I recently went for a boat ride in a pirogue, which (according to Google) is a traditional long, narrow canoe make from a single tree trunk, especially in Central America and the Caribbean.
I went with another English teacher, Nathalie, and her daughter, Maëva, just for the morning. We left from Roura, which is a town on one of the main rivers draining to Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana.
Our pirogue, however, had some modern enhancements - a motor in the back propelled us forward, and no paddling was done at all. We were steered by our tour guide, who is an Amérindien - the French term for people who are native to South America. His mother is actually Chinese, but he lives in an amérindien village and works on the river. He was an awesome tour guide and showed us some amazing things.
I thought the river was huge, but that's coming from a Los Angeleno who rarely sees rain. Apparently the river separating French Guiana and Suriname is so wide, it feels like being at sea. There are many little towns by the river, including traditional amérindien villages.
We eventually came to a shallow part in the river where we got out for an hour-long swim. It was awesome! The river is nice and cool, in contrast to the heat and humidity of the day. Small fish dance around you as you wade, and though the water is brown due to a high suspended load (geology note: think of how much organic carbon it's transporting!!!), it was fresh and sweet tasting.
Our guide also showed us where chocolate comes from. Chocolate is the fermented product of cacao seeds (see more info here), which come from the cacao tree. First, the flower of the cacao tree is pollinated, and then the coca pod is formed.
Then, once the pod is fully grown, it is opened to harvest the seeds inside. These seeds are then fermented, dried and roasted to produce the chocolate flavor. (Learn more about the microbiology of chocolate fermentation here.) Our guide hacked pods open for us with a machete, and then we each tried the pulpy insides of a seed. The texture of the pulp was like that of a grapefruit, and the pulp was clear. To be honest, though, it didn't taste like anything to me.
After explaining the life cycle of a cacao tree to us, we headed back to the boat dock. But we made a pit stop on the way back on the side of the river, among the roots and in the shade. Why? To have a quick cocktail made of rum and sugarcane syrup, and to eat the raw insides of a sugarcane plant. It was a nice way to end the trip, and it explained the large cooler that our guide had brought along!
Finally, we headed back and I had an awesome lunch of wild boar meat. Hunting of them is restricted, according to my colleague Nathalie, so the meal was a little more expensive than expected but well worth the price. It had a gamier, more intense flavor than the typical pork dishes you would get in the United States. I also learned that the little red thing on the rice was not a tomato, but in fact an extremely hot pepper that left the right side of my tongue feeling numb.
Despite my tomato mistake, I had a really wonderful day. I'm really convinced to buy a boat in the future, now. Nathalie taking me on this trip also really demonstrated the hospitality of the French and the Créole people. I have been fortunate to receive a warm welcome to this country, and I'm glad that I chose to be a Teaching Assistant here instead of l'hexagone, which is what one calls the European France (since it looks like a hexagon) to distinguish it from all the overseas territories and departments that also make up France.
Until next time,