Back in Kourou on Sunday, just about everything was closed, so when we walked down the main street in search of lunch, we found nothing. A restaurant that the space engineers had recommended was also closed, so after walking around in the heat for what seemed like ages, we ended up back at the apartment eating rice crackers and peanut butter. In the cooler evening we checked out a free concert taking place on the beach but all in all this was a fairly uneventful day.
On Monday we had planned to move on from Kourou. We had read that buses leave throughout the day, and Vanja had suggested asking the tourist info to call and book one for us, which we did first thing. Unfortunately, the buses only leave at 5 or 7am! Thus, we spent another night in Kourou.
This had two benefits. We were then able to visit the Le Centre Spatial Guyanais, and enjoy a lovely dinner with Vanja and Hoëlig who were luckily able to accommodate us another night.
We were only on the waiting list for the tour of the Space Centre and were only offered a place once they were sure some people hadn't turned up. As the Centre is huge, with 3 launch sites and the associated facilities, we were taken around in a bus.
First, we had a look at the launch pad for the Soyuz (medium sized) rocket, the type we had seen launch a few days prior. After the shuttle and launcher are constructed and loaded with the satellites (there are more correct terms but we can't remember), the complete rocket is moved to the launch pad on a big trailer on rails where final touches are made, fuel and the flight program are loaded, then the rocket is blasted into the sky. The launch pad is a big concrete area with a huge cavity that allows the flames from the launcher to be channelled away on lift off, and we could see the charred vegetation from the recent launch.
Next we visited the control building for the Ariane 5 and Vega rockets, the big and small ones. We sat in a viewing room overlooking the control area that still looks like it's from the 70's. After a very lengthy explanation in French, we were given a very brief explanation in English, but at least we got some idea of what goes on in the construction and launch phases of those rockets as well.
After a drive around the Ariane 5 launch pad, we were able to view both the Ariane 5 and Vega launch pads from a viewing area, before returning to the visitors centre. The last part of the tour was of the Jupiter Room, where all the important people sit on launch day who decide if the launch proceeds, with media, representatives of the companies launching satellites and other VIPs looking on. We were informed that the next launch, an Ariane 5 rocket, will carry a satellite for Optus Australia.
A lovely French couple who were on our tour dropped us back in Kourou despite our inability to communicate before Vanja and Hoëlig collected us for dinner. We had some nice BBQ fish and salad and had a great chat about how they met, Hoëlig's work at the space centre, Vanja's and our travels through South America, and the differences of our home countries (Holland for Vanja and France for Hoëlig). It was great to be able to spend some time with them before we departed early Tuesday morning for St Laurent.