For my final day in French Guiana, I was destined for the Iles Du Salut (the Salvation Islands).
I will start with a spot of history to help you understand more about the islands.
A long long time ago (1852 to be precise), in a land far far away (France, which may or may not be far depending on where you are), the emperor decided that it would be a good idea to send criminals to jail in Guiana. The plan was to help develop the colony and if they survived passed their prison term (tens of thousands died from malaria, other diseases or violence whilst they were incarcerated), the prisoners were not allowed to leave Guiana upon their release from jail. The Iles du Salut were judged the best place to lock up serious criminals as it was believed an escape would be almost impossible. The waters around were full of sharks, kept there amongst other things by the fact that dead prisoners were thrown into the sea, so any escapee was unlikely to make it to dry land alive. Hardly salvation I hear you say... Well in fact, the name came from the fact that in the 18th century,
about 10,000 people were sent to French Guiana to develop the colony. Within a year, more than half had died from malaria or yellow fever, so the survivors escaped to those islands where the mosquitoes were almost non existent. The islands ended up as a safe haven until its new residents were repatriated to France.
OK, that's enough history for one day, back to my little adventure...
My friends had lent me their car to get to Kourou, where the catamaran was sailing from. Our itinerary was to take us to the 3 islands, but only stop at 2 of them seeing as one of them is no longer open to the public. Each island used to be the chosen residence of certain types of prisoners. After sailing under the sun for a couple of hours and even catching a glimpse of some dolphins, our first stop was on Ile St Joseph, which was used for hardened criminals.
Our captain explained that we had 1h30 to explore the island, but we were only allowed to walk around the outside. He said that there were many ruins in the middle of the island, but we were not allowed to go there.
Iles Du Salut
This is how palm trees are born
The main reason seemed to be that falling palm tree branches or coconuts might cause injuries and back when the area was still free to all, someone sued the owning company (the spatial centre) after such an incident... He went on to say that if we were to break the law and go in anyway, he was not aware of anyone having ever been fined or arrested and that there would be wonderful picture opportunities. He finished by saying that obviously, seeing as this was illegal, he could not possibly encourage us to break the rules...
So we were let off the boat and pretty much everyone headed to the top to get to the ruins. The captain was right when he said there would be chances to take good pictures. The site impressive, not only because you could imagine the life of the prisoners, stuck in those tiny cells, but mainly because the forest had started to take back what used to be hers. So there were trees growing in the middle of the buildings, plants emerging from the walls and animals running around freely. Lower down by the shore, was the cemetery, only for the “honest people” as
dead convicts were just thrown at sea. I ended up tagging along with a small group of French people and we had a fun hour and a half, having to rush back to the boat in the end, because we were running late. Back on board, we were given the opportunity of a quick swim, which only a handful of people took advantage of. After that, it was time for a little drink, rum based as seemed to be the rule around these parts.
After this little interlude, it was time to go in the direction of the Ile du Diable. This was where the spies and political prisoners were kept (including Alfred Dreyfus) in a bid to keep them away from other convicts, as they might try to talk them into their way of thinking. Unfortunately, this was the island that is not accessible to the public, so we could only sail past it on our way to the third and final island: the Ile Royale. This one was the administrative centre. It is the biggest of the islands and even has a restaurant and also offers he opportunity to spend the night, but for us it would just
be a few hours to have a look around. We walked up and down the paths, looking at the trees and plants and then down to the sea where we went for a quick swim before drying in the sunshine. The 3 hours flew by and we finished our jaunt by walking up to where all the monkeys were stationed, being fed bread and bananas by some of the other visitors. This allowed for some great photo opportunities, but we ended up having to run back to the boat as it was time to head home. The conversation on the way back was quite interesting as it seemed quite a few of us had explored different corners of the island and seen different wildlife. The one thing most of us agreed on was that it would have been nice to spend a night there to have a little more time, but also to hear the sounds of the place at night...
The boat ride back was uneventful and when we got back to Kourou, we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. This was the end of my last day in French Guiana, as the following morning, I was
going to Brazil.
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