The Cayenne peninsular is a geological exception on the Amazonian coast, as it is one of the rare rocky outcrops to be found between the estuaries of the Amazon and the Orinoco. Its wonderful landscapes with their sandy beaches and stony hills are both flamboyant and well-suited to the context. To the east it is bordered by the Mahury river, to the west by the Cayenne river, and to the north by the Tour de l’île river. As it is surrounded by rivers it is referred to as a peninsular. This unusual geographical situation means that it marks the boundary between the Eastern and Western coasts of French Guiana.

The large number of Amerindian groove sites which have been found on Cayenne peninsular show that it has been occupied by man since long ago, to a time dating back to well before the pre-Columbian period. It is currently undergoing rapid urbanisation.

And so it is not surprising that this site has been recognised as a place of special interest that deserves to be protected. The Coastal Conservation Authority is therefore buying up plots of land and entrusting them to non-profit organisations or local authorities that undertake to protect and enhance them.

As part of this programme the Conservation Authority has entrusted the municipality of Cayenne with the management of several sites, which have been included in a project to enhance the seafront being carried out by the municipality. This project seeks to maintain the natural breaks and forested areas along the coast and provides the population with outstanding leisure areas to explore. The Pointe Buzar and Mount Montabo and Bourda footpaths have become legs in an ambitious project to create a coastal path linking the old port to the beach road.

The Montabo footpath

The latest footpath to be opened by the Coastal Conservation Authority just outside Cayenne has been a great success, attracting both sports lovers who find it is a pleasant spot to come and keep fit and those who wish to find out more about nature.

When it was first opened, walkers were able to come and admire the birdlife at low tide on the immense mudflats. Since then the mangrove forests have taken over and the only clues of the presence of an egret or night-heron are their calls rising up from the impregnable tangle of plants and trees. Whilst waiting for the silt to be washed away, leading to the disappearance of the mangrove trees, crabs and crab-eating raccoons are bound to colonise the site.

The planned footpath follows the coast, hugging the slopes of mount Montabo. As you follow the trail you can discover landscapes that many people in French Guiana do not even imagine exist. The panoramas are outstanding, and there are very few places between the Orinoco and the Amazon where the tropical forest is in such direct contact with the ocean. Everywhere else along the coast for more than 2000km, the mangrove forests or savannah lie between the sea and the forest up on higher ground.

The forest on mount Montabo is still well protected. But then it is home to the French National Forestry Office (Office National des Forêts) and the Development Research Institute (IRD, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement) which both work to see that it remains intact. At the top are the ruins of the Hôtel PLM (Paris-Lyon-Marseille) and its nightclub, Le Pénitencier which used to belong to the Baron de Rothschild, the Consular Training Institute (ICF, Institut Consulaire de Formation), and the CSG radar station.

A hill with many names

From 1750 this hill was called Conobé, Conabobo, then Colline du Pont on all maps due to the nearby Pont Million, no doubt the first engineering structure on Cayenne island. The bridge on the Laussat canal finally made it possible to get to the Jesuit residences in Rémire. It was rebuilt by Governor Milius, and earned itself the unusual name of Million due to its exorbitant cost.

Between 1822 and 1852 the name began to undergo a geographical shift. On the maps the Colline du Pont became the Colline de Remontabo, which until then had been the name of a hill situated further west which now became Mont Bourda. The word Remontabo comes from the Kali’na Amerindians, as indicated by its ending in ‘bo’, a suffix meaning ‘the place where one is’, as also found in Organabo, Iracoubo, Paramaribo, and so on.

The sugar mill of a certain planter called Doché was built near the Pont Million and was called the Habitation Du Pont, obviously enough. There is an interesting anecdote about this plantation: on the death of Doché in 1754, the Governor had the sugar mill seized to the detriment of the son, who was due to inherit. It became the property of the Domaine for the unique reason that the departed had been a Protestant, and a law then in force considered non-Catholics to be foreigners, and thus shorn of any right of inheritance.

Unexpected biodiversity

The first section of the path has giant almond trees on either side. As you follow it you go past fruit trees (mangoes, mombins, and guava trees) that will provide you with an excellent source of vitamins if it is the right season. You will soon have gone through a bamboo area. Bamboo generally indicates that the environment has undergone some form of trauma in the past, due to an old gold works, landslip, or else where a village once stood.

There are three long walkways along the path so as to avoid overly steep parts. The rusty remains of cogs and chains you will notice further along come from an old stone quarry, which was probably operative in the early twentieth century, and which was used for the sub-base of roads in Cayenne. Seeds of the Pithecoctenium crucigerum, better known as monkey combs, lie along the walkways in the dry season. Further on canonball trees (Couroupita guianensis), typical near the sea, have surprisingly large seeds growing directly on the trunk, a form of fructification called cauliflory.

A magnificent and unsuspected view point looks out across the ocean and the Dupont isles. Plant lovers will recognise the species here which are typical of rocky areas along the coast. Firstly the agave, which dies after having flowered once. Its flowering stem can reach several metres in height and rapidly buckles under the weight of the many seedlings which root before falling to the ground. This is the principle of vivipary. Since 2001 this plant has been protected in French Guiana, like the organ pipe cactuses, which are also dependent upon these environments. There are also pink amaryllis roses which at the end of the dry season make do with the smallest crack in the rock.