On 10.11.2019 our Erasmus-Project started with the topic “Back to the Nature” and with it the trip to French Guyana.
French Guyana is a French overseas department located on the northeast coast of South America and is also part of the European Union. The climate there is tropical throughout the year and there are constant temperatures around 30 degrees. The average relative humidity is between 80 and 90 %. We were an international group with students from France, England, Spain and Germany.
After a long journey, we finally arrived in the hot and humid climate of French Guyana, where we got welcomed by our host families, who took us directly to their homes.
The first project day started early in the morning with games to get to know each other and to learn more from the other students. Therefore, we were divided into different groups which we kept until the end of our trip. Afterwards we went to a market in Kourou, where we should buy different fruits and vegetables, which were then used by us to cook with the host families. It was interesting to see that there were many extraordinary salads, vegetables and drinks that we did not knew in our countries until then. In the afternoon, the students from Spain and Germany gave various presentations about the ecological footprint and how we can deal with clothing in a more sustainable way, as well as the topics of bionics in architecture. After the presentations we made a little experiment to get a better impression of the topic, e.g. we dyed different fabrics with natural materials like flowers, leaves or turmeric. We placed the different materials on the fabric, which was then folded and rolled up tightly. Then we put it in boiling water and after a certain amount of time we could see different patterns with different colours on the fabric. In the late afternoon we enjoyed our free time together on the beach.
After a hot and restless night, the second day of the project began. This morning we went by bus to “Bagne des annamites”, the rainforest. Our clothes should be airy and bright but long to be better protected from the mosquitoes. In the forest we looked at several old decayed prison buildings that have been there for a long time. After a one-hour hike through the rainforest we were exhausted by the temperature and the high humidity. At a resting place we had a picnic and afterwards we went for a cooling in a small river. On the way back, we saw many animals, like snakes and monkeys, which are rarely seen in nature. After our hike in the rainforest we visited the “zoo de Guyane”. The zoo was not like a typical zoo, because it was very big with extraordinary animals. There was also a small climbing garden with monkeys running around freely.
On Thursday we visited the Amerindian Archaeological Center, where we got a lot of information about the Stone Age. A guide showed and explained us the different symbols that were carved into stones in the past. We were also shown how to make fire with only a few natural materials, which requires a little practice. In the afternoon we went for a walk on the beach, where two experts explained some things to us, like why there are so many sandbags on the beach. The reason is that the sandbags prevent water from entering the city when the tide is rising.
On Friday our day started with an excursion to the vicinity of the Space Center of Kourou. Kourou is the space center from which the Ariane rockets are launched. There two guides accompanied us through the jungle where many different animals could be seen. You could see and hear the scratch marks and sounds of a jaguar. In the afternoon we made experiments with ants in the school to find out how they react to chemical and natural substances. In the evening the host families and teachers organized an assembly with snacks and drink in the cafeteria.
On our last day together, we went by boat to a small island called “Iles du Salut”, which is about one hour away from the city of Kourou. On the island we visited the museums, cemeteries and the old prisons, where prisoners were locked up in former times. The island is known for the movie “Papillon”. Afterwards we had a little break, where we shook the coconuts from the palms and a teacher showed us how to open them. We spent the rest of the day in a bay surrounded by palm trees, swimming with turtles and fishes. At 16:30 o’clock our boat arrived again and brought us back to Kourou.
On Sunday morning, the day of departure, we could create our own program with our host families. Because there was an Ocean-Clean up on this day and we wanted to do something for the environment, most of us decided to participate in the action. We got different garbage bags to separate the garbage. Despite the help of some locals, only a small part of the beach could be freed from all the garbage. To our disappointment the organizers used only plastic articles, which is contradictory to their project against plastic garbage.
In conclusion, it can be said about the trip and the project “Back to the Nature” that it was an exciting week with many new experiences. It is a great chance for the schools to participate in such a project. We got to know many new open-minded and nice people and their culture. It is amazing how simple the people live there and how little they need. Because of the high unemployment and the crime rate in Guyana we were not allowed to go out after dark, which was a big change for us. Unfortunately, we also had to find out that the people do not live very sustainably. There is no recycling system in French Guyana and, furthermore, only plastic bags are used there, most of which end up in the sea, on the beach or in nature. Despite the simple life and the high constant temperatures, the population is growing very fast due to the high birth rate and immigration. The immigrants mostly come from nearby states like Guyana, Suriname, Brazil and Haiti.