Picture of stone steps up a hill surrounded by palm trees and jungle

The Salut Islands French Guiana

Dear Squeak

After a bit of a trying trip, we have arrived in the Island paradise of the Salut Islands just off the Coast of French Guiana.  There was a big nasty swell again as we left the coast of Brazil. We also had lots of torrential rain squalls with quite a lot of wind in them.  Sails up, sails down, canopy open, canopy closed, it was a busy trip for us both.  We are so pleased to arrive in this little paradise to relax for a bit.

The islands were first called the Salut/Salvation islands by the missionaries who came there from mainland French Guyana to escape the plague.  Later during the time when the islands like much of mainland,  were used as a penal colony, the Islands were referred to as the Devil’s islands. In those days the place may not have seemed like the paradise they are to us today.

Famous Place

The Salut Islands gained notoriety because of the Dreyfus affair.  Lieutenant Dreyfus was sent there in 1894, convicted of treason for leaking weapons information to the Germans.  He was of Jewish origin. Due to a fair bit of anti-antisemitism among the ranks at the time the finger was pointed at him.  He continually maintained his innocence throughout his incarceration and wrote hundreds of letters to protest this during his time thee. These letters are the essence of the memoir his son Pierre wrote about him in 1937. The book was called “Souvenirs Et Correspondance”  and has been translated into several languages.  The true spy was eventually convicted, but  the army was reluctant to admit its mistake, so Dreyfus was pardoned rather than acquitted.

Joseph Conrad also wrote about the Salut islands in his story “An Anarchist” but the islands became truly famous due to Henri Charriere’s book “Papillon” and later the film that was made of that book starring famous names Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen.

close up of butterfly with turquoise blue flashes, orange triangles and a black background

 In the book it is claimed he was called “Papillon” because of a big butterfly tattoo he had on his chest.  Others say he was not much liked during his time in Iles du Salut and papillon in French as mariposa in Spanish refers rather to the fact that he was gay. Perhaps both are true.

The French authorities are very upset about Charriere’s portrayal of the place and the treatment the book says he received there.  They claim that many of the incidents that he describes are untrue or did not happen to him, but happened far earlier.  They say that conditions had been much improved on the Iles du Salut by the time he was brought there in 1933.

 Reading  the potted history of all the high profile prisoners that served time there, it seems that Henri Charrier cherry picked all the juicy bits from all of the stories and goings on that he could. He wanted to make his novel into a “best seller” so he may have embellished a few details here and there.  What he did was write a good story that would keep him in royalties for the remainder of his life. 

I don’t think so

The part that we, as sailors, find most difficult to believe, is that he escaped from the Islands on a raft made of Coconuts. Apparently he managed to drift to the shores of Guyana.  We have sailed those choppy waters and the tides and the currents take you nowhere near the coast of mainland South America.  He would have been lucky to pitch up in Barbados with only the current and the wind to help him. Without food or water he would have been dead on arrival.  We think he must have been picked up by a boat somewhere, but that doesn’t make for such a good story.

OOPS!

The waters around the Salut islands have very strong currents and are full of sharks so not ideal for swimming or trying to escape.  I did swim just a little, to clean off the bottom of the boat and didn’t have any encounters with any sharks.  I got in trouble from the Gendarme for being in the water though.  He came all the way out in a little rowing boat  to chastise me  but let me off as long as no-one else could see me. steve also got in trouble from the Gendarme for flying the drone. That was two bad strikes against us in one day. 

It seems the big hungry fish only come out to play in the evenings. The first night, just as we were settling down to dinner, there was a loud bang against the hull and then another one.  When we went up on deck with a torch to take a look what was making the  noise. We looked into the water and there were big fish chasing each other and slapping against the side of the hull.  I don’t think that has ever happened to us before. Obviously something even bigger that we couldn’t see was chasing them.

big green lizard sitting on a stone wall

So much Wildlife

Ashore there is still lots of evidence of the island’s history as a prison camp. The old buildings and the isolation cells are still there. Some have been sensitively restored to leave you the impression of what it must have been like in former times; others are being rapidly reclaimed by nature and the voracious jungle.  We saw photos of the early days when people first started to settle on the island and it was pretty bare, with only a few trees.  In that part of the world though, you only need to spit the seed from a fruit you are eating and in a few short weeks a tree will start to grow. 

