World Cruise 2013

Trip Start Jan 04, 2013
Trip End May 01, 2013

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Flag of French Guiana  ,
Wednesday, May 8, 2013

On the 110th day after a sea day we arrived off Devil's Island, French Guiana. This island has a dark and intriguing history. The smallest and northernmost of the three islands off the coast of French Guiana and was part of the notorious French penal colony until 1952. Opened by Emperor Napoleon III’s government in 1852, the prison became one of the most infamous prisons in history. The inmates ran the gamut from political prisoners to thieves and murderers. The harsh conditions and rapid spread of diseases, including malaria, guaranteed that more than 80,000 prisoners were never seen again and 50,000 lost their lives there and were thrown into the shark infested waters for disposal. The remote location, rocky coastline and treacherous waters inhabited by sharks, made escape virtually impossible. Those who were sentenced to seven or more years and still managed to survive, were required to stay in French Guyana for the rest of their lives. You can imagine that the guards and the commandants sent here were not of the highest caliber, and many were mean and sadistic.

Papillons, a best selling book by ex Devil’s Island convict Henri Charriere tells a compelling story of escapes, friendship and solitary confinement that would break most men. The movie starred Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman would be shown after we visited the island today.   The tender ride was easy and smooth and we were on the island relatively early before the heat for the day set upon us. We followed the southern path along the island and came upon stairs, leading to the director’s quarters and hotel, these were steep and irregular and one could easily trip and fall. To say the building were in disrepair would be an understatement. They were covered with foliage both inside and outside the buildings. Next we came to the cellblock were the prisoners were kept they were very small and had one steel cot in each cell. We took a few photos and went to the Hospital and Chapel that were both in disrepair but workmen were there in the process of refurbishing them. There was also a small hotel that guests could stay on the island with very few amenities and a bargain basement price. The path down led past a children’s cemetery and there were a number of graves, remember all the inmates were thrown into the sea when they expired. The most famous resident, Captain Dreyfuss, was a political prisoner who was falsely accused of espionage, but more probably was guilty of being Jewish during an anti Semitic era. In 1893, the French army officer was accused of planning to deliver an anonymous document that revealed French military secrets to the German embassy in Paris. It wasn’t until 1896 that the head of intelligence uncovered evidence that another officer Major Esterhazy was the guilty party. At the same time friends and family of Dreyfuss found similar proof. The officer who uncovered the evidence was dismissed from the service and Esterhazy was court-martialed, but was acquitted in 1898. People have always lied and cheated and tried to implicate innocents from the beginning of time. In 1938 France stopped sending prisoners to Devil’s Island, and in 1952 the prison closed forever.
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