Hard Times and Difficult Decisions
Today we know there is absolutely nothing that can stop this dream from coming true. Being stuck at home with your hands tied is often more difficult that the toughest road. It was to us, the point that almost destroyed everything.
We survived though. With a last-ditch effort we finished packing and made all our preparations. Then we said our final goodbyes and shed last tears before heading off from home. The adventure began. On a cold December morning we left Landau and started our journey to Paris. From there, if we were lucky, we would fly to South America.
Nothing was certain. We didn’t have tickets because neither of the two airlines we considered an option were able to confirm the tandem could be transported onboard their planes. The travelling became an exhausting struggle to push our limits. There was no day when we wouldn’t cycle at least ten hours. Surprisingly, it didn’t bother us at all. Finally, we were happy. For so long we had dreamed about this journey and now, at last, we had put it in motion.
Thanks to the help of some great people, a noticeable amount of luck and hours of work, we managed to put the tandem and ourselves on a plane to Cayenne. Well… almost. After arriving in South America, excited to feel the hot, sticky air on our skin, we were brought down to earth quite quickly. It turned out that the bike is still in Europe. It took 3 long days and a certain amount of nerves before we were able to hit the South American road for the first time.
The Dream Comes True
If you don’t know yet how it feels when your biggest dream comes true you should definitely try to strive for it. It was incredible, like being 10 kilos lighter and happier than you ever thought you could be!
The first visit to the jungle was incredible. Only an hour’s walk from the city took us to a wild and remote path. The vegetation exceeded all our expectations and seeing all the colourful birds and animals left us speechless.
We didn’t settle on walking only to explore the jungle. We spent one whole day soon after our arrival kayaking on one of the many little creeks in the deep, thick rainforest. We also seized the opportunity to go on a boat trip to an island inhabited only by monkeys and covered with a thick tropical forest full of enormous kapok trees. Local people believe that those trees are homes for spirits ready to punish anyone who dares to cut the kapok.
On our days free from the jungle expeditions we walked around the market and discovered new flavours of exotic fruits and vegetables. Marta learned how to prepare regional dishes and we spent the evenings mingling with the locals and drinking the Caribbean’s favourite rum.
Merry Christmas in Mana
Shortly before Christmas we hit the road and moved towards Suriname. Uncertain about how we are going to spend the upcoming holidays, and if we would find a safe place to sleep, we took an unavoidable risk. On the Christmas Eve we arrived in the small town of Iracoubo inhabited mostly by people of Maroon origins (descendants of the slaves brought to Guyana during the colonization to work on plantations).
In the heart of the town was the white, lovely church. The only thing Iracoubo is known for. After a short chit-chat we were kindly welcomed by a local priest to spend the night in an empty house next to his which was meant for his guests. The dinner consisted of pasta and a tomato sauce i.e. not a very festive dish. It didn’t matter at all. In fact, in all it’s simplicity, it felt very special.
We didn’t make it to the next destination on Christmas Day and once again we were left without a place to stay. Mana, a town 40 km from the border, was as far as we got on the way to Saint Laurent du Maroni. The last city to visit before reaching Suriname.
Encouraged by the kindness and generosity of the priest in Iracoubo, once again we turned towards the church. After a long and quite humiliating conversation with a nun, after we had asked her for a place to pitch the tent in her garden, we were allowed to enter. Sadly, after asking for a cup of tap water, we were denied and told that there is no water to spare for us. This, even though it was getting dark, was unbearable for our pride. Furthermore, there was absolutely no way we could stay without water as we completely run out of it before asking for help and the temperatures were high even during the night. She additionally told us we were not allowed to leave her garden before our departure.
All the stores were closed at the time when we arrived in the city. Thus, there was no option but to buy food as well. We wished the sister a guilt-free, merry Christmas and left. On that day, thankfully, someone else showed loads of us compassion.
The Nicest Invitation
Arriving in Saint Laurent there were only good experiences awaiting us. Cycling through the city we were stopped by Mareille and Pierre, a lovely French couple whom, without an introduction or a small talk, invited us to their home. Soon to be retired, they plan to cycle around South America as well. They seized the opportunity to gather some useful information and prepare for their upcoming adventure. Together with their family and friends we spent an absolutely lovely evening over a home-made dinner and wine. The house was filled with laughter and vivid conversations and we went to bed well fed and happy.
