The key ingredient to an unforgettable week in the Galapagos?

AUTHOR The Ecoventura Team

A lot goes in to creating a once-in-a-lifetime, Relais & Chateaux luxury cruise in the Galapagos, particularly with all the additional protocols we have put in place since the pandemic to protect the health and wellbeing of our guests and crew alike.

Whilst guests will forever remember the unique and wonderful wildlife and landscapes they see on a trip with us, we thought we’d take a moment to introduce some of the team who, both with our guests and behind the scenes, do so much to put together such memorable trips week after week.

It’s our crew who keep the show afloat, so to speak, and who take such huge pride in delivering a high standard of service, whilst making sure the whole operation runs smoothly. The same hardworking crew who were thrilled to get back to doing what they do best after months at home during the pandemic.

Jhon Feijó – Captain of Theory

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Quito-born Captain Jhon learnt his trade sailing tankers around Asia and the Americas for several years, before a trip to the Galapagos Islands ignited a love of the wildlife and people. Swapping tankers for small-ship luxury cruises, he now spends his time showing lucky guests around the archipelago and hasn’t looked back since!

“At the start of the pandemic I was on board Theory with 8 crew members, and even though we were worried about the global situation, we decided to have a positive mindset and support each other together” Jhon explains, discussing where he was when news of the pandemic first struck. [/column]

“One positive from the quarantine that was imposed in Ecuador was that it gave us an opportunity to get to know each other a little more than just as colleagues or ‘work buddies’. We started doing exercise routines and activities that definitely brought the team closer.”

Beyond captaining the Theory, Jhon used his time over the lock-down to finesse his skills with regards to home-based agriculture, growing fruit and vegetables in his vegetable garden. He also took up cycling and swimming to keep in shape. “At the moment I am back on the Theory, but my wife and I have started saving for a Eurotrip which should be great. Who knows, maybe 2021 will be the year!”

Sofia Darquea – Naturalist Guide

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“31 years of experience under her belt, and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the flora, fauna, geology and human history of the islands”. Not our words, but those of leading UK newspaper The Telegraph, in a piece about Sofia last year. [/column]

Sofia’s extraordinary knowledge and experience is matched by her passion for the wildlife, landscapes and history of the Galapagos Islands; when not guiding visitors around the archipelago, she serves as President of the AGIPA (Association of Naturalist Guides of the Galápagos), lobbying for a university, improved internet and better education on the islands to help develop the next generation of Galapagos guides.

The secret of a great guide of course isn’t just a detailed list of facts and figures, but the ability to engage, enthrall and inspire guests, young and old alike; something that Sofia has been doing for decades. “We so appreciated the exceptional knowledge and fascinating stories of Sofia (our amazing guide for the week)”, wrote one family after a voyage on the Theory only a couple of weeks ago.

And what is the key to Sofia’s inexhaustible enthusiasm? “Look around you,” she says, gesturing to an expanse of pristine volcanic landscape peopled by basking iguanas and barking sea-lions, and ringed by turquoise waters. “This is my office, every day!”

Daniela Muñoz – Concierge

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Daniela’s role as concierge puts her in a unique position on board our luxury vessels, overseeing the voyage and making sure the entire guest experience, from the excursions to the meals and service on board, create as wonderful and memorable an experience as possible. [/column]

“I am in charge of bringing top notch customer service to the passengers that we receive every week, anticipating and identifying their needs and making them feel that they are always taken care of is my main priority.” Quite a task, but one the eternally cheery, friendly and unflappable Daniela is more than capable of handling.

After studying tourism and hotel management in both Guayaquil and then further afield in Barcelona, Daniela is well-equipped to deal with the challenges of the role, and the Galapagos setting is an added bonus given her passions for photography, travel and scuba diving.

“The fact that we are in a luxury vessel is always a challenge – it’s not the same as managing a hotel on land as it is on board. So I really love and enjoy the fact that I have to come up with solutions for different situations every day. And having sunsets that look like paintings is really a plus!”

