San Cristobal, Part Two
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Gusts onboard Silversea’s Silver Galapagos had a bit of a Groundhog Day moment this morning as we dropped anchor off Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on the eastern Galapagos island of San Cristobal. It’s also the same place we embarked Silver Galapagos at last Saturday, which felt like a bit of an odd homecoming. There’s the harbour, crowded with new and derelict boats alike, book-ended by the town and the airport where we touched down.
Most guests won’t have this deja-vu experience. Our voyage is unique in that it embarked in San Cristobal following Silver Galapagos’ extensive drydock on Panama. All other voyages will embark and disembark guests in Baltra, where we’ll be on Saturday.
In order to depart the ship at 7:30 a.m. this morning, I filled out the Room Service card last night and hung it on my door as requested before 11:00 p.m. I requested a delivery time of between 7:00 and 7:30, and my butler Alvaro arrived right at 7:00 on-the-dot with a silver tray filled with my food.
Alvaro set the entire table up in typical Silversea style, missing no detail. He ran over the order again for me to ensure he’d gotten it right – he had. Orange juice, cappuccino, plain yogurt, grilled peaches with honey, and white toast with marmalade were all mine for the taking – in the comfort of my suite.
Breakfast devoured, I was off the ship, into the zodiac, and back on the odd little mini-busses that had brought us from the airport to the ship six days ago. Our destination this time, though, was a little different: we were headed to La Galapaguera – a giant tortoise reserve spread out over 12 hectares of forest.
There’s a bit of a hidden danger here: bordering almost the entire length of the trail are Poison Apple Trees. They produce apples that look and smell like real apples, but there’s a difference: these ones will kill you if ingested.
Complicating matters is the fact that the tree’s milky sap is poisonous and can cause quite the skin irritation if brushed against. So you’ve really got to keep your arms in and watch where you’re walking.
The stars, of course, are the giant tortoises. Typically slow moving, they can actually speed up quite a bit when provoked by another tortoise – something we saw on more than one occasion. Besides being fabulous to look at, they also gave the Galapagos Islands their name. The word Galapago is a Spanish term for a saddle shaped like the shell of a tortoise.
You have to admire the ironic beauty of 15 fully-grown adults, all standing around watching a creature that moves at a blistering 0.5 kilometres an hour. The highlight of the morning was when the massive tortoise suddenly stopped, strained his neck, and defecated all over the ground behind him. Someone snapped a photo with their iPhone. Others chatted in a manner-of-fact way about the relative size and consistency of it. Darwin would be proud.
I, on the other hand, didn’t give much notice to this, as I was too busy swatting away the largest bees I have ever seen in my life. Take your average garden-variety beetle, triple his size, strap some wings on him, and you’ve got what I saw flying around the immensely-poisonous apple trees. The scenario played out in my head: writer sees bees. Writer freaks out. Writer falls into deadly tree and gets equally-deadly sap all over him. Writer swells. Writer tries desperately to get up but ultra-poisonous apple falls in writer’s mouth. Bee stings writer to finish the job.
This, of course, didn’t happen, but you do have to admire the sort of ‘funhouse of terror’ quality nature can have to it. Interestingly, the poisonous tree is used by the massive tortoises, who gnaw on it and use it as a sort of laxative to clear out their internal plumbing.
Following our tour of the La Galapaguera Giant Tortoise farm, we had about 90 minutes worth of free time to shop and explore in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. The long lifespan of the giant tortoise – more than 160 years – has had a knock-on effect back in town with merchandising. One t-shirt has a phrase that’s to the effect of, “I know I cheated on you – but that was 150 years ago!” If that doesn’t suit your liking, perhaps the always-classic “I love boobies” t-shirts, handbags and ball caps will be of interest? It was disappointing to see that the wares on sale in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno were pretty much like what you’d find on the streets of any Caribbean port of call.
Still, I did enjoy walking around the town, and I did end up buying a little souvenir so it was well worth the free time. It’s an interesting place, though – nearly every building has a completed ground floor, but once you get away from Avenida Charles Darwin and J Cobos street, the quality of the town drops off sharply. Rusty rebar juts out from second and third floors of buildings, as if another level were planned and then scrapped suddenly. Whole buildings sit unfinished, little more than concrete shells. In short, after the first two blocks, the town is crumbling.