It was a truly beautiful place unspoiled and I’d like to say peacefull but the jungle there is chock full of wild life. There are  many kinds of birds singing away. There are crickets and other insects singing at full volume too, and howler monkeys shouting to be heard above all the other cacophony of nature sounds.  It was actually really noisy and difficult to sleep at night.  Fortunately no mosquitoes, What a blessing!

As we wondered ashore within the first half hour we saw a ton of wild life.  Lizards, interesting spiders, agoutis like the small cousins of Capybara  from the Guinea pig family, tiny  blue swallow tailed humming birds , ring tail monkeys, and lots of beautiful butterflies.  Over the week we spent there we saw so many different species of animals. Critters just kept popping out from behind every bush.  The amazing thing was that many of them didn’t seem to be afraid of humans and you could get right up close to them.   For us it was interesting to visit a place with so much history. I’d have loved to bring my nieces and nephews here. Not for the history though, but to see all the wildlife up close and personal. All those animals  in their natural habitat not in cages or behind glass. 

Out of Food

We’d have loved to stay a lot longer, but after a week in that paradise plus the 9 and a bit days it took us to get there, our supplies of fresh fruit and veggies were almost completely gone.  We were even down to our last onion.  A change in the wind direction and a bit of lumpy and exciting night with anchors dragging made us decide to brave the shallow channel and head into Kourou.  We were also looking forward to a tour of the space station that launches our GPS satellites into the sky.   We had to dredge most of the channel for them on the way in but we managed to bump our way over the sand bar without any incident.   It wasn’t very far but we needed the tide to help us in so we had to wait for a while.

Once Loved Boats

We anchored again in a spot just above the pontoons which have no space for visitors, barely even for your dinghy. Sadly the pontoons are chock full of French relic sailboats that are mostly half sunk or sadly neglected and barely afloat.  It looks like a boat grave yard. Such a shame!

We managed to find a place to squeeze in and headed into town on a quest for ice-cream.  As my new year’s resolution was to give up booze for the year, it’s the first ice-cream parlour we are always in search of when we go ashore, not the first bar. 

Well dear Squeak I hope you are enjoying the Campo in spring.  We have to go now as the place wants to shut. We have to take our internet where we can get it these days.  I’ll write to you soon and tell you all about our trip to the space station.

Lots of love Ally and Steve

Miss you lots! x

Quay and palm trees drone shot looking out to sea on Ile Royal Salut islands

To see a little of the place and the wildlife we saw in the Salut Islands why not check out our Youtube Video”Devil Monkeys Jail Break”

 Birthday In Brazil

Huge rocks in the Jungle with faces

Dear Squeak

I want to tell you about my Birthday because it just so happens, it was the best day of the trip so far.  We decided to hire a car for a few days and head into the countryside for a bit of exploring. We had decided to visit Boca da Pedra (Mouth of Rock) a small area of national Park where the giant rocks all have faces. And one of them has a very large gob. It’s about 300km from the Paraiba River where the boat was anchored and we wanted to have maximum time to look around and take lots of lovely photos so we had to make an early start.

A mouth carved into the rock by wind and water.

On the day in question we set off at sparrow fart and took the highway north out of town.  At first we were surrounded by mile after mile of sugar cane fields. All the ones we could see burning as we approached the coast when we first arrived in Brazil.  Then we entered the grass plains full of cows and lots of horses to round them all up with.   It’s Cowboy country here for sure.  a

We thought Brazil had reputation for good meat and plenty of it. Second, perhaps, only to Argentina.  Not so, almost every piece of beef we ate while we were there was tough as old boots.  From what we could see the cows in that area were not being bread for their meat, but rather for their leather.  We passed more tanneries within a few miles of each other than I have ever seen in my life.. 

