Saturday, August 28, 2010

Kourou, we have a problem

Juan might have you believe he was “cool” back in the day, but he probably hasn’t told you that he also played Dungeons & Dragons and Star Wars role-playing games until high school.  So, take it from me, Juan fit right in at the Kourou space center.  He posed like a five-year old opening presents in front of the countdown clock, understood references to Star Trek, even in French, and laughed along with everyone else when our guide alluded to the French cartoon, Asterix.   The entire 3 ½ hour tour was conducted in French and even Juan’s enthusiasm couldn’t compensate for the fact that we understood next to nothing.  Two-thirds of the world’s commercial satellites are launched from Kourou, so we sort of expected a futuristic metropolis made of some indefinable, faintly luminescent material put together into structures that defied the laws of physics.  Instead, we were met by corrugated metal, vinyl, and concrete blocks with mustard yellow and fire engine red trim that looked like they were built in the Soviet Union in the early 80s.  We probably should have skipped the tour and just settled for visiting the space museum…

Lucky for us, Kourou is also the jumping off point for visits to Ile du Salut, a group of three islands where prisoners were sent from the French mainland from 1852 to 1947.  We took a catamaran to and from the island, stayed in old guard’s quarters, visited the children’s cemetery (where do they bury the adults??), and ate prison food (okay, it was a real restaurant but the food tasted a bit like it would have been suitable for prisoners).  There isn’t much swimming – the shark-infested waters are partly what made it such an attractive setting for a prison – so we got a bit bored in the two days we were there.  Still, ironic that a site of such suffering is now a place that people wish to escape to.

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