01 of 08
Silver Spirit Cruise Log
Cruise ships sail the oceans of the world, and many vacationers travel to Europe for their cruise vacation, with most sailing the Mediterranean or northern Europe. One enchanting part of the world very familiar to Europeans, but not so familiar to those from the Americas, are the islands that lie off the coast of northwest Africa. The Canary Islands (Spain) and Madeira (Portugal) are popular vacation destinations, and cruise ships sailing to and from Europe often stopover at one or more of the islands when repositioning between Europe and the Caribbean.
A few cruise lines like Silversea Cruises spend a little longer in the area, providing their guests the opportunity to explore several of the islands. I sailed on the Silver Spirit's last European cruise of the year, before she headed for warmer waters in the winter months. It was the first time I had cruised on the 540-guest ship since not long after her launch in December 2009. I'm happy to report that this fabulous luxury ship is as great as I remembered. The suites, common areas, dining venues, and amenities are superb, and the service is impeccable. Anyone who loves a luxury vacation and appreciates the accoutrements found on a small vessel like the Silver Spirit will have memorable experiences on this ship.
One of the things I love about Silversea Cruises is their diverse, creative itineraries, and this one was no different than other Silversea voyages I've enjoyed. Our nine-day cruise had a great mix of ports of call--cities, small towns, and those with alluring culture, history, and natural wonders. We also had a relaxing (and very much needed) day at sea. Click on each link below to view more about our voyage on the Silver Spirit.Continue to 2 of 8 below.
02 of 08
A Day on Lanzarote
Our Silversea Silver Spirit 9-day voyage sailed round-trip from Las Palmas on the island of Grand Canary in the Canary Islands. Most of the North American flights required a transfer in Madrid. Arriving on the ship in the late afternoon, we checked into our spectacular Silver Medallion suite, attended the mandatory life boat drill, unpacked, and enjoyed a casual dinner outdoors on the pool deck. Silversea features a casual "hot rocks" dinner at The Grill on the pool deck in the evening, and it was just what we wanted. Since the ship didn't sail until 10 pm, the weather was perfect on the outdoor deck, and the twinkling lights on the island added to the enjoyable evening. I had a small (6 oz) filet and mom had four huge prawns (she gave me one). I also had a nice salad with blue cheese and mom and I both had a baked potato and grilled, skewered veggies. You cook your own meat on a 500-degree lava rock right at the table. I cook one bite at a time since I like my steak rare/med-rare. But many patrons just let it sizzle along and cook longer on the rock while eating.
After a long day of travel, we were already in bed by 10 pm, about the time the Silver Spirit sailed for Arrecife, the capital of the island of Lanzarote. Ronnie and I had visited the volcanic island of Lanzarote (which is a UNESCO biosphere reserve) in 2002, and it hadn't changed much in the past 10 years, which is good. The island is pristine (we saw only one piece of trash along the road side on our 8-hour tour) and dependent on tourism and a little agriculture. It only has about 140,000 residents.
A Day on Lanzarote
Mom and I had signed up for a full-day tour of the island of Lanzarote, appropriately called the "Grand Island Tour". Our bus of 30 Silver Spirit guests left the ship about 8:30 am and first headed for the Fire Mountains and the Timanfaya National Park. This park is in the heart of the area covered by lava and ash during the major volcanic eruptions of 1730-1736 (yes, six years), which left over 300 volcanoes on the south end of the island. The last eruption was in 1824, so we weren't too worried about an "event" the day we were there. During the eruptions of the 18th century, over 25 percent of the island was destroyed, and many residents were forced to leave their homes and re-locate to either the north end of the island or elsewhere in the world. Many fled to Cuba, Venezuela, or Texas.
The Fire Mountains of Lanzarote look much like volcanic areas I've seen in Iceland, New Zealand, and Hawaii. The landscape is very stark and much like the moon or Mars. The earth tone colors of reds, browns, and black, sprinkled with white lichen, are austere and peaceful. The bus dropped us at the visitor center where we watched/participated in three demonstrations--(1) a worker shoveled some small rocks from just an inch under the surface and placed a few in each person's hands--they were hot! A memorable way to demonstrate just how close the geo-thermal activity is to the surface. (2) a worker threw some dry grass in a hole that was about a yard deep--it flamed up immediately, showing how the temperature only got hotter the deeper you go (3) a worker poured water in a hole; within a few seconds there was a large boom, followed by a 10-foot geyser spewing from the ground. Pretty fun.
