On Our Way to Devil's Island

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February 20th 2014
Published: February 20th 2014
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Days 12-17 – Trinidad & Tobago – Devil’s Island

Saturday – Feb. 15/14 – At sea

On our “sea day” between the ABC Islands and Trinidad we enjoyed the chance to relax a bit more and in the evening met up with some of the 257 other Canadians on board at a reception hosted by the Purser, a lady who just happens to hail from Vancouver.

An interesting occurrence happened during dinner. The Captain came on the PA system and announced that he had turned the ship around and stopped to investigate a small boat that was sitting in the water without any lights on. As we approached the small craft put on its lights and sped off. We don’t know what it was doing motionless without any lights on, but one can suspect that it was not anything good.

Sunday – Feb. 15/14 – Port of Spain, Trinidad (Temperature 26°C - 79°F)

As we came into Port of Spain this morning we passed an oil rig in full operation not far off the coast. Oil in this region is one of the major sources of income; tourism usually ranks number 2.

We docked right in the center of town.

Today we went on a tour of the city, which included a stop at the Botanical Gardens and Mt. St. Benedict Monastery.

The mode of transportation on the island is not the monster 44 passenger busses that are commonly used for shore excursions, but rather smaller 18 passenger ones . Makes for a much more pleasant ride on the narrow roads and also means that there are fewer individuals on each bus, making for easier exits.

After being picked up at the pier we were driven around the city and shown some of the more interesting buildings. The city was fairly busy for a Sunday morning and it turned out that they were preparing for a steel band competition in the afternoon, which would lead to heavy street traffic, thus prompting the early tour of certain sections of the city.

Our first stop was the Botanical Gardens where we had a short 45 minute stop and walk around the grounds. The guide was quite knowledgeable and pointed out both the local flora and those that had been imported to the garden.

We were then driven out of the core of the city and we had a photo stop up the side of the mountain at a point overlooking the city and harbour.

We went next to Mt. St. Benedict Monastery, which was 600+ feet above sea level. The location of the monastery in a “V” on the side of the mountain combined with the altitude provided a natural funnel and forced cooling breezes up into the compound. This made it a very pleasant location to stop at.

We were provided a tour of the grounds by the General Manager of the Guest House. It turns out he had attended the University if Guelph. Small world.

As we returned to the ship our guide told us that Trinidad was the “party” island while Tobago was the “rest” island [where they go after Carnival]. On our return we spent the afternoon reading before heading off to dinner.

Monday – Feb. 17/14 – Tobago

After a full night at sea to cover a relatively short hop over to Tobago we docked at Scarborough.

Today Brooke & I decided to do two different things again. I went out to the Rain Forest for a three-hour hike while Brooke stayed on board and relaxed.

My tour group was relatively small, 13 passengers + the 1st Engineer and his lady as escorts. The ship always sends along a member of the crew as an escort to ensure our safety.

We were driven up the winding coastal highway for about 40 minutes and then we turned inland and drove 7.5 kilometers up the mountain into the interior. The mountain is approximately 1,100 feet above sea level.

The location of the rain forest was inside a protected forest preserve that had been originally established in 1776.

There was evidence that it had rained recently as there were puddles on the road and the path leading into the forest was quite muddy.

The guide suggested that we should rent wellingtons, which a few of our party opted for. The rest of us committed our shoes to the worst – in parts the trail was reduced to nothing better than a slimy path. Adding to the muck was that fact that you could not watch the tree canopy, where much of the wildlife was, and your feet at the same time so I’m sure we missed seeing a number of things.

The path rose as we proceeded into the forest and was so slick in one place where we had to navigate over a small dip in the path that one of our members took a full butt plant into the mud .

When we started the hike it was fairly pleasant but as we neared the turn-around point, which was a small waterfall in the interior of the jungle the humidity, started to spike. It reminded me of the stories we read about the conditions faced by the US troops in Vietnam. Fortunately we were spared the irritating flying insects.

After we turned around we made our way back to the access road where the guides washed off our mud covered shoes and lower pant legs, for one US dollar. In the case of the man who did the butt plant they also wiped off as much as they could from his seat. The bus driver didn’t want the seat to get dirty so he provided a plastic bag for our unfortunate hiker to sit on in the bus.

