Adventures in the Galapagos aboard a new Silver Galapagos
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
“The pageant of nature: sometimes it seems like a freak show.”
David Quammen, The Flight of the Iguana
Today is Day 4 of my voyage to the Galapagos Islands aboard Silversea’s Silver Galapagos, and I’ve officially run out of superlatives to describe the experience. I thought perhaps a glass of South American Merlot would sharpen my creativity, but so far, no luck. I’m still stuck on words like “awesome”, “inspiring”, “grandeur”, and the like.
The Galapagos is like Antarctica, but with far more biodiversity. Both places are remote, sparsely inhabited, and largely left to their own devices. The Galapagos, however, is like nature’s untethered playground – and the most surprising thing is that it’s not at all what you expect. It’s better.
It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this that nature doesn’t function the way Walt Disney’s nature functions. Crabs don’t spontaneously break into catchy musical numbers (under the sea!), colourful fish aren’t on a quest to find friends, and even the lowly cricket doesn’t don a stovepipe hat, grab his walking stick, and head off to its Victorian-era workplace. In short, Jiminy Cricket’s a crock.
Instead, nature – real nature – functions a lot more like the movie Aliens (or Alien, if you prefer). Real nature is frightening as all hell, cute seals notwithstanding. Like the title character in the movie, with its horrifying birth process, acid-like blood, and razor-sharp teeth, nature is raw and unabashedly naked in its three chief ambitions: survive, reproduce, repeat.
Of course, real nature has all the fun, gory details they don’t tell you in school. It’s difficult to tell children about the downright kinky, hedonistic mating rituals utilized by many mammals, or ones that practice cannibalism or eat their young or simply leave it them to die. Even the most mundane creature can be more interesting and exotic than you’d think: I just learned that Charles Darwin was so fascinated by the common earthworm that he wrote an entire tome dedicated to the subject. Try telling your friends that nowadays and see how long they stick around.
This morning, guests aboard Silver Galapagos were invited to get better acquainted with nature by participating in an hour-long scenic tour by zodiac of the coastline here at Caleta Tagus on Isla Isabella. Our 7:30 a.m. departure must have been too early for the wildlife, because aside from a few Galapagos Penguins and the odd lizard (and numerous crabs), we really didn’t see all that much. But the landscape was other-worldly, and that’s part of the fun of an Expedition cruise: nothing is guaranteed, but everything is possible.
Guests could also go kayaking in Silver Galapagos’s bright-yellow kayaks that are normally stored on the ship’s bow, or they could opt to take in some snorkeling. With a temperature in the water hovering around 20°C, a wetsuit is recommended but Silversea provides all the necessary gear for your use on this cruise free of charge.
Because we’ve got a few hours in between our first stop at Caleta Tagus and our afternoon call on Bahia Elizabeth, this is a good time to pull back the curtain on the revitalized accommodations here onboard Silver Galapagos!
Before the refit, suites aboard Silver Galapagos still retained their original interiors as designed by the former Renaissance Cruises in 1990. These featured beautiful but overpowering use of highly-polished woodgrain panelling that had the undesired effect of making the accommodations feel rather dark. Now, with her recent month-long Panamanian drydock complete, suites aboard Silver Galapagos have changed significantly.
I have a Deluxe Veranda Suite on Deck 4, but these photos are reflective of all accommodations here onboard. Walking in for the first time, you’re greeted by brilliant walls decorated in an off-eggshell white and accented with dark trim. The couch in my room features the same treatment as those found onboard Silver Discoverer, and the carpet pattern chosen is similar to that of Silver Discoverer as well. Clearly, Silversea is trying to better brand their Silversea Expeditions arm, and that starts at the suite level.
New furnishings abound: the desk, with its marble countertop and drawers accented with circular pewter handles is brand-new. The small table in front of the couch is new, as is the fantastic Art Deco-themed chair upholstered in royal blue with white accents. Electrical outlets are brand-new, as are most light switches and covers.
So how do you go about ripping all that wood panelling out? The answer is deceptively simple, but it took me a few days to figure out: you don’t rip it out at all. You cover it up.
What Silversea has done is rather clever: they’ve covered the existing walls with a new, textured, off-white material. Think of it like wallpaper, but on a much larger scale. The fit and finish is so good that I initially thought the line might have replaced all the existing walls; it wasn’t until I started poking around in my closet (which still retains the original Renaissance “cherrywood” texture on the inside) that I realized that the walls are wrapped, if you will in a new textured surface.
Bedside tables are also brand-new, and Silversea has replaced the ugly, tiled mirrors that used to act as a headboard for the bed with an elegant padded surface similar to that found in the suites aboard the line’s flagship, the 540-guest Silver Spirit.
Even the main door to the suite that leads into the corridor is brand-new and equipped with a modern VingCard keycard entry system. I can tell it’s new because the door to my bathroom is original equipment, and is accented with plenty of brass in keeping with the style of the early 1990’s.
