Saturday, June 05, 2010
The People of the National Geographic Islander
I'm posting a large number of photos at Flickr now -- for more go HERE. Above is a photo of a few of the large crew and staff of our ship, the National Geographic Islander. The boat carried 47 passengers and around 31 crew and staff the week we traveled, and makes approximately the same itinerary each week.
Our expedition leader, Jason, organizes and leads the tours and makes presentations about activities and wildlife. Jason is an American who married an Ecuadorian woman from Quito. They moved to Galapagos 18 years ago to work in the tourist industry. He has been a dive master and a naturalist, and hosted other types of excursions. His staff includes three naturalists: Alexa, Gilda, and Graciella -- they are on the top of the pyramid in the photo, along with the wellness coordinator, Mirella. All Galapagos naturalists are Ecuadorians who have appropriate educational background, languages, and a 3-month naturalists’ course in the islands’ unique wild life and how to show tourists around.
Above all, Galapagos naturalists have a responsibility to insist on compliance with the rules that protect the environment from ignorant or thoughtless actions by their guests. They see that each guest stays on the trail, leaves all natural objects in place, and avoids disturbing the birds, iguanas, tortoises, and so on. They provide lots of gentle reminders that this is a national park and marine reserve and must be treated with respect. They also help with the onboard presentations about Galapagos human history and natural history.
The ship’s crew includes those who run the boat: the captain, his maintenance and navigation staff, and the chief engineer. Even these men interact with the tourists, as the bridge is always open.
One can go in and ask questions about the equipment, take photos, and check what’s on the radar, sonar, GPS, etc. One of our boat acquaintances noticed a dense spot on the radar, for example, that turned out to be a large mass of fish attracting flocks of diving birds, a school of dolphins, and even tuna; at his suggestion the navigator on the bridge steered the boat in that direction so that passengers could watch this feeding frenzy.
Four crew members drive the ship’s Zodiac boats, usually called pangas. These men are very skilled in maneuvering through ocean swell, into mangrove swamps, beside the towering lava cliffs, and among snorkelers who need to be picked up. They help the naturalists to identify interesting birds perching on the rocks or sea lions and turtles swimming under the water. They also help to winch the Zodiacs up to the top deck in the evening, making them ready for travel on the ship during its long overnight crossings between islands. They lower them in the morning for tours of the lava cliffs, trips into town, snorkeling trips, or accompanying kayakers.
Finally there’s the hotel staff. The chief of staff is Alexandra. The head chef reports to her, and she also oversees room cleaning, occasional sales of trinkets and tee shirts, and the general maintenance of public and private onboard accommodations.
The head chef is a pleasant man: he wears a tall pleated white hat. There’s also a pastry chef and chef for main courses. Kitchen workers cook, bake, prepare fruit and vegetables, wait tables at dinner, stock the buffet at lunch and breakfast, tend bar, clear tables, wash dishes, and generally keep up with the three big meals and two or three snacks served each day. On the last night we discovered that they also do cute skits and the pastry chef sings Latin American songs.
Hotel staff also includes a doctor who travels with the boat (he's second from left in the bottom of the pyramid in the photo), a masseuse who also leads a stretching class every morning before breakfast (see photo), and of course the maids who clean rooms, wash piles of towels and bed linen, and also sometimes work at kitchen tasks.
Some tasks are picked up by any staff member who happens to be nearby when needed. We’ve been helped up from the panga to the ship’s ladder by the captain, by the doctor, by the expedition leader, by a naturalist, or by a crew worker. Ask anyone how to get towels or a plastic bag and they’ll poke around until you are served. Also, the chief engineer, the expedition leader, and one of the naturalists have at various times joined our table for dinner, and they are always friendly and ready for interesting conversations. It’s an amazing level of service, and obviously the overall philosophy of the cruise ship is to make every passenger happy and well fed at all times.