The Jungle Paradise
From Saint Laurent we moved south into deeper jungle. We reached the point where the asphalt road ended and cycled for almost an hour off-road to find the house of Isabelle and Franck. This beautiful couple invited us to spend a few days with them in their Gite Moutouchi. This stay we surely won’t forget.
Isabelle and Franck live in total harmony with nature. In their incredible home frogs in the bathroom are not a surprise and birds come inside to sing for the owners. There are no windows because there is no need to have them. Nearly no mosquitos can be found deep in the jungle and big animals stay away from this place also. We went to sleep together with the Sun and fell asleep with the sound of cycads and toads. The sunsets were breathtaking and made us wish we could stay there forever. The life in Moutouchi is simple and extraordinary at the same time. Everything amazed us, from the way Franck and Isabelle treated each other with so much love and care. Their hospitality was overwhelming and their vibes perfect for anyone. With open mouths we listened to their stories about building the house in the forest and raising two children there. To get to know about kids running barefoot in the jungle, searching for waterfalls, making friends with snakes and monkeys was like discovering a totally different world. Eating delicious food, drinking wine and talking for endless hours made us appreciate the simple things even more. What can be better than rising with the Sun and watching and listening to the jungle wake up with a cup of fresh, delicious coffee?
Crepe Ti’ Punch and Bushinengue Traditions
The last days of our stay in French Guyana and the last days of 2018 we spent with Sebastien and Claude back in Saint Laurent. If you think that your grandmother is the master of feeding people till they fall into a coma then hold your horses and rethink your opinion! Just like all grannies they not only focus on the quality of meals but also on the quantity. Bergamot cake and crepe Ti’ Punch- an innovation for a delicious alcohol intake :), will never EVER be forgotten!
While staying at the border city it was hard not to notice the great number of Surinamese immigrants living along the Maroni river. For years they have been emigrating to French Guyana attracted by a generous social care system and insurance granted to parents of many children.
However, the policy of the country changed and immigrants now need to prove a stay of fifteen years before receiving any benefits. Throughout the years they became the largest ethnic group in this part of the country bringing along their own culture, traditions and language. Staying with Sebastien and Claude we learned a bit about the Bushinengue (name of a tribe in Suriname) customs and beliefs.
We were surprised to find out about the most extraordinary relations between men and women, sexual practices and rules of marital arrangements. Like in many other cultures, also the Bushinengue men are entitled to marry several women. From one of Sebastien’s and Claude’s friends who spoke taki-taki, the Bushinengue language, we learned that the number of wives allowed is nine. Marriage contracts do not exist as it becomes known to the whole community, thus no other confirmation seems to be necessary.
The husband is forbidden to lay with his wife during her menstruation. She is also not allowed to touch him or to cook his food during this period. If these rules are broken the man is doomed to a severe sickness and fever which may kill him.
The oddest of all things we’ve heard about that evening was boughlou. This taki-taki name refers to small beads made of ivory put by Bushinengue man under the skin of their penis for more pleasure during sexual intercourse. Now that sounds like inevitable infection and loads of pain, doesn’t it? Nevertheless these obstacles don’t discourage local men. Some of them, and we have a credible source of information, carry up to seventeen of these ivory marbles! Many men put a new bead on every birthday starting at the age of 18.
You must wonder by now what a woman’s opinion on that peculiar habit is? Well, we didn’t ask them directly, but knowing that it is forbidden for females to be aroused during sex (meaning that they have to be completely dry down there) let us assume what kind of answer we might get!
Bushinengue people believe also in magical creatures inhabiting forests and rivers. Spirits of little boys living in the jungle lure people away from villages to get lost and never come back home again. Many drownings often happening around river-side settlements are explained by the presence of mermaids kidnapping children to live with them at the bottom of the river.
On the morning of December 31st we packed our bags and moved towards the border. Crossing the river with a pirogue, a narrow wooden boat, we entered Suriname. It took us the whole day of cycling in pouring rain to reach our next destination. Even though Suriname is famous for it’s boisterous New Year’s Eve parties and love of fireworks, we didn’t make it until midnight and fell asleep long before.
The next day early in the morning we welcomed in the New Year and the new country hoping that both of them are going to be good to us.