Traipsing in Heat Through Former French Penal Colony

Day 65, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023; Devil’s Island, French Guiana

We are at Devils Island today, and appropriately, it’s hot as hell.

I didn’t check the temperature, but on land it felt like the hottest day so far. It’s hard to remember that just a month ago today we were leaving Antarctica. I hear through the grapevine that the ship’s medical team treated some passengers suffering from the heat on the island.

We passed the equator into the Northern Hemisphere as we left the Amazon River on Friday and enjoyed two sea days before anchoring here this morning. Technically we don’t go to Devil’s Island (Île du Diable), as it is closed to the public, but rather tender to a pier on Royale Island (Île Royale). Charter boats from the French Guiana mainland and independent sailors also visit here and the third island in the group, St. Joseph Island (Île Saint-Joseph).

Devil’s Island

I remember it being hot in 2020 when I was last at Devil’s Island. Today I planned to explore more of the island than I did four years ago, but after 20 minutes in the heat I followed a similar short walk of perhaps a half mile or so.

I didn’t climb the steep paths or stairs to the buildings higher on the island. Most are closed and dilapidated administration and cell buildings from the penal colony days. A few have been rehabilitated and offer a small store, restaurant and even overnight accommodations. The islands have been made famous by a number of movies, including two versions of Papillon, the most recent of which was aired on board before our visit.

Perhaps when I am here again in a month (while on the world cruise), I will get off the ship earlier and explore farther. Although I don’t think it is much cooler at 7 a.m. than at 9 a.m. this close to the equator.

During my walk I saw a few passengers and island visitors swimming in an area mostly surrounded by huge rocks. Signs along the coast walk warn of slippery rocks and swift currents. I didn’t see any of the monkeys I remember sketching four years ago, but others reported sightings. I did a rough sketch of the nearby Devil’s Island, even though I think I sketched the same view previously.

Things are getting busier on board as we count down to our Dec. 19 disembarkation. Thursday night was our final dressy night, with just one formal night remaining. Laundry resumed after being halted while we were on the Amazon where the ship could not produce fresh water. The laundry service on the Zaandam is the fastest at sea, I believe. I sent my bag out in the morning and it was back by midafternoon, some clothes still warm from the dryer.

Late this afternoon crew members were transforming the Crows Nest into a fairy tale wonderland, with giant mushrooms and signposts pointing to Neverland, the bean stalk, Oz and the rabbit hole. We were urged to come in our pajamas for a night of fairy tales.

I had intended to go, but at 9:30 I was watching the sad ending of the Kansas City Chiefs-Buffalo Bills game. Every Chiefs fan, I’m sure, thought that last penalty that denied my Chiefs the winning touchdown was highly questionable. Sigh.

The Oi Brazil cultural team is still on board, leading dancing and music classes. Guest speaker Andy Fletcher, a regular on long Holland America cruises, is speaking about science and physics, but I’ve heard these same lectures before.

Instead of spending my sea-day afternoons water coloring as typical, I’ve been sorting through thousands of photos that have filled my iPhone. It got totally out of control this year, as I just kept taking more but not deleting. I only want to keep perhaps a dozen photos from each port, so it’s delete, delete, delete. I’ve cut about 10,000 I took over the last three years, and still have about 7,000 to go.

Yesterday morning the captain presented dozens of passengers with new medallions, recognizing 100, 300, 500 or 700 days cruising with Holland America, followed by the traditional Mariners Luncheon. Tomorrow will be another ceremony and luncheon for the other half of the awardees. Among the first group was my long-time friend Ralph and new friends Bryon and Francie.

After a sea day tomorrow, we have five consecutive Caribbean ports before two final sea days. The time seems short, but I remind myself that I still have more days left than most people have on their entire cruise. It’s a good reminder for an obsessive planner to live in the moment. To concentrate on finishing those three bottles I have left in my wine package. And to enjoy the sunsets.

Sunset over Atlantic Ocean