Ecotourism some received ideas and useful information

French Guiana has a special place in the French national imagination. It is seen as a coveted yet hostile land which saw off early attempts to colonise it. Or a land of exile to which France dispatched its many various undesirables and opponents, lying at the end of a horrendous one-way passage. But does this combination of historical reality and fantasy mean that French Guiana is now a prisoner of its own past?

Once these images of its turbulent past recede into the distance, it is still as intriguing and unnerving for the uninitiated, who shudder at the idea of an impenetrable jungle full of dangerous beasts. The hair-raising tales of visitors-turned-adventurers on their return from their (invariably epic) time in French Guiana are full of fat-bodied spiders, vampire bats, anacondas, and deadly mosquitoes.

And in its latest avatar French Guiana is seen as a new Far West, home to all sorts of trafficking. This vision is kept alive by a few highly specific TV reports emphasising practices which can be illegal and even violent on occasions, such as clandestine gold mining.

All these overlaying fragments feed into a certain fascination for a land which is more a place of fantasy than somewhere people actually know. But it fails to do justice to French Guiana and does not trigger the right sort of motivation to discover the place in a ...

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