Indescribable: The Voyage of the Silver Galapagos
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Our first day in the Galapagos got off to an early start this morning, as Silversea’s Silver Galapagos dropped anchor off of Bartolome Island. More guests than I would have expected turned up in the Explorer Lounge on Deck 3 for our 0630 departure by Zodiac to the island for an early-morning hike to one of the most picturesque sights in the Galapagos.
Protected from the sun by overcast skies, temperatures hovered around 20°C for most of our two-hour hike up 388 steps and 114 metres (roughly 300 feet) of elevation gain. The first form of wildlife we encountered today – right by the Zodiac landing site – was the much-prized Blue-Footed Boobie.
Known for their almost fluorescent-blue feet, the Blue-Footed Boobie catches fish by literally dive-bombing them from above, dropping 25 metres (about 70 feet) in a matter of seconds and ensnaring its prey. The poor fish never knew what hit them. The term ‘boobie’ actually comes from Spanish sailors, who referred to the birds of the Galapagos as bobos, or “stupid”, because of their reluctance to flee from humans.
It also results in some fantastic double entendres. It’s not every day you hear someone exclaim, “these are the best boobies we’ve seen all year!” and have it be taken seriously. Or perhaps I’m the only one with an immature sense of humour…
Like on Silversea’s other expedition vessels, the Expedition Team here onboard Silver Galapagos is first-rate. Unlike the other expedition ships, however, all of the Expedition Team members and leaders are Ecuadorian. This is due to local regulations, and all guides must be certified by the National Park Service (NPS). Guides aboard Silver Galapagos are what the NPS refers to as ‘Class Three Guides’, which is the highest-attainable level of knowledge and skill. Class Three guides have to have excellent English, and must possess a degree in natural sciences.
Our guide for this morning, Xavier, is in his 30’s and grew up on nearby Isla Santa Cruz. He related to us how he has been coming to Bartolome since he was five years old. In this instance, I think having local guides acting as the Expedition Staff onboard Silver Galapagos is entirely appropriate, regulations or not. No one can possibly know the Galapagos in the intimate way a local can, and it’s definitely to our advantage that Ecuadorian regulations require this.
To protect the islands from erosion – and to make it easier for tourists, no doubt – a modern wooden pathway has been constructed on Bartolome to make it easy for visitors to ascend to the highest point, overlooking Bartolome and the much-larger Isla Santiago to the west.
“Other Worldly” is a good way to describe this morning’s hike. Take it from me – you can’t bring enough memory cards for your camera here. Extra batteries and a decent zoom lens are also recommended. At every turn, something beckons to be photographed – and photos are, like memories, one of the few things that you can take from the Galapagos as a responsible explorer.
Charles Darwin was in the Galapagos 179 years ago this month, and at the time he described the plant life here as having a “wretched, weedy appearance, and I did not see one beautiful flower.” (Voyage of the Beagle, page 340). I’d have to agree – plant life here is similar to that found in the high Arctic: small weeds and shrubs that barely grow above a foot in height, if that. Unlike Darwin, however, I did see one lone, solitary yellow flower standing out brilliantly from the moon-like soil that surrounded it. The flower was the size of a penny, and I have my doubts that it will survive much longer.
Images from our surreal journey on Bartolome this morning:
Back onboard, I had a quick but tasty breakfast in The Restaurant on Deck 2. It’s an odd room, confined to the port side of the vessel and longer than it is wide. I’m quite curious as to whether this was as it existed during the ship’s days as Renaissance Three. Photographs don’t really do it justice – the odd assortment of browns and burnt oranges work much better when viewed in person, but the décor isn’t as immediately appealing as, say, that onboard Silver Explorer or Silver Discoverer.
A look at what’s happening today onboard Silver Galapagos:
- 6:00 – Early riser’s self-service coffee station. Piano Bar (4)
- 6:30 – Early Morning Hike. Dry Landing. Explorer Room (3)
- 9:15 – Snorkel Briefing. Explorer Room (3)
- 12:00 – All Aboard! Silver Galapagos sails for Playa Espumilla, Santiago.
- 14:00 – Lecture: “Introduction to the Galapagos Islands” by Claudia Holgate. Explorer Room (3)
- 15:30 – Zodiac Tour – Group 1. Explorer Room (3)
- 16:00 – Kayaking (Sign-up, please). Explorer Room (3)
- 16:45 – Zodiac Tour – Group 2. Explorer Room (3)
- 18:00 – All Aboard!
