by Mykel Board
[Recap: From the start, it doesn't look good for this trip. Everything goes right... always a bad sign. Nothing portends disaster like everything going right.
Easy subletter in New York... smooth flight to Miami... promises of “meet you at the airport/seaport”... $10 a night accommodations in Guyana, the rest free.
Uh oh! Too good. The better the news before, the bigger the fall later. And things get worse. (Better) Miami goes so smoothly you could cry. The only problem is a lot of rain-- heavy rain. The streets are rivers... waves in the pool. I get wet. Very wet.
Then on to North Trinidad, where my friends pick me up at the airport and take me drinkin'-- and more drinking. Then, to South Trinidad... some fun adventures... meet a Goddess... er... Empress... of a girl. It doesn't rain so much in Trinidad.
Then off to Guyana.
In Guyana, my facebook friends from KEEP YOUR DAY JOB! meet me at the airport. From there, we go to Jamal's. This is the only time I have to pay for a place to sleep: 15 days for $150. Not bad. No, it doesn't go perfectly. But it goes, and I meet some great people in the country-- including Jamal. My trip to Kaiteur Falls in the jungle is-- at 741 feet-- a high point.
The two weeks of my stay in Guyana are adventure-filled, and beer-dulled. Most days, it rains. Sometimes for just an hour or two in the afternoon. Sometimes all day.
“I don't get it Mykel,” Jamal tells me. “This isn't the rainy season.”
“Rainman,” I say.
He doesn't get it.
The plan is to travel to Suriname with Keep Your Day Job! But, uh oh... a drummer problem. Two drummers agreed to tour with us. One, a close friend, the other, more PUNKROCK. They ditch the friend for the punkrocker. He bails at the last minute. The now former-friend doesn't answer emails. This cannot work out. We go to Suriname anyway-- drummerless. It works out.
In Suriname, I stay with Jose, a punkrock student and his super-generous parents. They cook for me every day. I mention a local synagogue; they arrange a tour. I mention a trip to “the interior,” bang, we're there... surveying monkey meat. When dad can't do it, they get Jose, to chauffeur me; as if he doesn't have enough with schoolwork and his own band, ADHD He hopes for rain... It's an excuse to stay home. Often, there's rain.
Then it's on to French Guyana, where the brother of one of my top ten pals, Simon, lives with his girlfriend Marie. His name is Florian.
I take a small boat across the river that separates French Guiana from Suriname. The captain lets me choose my port of entry: “legal or backtrack?” I choose legal. At customs, I annoy the white immigration officers by asking for a passport stamp. They give it to me and hustle me away. I'm hungry as shit and don't know where I am. It's raining.
What happens? Marie meets me on the road, helps me negotiate a ride with a French Guianan truck driver, and gets me to her place. Smooth as a baby's ass. The first morning is a crepe breakfast. Then a dip in the pool. Then, I donno. Everything is spot on... except for the rain.
My first days in French Guyana are distress free... unless you count the bottom paddling I get from my friends' spare bicycle. I have one of the best days of the entire trip: canoeing through the Amazon with Florian as my French guide. Chased by dogs, paddle-blistered hands, bitten by mosquitoes, stuck in the roots of swamp trees... it's wonderful.
The only thing better, I'm told, will be THE CARNIVAL... an all night festival my hosts and their friends have been working on for months.
Before that, I take an afternoon trip to a former French work camp, a type of holding prison for workers sent to French Guiana when it was a penal colony. Papillon scratched his name into the floor of a cell there.
After that, it's meet the friends and experience a day in Nenge Tongo... the people and language of escaped slaves. I only have one night left here.]
It's the BIG NIGHT®... the night of the circus, carnival, benefit. The night my hosts have been working all year on. The night of clowns, food, athletics, aliens on stilts. The most important night of the French Guianese year.
Before we textomaticly transport ourselves to these final festivities, let's go on a last trip... to a Hmong village near St. Lauren du Maroni.
According to Wikipedia: During the first and second Indochina Wars, France and the United States governments recruited thousands of Hmong people in Laos to fight against invading military forces from North Vietnam and communist Pathet Lao insurgents, known as the Secret War, during the Vietnam War and the Laotian Civil War. Hundreds of thousands of Hmong refugees fled to Thailand seeking political asylum. Thousands of these refugees have resettled in Western countries since the late 1970s, mostly in the United States, but also in Australia, France, French Guiana, Canada, and South America. Others have returned to Laos under United Nations-sponsored repatriation programs.
Though there are plenty in the US, before this trip, my only contact with the Hmong was my French-Hmong pal Luc, who used to come to Drink Club when he was in New York. Here he is with the dogs at his farewell party in NYC.
|Luc, at his farewell party in NYC|
The Hmong Village in French Guiana has both a craft market and a food market. The craft market has everything from used axes to Hmong-made clothes. The fabrics are very different-- more muted and patchworky-- than the Nenge Tongo ones I saw earlier. But they're equally interesting.
