Mana, French Guiana
5° 39' N 53° 46' W
May 13, 2004 23:33
Distance 66km

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Text written in: English

Mana (13 - 15 May 2004)

I got up early today, because I had the slightly more challenging route to Mana I wanted to hitchhike. Mana is on the coast in the northwest of the country and not on the main road that leads to St Laurent de Maroni, where you cross the Maroni river to Suriname. I was at the highway at 8:00 hoping to have some advantage of the morning traffic. Most traffic was towards Kourou and Cayenne but after 10 minutes a car stopped and picked me up. It was the manager of Hotel du Fleuve in Sinnamary, the expensive hotel where I had been waiting for a lift to Kourou the previous day. Well, it is better then nothing. At least I was moving and even in the right direction. We arrived just after 9:00 and I was back at the same place where I had been 13 hours earlier.

I knew it was not a busy place and it was very hot in the sun. The only shade was caused by the street signs on the roundabout. It took another hour or so and out of boredom I walked towards the main turn off to Sinnamary, 5 km further. I had walked the distance the day before, but it was a bit different in the morning heath and with 25 kilos on your back. I took it easy and just at the moment that I was at the Sinnamary bridge hell broke loose. Lucky me that I could hide under the bridge! Excellent timing.

When it cleared I walked the last 500 meters to the turn off to Sinnamary. I was there for just 10 minutes when a car came from Sinnamary and was going to Iracoubo. Cool! I knew it was going to be an excellent day. That it was going to be an excellent day was stressed by my driver who told me that one of the bridges on the road to St Laurent had been washed away by heavy rains and that all traffic had to go via Mana on the coast, a road normally very difficult to find a lift! In Iracoubo I had plenty of places to hide for the rain that had started again and plenty of choice to eat something. No, I did not buy the ham at the same supermarket I had bought it the day before, I am not that stupid!

Just after the early lunch and a fight at the small post office with a stupid cow who could not calculate the total of 4 stamps to the netherlands I was picked up by a suicidal Indian man. He drove close to 200 km per hour on the small highway with quite a few sharp corners. I have never been more happy to get out of a car upon arrival then that day! So I was in Mana at around 15:00. A good time!

Mana is small, very small, but it has so much character, really cool crumbling colourful wooden houses and a huge church and mission complex. At a very unfriendly restaurant I asked for possibilities to spend a night in Mana. I knew that there was one place to hang a hammock and there should be at least one small hotel or guesthouse. She said that there was nothing and that she did not know. I asked her how long she had been living here and how it was possible that she did not know such a thing in a 20 street village. Unbelievable.

I was saved by a French tourist, Jacques who walked past and asked if I was looking for a room. He and his wife (Jacqueline!!!) had reserved a room in the mission, just around the corner where the sisters were commercialising Gods house. An 80 year old sister gave me a bed in the big wooden mission building, which was also half school. It was all quiet and I got a bed in an open space with two more beds. The sisters charged 10 euros per bed! Quite a bit, but it is French Guiana after all! It was the first time that I slept in a mission. So I had to be careful not to curse when the water was a bit cold in the shower. I also had to sleep with my hands above the sheets.

The good thing about having met Jacques en Jacqueline was the fact that they solved my logistic problem. The reason why you come to Mana is to visit the largest sea turtles in the world and the egg laying process on the beach. The beach, Les Hattes is in Awala-Yalimapo, 20 km to the west of Mana and there is no public transport. On top of that the turtles only come ashore at hightide, and then only the one at night. So I was lucky that the two French had hired a car and that they could not refuse my invitation of me joining them.

After a test drive to the beach and resting the rest of the day and a dinner at the local Chinese who was surprised to have three tourists in the house we headed to the beach again around 22:00. High tide was at 01:45, but the turtles usually come ashore about 2 hours earlier. So we had about two hours to fight off the enormous amount of vicious mosquitos that were trying to drink all the blood we had in our bodies. It was almost as if they were attracted by the reppelllant, instead of repelled! The spectacle had better be worth this suffering ...

With our torches and cameras we headed to the beach around 23:45 and after having walked about 10 meters we saw it! A huge monstrous leatherback turtle, size 1.8 meters long, 1 meter wide and half a meter high, wad digging a nest in the sand. With her back foot/fin (??) she dug a hole about one meter deep. This took an hour or so and after she was happy with her nest she started laying about 40 eggs or so. After she was done she covered the nest with sand again, which took another hour. When she was finished she returned to the ocean.

I have seen quite a few animals in the wild in Africa, but witnessing this process here, in the middle of nowhere on a remote beach in South America was absolutely fantastic and ranks very high in my top five of best wildlife experiences. They are really huge monsters that can reach 700 kilos! Fabulous. Around 01:00 we drove back and went to bed at a not very Christian time in the very Christian mission.

The following day I decided to go back to the beach, hoping that there might be some confused turtles coming ashore during the day. Just to have better pictures. It was surprising that I got lifts within a few minutes. It was not surprising that the turtles did not come ashore, so I spent the rest of the afternoon hiding for the rain in a restaurant run by a Dutch woman. She had ben living in Suriname for a while, but of course earning Euros on the other side of the river, using ingredients imported cheaply from Suriname is an excellent way of making money. My lunch cost 12.50 Euros, but I have to admit that it was the best French Fries I have had on the continent. Or should I say Dutch French fries?

Photos / videos of "Mana (13 - 15 May 2004)":

Indian village near Les hattes border between French Guyana and Suriname Leatherback turtles laying eggs on Les Hattes Leatherback turtles laying eggs on Les Hattes Leatherback turtles laying eggs on Les Hattes Leatherback turtles laying eggs on Les Hattes beach Leatherback turtles laying eggs on Les Hattes beach Leatherback turtles laying eggs on Les Hattes beach Leatherback turtles laying eggs on Les Hattes beach Les Hattes beach by day