Anke Hartmanns' postcard from Kourou
So I am back at school and the normal life has begun again after this exciting trip. As you know postcards are always a little bit late and arrive after the nice days have gone. So here is a short report including my own pictures taken in French Guiana.
This is for all who made this trip possible and such an exciting experience for me, at ESA, Cap-Team and in Guiana. Special thanks to Alain Bondinet from Takari-Tours whom I will never forget. He did a great job showing us a lot of Guiana that we would never have seen without him, he is like a living Guianese encyclopaedia.
When we arrived on Wednesday 27th after a 9.5 hour flight and trip to our hotel in Cayenne, Sean Blair, who writes for the ESA web portal, asked me and Juliette Blum (a competition winner from London) lots of questions. We started very early on the 28th to visit the spaceport at Kourou. The distance between Cayenne and Kourou is about 60 kilometres and we travelled it several times in these days. In Kourou we had a lot of security checks, the first before entering the Control Centre, where I was introduced to Mr. Luton of Arianespace.
The Control Centre looks like a futuristic cinema to me with a large amount of techniques. Then we visited the sites of the assembly and launch area, it was very impressive to see the employees using an elevator in the assembly building to get to their working place in the different floors around the nearly finished rocket. We went to the ELA3 control centre where the Ariane 5 with Envisat was monitored. This does not look as impressive as the Jupiter control room, in this room all the people are locked in during the start phase for safety reasons – I would not like that for me! From the roof of this building we had a brilliant overview over the whole start complex, I could see the Ariane 5 from here, but it was too far away to see my painting, this was a little bit disappointing.
After that, we went back to the main entrance and spent two interesting hours in the space museum; I bought a nice light grey hat with a blue brim and a symbolised Ariane 5 on it in the shop. What happens with it you will read later on.
Next stop was lunch in the zoo-restaurant at Macouria. There was very heavy rain and I feared that the zoo-walk would not take place, but it happened and the sun was shining again (by the way it was about 30 Degrees C and very humid all the time). The zoo was very interesting although some animals were in cages too small for them. I saw large parrots, tukans, several different monkeys, 8 jaguars, snakes and more – and two very big caiman, just separated from us by a small fence. Alain faked their noise and they came near. This frightened me a little.
After a short rest in the hotel we started again from Cayenne to Kourou to watch the launch of Envisat. Again there were a lot of checks before we reached the site. We had to go to a tower called Venus-tower to watch the launch, this was only about 200 meters away from the Jupiter control room, but again we had 2 security checks on the way. At that time we had a clear moon and star-shining sky with only a few clouds.
So the countdown came near and after I heard the French (I am learning French in school now for nearly one year) counting backwards from 10 to 0 there was first nothing to see, but then suddenly a bright light in the dark like a huge white fireball, out of which Ariane with Envisat lifts into the sky.
Imagine - it was quiet first, the noise reached us 1 minute after ignition and was as impressive as the intense white light (which my father told me results from burning aluminium compounds in the solid boosters) which turns night into day.
When the light was diffused by passing one cloud I feared there was a malfunction, but the launch finished as a perfect mission. I thought so, because I saw my painting as a good luck charm for the success of the Envisat launch!
Next day we started again very early to Kourou and I brought my postcards for the other national competition winners to the post office. Afterwards we drove to the Kourou-river and started a catamaran-trip to the Devils islands. On these small islands until 1951 there were up to 2000 prisoners; a famous one was one Mr. Dreyfuss - maybe you have seen the film Papillion. Or you have to read the story on your own.
The trip was quite stormy and some of the passengers got wet while others were nearly seasick, but I enjoyed it very much. I had to put my new hat I wanted to use against sun burning in my father’s rucksack because it would have been blown over board. After one hour we reached the first island ‘St. Joseph’ – the one with the prisons. We walked through the ruins of the prison and round the island and Alain was explaining things all the time. There was also a camp of the French Foreign Legion on the island.
After two and a half hours we took the catamaran again to the other bigger island, where we had lunch. During the lunch a parrot came to our table! And in the greenery I saw an agouti and some big green leguans. While the rest of our group was resting we went with Alain to a small beach to go swimming in the sea (this was very refreshing and a little bit frightening as there was a stone on the beach in memory of a Chinese space-manager who came to death here in 1997). Afterwards we walked round the island and met the rest of the group at the harbour to start our trip back to Kourou.
But let me tell you, when we just started the trip back, something absolutely incredible happened: I was lying on the boat’s side with my head on the ship’s wall with my nice hat under it, when suddenly someone wanted to pass by me. I raised my head and… my nice hat was blown away. You can’t imagine how sad I was that moment.
Back in Cayenne we had dinner that evening in one of the best restaurants of Guiana, ‘La Paris de Cayenne’: This was excellent and when we left they played a song called title ‘Star’ just for me (I think Alain was the cause of this).
On the next morning (Saturday) we went to the market in Cayenne: There was every imaginable colour (in flowers, fruits, vegetables and other things) and noise, even the humans had all colours I know and it seems they all live peacefully together, I was not frightened like in other places. My father bought lemons and rum and my mother colour cotton fabric.
After this we checked out the hotel and went by car to ‘la crique Gabrielle’ where we started a tour with a very long boat up the river to a kind of farm in the jungle. We had a walk round the farm and Alain gave us a lot of explanations, we saw Cacao on the trees, ginger plants, brazil nuts, soap-fruits, avocado and bread-trees, smelled rose-wood and ginger flowers and finally went back to the boat.
After having lunch (manioc with spices and cooked meat in a banana-leaf) we had to go to the airport to fly back to Paris-Orly Airport (7 hours).
Back in CDG Airport Air France set me to the waiting list because the plane was overbooked, but luckily my father managed it that I did not have to wait 6 hours alone in Paris.