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.
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.
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.
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
We 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.
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.
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.
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.
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…