Ile aux Lépreux ... Island of Lepers … sounds like the perfect place for a visit and a picnic, right? Probably not a century ago, but nowadays it's a tiny island park in the middle of the Maroni River and we joined several other cruisers and dinghied upriver a couple of miles to check it out. The ride wasn't long, but one of the dinghy engines crapped out and we ended up towing one couple...easily done since we were heading up river with the flooding tidal current.
There's heavy pirogue traffic that travels freely, frequently and fast between the two countries.
When the penal colonies were in full swing, epidemics were commonplace. The deplorable sanitary conditions, the lack of medical care and hygiene, and the general conditions associated with tropical climates perpetuated the rampant spread of contagious diseases, notably leprosy. Prisoners who contracted leprosy were quarantined on this tiny island not far from Le Camp de la Transportation. Due to its reputation, it soon became known as "Leper's Island". Sick prisoners were isolated and left alone, their food provided once a day by boat from Le Camp.
We arrived on a small sandy shore and beached all six dinghies. A total of 14 cruisers made their way up a slight incline to a picnic area. It was a United Nations group … a Kiwi, a Canadian, a South African, a Brazilian, two Americans (us), six Brits and two Austrians.
The foundations of the old leper huts are now used as small shaded picnic shelters and we made good use of them.
People strung hammocks and laid down tarps. Two small grills were fired up. Some folks went swimming in the bathtub-warm river water. The conversation was lively … trading sailing stories, tall tales and adventures and commiserating with each other about repairs and mishaps we'd all experienced at one time or another.
There's not much around the island. I was hoping to see lots of birds and butterflies, but we saw none. Nor did we see any lepers, for that matter. We did get a closer look at Albina across the river and decided we really needed to take a pirogue trip across before we leave Saint-Laurent. We're told that the locals head over to shop because prices in Suriname are cheaper than in French Guiana.
It was a day of total relaxation, camaraderie and no boat chores … and with the setting sun, we reluctantly caught the ebbing tide back to our boats.