Anchoring in Kourou is very easy, and life goes by without problems, but we missed swimming. So we went back to the “shark infested waters” (thanks wikipedia) of the Devil’s Islands. Whose actual name is “The Salvation Islands”. Here, we wanted to explore the ruins of the French penal colony, which “Papillon” made famous.
We anchored in the bay between the two main islands, and it didn’t take long before we were all swimming around the boat to cool down. We soon decided that we would have to change our usual routine in order to visit the islands; instead of doing school in the morning, we would spend the early and cooler hours hiking the island, and then do school during the warmer hours. So we were up bright and early the next day, ready to get there before the day-boats would bring tourists from the main land. We soon found a footpath that leads around the whole island, and were on our way. It didn’t take long before we saw the first agoutis, little animals that kinda look like guinea pigs, but are larger and with longer legs. The kids ordered us to walk very quietly, to get as close as possible – until they were distracted by the sight of the first ruins from the penal colony. The houses on the islands are not well marked at all, and it’s really difficult to know what you’re looking at, but we later learned that this house was where they worked on metal, and the next house was a barn. Both were in extremely bad conditions, completely overgrown, withouts roofs, and with the walls supported by outer beams. We didn’t enter, though we wanted to.
As we walked on, the actual “Devil’s Island” came into view. This was the place where only dangerous political prisoners were kept. The first one was Alfred Dreyfus, who was innocently accused for being a German spy and ended up spending five years in solitary confinement on the island. Scary story. Even today, it the swell and rocks around the island is dangerous, and it is therefore forbidden to land on the island. But from our location on Île Royale, we could clearly see the remnants of Dreyfus’ cabin. Back then, both people and goods going to the island had to ride in a cable car, from which only the tower was left now. Of course, Papillon claims to have fled from the Devil’s Island, but this is a fabricated, albeit very fascinating, story.
As we rounded the remnants of the cable car, the prisoners’ “pool” came into view. This is where the tourists from Kourou spend their time when they come to the island, but now it had been taken over by the agoutis and some green iguanas. We, of course, wanted to get close to the iguanas, but they weren’t interested in our company.
The main part of the penal colony’s buildings were on a hill to our left, but we continued around the island, and now got to the wilder and less visited part, which used to be the gardens of the island. We could still see remnants of the walls that used to surround the hanging gardens, where the prisoners worked. But now everything was completely overgrown and the walls (and the footpath we were on) were crumbling away. The place teemed with life, however, and we saw numerous monkeys who didn’t seem to care one bit about us, the agoutis kept running around, green parrots flew above us, and Mattis even spotted one of the wild pigs.
This was just the first trip of many, visiting this island, and getting some much needed exercise in. We found these islands to be incredibly fascinating – and the fact that you can swim in the water and that there are hardly any mosquitos only added to the experience.
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