As we progressed towards our intended destination the roads got smaller and smaller and lumpier and lumpier. Finally it was just a severely rutted dirt track that was barely passable in places. Thank god the rainy season was only just beginning or it would have been a total mud bath. 

We thought we were lost a bunch of times because when researching the place on the internet it said that 2000 people a week visit there in summer.  To see the place now, I think, that hasn’t happened, for a very long time.  So much the better for us!  We had the whole place entirely to ourselves!!  And the silence aside from the wind and the birds and the insects was absolutely mesmerizing. 

Lump of Rock with face carved out that looks like a skull

All the rocks did indeed have faces etched into them.  Not man made though. Created by wind, water and erosion over millions of years I suppose.  Not just one face either, but as you walked around them, and viewed them from different angles, more and more faces seemed to appear.   The place had a real atmosphere: mystical and timeless.  You just had to take time to soak it all in.  It seemed like the rocks would have liked to whisper their stories to you.  To pass on the deep wisdom of all the spirits fossilised inside them, represented by all those faces.  Sounds a bit far-fetched I know.  Im not really sure I go with that kind of mumbo jumbo,  but it did feel like they had a story to tell. 

The more you study these rocks the more faces you see

At one end of the park under a huge overhanging rock a shrine to Our Lady Fatima has been built and people go there on pilgrimages on her saints’ day.  To accommodate all her followers a huge ugly auditorium has been built where they hold mass in her honour.  That concrete monstrosity was so out of place in the midst of such wild beauty.  

 

We had a fantastic day soaking it all in, taking lots of photos, flying the drone, picnicing and hiking around.  We had to cut our way through the jungle, as so few people have been there for so long.  Nature is fast reclaiming the place for herself.  It seems that in that part of the world, nature has an agenda all of its own. What we experienced that day was one of her finest displays. 

We would have liked to stay longer.  Golden hour with that backdrop would have been a photographers’ wet dream, but we hadn’t planned for an overnight stop.  It was still a long way back and the boat is best not left overnight with no-one on board and no-one keeping an eye out. Even though the holding in our spot was pretty good, you never know.  

Well, all good things must come to an end sooner or later. That was a “super, smashing , great” day though; and a birthday I’ll always remember. I wonder where I’ll be when the next birthday comes around.

Well dear Squeak, must dash. We are heading off from here soon. As soon as we can get the boat fit and ready for another Atlantic adventure.  French Guyana here we come! So I’ll tell you all about that, really soon.

Lots of love Al and of course a big squeeze from Stevie too.

Rocks with faces

waves breaking on Tambaba beach with blue sky

Brazil Has the Friendliest people in the World

So what can I tell you about Brazil? Actually I don’t know, despite all the time we spent there we just don’t quite get the place.  It’s a land of contradictions, on the one hand you have beautiful scenery, fantastic,  lush countryside with fields of sugarcane or dense green jungle filled with wildlife. Or you have the coastline with mile after mile of gorgeous white sandy beaches with palm trees and turquoise water.

Paraiba Coast in Brazil looking along the beach

 

On the other hand you have cities full of crumbling colonial buildings interspersed with ugly skyscrapers to cram more people into a small space. Or favelas for the disenfranchised.  Adorning it all  is the ubiquitous third world problem of litter strewn along every street, railway-line and watercourse.  In fairness we only managed to explore one tiny corner of this vast country,  but I think we saw a good enough  cross section of people and places to form an opinion. 

Trash in the jungle

The problem is: none of it quite adds up.  We saw our fair share of poverty and squalor but what we personally met were the friendliest open people.  They were all inquisitive and interested in who we are, where we come from and what we are about. They will stop and chat to you, as if you have known them, all your lives.  They are polite in a very “old fashioned” kind of a way; people go out of their way to help you. They stop their cars and  offer you a lift. They give up their seat to you  on a bus or train. They wait nicely in queues and don’t barge. 

Everywhere we went we were greeted with friendliness but also concern for our safety.  We were warned to stay away from lots of places, especially at night and not to carry bags or cameras. This is a bit tricky when you are trying to share your trip on You-tube.   We went to all kinds places and we personally never felt we were in danger though the underlying threat was always there.  We were constantly being reminded by locals to keep our wits about us.