There are six North American-style power outlets: five on the desk and one, curiously, located underneath the light switches on the right-hand side of the entry door to the suite. There are none by the bed or the couch, but I haven’t found this to be an issue. It’s worth noting that one of the outlets is taken by the iHome iPod Docking Station, but that still leaves four usable outlets; five if you simply unplug the docking station.
In my suite, there are seven separately-controllable lighting elements, from accent lights near the flat-panel television set to reading lights over both the couch and the bed. The lights are original Renaissance-era fixtures, but they still look nice and present a certain nautical sensibility.
All told, my suite comes in at 303 square feet (28 m2), including the exterior balcony that, while not overly large, is still big enough to accommodate two chairs and a small table.
Most importantly: it’s whisper-quiet. I can’t hear my neighbours at all, and nothing rattles, shakes or shimmies. Equally important: the bed still has Italian-made Pratesi linens that are common throughout the rest of the Silversea fleet.
Like Silver Discoverer, Silver Galapagos has a fantastic video-on-demand system that allows access to the internet, movies, television shows, satellite news feeds, and an extensive music collection. If you have a device like an iPad or a laptop, you can also access all these features – including movies – from that device by using the shipboard wi-fi, which is surprisingly quick. I noticed a router is located in the closet next to the door of my suite; refitting a ship of this age with wireless connectivity is no easy feat.
All told, I’ve found my suite to be enormously comfortable and welcoming. I’ve spent more time in it than I had expected; I’m even writing this report from there at the moment. However, it is, by no means, the most elaborate suite in the Silversea fleet. You shouldn’t come in expecting it to be the pinnacle of shipboard design, but do expect it to be bright and inviting.
The one and only downside is closet space: I’m travelling solo, and my clothes still took up both closets and two drawers. There are additional storage bins placed under the bed, but these have the negative consequence of taking up valuable space that could be utilised by your empty luggage. My suitcase, then, is also currently taking up residence in one of the closets.
All told, Silver Galapagos has 50 suites that run the gamut from the Explorer Suites on Deck 2 that feature triple portholes and measure 240-210 square feet, to the ship’s four Silver Suites on Deck 6 that are almost 400 square feet apiece.
Before we continue with our afternoon, I always like to daydream a little by looking at where the rest of the Silversea fleet is today, courtesy of the Silversea Chronicles:
- Silver Cloud: Valletta, Malta
- Silver Wind: Marseilles, France
- Silver Shadow: Fanning Island, Kiribati
- Silver Whisper: Bar Harbor, Maine
- Silver Spirit: Nessebur, Bulgaria
- Silver Explorer: Tufi, Papua New Guinea
Curiously, Silver Discoverer isn’t listed in the daily Chronicles.
At around 3:00 p.m., Silver Galapagos let go her anchor at Bahia Elizabeth on Isla Isabela. Isabela is the largest island in the Galapagos, and is dotted with six active volcanoes, to boot: Wolf, Ecuador, Darwin, Alcedo, Sierra Negra, and Cerro Azul. About two thousand people call the island home, but they’re all clustered down on the southeast side in Puerto Villamil. We, on the other hand, are about halfway up the island on the western coast just to the southeast of Isla Fernandina.
Bahia Elizabeth – or Elizabeth Bay – is notable for its populations of flightless cormorants and marine Iguanas. The marine Iguanas are apparently some of the largest here, thanks to their habits of gorging themselves on a diet of rich algae.
We didn’t see any marine Iguanas, but we were treated to a spectacular tour of the mangroves that jut out of the water, adding some vibrant colour to an otherwise monochromatic landscape. That my particular Zodiac tour left at quarter to five in the evening certainly didn’t hurt, either – sunsets here in the Galapagos are brief but powerful. By ten minutes after six, the sun has all but disappeared – but those ten minutes bathe the decks of Silver Galapagos in an almost fairy tale shade of amber light.
Back onboard, we had a South American Wine Tasting in the Piano Bar on Deck 4 at 6:30 p.m., followed by our Daily Recap & Briefing on tomorrow in the Explorer Lounge on Deck 3. The briefing gave way to dinner, which gave way to drinks and spectacular conversation amongst my fellow guests, served again by the primarily Ecuadorian crew of the Silver Galapagos that are truly giving this their best and then some.
Since I started this entry with a quote from The Flight of the Iguana, it’s only fitting that I should end it with one as well. I think it’s very appropriate for those who want to explore the Galapagos, but who might be on the fence about it:
“Somewhere between the ages of thirty and forty each of us comes to the shocking realization that a lifetime is not infinite. The wold is big and rich, options are many, but time is limited.”
Our Live Voyage Report aboard Silversea’s Silver Galapagos continues tomorrow from the amazing Galapagos Islands as we visit Post Office Bay.
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.|