Thursday, 24 July 2014

Part 6 Ile du Salut, French Guiana ..... Devil's Island of Papillon fame.

As we sailed out of Brazil we had for sometime a following flock of Large Billed Terns.Plenty of opportunity to try for a better shot even if the light was poor.

Large Billed Tern 2014-01-28
It was to be the last we saw of the species but the following flock also contained two Laughing Gulls as well. The same species were there to greet us at the next stop when we arrived two days later.
Laughing Gull 2014-01-30
Another day at sea had produced absolutely nothing and yet land couldn't be that far away. Another day of disappointment, but that would soon be put behind us on arrival at the Ille Du Salut.Firstly, a Leach's Petrel was found to have stowed away on board the previous night.
Leach's Petrel 2014-01-30 (1)
So that was a nice bonus, however, the bad news was it was seen flying away from the boat, we had found a nice secure place on board for it to hide, but a while after a bird of prey was seen returning to the island with what might well have been our bird in it's talons.
There are actually three islands that make up the Ile du Salut, the largest being  Ile Royale which actually housed the majority of prisoners and the governors house. The Ile du Diable, or Devil's Island housed the political prisoners and it's not open to the public. There are 19 permanent residents on Royale and it's still a French colony ( they tend to keep their imperial background low key !)
Here are the two luckiest policemen I have ever met.
Devils Island 972014-01-30
They are over from France on a 6 month tour of duty. I suggested they must have been good to draw the lucky straw. (Incidentally, behind them is Devil's island). I also wondered at why they needed to be armed, especially with such a low residential population and the fact that the average ship passenger was , well, not likely to cause them a problem.
No doubt the island isn't as it was when it was penal colony. There would have been no trees as that provided a means of building a raft to escape.
Mainland Guiana is about 8 miles away,
Devils Island 122014-01-30
but the waters were shark invested, particularly as blood from slaughtering animals was deliberately put in the sea.
Today the island is typically French with a nice restaurant, bar and hotel accommodation. The currency amazingly to me is the Euro.
First though we had to get off the boat. The queue for tender embarkation tickets had begun very early and caught some of us birders out. Fortunately we were saved by one of our number who asked for enough tickets for us all. Guilty your honour, but I'm afraid I decided that for once I would look after number one. The majority of folk would want to be back on the ship for lunch, I wanted to maximise the length of stay on the island.
As it happened we were fortunate on two counts. Being on the second tender we were off reasonably quickly but even then it was much longer than anticipated. It had been requested that only able bodied passengers took the tenders as the sea swell was quite considerable. Of course, able bodied is open to individual interpretation and for some it was a huge task getting off the boat. This caused queueing both to go and, as seen here, to return from the island.
Devils Island 882014-01-30
The sea might look calm here in the harbour which was sheltered from the wind by the afternoon but out at sea it was really quite rough and was very tricky getting off. However, as a result of the conditions and the ship having to haul anchor and reposition to give an amount of wind shelter the time of the last tender was delayed a few hours. Yours truly was on the last one out and can you blame him ?
Quite simply, this is a little paradise.
Amongst the better preserved buildings like the church
Devils Island 742014-01-30
some are less so well cared for.
Devils Island 612014-01-30
Some not at all.
Devils island to Azores 242014-01-30
There is a somewhat sinister atmosphere when you see reminders of the past and how the inmates must have suffered, many executed here on the island.
Anyway, that's in the past, it's now a small wildlife haven.
The Macaws I had dreamt of at last before me !
Scarlet Macaw
Someone said they were captive but they could fly with apparent ease and probably chose to stay as they were fed daily, and after all wouldn't you given the choice ?
Blue and Yellow Macaw 2014-01-30
These weren't the only again captures though, I had Palm Tanager ( yes it rained at first)
Palm Tanager 2014-01-30
Yellow Bellied Elaenia
Yellow Bellied Elaenia 2014-01-30
Blue grey Tanager
Blue-Grey Tanager 2014-01-30
Spotted Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper 2014-01-30
and Royal Tern ( or should that be Royale) down on the quayside.
Royal Tern 2014-01-30It wasn't just birds either, we had Brown Capuchin Monkey
Brown Capuchin 2014-01-30
the extremely tame and rather large Agouti
Agouti 2014-01-30
Yes, they are just a huge rat !
Again in the harbour glimpses of turtle, I think Green Sea Turtle
Green Sea Turtle 2014-01-30
and on ruined walls, large Iguana
I could barely tear myself way for a drink stop. Not beer in these sophisticated surrounds but a mind blowing rum cocktail. Delicious and it certainly countered the effect of the rain but worrying for focusing my camera for later !
Just before we had to return for the tender back my best moment of the day, if not the trip was captured.
Black Throated Mango
Black Throated Mango 2014-01-30
It was there for a minute or two, darting around the flowers
Black Throated Mango
I was using my 500mm lens so following the action wasn't easy
Black throated Mango
but I had got the shot I was after. I was sad to leave this little haven but the memory will last forever.
I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit, not many do. It's not somewhere you would probably want to be for too long. There's no swimming pool and the sea is a bit unsuitable for swimming. There is no entertainment, no beach but what there is is atmosphere, wildlife and French cuisine. Ticks my boxes ! Getting there isn't easy either, you would have to go via the Guiana mainland, a long trek, unless you were on a cruise ship which not many are in this part of the world. It would have to be a small one too as large numbers aren't viable although on this occasion, the island seemed to swallow up several hundred people with ease with no obvious crowding other than at the departure point .
One last obstacle too... sea conditions. We were fortunate the captain carried on letting us go ashore when the conditions were found to be much trickier than expected. The stop had been cancelled the preceding year I was told. Maybe he did so to compensate for the changed itinerary at the end of the Amazon, maybe he did to off set the discontent with the norovirus situation. Anyway, I was the lucky one that day. Some poor souls were confined to their cabins in an ever growing number of sickness victims.
We'd have another day at sea before arriving at our first Caribbean island, Grenada. Then it was tough luck if you were confined to your cabin as we had four stops on four consecutive days.

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