Although its per capita GDP is 10 times that of Guyana and 3 times that of Suriname, we figure it’s not because they are all rich in French Guyana but rather because there is such a large population of French people here running the colony and the space programme, they lift the average. Because when we ventured into the village of St Jean on the banks of the Maroni River to seek accommodation for our last night in the French colony, the locals were anything but affluent. Indeed we had to pinch ourselves to think we weren’t back in Africa, with the incongruous sight of folk cooking on open fires, living in thatched shanties – all within a stone’s throw of the pristine surrounds of the French garrison in the village. As you’ll see from the photos this is a poor village.
It has been a relief to have European style roads for the 1,000 kms across this country, although we know that’s about to come to an end as we head west. We wouldn’t write home about the capital Cayenne nor the planned settlement of Kourou which serves as the space station satellite town. It is a strange contrast between the tennis and golf clubs established here to amuse the French ex pats as they see out their terms – and the far more basic environment in which the locals live. Still they get to go to McDonalds and at least see how the other half lives.