Tomorrow the ship is at sea all day on its way to Devil’s Island. The seas are a bit rough with an eight foot swell combined with waves. Makes for a bit of a rock but nothing that adversely affects either B. or I.

Tuesday – Feb. 18/14 – At Sea

This was really a laid back day – reading, lectures, more reading, food and a really exceptional tenor performing in the evening. Lee Bradley, a British born singer who has a really fun personality pumped out many favourite operatic tunes.

On sea days the Cruise Director and his staff really make sure that there is something for everyone to do if they wish to participate. Everything from health/sports orientated activities to lectures, cooking demos, wine tasting, mixology classes, etc. or you can just veg out – it is really up to your desires. The lectures have ben very good this trip.

The winds continued to be quite strong over the deck again tonight so the seas were running a bit high.

Wednesday – Feb. 19/14 – Devil’s Island, French Guiana

Even though we had to plough through some relatively heavy seas over night the Captain had us off the island right on schedule, picked up the Pilot and was at anchor by 8:00 a.m. There were no scheduled shore excursions at Devil’s Island – it was go ashore and explore on your own!

We took a leisurely breakfast on the Lido before heading off to the tenders. The ship was at anchor ½ to ¾ of a mile off shore as there was no deep-water pier here.

The front office provided everyone with a map of Ile Royale where the prison facilities were primarily located. Devil’s Island itself is the smallest of the three Iles du Salut (Salvation Islands) and housed the political prisoners, including Alfred Dreyfus. This island is not accessible to cruise ships though you can land there if you come by smaller craft.

We went ashore and landed around 11:00 a.m. and started a counter clockwise exploration of the island. There were a number of signs in both French and English pointing out the dangers along the coast; crumbling edges along the shore, slippery rocks, areas NOT to swim in, etc. There were the signs naming the buildings or structures so that you could try to match it up with the rudimentary route map.

We spent more that three hours exploring the island and we think we covered the primary things to see there. We encountered some of the wildlife that lives there; the agoutis, a medium sized pig like creature ; monkeys and a lonely sea turtle. We also stopped at the commercial Hotel that is on the island where we bought a number of postcards for ourselves and our friend Donna.

Brooke filled in three cards for our friends and sons and hopefully the postmark will read Devil’s Island. Now it remains to be seen if the postcards actually get delivered to Canada. The postage for each card was $2 US dollar.

For the most part the shore experience was not as bad as we anticipated; relatively low humidity at first though it did rise whenever we were out of the sea breezes resulting in soaked shirts, and no pesky flying insects.

We returned to the ship and again had a late lunch on the Lido beside the pool. Then it was off to read on our verandah. While we were reading the Captain came on the PA to tell us that because of the rising wind conditions and the state of the sea he had decided to end tender services early; meaning no more opportunities to go ashore. He had four tenders in the water and all remained active until everyone was retrieved from the island and back on board.

The original on board time was 4:30 for the crew and 5:30 for the passengers with a sailing time of 6:00. The action of the Captain to cancel the tenders meant that everything was wrapped up by 5:00.

The sail away from the islands was very slow as the channel that we needed to follow was surprisingly shallow, only 30 meters. The heightened wind and seas over this shallow area caused a number of individuals including one our dinner tablemates to become seasick.

Thursday – Feb. 20/14 – At Sea

King Neptune was supposed to visit the ship today and pass judgment on the “vile pollywogs” of the crew who were crossing the Equator for the first time. If they are found “wanting” Neptune through his loyal assistants, other crew members, deal out a “punishment” usually a dosing of jello, spaghetti, various oils, creams, kissing the fish etc. then a dip in the pool on the aft deck to rinse all the muck off.

Unfortunately the weather played havoc with this event and so it was postponed. It is usually great fun for the passengers who, likely because of insurance reasons, are allowed only as observers of the events while the crew are the participants. We will cross the actual Equator about 11 p.m. tonight.

Today also marked the start of our anti-malaria medication program. We will have to take the pills for all the time we are in Brazil and for 7 days after we leave the area for a total of 35 days.

Tomorrow we are in Belem, Brazil. We actually land at Icoaracy with Belem being a 45-60 mile ride away. It is in the Amazon estuary so will be our first view of the Amazon, which we see in greater detail later in our trip.

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