We left the visitor's center and drove around the "Route of the Volcanoes", a 30-minute drive on a one-way, winding road around the park. People aren't allowed outside their vehicles, and they play a CD while you are driving that explains the sights and adds a little appropriate music.
Our second stop was at a local winery in the La Geria area. Lanzarote's grapes grow on the ground in small clumps protected by a semi-circular rock wall. Since the island doesn't get much rain, the dew and tiny bit of rain drains down into the hole where the small grape vine is planted. The system works very well, but I would have hated to have to build all those thousands of little rock walls to protect each vine!
Driving towards the north side of the island, we stopped for lunch at the Casa Museo Monumento al Campesino. This monument was built by Lanzarote's most famous citizen, the artist Cesar Manrique. The setting was interesting, since we had to walk down a winding staircase through a lava tube. The lunch was good, too.
Leaving the monument, we continued north through a few small towns. The lava fields melted away, replaced by deeply furrowed green hills (kind of like you see on the coast line of Kauai or Madeira). The bus stopped at an overlook in Los Valles, and we all hopped out to take photos. Our guide was thrilled that we had such a "perfect" day. The early morning rains, which stopped before we got off the bus at the Fire Mountains, had cleaned the sky, and we could see for miles.
Arriving at the far northern edge of the island, we had a short stop at Mirador del Rio, which featured great views overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and La Graciosa, a nearby island. The stop also had a cafe with nice views and (like all the other places we stopped on Lanzarote) clean restrooms.
Our last stop for the day was at Jameos del Agua, which was inside the lava tube of the La Corona Volcano, which was a few miles away. This lava tube site was designed by Cesar Manrique, and had an interesting lake, lava formations, large amphitheater, and even a swimming pool. We all loved this site.
Our island tour was a really nice one, and gave us all the chance to see much of the island of Lanzarote. We did a short drive through the capital of Arrecife and arrived back at the ship at 4:29 (we were due back at 4:30--great timing by the bus driver!)
Mom and I got cleaned up for formal night and met with our small group for drinks and hors d'oeuvres, followed by dinner in The Restaurant. I had an artichoke appetizer (four artichokes cooked four different ways), followed by a mushroom soup and lobster. Dessert was a strawberry concoction that was both beautifully presented and very tasty.
After dinner, mom and I went to the show, which featured six singers (three men and three women) doing a Motown show in a cabaret style. All the singers were uniformly good, which is unusual for cruises.
We were back in the suite by 11:15 and time for bed. Busy day. The next day the Silver Spirit was in Agadir, Morocco.Continue to 3 of 8 below.
03 of 08
Agadir, Morocco - Souk and Moroccan Fantasia Show
It was a brilliant, cloudless sunny day in northwest Africa when the Silver Spirit arrived in the port of Agadir, Morocco. If you are like me, you have never heard of Agadir, but the city is most famous for its sardine fishing industry. It is the largest sardine fishing port in the world, and hundreds of boats line the harbor. They go out into the sea for two months at a time to fish for these tiny fish. Thankfully, they have freezers onboard to store the fish!
Since Agadir has a 6-mile-long sandy beach, it is the most popular beach resort in Morocco, attracting hundreds of thousands from Africa and Europe to its sunny climate. The downtown beach is a lovely sandy crescent in the harbor and is protected from the waves, making it perfect for families. Elsewhere, the waves roll in, and surfers love it.
Although our butler had served breakfast in our room on the first morning of our cruise, we opted to go to the buffet before our tour in Agadir. Mom got pancakes and crispy bacon, and I enjoyed yogurt and fresh berries. Very nice!
We met up with our group on the pier at 8:15, and boarded a bus for our tour, "Agadir Souk & Moroccan Fantasia Show". We first rode up to the ruins of the old Kasbah, which sits atop a hill overlooking the city and its harbors. This fortress was built in the late 16th century to protect the city from those pesky European pirates. The view was nice, and we could see the Silver Spirit, the fishing fleet, and the nice crescent-shaped beach easily. Of course, we had to fend off a few vendors selling wares and offering photos with their camels, but they weren't particularly aggressive.
Agadir was almost completely destroyed by a 15-second massive earthquake on February 29, 1960, so the city was rebuilt after that. Many of the buildings in this city of 400,000 are boxy and utilitarian in appearance, probably because after the earthquake, they were more interested in getting structures rebuilt than in design. Since it rains less than 10 inches per year and there's no snow, they can have flat roofs, contributing to the boxy look.
