Penguin Island, Antarctica 2008

Friday, March 18, 2011

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 16 - At Sea and Ile Royal and Devil's Island

Another lazy morning, as we have half a day at sea since our next stop, Devil’s Island, is not until noon. We sleep in, work on the blog and go to the White Elephant sale. Ray leads the auction of donated items from both passengers and staff. There are some really nice items: the Ship’s flag flown in Antarctica, a trip map of the whole 71 day trip and another one of the Amazon part, the Captain’s jacket, several dinners with your choice of members of the staff and entertainers. Ray offers a one night stay at his English Lake Country manor house with 21 bedrooms plus dinner and a show at his local theater, plus there are the various items that the passengers donated. All in all it was a fun hour or so and $11, 768 was raised for the Crew Welfare Fund. This is a fund that the ship uses to help the crew with emergences and also for special events to boost crew moral. In fact, Regent asks that we not tip, period, but if we want to do something for the crew to donate to the Crew Fund.

At noon, we can see the three islands that make up the Islands of Salvation or the Iles de Salut. They are Ile Royale, Ile St. Joseph and Ile du Diable.
The group lies about seven miles off the coast of French Guyana and we can see the gantry complex of the European Space Complex at Kourou on shore. Unfortunately, no launches are schedules for today but, through binoculars we can see an Aires rocket on the pad. It is due to launce on March 29.

While the seas are not particularly rough, the waves are breaking and throwing up an impressive display of spray around the Atlantic side of the islands. The pilot is not waiting for us as planned and we idle along slowly until he finally shows up and we can proceed to anchor off of Ile Royale, the only one of the islands that is open to the public. Isle Joseph has several modern buildings in evidence but they are housing for Coast Guard personnel
and the only way to get from Isle Royale to Isle Joseph is by private boat and we did not bring one with us.
Isle Royale was the site of the administration of the prison and has buildings open to the public that date to the early days of the prison, the 1850s. The prison that we know as Devil’s Island was actually open from the mid-1850's to the early 1950's. Now, Isle Royale has a resort including a small hotel, gift shop and restaurant.
We secure a seat on the second tender and hit the shore right at 1:30PM.
We have been provided with a map of the island and, based on a talk by Terry Breen, we elect to head off the pier and walk along the shore in a counter-clockwise direction.
At the time of the prison, most of the palm trees on the island were removed so the prisoners could not use them to build rafts. Now, nature has restored the palms and the islands are quite pretty.
As we begin our walk along the level path, we can see Isle Joseph across the channel to our right.
The currents running between and around the islands are very strong and the surface of the water appears very turbulent.
We pass rins of several buildings including the workshops and forges, the pigpens and the slaughter house.
Moving on around the island we also see the treacherous channel between Isle Royal and Isle du Diable and
the stump of a tower which was one end of a cable car system used to move supplies from Isle Royale to Isle du Diable.
From the tower ruin we have a good view of the SW end of Isle du Diable. That island, we are told, is off limits to everyone and is being allowed to return to its natural state. Supposedly, the cell occupied by Alfred Dreyfus in the 1890s can be seen on the NE end of the island but we did not see it from the ship and what we can see is just a palm covered island across a narrow channel from our position.
It is here that we begin to run into people staying on the island or who have made a day trip over from the mainland. Despite the area’s reputation for sharks, people are swimming off a concrete pier and in an old rock, sea-water swimming pool constructed by the convicts.
At this point, the sky to the NW is becoming quite dark. Dick starts to walk on around the sea level trail while Carolyn heads up to the hotel but the trail begins to deteriorate and the threat of rain prompts him to head up hill to find shelter.We meet up at the museum in the old Director’s House just as the heavens open up with tropical deluge.
The rain comes down in buckets, the wind blows the palms, the temperature drops a few degrees and it is all over in 15 minutes! The museum is no great shakes but the displays do offer some labels in English as well as French and we look at and enjoy what is offered.

Now we have to decide how to get to the top of the hill, 47 meters above sea level. We can take some very steep stairs or walk a longer route up a cobblestone paved ramp. We elect the ramp and slowly make our way to the top of the rain-slick stones. At the top, the area opens out onto both buildings in ruins and buildings being used by the current occupants.

The house of the commanding officer appears to be in reasonable condition but is not being used.
Something called the presbytery is in ruins.
The chapel is open but you can only step inside the entrance as a gate closes off the main area.
From a distance we can see the paintings on the walls that were done by a prisoner named Francis Lagrange, a convicted forger of paintings. These were done in the early 1940s.
The hospital building is quite large but also in ruins.
From here, we explore the prison cells,
 the guards quarters,
the solitary confinement cells
and the cells of the condemned prisoners.
There was a guillotine in use here but it, of course, is no longer to be seen.

We walk by the hand dug cistern that holds 4,000 cubic meters. Its surface is now covered with water plants

 and we see iguanas and tiny copper-colored frogs but do not see the resident caimans.
In the hotel is a gift shop carrying an amazing array of items for sale including jewelry and lingerie.
To put the period on our visit we actually buy a T-shirt; as in, been there, done that and bought a T-shirt. They even took US dollars! The hotel is nice
and has a good view of Devil's Island from the gardens.
It is time to head back and we see a little more wildlife on the way.

It is a slow walk back down the slick, cobblestone ramp
but we make it without mishap and board a tender for the ride back to the ship. We are on board by 4:30PM and get cleaned up. It has been an adventure in a place we never thought we would see and between rain showers and heat we are quite wet. A shower feels good!

Drinks and dinner are pleasant but not memorable and we head for bed. The clocks are turned back an hour tonight. We are beginning the return to Texas time.

1 comment:

  1. I must let you know how much I've enjoyed reading your blog. We are getting on the Mariner when you disembark, and your description of ship life has added to the delicious anticipation. Also have enjoyed your photos-lovely! and port descriptions immensely. Thanks for sharing and best wishes to you both!