Monday, February 20, 2017

Good-Bye Caribbean, Hello Devils Island

15 February 2017

It has been a busy five days, though not a whole lot of island visiting.  We spent several hours in Bridgetown, Barbados – but it was Saturday, so the synagogue was closed after morning Sabbath services (and we weren’t quite that early).  Then a sea day, and the following day we arrived at Devils Island, French Guiana (or Guyana, depending on your preference). 

Devils Island was a French prison.  Really, only a prison.  About seven miles from the mainland, through shark-infested ocean with a strong current, this was one of the most notorious prisons in the penal system at the time (used up through the early part of the 20th century).  The one and only prisoner who ever escaped and survived was Papillon, the Frenchman wrongly accused of murder.  He escaped by jumping off a cliff and then clinging to a bag full of coconuts, which enabled him to float with the current and arrive in Venezuela (I think) several days later.

The other famous prisoner housed at Devils Island was Captain Dreyfus, a French Jewish military man wrongly accused of treason.  He spent several years at Devils Island before he was found not guilty of the trumped up charges, and was freed.  It was purely a political accusation based on anti-Semitism at the time.  (About 1904 or something, though we’re not certain and I’m writing this off line, so I can’t exactly check this.)

I'm not sure, was the Count of Montecristo here as well?
Some people took the tenders over to Devils Island, and visited the ruins of the prison, plus looked for monkeys in the jungle.  We opted to stay on ship.  I had planned to go and photograph the monkeys, while skipping the prison – but I came down with a cold, and it seemed sensible to avoid being in a crowded lifeboat if I could do so.  (Especially since many of the passengers seem to be in their 80s and even 90s.  I wouldn’t want to give someone my cold and have it turn serious.)

Throughout the day, the movie “Papillon” was shown, very appropriately.  This starred a rather young Dustin Hoffman as the forger Degas, and a hunky Steve McQueen as Papillon.  Sigh.  The movie was both more and less dramatic than Papillon’s true story, but it definitely was interesting, and perfect for when we were anchored just off the coast of Devils Island. 

It’s amazing how much there is to do on the ship when staying aboard, or on sea days.  I’ve attended lectures on various ports we’ll be visiting in a few days.  Seen two cooking demonstrations.  Did some sewing repairs on clothes.  Chatted with other guests from all over the world – lots of passengers from Canada as well as all over the US; England, Australia, New Zealand, and other parts of the British Empire; parts of Europe such as France, Germany, and the Netherlands; India; Israel.  Plus we chat with our crew, who seem to be mainly from the Philippines and Indonesia (especially Bali), though the casino staff are from places like South Africa, Chile, and Italy, so then I get to practice my Spanish and Italian.

The ship also has board games, jigsaw puzzles, etc. to keep passengers amused.   Or at least not two bored.  I’ve helped with a difficult jigsaw puzzle, and that’s a great way to meet people, since passengers as well as crew wander by and stop to put in a piece or two. 

And of course afternoon tea, where I meet up with friends we’ve made, and sip tea, eat finger sandwiches, and enjoy a scone or two with jam.  Not every day, but it’s a good substitute for a light lunch if we’ve slept late.  Or, as today, stayed out touring and then missed lunch.

The ship has the option of having breakfast delivered to your stateroom.  Do you know how wonderful that is?  Fill out a form, hang it from your door the night before, and then wake up to yogurt, fruit, and a basket of a few mini pastries (which of course I share with Richard, who has a bigger brekkie than yogurt and fruit).  Get dressed, or stay in the ship’s bathrobe.  Sip tea while watching the morning news.  Decide what to do for the day based on the schedule.  Wow, truly feels luxurious!

Some of our fellow passengers cruise frequently, and think this is the only way to travel.  I keep telling people that this is way more posh than the way we normally travel, with options like breakfast in the room.  Chocolates on the pillow.  Daily delivery of summarized newspapers, as well as a schedule of the ship’s events that day, or the schedule of our port visit.  The entire ship is a well-run community, complete with its own print shop for all the information we receive daily!

We’re currently awaiting our call to the tenders (using the ship’s lifeboats) to head to shore.  We’re anchored off Icoaraci, a port city on an inlet south of the mouth of the Amazon.  We’ll motor over to Icoaraci, then take a shuttle to the historic city of Belem, on of the oldest cities in Brazil, going back to 1616. 

Okay, it’s close to time to catch our tender, so I’ll close.  We have a plan to visit Belem, and will try to catch some wifi time in the afternoon.  (We ran out of time, and couldn’t find reliable or safe wifi.)

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