Leaving the old fortress, we went back down the winding mountain road into the city, stopping for a few minutes off the bus at the La Lebanon Mosque, which had some very lovely Moorish architecture. The wood carvings on the exterior were particularly nice. We did not go inside since the mosque is only open to visitors for a short time before and after the prayer times.
Back on the bus, we rode for about 30 minutes or so to see a Moroccan Fantasia show, which was in a neighboring suburb. The show featured singers, dancers, musicians, gymnasts, and a group of six horsemen in traditional dress who would streak towards us on their horses from the end of the large field (we sat in a covered tent). After galloping and waving their rifles for about 30 seconds, they would quickly stop near us and shoot off the guns. Interesting intermission between each act! Although we knew they were going to fire into the air, we all jumped every time. Six guns going off at once is loud.
The show was a little hokey (guess I've seen so many terrific ones that I am becoming jaded), but they served nice pastries and mint tea. It also provided a small taste of what parts of their culture the Moroccans like to present to tourists. We all laughed and applauded, and it was a gorgeous day to sit outside in the shade. Several in our group of three buses (about 60 people) took a camel ride around the arena for an additional fee or did a little shopping. There was supposed to be a snake charmer (according to the brochure), but he was not there. We heard he either had an accident or a death in the family. I think we all had these horrible photos in our heads of the poor snake charmer with a snake bite, but it was probably something completely different.
Leaving the show after about an hour, we returned to Agadir and visited the Souk Al Had, the largest souk (traditional shopping "mall") in Morocco according to our guide. It's similar to a bazaar, but more like a flea market. This one covers 26 acres in the city! We entered through one gate and walked through the souk with our guide, taking care to not get lost. We ended up in the fruit/vegetable area and had about 15 minutes free time to wander on our own. This souk was more open and not nearly as claustrophobic as the one in Marrakech that Ronnie and I visited a decade ago. The vendors just cover their wares when they leave at night and the owners of the souk lock the dozen entry gates. We couldn't get over the piles of fruits and veggies--looks like they would have pounds of produce to throw away each day.
Back on the bus, we got back to the ship about 12:30. Mom and I had lunch outdoors by the pool, followed by a nice quiet afternoon in the suite. I read and sat outside on the chaise lounge while mom napped. We cleaned up for dinner and had a quiet drink in the bar before joining our group for dinner at the Italian specialty restaurant, La Terrazza. It was a delightful evening, and mom and I both enjoyed our meal. I had beef Carpacchio, mushroom risotto, and sea bream topped with peppers, while mom had a traditional Italian soup with pasta and beans, followed by grilled tuna. Very nice and we all laughed and enjoyed ourselves.
We were back in the cabin by 10 pm and asleep soon after. The next day the Silver Spirit would be docked in Casablanca, and mom and I were taking a half-day tour to the fortress city of Rabat, about 1.5 hours away.Continue to 4 of 8 below.
04 of 08
Rabat, Morocco - Day Trip from Casablanca
The Silver Spirit docked in Casablanca early the next morning. This city of over 5 million people is the economic center of Morocco. Our guide told us that Fez (Fes) is the religious center, Rabat is the political and diplomatic center (and the capital city), and Marrakech is the tourist center. Marrakech is about a 3-hour drive on a new highway from Casablanca, and Silversea had an 11.5-hour full-day tour there. Since I had been to Casablanca, we decided to visit Rabat.
From our suite on deck 10 of the Silver Spirit, we could easily see Casablanca's iconic landmark, the Hassan II Mosque, the world's third largest (those in Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia are larger). The large prayer hall can accommodate over 25,000 worshipers. The mosque has a retractable roof, so it can be also be used in the open air. The mosque sits on (and over) the edge of the harbor and its 650-foot minaret (the world's tallest) really dominates the skyline. It's one of only two mosques in Morocco open to the public.
The Hassan II Mosque is relatively new since it was built between 1987 and 1993. Amazingly, it was funded through public donations and designed by a French architect. Hassan II was the king at the time it was built (his son Mohammed VI rules now). According to our guide, Hassan II's father King Mohammed V wanted to be buried in Casablanca, but he was buried in the capital city of Rabat. Hassan II built this mosque to appease the citizens of Casablanca (and I guess his dead father).
The bus ride to Rabat was only about 1.5 hours north from Casablanca along the coast line, and we left about 8:15 am. Kind of weird, but it started raining as soon as we left Casablanca. Fortunately, although you could tell it had poured down in Rabat, too, we didn't get rained on except while on the bus, and the day turned out nice. We rode through the palace grounds, but weren't able to exit the bus. Impressive landscaping, but the palace building itself wasn't as large as I expected.
