Viking Ocean Cruises - From the Caribbean to the Amazon

December 23 - French Guiana

Weather high 85 low 72 with no precipitation except at dinner. Map of Iles du Salut.

Our ship was sill sailing as we got up this morning. We were off the coast of French Guiana on our way to the Iles du Salut and the much-feared penal colony for the most notorious French criminals. I had read Papillon a long time ago and I was very curious about the Devil's Island. It turned out that this was not the most notorious island. Île du Diable (Devil's Island) was for political prisoners. Île Royale was for the general population of the worst criminals of the penal colony to roam about in moderate freedom due to the difficulty of escape from the island. Île Saint-Joseph was for the worst of those criminals to be punished in solitary confinement in silence and for extra punishment in darkness of the worst of the worst criminals of the penal colony. This is according to Wikipedia.

 

Our ship anchored around noon and we lined up to take a tender to Île Royale. It was a short trip. Lynne Matute and Ellen and John Benson were with Ann and me. John was along just for the tender ride and returned shortly to the ship. Lynne and Ellen went their own speed while Ann and I followed the green touring route. We walked along the shoreline and then up some steep steps. I was surprised to see several old buildings that were in decent condition. A museum of sorts was in the Governor's House. It had a few exhibits depicting life at the colony.

Following our crude map (here is a better one) we became disoriented but eventually found our way to the main compound on the island. Here were condemned prisoners' quarters now in rubble, penitentiary & guards' houses which were being used by people living on the island, an old unused hospital, a convent, a chapel and a presbytery. There were also guesthouses and cafe for long-staying tourists. It was all very crude but laid out on very plush tropical vegetation. As we walked around we stumbled on mangos and coconuts that had fallen out of their trees. Being imprisoned on an island in the middle of the ocean would be bad enough but being condemned to the small cells would be devastating. The system has been shut down since 1953.

On the way back to the tender dock, we were entertained by monkeys playing in the trees.

For dinner, we ate outside at the World Cafe which had a special Greek buffet. Resident guitarist, Laszlo entertained us with Greek music. A rain squall chased us inside while we were eating.

© 2016 Robert N Lynn

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