A Guide to Devil’s Island

Heaving on its axes and caught between the charcoal strata of sea below and cloud above at 1600, the tiny Royal Family Island Hack no-man’s land, that portion of ocean beyond the Caribbean Sea and its multitude of islands densely trafficked by cruise ships unleashing tourists by the thousands on a daily basis, and the desolate morosity of the northeastern quadrant of ocean off of South America where few ventured, destined for the pinpoint specks of the Salvation Islands, the gem of which,

Devil’s Island, had “sparkled” with a penitentiary-inhabited population which had vacated the landmass in 1953, leaving a desolate, although tropically lush lilly pad visited only a few times per year by this very vessel. I had indeed made a statement concerning the relative allocentricity of my travel, a decision whose steps I urgently needed to re-examine in order to re-establish how they had connected with each other and how they had somehow led to the current one. Perhaps the brain’s logic of progression had failed to incorporate emotionalization in its deduction process. Yet, here I was, and the idea of turning back now had been less logical than the one which had led me here.

Despite my internal hesitations, the ship externally plowed on at 15 knots…

At 1300, the Royal Princess began its final approach to the Salvation Islands’ Pilot Station, their almost-gray silhouettes, devoid of an appreciable, topographical distinctions, appearing ahead and to the right of the bow beneath the mostly cloud-draped sky. Reducing speed to little more than a crawl, it moved past St. Joseph, whose sandy perimeter received periodic onslaughts of white, foamy surf from the ocean, and embarked its local pilot at 1332, who maneuvered it into a starboard approach to its anchorage off of Ile Royale’s leeward side in the thick, humid, almost oppressive air.

Located on the northern coast of South America between Suriname and Brazil, French Guiana, which had been settled by the French during the 17th century, is both an Overseas Department and an Overseas Region and constitutes the largest portion of the European Union outside of the European continent itself.

Its three main geographical regions comprise the coast, where most of its 209,000 population is concentrated; its dense, almost-impenetrable rain forest, which gradually gains elevation as it approaches the Tumac-Humac Mountains on the Brazilian border; and the two island groups off the coast, the Iles du Salut and the Ile de Connetable, the latter a bird sanctuary.

The Barrage de Petit-Saut hydroelectric dam, located in the north, provides power, while fishing, gold mining, timber, and eco-tourism are its predominant economic activities. The Guiana Space Centre, in Kourou, employs 1,700. Principle transportation includes the international airport in the suburbs of Cayenne, the capital; the Degrad des Cannes Seaport; and an asphalt road from Cayenne to the Brazilian border.

The Iles du Salut, or Salvation Islands, lie eight miles northeast of Kourou in the mid-Atlantic and comprise Ile Royale, Ile St. Joseph, and Ile du Diable.

Settled by French colonists seeking to escape the disease-ridden jungle of the low lands on the continent proper in 1760, they subsequently served as outposts for ships too large to dock in Cayenne, and were initially known as “Iles du Diable” or “Devil’s Islands.”

Ile Royale, the largest of the three and the only one still inhabited, had been the headquarters of the prison governor of the infamous 19th-century French penal colony, which had housed more than 80,000 prisoners in the 101 years between 1852 and 1953. Its current hotel had been the prison warden’s mess hall.

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