Daniela has made quite an impression on many past guests, with her smile and attention to detail consistently featuring amongst feedback, and her capabilities and responsibilities are a source of inspiration to many.

“One of the most memorable moments for me was hearing one of my passengers say that it was inspiring for her young girls, who were on board with her, to watch a woman in the role as the concierge of a Relais & Chateaux luxury vessel.”

Cecibel Guerrero – Naturalist Guide

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After training as a guide in 1992, and working for the Galápagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Research Station, Ceci has spent almost 20 years showing guests around the Galapagos.

Whilst guiding in the Galapagos has been a life-long passion for Ceci, it isn’t without its sacrifices. [/column]

“This pandemic has given me something valuable – time to spend with my children” Ceci explains, talking about the quarantine when all vessels, including Ecoventura, returned to harbor.

“Due to work, for many years I have travelled constantly, missing out on many moments with my kids. Now we are together, spending more and more time together each passing day.”

Beyond catching up on family time, what else was Ceci up to during Ecuador’s lock down? “I discovered a love for culinary art and cooking; I did not think I would enjoy it so much until now! I surprise myself every time I prepare something new, going through new recipes and experimenting with new flavors. And, of course, how I prepare them for my children, with a lot of love”.

Ceci’s boundless energy and warmth make her ideally suited to guiding – as does her love of snorkeling – but not so suited at being trapped at home during quarantine, something many of us around the world can surely sympathize with!

“During these stressful times, I try to keep myself distracted going for walks – it keeps me healthy physically, emotionally and spiritually. So far I am staying active as much as I can so as not to lose my sanity! You have to move forward with a mind full of love, patience and hope.”

Estuardo Vilela – Chef

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As the only Relais & Chateaux vessels in the Galapagos Islands, the Chefs on board the Origin and Theory have made rustling up gourmet fare in the confines of possibly Relais & Chateaux’s smallest kitchens a fine art. [/column]

And leading the charge is Estuardo, head chef onboard the Theory, who combines locally sourced, sustainable ingredients with an Ecuadorian twist to produce fresh, sumptuous dishes (not to mention endless amuse bouche and snacks between excursions) for guests and crew alike. How does grilled prawns with cilantro gremolata or beef filet with tamarind chimichurri sound after a day exploring the islands?

“Cooking on a yacht that has a small kitchen is not a limitation, as long as there is a passion for cooking” Estuardo explains. And passion is something Estuardo has in spades, constantly developing new dishes and experimenting with new ingredients and flavors. Along with his team, Estuardo used the time during the recent quarantine to upgrade the menus in anticipation of taking to the seas once again.

“The fact that we are in the Galapagos and enjoying the sea breeze and wonderful landscape is such an inspiration while I work on creating my next dish” continues Estuardo, explaining how ingredients from the Galapagos can be subtly different from their mainland cousins. “The cherry tomato from the Galapagos, for example, has a unique appearance and flavor”. You heard it here first!

Alvaro Mucarsel – Chief Engineer

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With the unforgettable excursions, wonderful wildlife and fantastic food, it is easy to forget that there is a whole team of personnel dedicated to making sure a small-ship luxury cruise in the Galapagos runs seamlessly, many of whom may not cross paths with even our most adventurous of guests.

“Maintenance work onboard the yachts is an ongoing affair” explains chief engineer Alvaro. “We need to make sure the yachts are operational and ready to sail at all times, not just in terms of the engines but also the other systems – air conditioning, desalinization equipment, water purifiers, for example”.

Whilst working predominantly behind the scenes, Alvaro and his team are critical to the enjoyment of the voyage for all on board, something which keeps him motivated. “Ultimately, what we do is all part of providing a great experience to our passengers”.

With the vessels spending more time than expected at harbor in 2020, Alvaro has had some time to enjoy some well-earned rest at home, whilst also keeping everything shipshape on board. “When the quarantine was lifted, we were well placed to set sail immediately – it’s great to be back on the water”.