 After a while, having only encountered helpfulness and friendship we started to wonder. Is the crime and violence in Brazil just an urban myth spread far and wide to keep people in fear? Then we met some sailors for whom it was no myth, but a very real and grim reality.

Soon after arriving and talking to a few sailors we made the decision not to travel along the north coast of Brazil. Cruising from town to town as first planned, was reputed to be too dangerous. Only a few days after we arrived, the newspapers were full of stories of a nightclub in Fortaleza which had been raided. 18 people, many of them tourists, had been killed.

Bad things happen to good people  

Then the news reached us of a very sweet couple Paul and Liliane SV Luna Blu whom we met when we first arrived in Jacare. They left heading for French Guyana but had engine trouble on the way. They put into Fortaleza to try and fix it.  Their boat was boarded that night. They were tied up, forced to hand over all their valuables and their boat was ransacked. The armed robbers even messed up their radio so they couldn’t communicate with the shore for assistance.  You can read all about their misadventure on Noonsite. http://www.noonsite.com/Countries/Brazil/brazil-fortaleza-armed-night-robbery-february-2018.

We still had plans to make the four day trip to Salvador. We wanted to see the city and some of the beauty spots in the surrounding area until we met Peter on SV Andromeda.

He preferred to jump off his boat and swim ashore. Rather than be held up at gunpoint by armed robbers  who boarded his boat and made off with his valuables and dinghy.  You can read his story on this link. http://www.noonsite.com/Countries/Brazil/brazil-maragogipe-armed-night-robbery-march-2018

Having met all the lovely people we did it seems unfathomable that such awful things can happen there, but they do, and the threat of them, was enough to deter us from the bigger adventure we had first dreamed of. 

Paraiba and Pernambuco

Sao Fransisco Church Joao Pessoa BrazilJoao Pessoa – shame about the wires

We contented ourselves with exploring the small corner of Brazil we had arrived in.   We looked round Cabedelo and Joao Pessoa.  We visited Olinda for Carnival. Olinda  is a beautiful town, designated world heritage site, full of brightly painted old colonial houses and buildings.  We took part in their humongous street party with samba bands playing and so many celebrating people. The streets were packed to bursting.

 Our favourite spot of all was the national Park at Boca da Pedra  “mouth of rock” which we visited on my birthday.  It was a stunning place with huge outcrops of rock rising up out of the landscape.  At every turn as we walked round them you could see faces eroded by time wind and water. They looked  down .at you like they had all the wisdom of millennia in them. If only they could speak.  It was a magical place and the countryside around it was pristine and gorgeous such a change from all the trash everywhere in the cities.  We both said we could live there, if only it weren’t so isolated. 

Rocks at Boca Da Pedra surrounded by Jungle. the rocks have faces

We learned that Brazil is perhaps not best visited by boat. We would have loved to go to Rio and see Carnival there, so it is still on our bucket list.  The distances are so huge though.   With only a three month visa, a 15 day trek south, where you see nothing but ocean, and 15 days back is too long. When subtracted from only 90 days, that is just too much.  If you fly you can get such a thing as the South America pass which offers really affordable flights for a given time period but you need  to give your ticket number from Europe to south America to qualify for the pass. And if you arrived by boat you haven’t got one!

 Well there is always next time.  With such friendly people, I’m sure there will be another time before too long.  In spite of the underlying threat to your property a trip to Brazil is easily worth it just for the people.

 If you fly and you are attacked in the street you might lose a camera, a phone or a bit of money, it’s not pleasant, but not the end of the world. In a boat however you are carrying with you, your whole home and possibly everything you own.   In reality on a boat there is nowhere to hide your stuff.  An ocean going boat, to a poor man reduced to life in the favelas seems like a rich man’s paradise and you look like you could afford to lose a chunk of it with no real harm done. In reality it may be your entire savings, all that you own and a lifetime’s worth of dreams that you stand to lose