In the James Bond film Moonraker the European villain Hugo Drax launches his perfect people carrying Space Shuttles from Amazonian launch complexes. The white spaceplanes lift off among the dense foliage of the rain forests.
The Europeans I was with in French Guiana were not villains and they were not attempting to take over the World but we were at a rocket launch complex and we were in the midst of dense foliage. But this was the European Space Agency's (ESA) new Soyuz booster launch pad, scheduled for operation in 2008. However at the moment it is just a big hole in the ground.
I have never been to a ceremony to open the construction site of a launch base, as the press release stated, and I probably never will again. What the construction workers who had already been toiling away in the heat for months thought of it being apparently opened is an ongoing mystery.
But in this temporary structure the great and the good of French Guianan politics, ESA's senior personnel and the head of the Russian Federal Space Agency, Anatoly Perminov, and his subordinates in his agency and his country's space industry were to come together along with numerous journalists for the big presentation.
Squashed in the press scrum I listened to the translation, via my radio headset, of the interminable speeches of the local politicians as they spoke of Cosmodromes in south America and connected Russian poet Alexander Pushkin to other historical figures for the most convoluted linking of Russia with French Guiana ever. What French Arabic policy had to do with it was beyond me and I think also the Russians. And what was all this for?
This rock, which Perminov claimed he had taken from the ground at Russia's Baikonur launch pad number one himself, was being presented to the ESA executives before it was placed in the foundations of the new Soyuz launch pad. One wondered why we had been brought thousands of miles to see this odd ceremony with its tenujous symbolic value, but hey I've never been to South America before and its an oportunity to talk to the head of ESA, Jean-Jacques Dordain, and Perminov and leaders of the Russian space industry. Never easy figures to get hold of.
So after the fun in the humid heat it was back on the bus. Some headed back to the hotel to file stories while some of us decided to stick with the Russians. This was to be a tour of Sinnamary, the county and town that is host to the new launch pad. But then we came across this bridge.
Getting off the bus I noticed the sign post that had been used for target practice and sure enough there were plenty of French ministry of defence signs everywhere. Everyone was crossing the bridge. I followed because this trip was largely organised for the French speakers of which I am not one.
It soon turns out that we had to leave the bus behind because the local Mayor was not sure the bridge would hold the weight of the vehicle. So now we were walking up a road but to where? The next message down the translation grapevine was that we could expect mini buses to get us to our destination, wherever that was. But there were not enough. Where ever we were going the press were doing it on foot. Walking up the road with dense jungle on either side
I began to dream of the beach in front of our hotel and the awning that had been set up for the drinks reception we could expect later.
After about ten minutes the first mini bus that had spirited Perminov away suddenly returned. Whatever was up the road was no good, the road was closed is what I heard. Then a car hired by the Russian state television service appeared, "Jump in!", they offered, well it was an offer me and my fellow non-French speaking Austrian journalist Christian Muller would not turn down. We bounced along the tarmac as the Russians sped toward the bus we had left behind beyond the bridge that had been too far.
It was at this point that we finally found out what had gone on. The actual goal had been to get us all to an Alligator farm, probably very much like the one in the Bond film Live and Let Die, but upon the first mini bus' arrival the Russian guests found out that its owner was not there. I guess in Guiana they have a culture even more laid back than Spain's Manyana!
So it was disappointment all round for the Alligator fans amongst us but never let it be said that we journalists don't find some time to have some fun admidst the launch pads of ESA's rockets.