Trip Start Jan 01, 2001
299Trip End Dec 28, 2010
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
3rd - A quick moped ride to get to the fish quay for an 8 o'clock departure on a large catamaran to go to visit the Isle de Salut. These are situated about an hour away from the town, or about 14 kms, and consist of 3 island, Royale, St Joseph and the most famous Devil's Island. Together they form the most famous of the French Penal Colonies. They were in use from 1837 until 1946 and as explained previously received prisoners in 4 different categories. As we found out when there, the most famous of all Henri Charriere or Papillion was in fact never a prisoner on the islands. He actually served his time in Cayenne were he worked emptying the toilets until he did make a successful escape. We arrived on the island of Royale and got a small motorboat to take us over to St Joseph. This island is being let go back to nature and there is basically no care for the buildings at all. The main building was one huge prison complex that would have easily held 500 prisoners, so probably had double that. The building consisted of a large external wall and then inside various rooms linked by a central corridor. Some of the buildings were used as a collective cell with the concrete bed and metal rail for the ankles. Other of the cells were isolation cells, these filled at least half the space and consisted of a room 2m wide and deep with the remains of a wooden plank bed on metal supports as we had seen at St Laurent. It was very obvious as we walked around how much work had been done, most of the ground was terraced, with stone walls supporting the terraces and linking all the areas were cobble paths. Nowadays the whole lot is becoming totally overgrown, it looks as if in another 20 or 30 years you would not be able to move in the area because of the undergrowth. From here we walked around the island, only 2 kms all the way, and came across the remains of the cemetery used for the military and warders as well as there families. This is still cared for and surprisingly some of the graves are obviously still cared for by family since they have new carved marble slabs listing dates from 1890. From here we ended our walk back at the dock and got the boat back to Royale, this was the main administrative island. After a very hard walk up stairs we got to the old warden's mess hall, now a restaurant, and got a map of the island. First we saw the main water reservoir, which still has 3 metres of water indicated in it and notices saying there are caiman in there as well, although we did not see any. Next we went past the wardens houses, the same design as in St Laurent, which are used as a hotel. Just beyond we came to the remains of the main special prison buildings. This complex consisted of isolation cells, one complete with a refurbished door. The death row cells, about 12 in number, and the prison hospital cell. This was a large room where the prisoners slept in hammocks attached to a metal pole and hooks on one side and a metal rail in the centre. This rail was made from the old railway tracks and so is quite recent, that is after 1900. They are maintaining these cells although lots of others around are falling into decay. At the back of this building they also had more prison accommodation for various types such as isolation hospital, lepers cells and such like. From here it was a short walk to the main prison cell. This consisted of 2 large halls that housed all the prisoners collectively and there was not much to see. Next stop was the children's graveyard, with only about 40 graves, next door was the main graveyard but this is completely run down. The graveyards were only used for the wardens, the prisoners were taken by boat and dropped overboard to feed the sharks and thus use them as a repellent to escapes. The largest building, the wardens hospital was next, this was on 3 floors but again is falling down. Another that has fallen down was the house for the nuns that worked in the hospital. The church has been restored and kept the original paintings made by the prisoners. Finally we saw a few other buildings that housed people such as the adjutant, the chief doctor and the presbytary. From here we took a walk to the closest point to Devils Island, passing the prisoners swimming pool on the way. Devils Island was only used for political prisoners who normally were shipped over and left to fend for themselves with no warders there. The passage across was extremely dangerous, hence it is still closed today, and so they installed a cable car system to move men and supplies in all weather. The remains of the pillar for this cable still stand and in the museum is the block used in the transportation of the most famous political prisoner Alex Dreyfuss. This soldier was found guilty of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment. After being stripped of his rank he was taken to the island and was then imprisoned inside a stone cell built especially for him on Devils Island, he also exceptionally had a prison warden. That said after 4 years it was decided that he was innocent after all and he was freed and went back to France and was reinstated in the Army, rising from a Captaine to a Colonel, and then worked in the military school for the next 14 years. Once we left this area it was to go to the old Commandants House which is now the museum, this had a very interesting display board in both French and English which explained all about the island and its famous people. It did list several people that did make successful escapes, including one who went to America and survived the massacre at the Battle of the Little Bighorn with Custer. After this very interesting day it was back by boat and then moped for the night.
4th - A lazy start since we want to go to the space museum, which does not open until 2 p.m. There is the possibility of a 3 hour guided tour of the space station, but it is in French and so not of much interest to us. The museum had a short film about the work of the establishment with the guide explaining it in English for us. We were then allowed to walk around ourselves. All they showed were scale models of the different Ariane spacecraft and some different satellites. Although it was labelled in English we found it to be a very poor display and not worth waiting around for. As a result it was a quick drive down the road to the capitol of Cayenne. We had already been told there was a likely parking space at the back of the Consul Generals Building at the sea front and so made our way there. Although it is at the sea front, you cannot see the sea due to the tree growth on the swamp; these also stop any breeze so it is quite hot here.