You’ve Never Seen Anything Like This
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
If my day yesterday aboard Silversea’s Silver Galapagos was indescribable, today has left me downright speechless. Such is the power of the Galapagos Islands.
This morning, we were up and off the ship again bright and early. If you like to sleep in, an expedition cruise may not be for you: things start early, and go hard for the entire day. But that’s all part of the fun, particularly in a region like the Galapagos. Like my fellow 99 guests, I am here to see and do as much as is humanly possible in a week, and Silversea isn’t disappointing me.
A total of two scenic Zodiac tours were offered from our anchorage at Punta Vincente Roca, departing at 8:00 and 9:15 a.m. An hour in duration, these explored the unique coastline of Punta Vincente Roca, teeming with wildlife and bordered by the most brilliant blue seas I’ve seen anywhere in the world.
In a single hour on a standard workday, you can answer emails, send a few faxes, attend a meeting, and perhaps – just perhaps – find a moment of solitude to make a new cup of coffee.
In my hour-long Zodiac tour this morning onboard Silver Galapagos, I saw things I’ve never seen in my life. Iguanas and Blue-footed boobies sitting side-by-side. An invasive species of cat wandering alone on the rocky cliff face. Galapagos Penguins having sex.
Yes, you read that last bit right: we saw some hardcore penguin-on-penguin action today. Eat your heart out, sex-ed class. You can’t make things like this up, but it’s literally all on offer here in the untamed Galapagos.
Silversea offers two distinctive runs in the Galapagos: the Western Itinerary that I’m currently participating in, and the North Central Itinerary that Silver Galapagos will sail next Saturday. Both runs have some pretty spectacular sights going for them, and Silversea sails both because Ecuadorian regulations prevent ships from visiting the same location twice in as many weeks.
What’s the best itinerary to choose? That’s a tricky question, as I can’t speak to the North Central itinerary. All I can say for now is that, despite the fact it’s only Day 2 of our journey, I’ve already got my sights on the North Central Itinerary as a follow-up to what is quickly becoming a stellar cruise experience.
During lunch, we sailed past “the competition” – a ship of similar size from another expedition line. It’s a great ship, but as we passed it doing 14 knots at lunchtime, guests here onboard Silver Galapagos took note: there were no guests dining outdoors on that ship. In fact, deck space looked like it was at a premium. There were no balcony staterooms, let alone suites, and this ship rolled noticeably in the growing swells – meaning her stabilizers, if any, certainly weren’t deployed. Nothing like a bit of perspective to make you appreciate how good you’ve got it.
With some scenic cruising scheduled until our afternoon adventures on Punta Espinoza, it’s a good time to look into the history of the Silver Galapagos, my home-away-from home for the next week.
Once upon a time, there was a ship called Renaissance Three. She was, as you might expect, the third in a line of nearly-identical ships ordered in the early 1990’s by Renaissance Cruises. At the time, Renaissance was a forward-thinking luxury line that specialised in small-ship cruises to far-flung destinations. They were in the midst of an aggressive expansion, with new ships being launched every other year or so. This continued into the late 1990’s when they built a series of eight even larger, nearly identical vessels that were to be the successors to their earlier ships like Renaissance Three.
Renaissance, however, had some controversial policies for the time. First, they banned smoking outright. Then, they banned children under the age of 18. Finally, they completely cut out travel agents from the booking process. Remember: this was around 1998-99, when the internet was in its infancy. People didn’t book trips online like they do today.
Renaissance Three left the fleet in 1998. Three years later, Renaissance Cruises went bankrupt in the fallout from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. At the time of their collapse in late September 2001, the company was financially overextended from their newbuild spree and couldn’t cope with the sudden drop in demand for international travel.
Renaissance Three was sold to Candoros S.A. in 1998 and became Galapagos Explorer II. With her winged funnels and boxy deck structure and set-back Navigation Bridge, she – along with sisters Renaissance One to Renaissance Four – never quite achieved the level of beloved recognition that the line’s later R-Class ships did. They were the odd-ducks of the fleet.
