22 – 23 February 2014
The alarm rang at 5.30am and I left at 6 - still dark but at least warm (25C) and no rain. From what people had guesstimated it was 8-10k to the boat so I paced myself as I had to be there at 7.45 to register and buy a ticket. I arrived 7.15 so there was a long waiting time until the catamaran finally departed at 8.30. Overcast and big waves so not much to see - around half the passengers were challenged by motion sickness though few threw up. We arrived around 10 at the biggest of the 3 islands Ile Royale (the others are Ile Saint-Joseph and Ile du Diable) and the daytrippers went sightseeing while others found their accommodation. There was a bit of sunshine so despite staying over I exploited the moment and walked around until it got overcast again after about an hour... At the restaurant I obtained information where to camp for free and set up my tent and hammock - a beautiful spot amongst the coconut trees and to no surprise I was alone.
Released from the heavy luggage it was a pleasure going sightseeing, so I walked around the island for some hours looking at the animals/birds (monkeys, agutis, pheasants, parrots and peacocks) and the many old buildings trying to imagine what it must have been like being imprisoned in a place like this. The islands are of volcanic rocks and located 11k from the mainland and because of the location it was used as a penal colony for the very worst criminals of France since 1852 - the camp was controversial because of it's reputation for harshness and brutality. Prisoners upon prisoner violence was common, tropical diseases would kill around 90%, and a small core of broken survivors would return to France to tell how horrible it was and scare other potential criminals straight. The system was gradually phased out and the camp was finally shut down in 1953. The name is not related to the prison camp but from missionaries escaping the plague on the mainland years before. Nowadays the islands are a popular tourist destination – ironic in many ways!
Before arriving I was hoping for good weather but the less welcoming weather made the experience a bit gloomy and made me reflect even more on the past... Back in my camp I spent the rest afternoon in my hammock reading and napping – the weather never improved though limited rain.
A lot of rain during the night and morning, so I didn't get out of the tent until 10 - not much point walking around the island once more taking the same picures in overcast weather. Around noon the weather improved somewhat (at least no rain), so I took another walk around the island. In the restaurant I once again met the ticket guy who was also the island chef – it turned out he was Peruvian so to my great joy we could speak Spanish... In the afternoon I spent an hour in the small museum explaining the history of the islands and destinies of different people living there - including Papillon who allegedly stole his stories from inmates. To my great surprise and appreciation large part of it was also in English... Packing and then the last short walk to the catamaran that left on time at 16.30...