- 18:30 – Braulio brings music to your pre-dinner cocktails. Piano Bar (4)
- 19:00 – Recap and Briefing. Explorer Room (3)
- 19:30 – Captain’s Welcome Toast. Explorer Room (3)
- 21:30 – After-dinner cocktails and late night piano with Alfredo. Piano Bar (4)
This afternoon, our departure from Bartolome was followed by some spectacular scenic cruising as Silver Galapagos made her way to the aptly-named Buccaneer Cove on Isla Santiago. Pirate ships sought refuge here in the 17th and 18th centuries, and it wasn’t just because the cove kept them out of the ferocious winds that lashed at the decks of Silver Galapagos today. No – pirates came here because of the freshwater source. My Moon guide to the Galapagos states that “few ships come here” today, making our call aboard Silver Galapagos all the more special.
As on all Silversea Expeditions voyages, guests are divided into separate Zodiac Groups in order to ensure that everyone gets personalized adventures ashore. On this trip, we only have two Zodiac groups – One and Two. I was part of Group One, so I set out at 15:30 (3:30 p.m.) to explore Buccaneer Bay.
Even though our touring was confined to the Zodiac, it was an amazing experience nonetheless. We were able to get up close and personal with the local wildlife, including more Blue-footed Boobies, the Galapagos Sea Lion (essentially a very fuzzy sea lion), and dozens of other birds, crabs, and “standard” sea lions. But being in our Zodiac rafts also gave us a great panoramic appreciation for the incredible scenery that surrounded us.
A few photos from this afternoon:
If you’ve been following the Silver Galapagos, you’ll already know her entry into service last year was a little rocky. There’s a steep learning curve here in the Galapagos, and it applies to both Silversea as the operator and to the crew here onboard the Silver Galapagos. However, after a full year in service, both parties are learning how to best operate the Silver Galapagos.
The situation in the Galapagos is quite unique. Rather than being onboard the ship for months at a time – as is typical of the cruise industry – Ecuadorian regulations demand a six-on, three-off schedule – or six on, six off for Officers. That’s not months, though – that’s weeks. So a crew member will be onboard for a little over a month before disembarking. It’s probably excellent for their family life, but it’s easy to appreciate how difficult that must be from an operational perspective: someone is always being trained.
This aside, the crew here onboard really are very engaging, friendly and personable, and everyone – from Captain Marcelo Rojas to the butlers and suite attendants and bar staff and Expedition Team – is trying hard to deliver the level of service that Silversea and their guests expect. Is it perfect? No, I wouldn’t say that, but it’s the effort they’re collectively putting forward that I appreciate the most. There’s a huge difference between a crew that doesn’t care and one that is clearly trying to put their best foot forward at all times, and the latter is certainly true here. I respect that.
Tonight, as I write this onboard Silver Galapagos, the enormity of the day still has yet to sink in. A trip to the Galapagos is a bit like sailing on the dark side of the moon: it’s at once unknown, and then, nearly indescribable.
Given that, I have the following advice to impart on anyone who might be considering Silver Galapagos: she’s not Silver Spirit, or Silver Wind, and she never will be. Operationally, it’s just not possible given the restrictions in the Galapagos. What she is, though, is a curiously soothing blend of Silversea’s luxury Italian heritage co-mingled with Ecuadorian-influenced cuisine, wines and amenities. Do I miss my Bulgari toiletries and Pierre Marcolini chocolates? Sure – but I’m addicted to the Ecuadorian “Kiwa” brand vegetable potato chips that are in my suite, and the Ecuadorian coffee is out-of-this-world good (read: incredibly strong!) – and I’ll likely miss both on my next trip aboard one of Silversea’s classic luxury vessels.
Over the next few days, I’ll start to show you exactly what’s changed here onboard Silver Galapagos during the last month in drydock – and why it’s been change for the better.
Our Live Voyage Report aboard Silversea’s Silver Galapagos continues tomorrow from Punta Vincente Roca, Galapagos.
Our full journey:
|Friday, October 3, 2014||Quito, Ecuador||Arrive Quito; overnight stay at the JW Marriott Quito|
|Saturday, October 4||San Cristobal, Ecuador||Fly from Quito to San Cristobal; embark Silver Galapagos|
|Sunday, October 5||Bartolome / Playa Espumilla, Santiago|
|Monday, October 6||Punta Vincente Roca, Isabela / Punta Espinoza, Fernandina|
|Tuesday, October 7||Caleta Tagus, Isabela / Bahia Elizabeth, Isabela|
|Wednesday, October 8||Post Office Bay, Floreana / Punta Cormorant or Corona del Diablo or Champion, Florena|
|Thursday, October 9||Galapaguera Cerro Colorado, San Cristobal / Cerro Brujo Hill, San Cristobal|
|Friday, October 10||Los Gemelos, Santa Cruz / Puerto Ayora and Estacion Charles Darwin, Santa Cruz|
|Saturday, October 11, 2014||Baltra / Guayaquil, Ecuador||Disembark Silver Galapagos in Baltra; fly to Guayaquil, Ecuador & return journey.|