Just as when we were here last Saturday, the sea lions continue to dominate the waterfront. My return to the Silver Galapagos involved navigating three large ones resting on the floating dock from which we would embark the ship’s zodiacs.
This afternoon, Silver Galapagos briefly set sail for our afternoon site of adventures: Wizard Hill. Located on the northwest side of San Cristobal Island, a large, sandy beach invites guests out for a relaxing day of swimming or kayaking – or simply beachcombing.
I, on the other hand, chose to do something different. I opted to enjoy an afternoon onboard Silver Galapagos. It also gives me a chance to answer some good reader questions:
What’s the best itinerary? Western Galapagos or North-Central?
Having not done the North-Central Galapagos yet, I can’t really say. Certainly, you cannot go wrong with the Western itinerary – it’s been a stellar experience so far. If time and money are no object, I’d recommend doing both as a 14-day back-to-back voyage.
Why doesn’t Silversea offer longer voyages to the Galapagos?
Short answer: they can’t. Ecuadorian regulations enacted in 2012 prohibit ships from calling on the same port twice in as many weeks. Because of this, all cruise lines (not just Silversea) have to alternate their voyages – and the week-long voyage structure seems to work well. You could do both as a back-to-back, though.
What’s the best side of the ship to book a suite on?
I’m always surprised how often this crops up. The quick and easy answer is it doesn’t matter – there’s very little distance to cover on this itinerary, so cruising time tends to be short jaunts during the day or longer runs at night. When you’re sailing from one point to another, chances are good you’ll be looking at sky and ocean. It’s better to study the deck plan and pick the suite that suits your needs best and worry about the view later.
How are the seas?
Swelly! Okay, that’s not a word – but the swells here in the Galapagos are significant enough that Silver Galapagos rocks gently from port to starboard when at anchor. This has been most noticeable (so far) here in San Cristobal, and again a few nights ago when we rounded “the corner” as we made our way south to Floreana. If you’re really prone to seasickness, bring some ginger, Sea-Bands or “the patch.”
What’s the food like?
Ecuadorian! But it’s been, on the whole, good to very good. My favorite dish was served during the first night: Ostrich. Excellent! You may notice some differences from the food you’re used to due to the food largely coming from Ecuador; for example, I find the fruit onboard to be rather bland and tasteless. But I’ve also found countless other things I’ve enjoyed that I can’t get on other Silversea ships. Everyone’s raving about the Tomato Soup, of all things, that was served last night. I missed that. Apparently it was stunning.
Does the ship ever dock?
Nope. Everything – including embarkation and disembarkation – is done via the ship’s Zodiac rafts. It’s hugely fun from a guest perspective, but it must be murder on the crew during turnaround day. Your luggage has to get onboard that way, too – as do all provisions.
Finally, it’s important to mention the state of cruising in the Galapagos. In 2007, researchers Mario Piu Guime and Edgar Munoz counted 84 vessels in operation within the Galapagos Islands, with a total combined capacity of just 1,834 passengers – less than a single medium-sized cruise ship in the Caribbean. Remarkably, the smallest vessels (those under 400 GRT) accounted for sixty-three percent of all ships in the Galapagos. To put it in perspective, a 400 GRT vessel might carry 10 people. Large vessels – like Silver Galapagos – made up just thirteen percent of all the ships that could legally sail the Galapagos back in 2007, with medium-sized ships (20-40 guests) making up the remainder.
While those figures have changed slightly, the ratio hasn’t: large ships like Silver Galapagos are few and far between. In fact, her capacity of 100 is the maximum allowed under Galapagos National Park regulations.
While smaller ships can have their advantages, they’re far more susceptible to swells and rough seas, and may not be able to cover the same distance that Silver Galapagos can. And they certainly don’t have butlers, or open decks where you can have lunch out in the fresh air or enjoy dinner under the stars.
Those are all technical reasons for sailing aboard Silver Galapagos. The truth is, after six days here, I believe everyone should sail to the Galapagos, if only once. Life is short, fickle, and often unfair. So, too, are the lives of the amazing animals that inhabit this unique and largely untouched area of the world.
It’s not until you look a tortoise in the eyes, or have a seal look up at you sadly, that you realize just how much in common those of us have who all inhabit this small planet.
Our Live Voyage Report aboard Silversea’s Silver Galapagos continues as we explore Los Gemelos in the 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.|