A Day on Mysterious Floreana Island
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Day Five of our Galapagos Islands expedition aboard Silversea’s Silver Galapagos began with uncharacteristically overcast skies replacing the intense sunlight that has been with us for several days now. This was perhaps brought on by the unusual Blood Moon that accompanied the Full Moon we had last night. If, that is, we’d have been up at 3:00 a.m. local time to view it.
The blood moon is all you’d need to add to our location this morning to turn it into the perfect horror movie set. Located on Isla Floreana, the Baroness Lookout is so named for a reclusive Austrian woman named Eloise Wehrborn de Wagner-Bosquet. She arrived on the island in 1934 with her three lovers in tow, two of whom were German, while the ‘odd man out’ was an Ecuadorian gentleman named Manuel Valdivieso.
She fancied herself a rather schizophrenic array of individuals, from the island’s nun and moral confidant to provider of sexual favors. She claimed, so it is said, to have been sent “from above” to govern the island as the “Pirate Queen of the Galapagos.” Because every good pirate queen needs props, she took to parading around Floreana with a pistol and a whip. I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to pick some place to be divinely sent to, it’s going to be the Cote d’Azur and not a barren blip in the Pacific.
What’s more, this strange foursome were far from the first people to arrive on Floreana. The Baroness didn’t do much to endear herself to the small population of European settlers that had arrived almost a decade prior and one man in particular – a German doctor named Friedrich Ritter – despised this new “Pirate Queen.”
The Baroness’s problems weren’t just confined to the island’s other residents. I can’t claim to have had three lovers at one time, but I assume that’s the kind of shell game you only keep going for so long. Rudolf Lorenz found that out the hard way. As Harem Lover Number One, he found himself mercilessly attacked by Harem Lover Number Two, Robert Philippson. Lorenz found solace with the family of Heinz Wittmer and The Baroness was constantly having to leave her Pirate Lair to come and get him.
There’s enough psychological intrigue and sexual undertones to this story to fill several Patricia Highsmith novels, but the long story short is this: everyone on the island gradually turned on each other until one day, in late March of 1934, The Baroness and Robert Philippson disappeared. Apparently, Tahiti in the springtime looked like a good plan, and as the story goes, they relocated. Trouble is, they left all their possessions behind on the island and no one could recall seeing a ship anchored in the bay that day.
What’s more, Lorenz was pretty eager to get out of town. He bribed a passing Norwegian fisherman to take him to the Ecuadorian mainland, but he never made it: their mummified corpses were later found on Marchena Island in the northern part of the Galapagos Archipellago – absolutely nowhere near the mainland or their intended course.
The real head-scratcher involves Dr. Ritter. Finally rid of The Baroness and the theatrics that followed her around, the good Doctor keeled over and died from eating some poorly-preserved chicken soup. But even here, two problems present themselves: Dr. Ritter had been successfully living on the island for numerous years, and was one of the first inhabitants of the island. He’d know spoiled chicken – if he ever ate it. Dr. Ritter, you see, was a staunch vegetarian.
Today, the Baroness Lookout surveys Eloise Wehrborn de Wagner-Bosquet’s short-lived fiefdom. It’s a barren, uninviting looking island, littered with trees that look like they’ve come straight out of the prop department for Sleepy Hollow. The horseflies are numerous and everywhere, and apparently the island has a pretty nasty paper wasp problem, so guests are advised to wear dark-coloured clothing for the day so as to not attract them. While not as aggressive as other wasps or hornets, these 1.5-centimetre long insects pack a very painful sting that can cause anaphylactic shock in some individuals.
You know how Indian Jones is always saying, “I hate snakes.”? Well, that’s what I say about wasps. I hate the things, and find it tough to control my reaction around them – particularly when they’re enormous. While the wasp problem was brought up in our briefing last night, I didn’t give myself a chance to think about it this morning: I just got up and went, muttering something about “personal growth” to myself in the Zodiac ride over to the island.
I’m very glad I went – it was a tremendously unique look at one of the more colourful (if monochromatic in appearance) islands we’ve seen here in the Galapagos. To top it off, I only saw about four wasps during the three hours I was on the island. Bring some good insect repellent, though – the horseflies here are everywhere.
We followed up our trip to the Baroness Lookout with a journey over to Post Office Bay. No sex-murder scandals here, and if there were, they’d be in written form. Since 1783, travellers to Post Office Bay have been leaving their mail in a wooden barrel for pick-up by other passing ships. In the old days, these letters would be hand-delivered to their recipients, and you can still do that today, if you wish.
Our guides from the Silver Galapagos reached into the barrel first and pulled out several large Ziploc bags filled with postcards from passing ships. Expedition Member Ivonne read out the locations of several stacks of postcards before passing smaller bundles around to be read. The idea is to find postcards from your hometown, or places you’re going to, or ones you can put a stamp on and pop in the mail when you get back to the mainland.
As it turns out, I found three: two from Calgary, Alberta where my parents and many friends still reside, and one from a town in Germany that I will be visiting in December. I haven’t decided whether I will pop them in the mail or if I’ll do the centuries-old tradition of hand-delivering the postcards – yet. But I’ve kept them, and they’re flying back to Canada with me on the weekend.
By the time I returned to the Silver Galapagos, it was nearly lunch time – and the end of another fantastic morning ashore. Expedition cruising is tough business; I nearly missed this morning’s tour out of a desire to catch up on some sleep, but I am glad I hauled myself out of bed and went; the calibre of the shore tours is tremendous, and all of our Expedition Team Members know this region inside and out. Many of them have been working here on various boats for a decade or more. It’s exactly what I want when I come to a place as unique, mysterious and beautiful as this.