The fruits and vegitables are similar to others in the Guyanas... and that means weird.
Take an ugly tubor with the unfortunate name of MANIAC... Please!
It's a nice day. Only a few scattered clouds... like cotton balls... in the bright blue sky. We eat at a Hmong outdoor cafe... have fish with... er... fish sauce, waja think?
After lunch, we stop for a Hmong ice cream before heading back into town for the party to end all parties... the event of the century... the massive culmination of weeks of work... rehearsals... planning... jugglers... magicians... acrobats... everything. The sky is a bit darker now, cloudier with a few marshmallow-looking Stratocumuli.
We're off in the Hebdig jalopy. To the fairgrounds... somewhere out of town... a large open field with nothing but a long dirt road going to it... cars parked on either side. We park... get out of the car... head to the grounds... walking along the dirt road. A few drops of rain bounce off my fedora.
In a few minutes, we come to the entrance gate: a large lean-to with a table manned by a few attractive natives. Florian pays the entrance fee for all of us. A native hands us each a beer token.
When we enter, we pass a strange pile of wood. Just lumber, thin with several large cross sticks... not sticks, but beams... something to support a heavy structure. It's as if someone had planned to build something... gathered the material... then had a change of heart.
We pass what looks like a circus sideshow car. On the side, written in overly designed font is BLANK BE A PUNK. Huh? What does that mean? It'll take me this whole blog entry to figure it out.
Right now, I don't know, but it's fun to see some punkrock here.
First stop: the trapeze... a fancy high thing... watched over by several experts. While waiting for audience volunteers, they hang by their legs and throw each other through the air.
“Mykel,” says Florian, “why don't you swing on it. You're fit.”
“It's not my style,” I tell him. “I was a swinger in the 80s, but that was a long time ago.”
He doesn't get it.
“Why don't YOU go?” I suggest.
“Um...” he says.
“You're such poules mouillées,” says Marie... and she climbs on to platform to prepare for the trapeze.
|From Carnival of Rain|
You know those spring showers? Those heavy rains that stop as quickly as they begin? Those cool-off everything cloudbursts that are welcomed in retrospect? This is NOT one of those. There is no end. No stopping. No retrospect. This is a rain that keeps on raining. It is a rain of the entire ocean dumping itself on this poor bit of land.
Mud, rain, more mud, more rain.
|Mud... rain... Mud...|
That wood pile I saw when I came into this place? Now I get it! It's for the ark! Two acrobats, two jugglers, two magicians, two trapeze artists... the only ones to make it out alive. 40 days and forty nights... waiting for the dove with an olive branch...
The show goes on, but I'm miserable. Soaked, frustrated from so much spoiled by rain. I'm the bad guest, I grab a chair from a nearby soaked field... bring it under a food tent... next to the barbecue... smoke in my eyes... MOSTLY out of the rain. There I sit and sulk. Florian and Marie go off. They've got obligations. The show must go on... One leg of my chair sinks into the ground. I spill into the mud.
|Mud lake... this is only the start|
“Mykel,” calls Florian. “Come and see this. We worked so hard to put it together. You'll like it.”
Trying to suppress my inner misery and outer assholitude, I wade out onto the field in front of the stage.
There, on stilts, is an alien.
There are more... green hair... white jumpsuits... mostly girls... some “girls”... This is gonna be fun. They're wearing white. They're on stilts. The ground is pure mud! Oh yeah.
Yes! It happens. Again and again.... once right in front of me. PLOW! Covered in brown... like the bottom of a toilet at a bad Mexican restaurant. The splash covers me too... neck to knees... brownness... thick mud clumps... serves me right for the schadenfreude.... but I don't think so at the time. I go back... sulk under the food tent.
Every 10 mintutes or so, Florian... or Marie... comes over to try to cheer me up. I won't be cheered. This is their BIG NIGHT, and I'm only adding to the rain on their parade.
Somehow, late and very wet, it's over. We slog back to the car. The road is a calf-high river of mud. To walk we have to life a knee high... higher...pulling our feet from the mud. THWUMP...THWUMP...THWUMP.
Finally the car! Inside, water spills from our clothes onto the seat... the floor. Florian turns the key.The engine spins in protest. Again... again... Finally, it starts. The wheels kick up a mudstorm before there's traction enough to leave our parking place.
It's a sad way to end what was a great trip. I leave the next day to retrace my steps and eventually end up in New York.
The next morning, as I'm figure out how to pack my still-soaked clothes. It's then that it hits me. That wasn't a BLANK BE A PUNK sign. It was DON'T BE A PUNK sign. I hope they forgive me.
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