Des Képis Blancs
Literally, des képis blancs translates as 'the white caps' — a nickname for the French Foreign Legion, whose unofficial guests we are today.
This morning Merel returned from her night in the jungle with a grin on her face. She had a good night with the monkeys and agoutis. It was just a bit warm, she says, as it was here on the boat. Dry weather equals warm temperatures.
After breakfast we row over to Ile St Joseph, the second of the three islands. Anjea is anchored off Ile Royal, and the third island, Ile du Diable, is out of bounds. It is a hard row with the current against me for the first 200m and then a strong cross current through the channel between the islands. A good 20 minute workout.
As we walk up the jetty a very thin but fit looking dude dressed in just a pair of shorts asks if we would like coffee. We are a surprise, but we say yes of course and follow him past a sign that says Public Interdit (Keep Out) thru an old stone house and out onto a veranda overlooking the bay, with Anjea at anchor in the distance. The house is his home while he is posted on the island, he explains. He is in the army and his job is to run the small resort militaire, the resort for the French military based at the European Space Center.There are armchairs and couches,a very comfortable looking hammock and we are greeted by a friendly little short-legged dog, Polka. The coffee is excellent espresso, as I like it best. Philippe speaks very little English and my French vocabulary is doubling every day from a base of zero, but whenever I say something in French they look at me blankly for a few seconds before exclaiming 'Ahh you mean "a bien tôt"', or whatever. Yeah, well, that's what I said isn't it? OK, so my pronunciation needs a bit of work...
Also present is Michael who is Malagasy and his English is much better than my French. So I explain to him how I sailed past Madagascar but could not stop because of the Covid restrictions and that leads to a big geography lesson for us all as we each explain where we have come from, how we got here and where we are going. The guys are French Foreign Legion and their official job is to run the holiday resort for the European Space Center. Yes, I am serious. Every month or so the rocket guys come over from the mainland for a party and a holiday. In the mean time Philip maintains the island — cutting grass, cleaning the beach, maintaining tracks, getting rid of coconuts. But when it's party time he becomes the host and the chef. Michael's job is waiter and general help to cleanup after the most recent party. He is only here for a few days, but Philippe has been here for a year. We are offered a fruit punch but decline and leave them for a tour of the island. They make us promise to return for lunch!
The island is smaller than Royale and takes about 40 minutes to circumperambulate, says Philippe. It takes us about 2 hours with stops for photoshoots and simply to admire the beauty of the jungle and just how it is reclaiming what it once owned. In the 1860's the island's first substantial building was erected -- Philippe's house. Over the next half century France exported its worst criminals to these islands and they constructed their own prison at the top of the hill, complete with guillotine. It is a huge, dark, heavy, floorless, roofless, crumbling stone weight that would give a sensitive person nightmares, but which we tramp around in, looking for fabulous colors in the washed-out lichen-covered walls, spiders in their webs, rotten timber window frames and doors still hanging from hinges so rusted it's a miracle they still hold anything, and thru it all the jungle reclaiming everything.
The jungle reclaims the old prison.
On our return a copious amount of Cuvée des Képis Blancs, Côtes des Provence is poured, courtesy of the French Foreign Legion. The nearest Australian equivalent I can think of is a good medium body warm climate Shiraz. We sit at the dining table on the verandah overlooking the bay and are served a big helping of delicious potato cooked in butter and a generous dollop of sliced beef in a red wine sauce. It is simple food but delicious, and is followed by a desert of goat cheese and fresh pineapple. How do I join the Foreign Legion?
Well, says Michael, it is very easy. You must meet certain physical requirements of health and fitness, both physical and mental, then you sign up for a 3 month probation and if you pass that they offer you a three year contract. You do not even need to be French, but you will be after you complete your service. And you will also know your French wines! Unfortunately there are only two countries outside France where the Foreign Legion still operates: Mayotte and French Guyana.
Philip sleeping it off after lunch
Merel and I leave after lunch. Merel wants to complete her circuit of the island and I want to return to the prison for more pictures.
On our return we ask them to visit with Anjea tomorrow evening and they accept! Tonight, Merel has returned to the jungle to sleep with the monkeys and agoutis. Philip warns that the monkeys can be aggressive and that they have sharp teeth!
Monkeys can be aggressive and have sharp teeth.
Merel searching for a place to sling her hammock in the rainforest.
Tonight we have a sliver of New Moon rising into a starry sky.