While Candoros did some refit work over the intervening decades on the then-Galapagos Explorer II, her original Renaissance interiors went largely untouched. When she was built in 1990 at the Cantieri Navale Ferrari-Signani shipyard in Italy, she was given a rich interior filled with dark, highly-polished cherrywood walls in her suites and passenger corridors, offset by lighter blonde and white colour schemes in her public areas. As with any 1990’s ship, there was also brass – and lots of it.
Today, of course, that look is dated. For all their beauty, the dark wood panelling had the undesired effect of making Renaissance Three – and later Galapagos Explorer II – a very dark ship. Couple that with some, shall we say, creative colour choices during her days as Galapagos Explorer Two (avocado-coloured bedsheets and stracciatella couch covers), and you’ve got a ship that’s highly functional, but hasn’t aged particularly gracefully.
So why the long-winded history lesson? The refit that Silversea put Silver Galapagos – ex Renaissance Three, ex-Galapagos Explorer II – through last month is the first one in the ship’s 24-year history to completely remove almost all traces of the ship’s former Renaissance interiors.
Silversea started this process last year by refitting the bathrooms in every suite to mirror those found on the line’s other expedition vessels, Silver Explorer and Silver Discoverer. This involved completely gutting the existing bathrooms and re-working everything from the electrical to the plumbing, and came at considerable expense. If you’ve ever done a home renovation, you’ll know that any time you start ripping walls out you risk discovering some unexpected problems.
To approve her external appearance, Silversea added a new coat of black paint and a red “cheat line” to separate the white superstructure of the ship from her black hull. Due to her unique funnels, placing the Silversea logo on the funnel – as is common throughout the cruise industry – isn’t possible, so two large plaques are mounted between Deck 4 and Deck 5 on either side of the ship, emblazoned with the Silversea Expeditions logo.
Over the next few days, I’m going to do ‘before-and-after’ shots that show some of the ship’s history and better highlight the changes that have been implemented to make Silver Galapagos less like her past lives, and more reflective of her future with Silversea.
As for this afternoon in Punta Espinoza, words cannot even describe the things that I have seen today. I’ve marked October 6 on my personal calendar, because it has been every bit as life-altering as my journeys to South Africa, the Mekong, and Australia’s Kimberley Coast.
If I were a better writer, I might have a decent shot at adequately describing the adventures those of us onboard Silver Galapagos had this afternoon. The closest thing I can equate today to is falling in love – you don’t realize it’s going to happen until it happens. In a second, you realize you’ve been waiting all your life for one simple second in time; for one shared experience that will forever fill your heart with joy, wonder and inspiration.
I had such an experience today, and I owe it to the ugly, writhing masses of Iguanas that blanket the volcanic landscape of Punta Espinoza like locusts. They’re everywhere, and they blend in perfectly with their surroundings. They’re also wholly and entirely fearless; even when stepping just inches away from them, the darn things don’t even flinch.
The Iguanas quickly gave way to vibrant red crabs – the only animal that seems to “pop” in this harsh environment. They, in turn, gave way to seals. And Sea Lions. And more Boobies (remember – we’re talking about birds, here.)
This is what I love so much about Silversea Expeditions: in many ways, they’re the best education money can buy. You can watch as many shows or read as many books on the Galapagos as you’d like, but there’s no substitute for personally seeing an Iguana perched next to a Blue-Footed Boobie. Or a lizard basking in the sun on top of a sea lion. Or the remains of a deceased Iguana being slowly, painfully, devoured by a red crab. Even in death, everything here has a distinctive rhythm.
I was the kid who didn’t like the outdoors; who didn’t see the value in things like zoos or nature. It took me until I was in my 30’s to change my outlook on life – and I have to credit Silversea with a huge portion of that. It’s not just because I like them (I do), and it’s not because I think they’re a great company (they are). It’s because every itinerary I have taken with them – expedition or otherwise – has shown me the world in a way that remains unmatched by any other line.
There are plenty of wonderful cruises out there, and numerous wonderful cruise lines. My Silversea Expeditions, though, are the ones I remember most fondly, beginning with my first journey on Silver Explorer back in 2012. Silver Galapagos is shaping up to be no exception.
Our Live Voyage Report aboard Silversea’s Silver Galapagos continues tomorrow from the amazing Galapagos Islands.
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.|