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Devil’s Islands, French Guiana Trip Journal

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March 17, Devil’s Islands, French Guiana

St. Patrick’s Day! The events department on the ship does an outstanding job of decorating for special days. This morning, when I went upstairs to the Lido dining room to get a cup of coffee, it appeared little leprechauns had worked through the night. The dining rooms were completely decorated in green – streamers hanging, poles wrapped and the entryways draped.

We anchored off the Devil’s Islands around 7am and the crew immediately began putting the tenders into the sea. Devil’s Islands have a very interesting history and we’ve been looking forward to our visit for quite some time.

The Iles Du Salut (ironically meaning “Salvation Islands) consist of three islands which were later nicknamed Devil’s Islands due to the difficulties encountered by ships trying to pass between them.

The three islands were used by the French for exile of prisoners. The largest island, Ile Royale is separated from Ile du Diable (Devil’s Island) by a channel. Although the channel is narrow, extreme water currents and sharks make it inaccessible. 70% of the inmates on Ile du Diable died.

Between the three islands, up to 2,000 criminals could be interred at the same time. Ile Ste-Joseph, the third and smallest island, was used for solitary confinement.

At 8am, the announcement was made that the tenders were available to go ashore, so we went immediately to the loading area and boarded. There were only about 20 of us on the first trip.

The tender ride only took about 10 minutes and we were on the island of Ile Royale. Ile Royale is the largest island and it has the majority of the buildings, along with the Central Headquarters. Most of the buildings are in disrepair, but one can still get the sense of the horrible conditions the prisoners endured.

On the trail along the heavily wooded area, we spotted many agoutis – a rodent inhabiting northern South America. They are related to guinea pigs, and there is a resemblance, but the agoutis have longer legs. Agoutis have five front and three hind toes. Their pace is reminiscent of a kangaroo, as they spring along. Their tails are very short and hairless. For many years, their fur was in demand.

The trail led us past the Commandant’s House, the children’s cemetery and up to the central area, which contained the main prisoner quarters, married warders’ quarters, the chapel, hospital, quarters for doctors, teachers and transients and the former guard’s mess hall, which is now a hotel.

The hotel has several rooms to choose from – a former guard room, rooms with air conditioning and hammock rooms – hammocks not included. Because there are no places to eat or drink except at the hotel, the price of the lodging includes meals. The currency is the Euro. A room for two people for one night, plus four lunches, two breakfasts and two dinners is around $400.00 U.S.

From the hotel, we walked around the rest of the island, this time walking the trail near the sea. The currents are very strong between the islands and although they are very close to one another, swimming and sometimes even boating between them, is impossible

Along the sea, there was one area where it was safe to swim and several people were enjoying the opportunity. Fishing was also taking place and a few hammocks tied between the trees could be seen.

Our visit took around two hours and we headed back to the tenders. We were talking to the ship’s photographer at the entrance to the tender ramp when all of a sudden, there was a loud bang just behind me. A coconut had fallen and hit the boardwalk. It missed my head by a couple inches. Happily, it did miss, because I think it might have hurt!

The rest of the day passed quickly with work and discussion of our plans after we disembark next week.

Tonight was formal night, so we donned our “after-five” attire and enjoyed another delicious and relaxing dinner. John has made the comment that we’re really going to miss having three meals a day prepared for us -- and I tend to agree with him. For over two months, we’ve been spoiled, so getting back to reality will be an adjustment!

Tomorrow is a day at sea while we travel to Barbados.

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About the Author

John Moen is a cartographer who along with his wife are the orignal founders of worldatlas.com. He and his wife, Chris Woolwine-Moen, produced thousands of award-winning maps that are used all over the world and content that aids students, teachers, travelers and parents with their geography and map questions. Today, it's one of the most popular educational sites on the web.

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This page was last updated on July 12, 2016.