Speaking of mysteriously beautiful, I’ve finally put my finger on why I like this ship so much. For all her little quirks (who designed those godawful funnels?!), she has plenty of nice “ocean liner” touches. Even her profile, when viewed from the Zodiac rafts, is very ocean liner-esque, particularly at the bow, which tapers nicely into tall broad sides broken up by the open promenades on Deck 3 and Deck 4. In fact, though it’s not advertised as such, the Deck 3 promenade is fabulous – you can walk completely around the ship and even ascend to the Navigation Bridge on Deck 4.
I was also pleased to see workers touching up the Promenade Deck area yesterday, painting the scuppers (drains) on the extreme sides of the ship where the teak decking ends white instead of dark blue. The decking needs some work, but I think with a little paint and some TLC it could be quite beautiful.
Despite her relative age, this is also a tremendously well-built ship. She sails nicely, moves gently. As I mentioned yesterday, no rattling anywhere, or squeaking of any kind when we encounter heavy seas, as we did briefly last night. Even the anchor dropping seems more muffled and muted than I would have expected (though those on Deck 2 and Deck 3 staterooms all the way forward should be prepared for this unavoidable noise).
Speaking of the Silver Galapagos, let’s take a look at the newly-revitalized Explorer’s Lounge on Deck 3.
Done in the same décor and colour scheme as the room of the same name aboard Silver Discoverer, the new furniture, carpeting and wall treatments in this room are a colossal improvement over both the Galapagos Explorer II incarnation (which was, really, just the original design from Renaissance Cruises with a few tweaks), and Silversea’s first post-refit crack at it.
Of particular note are the circular, slimline pivoting chairs that have been put in place to supplement the oversized couches. This is a huge improvement over the boxy chairs on Silver Discoverer that only seemed to bash into each other, and creates an uncluttered appearance. The royal blue shuttered wall treatments help to break up an otherwise dull set of walls, and the only evidence of the ship’s Renaissance-era past can be found by looking up at the ceiling, which features a prominent circular partition on the rear port side of the room where a dance floor used to be located.
This is the room that all daily briefings are held in, and the room in which every expedition that leaves from the ship meets in. It also serves as the primary muster station aboard Silver Galapagos in the event of an emergency. Two doors on either side of the vessel provide access to the open expanse of Deck 3 and the ship’s aft staircases that provide exterior access from Deck 3 to Deck 5.
Fun bit of trivia: did you know that, as Renaissance Three, a tender boat was originally mounted to the stern of Deck 3? If you look closely, you can still see where the davits were fixed to the deck (their footprint has since been filled in with a tar-like substance), and the decking between Deck 3 and Deck 4 is inset to accommodate for this. Given that, I’m a little surprised the davits were removed considering a small skiff used to transport luggage is rigged to the port side of the ship, but that was before Silversea’s time.
One thing Silversea did do, however, was to scrap the two hot tubs that used to be situated all the way aft on Deck 5 in order to create space for The Grill, Silversea’s signature outdoor volcanic rock dining experience. The ship’s hot tub has now been relocated to Deck 6 forward, and seems better suited there.
Before coming here, I – like many of you, probably – read some just horrifying reviews of the maiden season of Silver Galapagos on CruiseCritic and the like. I’ve been following her for a year now, but the biggest surprise to me is that, for a ship that’s selling out nearly every week, there was just nothing out there on her. Less than nothing, really. You get more hits if you Google “Galapagos Explorer II” than a similar search for Silver Galapagos.
Now, I can’t speak to her maiden season. It’s tough to operate here, and Silversea guests understandably have high expectations based on how the line runs their other ships. If anything, the maiden season might have been over-hyped, but the lack of information on the ship hasn’t helped, either. I’d love to see a dedicated page in their next brochure highlighting some of the differences not just in the Silver Galapagos, but in what it’s like to operate here to begin with. What I am finding, to my surprise, is that many of these differences are actually positives in disguise.
Xenophobia is a fear of things that are foreign or different, and I think the maiden season of Silver Galapagos might have suffered from that. I’ll admit that, at first, even I wasn’t immune. It’s all little things, too, that come with knowing the line well. I love sailing with Silversea. Their style of cruising suits me perfectly, and if I ran a cruise line, it’d look a lot like this. So when there’s no printed menu at The Grill – only a blackboard with a handful of specials – and no little leather keycard holder, or a seemingly endless array of toiletries to choose from, your first reaction might be one of negativity.
Here’s the thing, though: when I tell people what I love most about Silversea, I never mention the keycard holder. Or the printed menus at The Grill. Okay, sometimes I do mention the Bulgari toiletries, but that’s not it either. What I always mention, right out of the gate, are the crew. I love Silversea because their crews are so damn good. Everyone, to a fault, is interesting, pleasant, kind and charming.
That’s also the case here onboard the Silver Galapagos. Yes, the Ecuadorian crew are not the international crew you’re used to – but they’re every bit as kind, and they truly go out of their way (like the international crew does) to ensure you’re having a fantastic time. They’re lovely people. Their English is better with some than others, but it’s still miles better than my Spanish (dos tequilas, per favor?)
The other thing I always tell people about when I mention Silversea are their ships. Now that Silver Galapagos has been given a proper refit, I can now rave about her, too. She’s not the Silver Spirit, but I truly like this unique little vessel – and I think those who take her post-refit will fall in love with her, too. She’s immensely likeable in her own special way.
Then, there’s the Galapagos – a destination of painful beauty that needs no explanation.
I had the good fortune to dine with Hotel Manager Marcelo this evening, and he said something that I think sums up the transformation the Silver Galapagos has undergone, both in terms of the ship and her crew, during her first year in service. “Finally,” he said, “the seeds we have planted are starting to grow.”
Our Live Voyage Report aboard Silversea’s Silver Galapagos continues as we return for Round Two on the island of San Cristobal.
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.|