumped our bags in the cabin and hit the town in search of victuals for the next 36 hours. The heat is no less torrid here in Santarem than elsewhere, but a breeze coming from the Tapajos makes it somewhat more bearable. Santarem has a little flavor of Salvador de Bahia as I imagine it with its two toy-like, pastel-colored colonial churches.Santarem Church Church Santarem, Brazil 124The riverside promenade is typical of any working harbor: wall-to-wall shops offering cables, anchors, harpoons, fishing nets, machetes, chicken wire, building materials, saddles, hammocks, bags of various cereals, birds, puppies and hamsters in cages, heaps of fruit (identifiable and non-identifiable), provisions in bulk, anything and everything.Santarem_Para_Brazil_StreetView_KeithRock_CC-BYcornerstore

At a little kiosk where they sell juices and various cold drinks, we see the same and only indigenous we’ve seen yesterday in Alter do Chão, and since our departure. By that I mean the only one corresponding to the image one has of an Amazonian Indian: face paint, long hair, loincloth and neck and ear adornments.  The lobe of his right ear is elongated to accommodate one long feather. Apart from that, he’s extremely handsome in an “in your face” brand of exoticism.

Indigenous

When we return to the pier bearing heavy bags with bottles of water, fruit, cookies and a new hammock for Y, we notice to our great dismay that the berth where our ship was waiting is now empty. Moment of… slight worry, until we are explained, at least I think I understand, that the São Francisco has gone on an errand (???) and will be back shortly… We dejectedly cross the street to sit in the shade and observe iguanas, hoping that we understood the answer properly and weighing the options if ever our boat doesn’t come back.

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Take a flight to Macapa and wait for the arrival of the ship? Y. doesn’t have his passport. That might be complicated. In this hot harbor, sitting on cement benches with our plastic bags, we feel – and probably look like – street people. So much so that three elderly men push us away so that they can set up their game of dominoes.

The São Francisco came back from doing its “errand”. It won’t be leaving until 6pm tonight. Doubtful it will leave on time. At least, this one, in comparison with the Manaus-Santarem, is practically empty and we might have some breathing space between the hammocks. On the boat next to ours, a sailor is trying to straighten the blade of a propellor, he hits the cast iron blade with a bar with resounding “boings” at a rhythm of several per minute. He’s been at it for an hour. But at least, they haven’t started the music yet. Between two evils, which one is the least annoying? The music definitely. We can’t hear it too much from the cabin but the poor souls sleeping on deck are in for all-night concert.

By six, we realize that we haven’t eaten since breakfast, except for a juice here and there. As I go down to the lower deck to see if anything is cooking, an exodus of lemmings start coming down the stairs: an uninterrupted flow. Dinner must be ready. As we go deeper into the bowels of the ship, the rumble of the engines become deafening and, in a dark room, we find the passengers queuing for some sort of unappetizing soup, but worse is the hellish atmosphere of that noisy penumbra. I’m not sure I can eat there. When Y. asks if I’d mind very much if he skipped dinner, I seize the occasion and desperately escape, running up the steep ladder as fast as a monkey. Dinner: a mango, a spoonful of peanut butter, a few Brazil nuts, a chocolate chip cookie and water. That will have to do until tomorrow.

We find one of the members of our tribe or “family” on the boat. He is Anatole, a young Frenchman having worked for a French IT company in Brazil and traveling on his way back to his next job in Luxembourg. He is every mother’s dream of the perfect son or son-in-law.

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Anatole et Yann

Wednesday 17th August- Aboard the São Francisco on the way to Macapa This is the next to last stretch on the Amazon ferries before Belem. We’re getting a bit out-of-breath, out of nourishment, out of patience with the monotony of life on river boats and, in Y’s case, out of sleep. As Anatole says:this is a test in patience. Good for the soul! The river has morphed into an ocean. Most of the time, the coast is now invisible and from the flat, still surfaces we’ve been sailing on so far, we’re suddenly hit by waves that violently rock the boat. The wind has risen and after yesterday’s sweltering heat, we can now use a sweater on our own “private terrace”. There is a wide deck in front of our cabin and since no one has had the idea to hang their hammocks in front of our door this time, we dragged two chairs from the bar and here we are, as cozy as on any luxury cruise ship, except for the food of course. A barge sails on the river. On its board 350 or so enormous trunks of recently felled Amazonian trees. The massacre continues. Each one is said to be worth around $10,000. One more deforested area. Sad.IMG_1100

At 1am, we wake up as in the middle of a storm. We seem to be hit by torrents of water and the ship is rocking dangerously. What is going on? I badly need to go to the bathroom but the deck must be drenched and the wind might just decide to throw me overboard. Outside, all is calm, not a wrinkle on the river and everybody slumbers peacefully in their hammocks. That storm must be reserved for the entertainment of the third deck bourgeois (sissies) passenger. I took a pill just in case and went back to sleep until Y woke me up at 6, for heaven’s sake! Time to pack and go. I follow bleary-eyed, bid our adieus to Anatole, buy our ticket for the Macapa-Belem Saturday. Twenty-four hours. We shall drink that cup to the bitter end.

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