Ile Royale and Devil’s Island, French Guiana
Yesterday, we anchored off of and tendered in to Ile Royale, French Guiana, one of three small islands collectively referred to as Iles du Salut which include the famous Devil’s Island (viewed from Ile Royale in the header image above).
If nothing else, the title does well to describe the local climate. It was extraordinarily humid here. There was even some hearsay claiming that it’s the most muggy location on the planet. All I know is we were all perspiring as much sweat as there was rain precipitating from the clouds on and off during the day.
At least it was not a sunny day which surely would have made the conditions unbearable. In truth, it was a fantastic experience nonetheless since there was much more to explore on the island than I had anticipated. It’s also worth noting that no guided tours of the island were offered as it must be explored entirely by foot and on your own.
A 1928-dated Cobblestone Path
Devil’s Island is home to the deserted French prison facility – a site of anguish with an apt name, known to many from several films including Papillon. Apparently, that particular island is off limits to all visitors save for French citizens, but even on Ile Royale there was still much to be seen of the penal colony in addition to the spectacular flora and fauna.
Sights included a vast complex of abandoned buildings which I find ever fascinating. The mysterious nature of structures so quickly overtaken by foliage always tickles my fancy. Surprisingly, there is actually a hotel facility on the island as well as a number of private residences which together look to be a mix of repurposed buildings from the past as well as some newer ones; some were occupied, some were not.
The island is also overrun with wildlife including monkeys, peacocks, giant rat-like creatures and industrious leaf-cutter ants. Still, the focus always returns to the miserable remains of prison life, as surely experienced by the inmates and, to some degree, even the guards.
Although not the primary prison facility, a number of cells are still found on Ile Royale including those reserved for solitary confinement. This devastating narrow cell block resides next to what appears to be an assembly line where mandatory labor was forced upon the prisoners.
Not all structures are reminders of misery. The shell of a multilevel military hospital remains albeit now with missing floors, and a modest church displays a number of beautiful frescoes and a singular stained-glass window.
Sean Connery’s film quote referring to another island prison – Alcatraz – and delivered with utter disbelief surely applies to the bizarre status of this French facility as well: “The Rock has become a tourist attraction?!” (from the film, The Rock)
Join us again tomorrow for a look at the entertainment onboard Azamara Quest.
Continue on to Part 7: Azamara Entertainment…