4 December 2017:
Devil’s Island, French Guiana:
Hell in Paradise

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Devil’s Island, L’île du Diable, is one of the most evocative, terrifying, inspiring, and memorable places I know of.

You cannot visit Devil’s Island without some of it staying with you the rest of your life.

The good news, of course, is that we are sailing in on one of the most luxurious cruise ships in the world.

And the even better news is that we will be sailing away in the early afternoon, just in time for lunch and a Piña Colada by the pool.

It was not at all like that for the 80,000 or so guests who checked in to Devil’s Island between 1852 and 1953.

We arrived today under bluish skies, but as close to 100 percent humidity as I can imagine. Half an hour after tendering ashore with the first group of guests, the skies opened. I have been less wet inside a shower stall. But eventually the rain ended and we headed for the cells of the convicted, the tighter quarters of the condemned, and only slightly less awful holes for those held in solitary confinement.

Devil’s Island, across the narrow and treacherous strait that separates it from L’île Royale. Photo by Corey Sandler

Devil’s Island and the two nearby islands of L’île Royale  and L’île Saint-Joseph, as well as the mainland of French Guiana was used by the French as a penal colony for 101 years. Collectively they bear the ironic name of Les Îles du Salut (Islands of Salvation).

And to be precise, we visited L’île Royale, which was a general prison camp and administrative center and home to some of the cells.

Photos by Corey Sandler, 2017. All rights reserved.

In 1895, French army captain Alfred Dreyfus was unjustly convicted of treason and sent to Devil’s Island in 1895. The French author Emile Zola helped bring about a retrial, and eventually Dreyfus was exonerated.

The prisons were kept open during World War II, but from 1946 until 1953, one by one the prisons were closed. The Devil’s Island facility was the last to be closed.

in 1970 came the book Papillon, published as a memoir by a former prisoner, Henri Charrière in 1970.

Charriere’s book was an international bestseller, and in 1973 the film Papillon, starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman made the story part of the global cultural DNA.

Historians say not all of Charrière’s recounting is accurate, but the general tone of awful despair is true. You can feel it in your bones when you visit.

I’ve been to hell in paradise half a dozen times, and escaped successfully each time. And yet it draws me back.

All photos and text Copyright 2017 by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO PURCHASE AN AUTOGRAPHED COPY OF ONE OF MY BOOKS, PLEASE CONTACT ME.

SEE THE “How to Order a Photo or Autographed Book” TAB ON THIS PAGE FOR INSTRUCTIONS

————-

Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

If you would like to purchase an autographed copy, please see the tab on this page, “HOW TO ORDER A PHOTO OR AUTOGRAPHED BOOK”

Here’s where to order an electronic copy for immediate delivery:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IA9QTBM

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer (Kindle Edition)

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO PURCHASE AN AUTOGRAPHED COPY OF ONE OF MY BOOKS,  PLEASE CONTACT ME.

SEE THE “How to Order a Photo or Autographed Book” TAB ON THIS PAGE FOR INSTRUCTIONS