We did exit the bus at the Mohammed V Mausoleum. He died in 1961 and this mausoleum was built on a hill overlooking the Bou Regreg river. It's next to the Hassan Tower and the ruins of an ancient mosque. The mausoleum, which was designed by a Vietnamese and completed in 1966, is very impressive, cubical in shape with a green-tiled roof and blue and white tiled interior. (Unlike the Egyptian pharaohs, whose tombs were started the day they ascended the throne, the Moroccans didn't start building this tomb until Mohammed died.) The tombs of King Mohammed V and his two sons, King Hassan II and Prince Moulay Abdallah are inside. We were especially impressed with the seven guards protecting the tombs and the man sitting in the corner reading the Koran next to the Prince's tomb.
Our last stop was at the Kasbah des Oudayas of Rabat. Like all kasbahs, this one is located on high ground near the mouth of the Bou Regreg River and the Atlantic Ocean. We wandered the narrow labyrinth of streets and sipped hot mint tea and nibbled on delicious coconut cookies at a small cafe that featured great views of the river and the old town of Sale. The Andalusian Gardens inside the Kasbah were lovely, and the cat lovers on our tour oohed and ahhed over a momma cat and three kittens who were enjoying a feast of sardines. How appropriate!
We rode along the coastline for part of the way back to Casablanca. It was very rugged near Rabat, and several commented on how much it looked like Oregon/northern California. Numerous fishermen lined the bank, all fishing for whatever would bite, according to our guide.
The bus got back to the Silver Spirit about 1:00 pm and ate lunch at the La Terrazza buffet. Sometimes I forget how exceptional all the food can be on these luxury ships. The sushi was excellent, as was the salad. Mom had fresh pasta.
After lunch, we took the free shuttle bus back into town so I could buy some post cards and mail them. We only spent a short time. The streets and shops were very busy, but it's always nice to explore on your own. Silversea has a free shuttle into the center of town at almost all of its ports of call where you can't walk into town.
By the time we got back to the ship, it was about 4 pm, and so mom and I read our books until time to get ready for dinner. We enjoyed a drink in the bar, and then joined two couples from the UK for dinner in The Restaurant. Mom wasn't hungry, so she ate two appetizers--a trilogy of salmon and some tiger prawn spring rolls. I had tataki of herb crusted beef (very rare with sesame soy sauce and wasabi), the spring rolls, and fresh fish (sea bream again). Ice cream (always my favorite) for dessert.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08
Riding a Toboggan on Madeira
After a relaxing day at sea on the Silver Spirit, I was up on early the next morning as we slowly motored into the Funchal, Madeira harbor. I had visited there before and thought the island was beautiful. It certainly had not changed, and Madeira would be a great place for a week (or two) vacation, especially for those who enjoy hiking or exploring by car. Madeira enjoys year-round spring weather, so it's never too hot or cold. The island has long been popular with the British, and it features many nice hotels and B&Bs. The grand Reid's Palace Hotel is the most famous, and some on our ship went there for afternoon tea and a tour of the private gardens.
The mountains of Madeira are so steep that farmers have terraced them, adding to the beauty. Although famous for its cliffs dropping into the sea and towering mountains, Madeira is also home to he world's only forests dating back to the Ice Age--the Laurisilva Forest, and the island has four other nature reserves. Part of Madeira is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Because of the weather, Madeira is a big exporter of flowers, and birds of paradise seem to be found everywhere. Of course, Madeira wine is known around the world. The only thing really lacking on Madeira are beaches, so those who are looking for a sandy spot to lounge need to head over to nearby Porto Santos, another inhabited island in this Portuguese archipelago.
I had taken a 4x4 tour of a part of the island and tasted some of the Madeira wine when we visited the first time, so I wanted to do something different. I chose the "Cable Car & Toboggan Ride", which offered the opportunity to ride in one of wicker basket toboggans first used by the locals to transport goods (and people) down the mountain from the village of Monte to Funchal. For a while, they used passenger sleighs with up to 10 people that had to be controlled by six drivers. Today these large baskets seat two or three people and have wooden runners. Two men control the sled with ropes on each side, stopping a couple of times on the 10-minute ride down the hill to grease the skids. In the past, the drivers had to pull the sleds back up the mountain, but now they load them on a truck and drive back up to pick up more passengers for the ride down.
Mom chose to stay on the ship since the brochure said the tour involved "extensive walking over uneven ground" and a bumpy ride. As often seems to be the case with all cruise lines, the walking was minimal and the ride was smooth. She could have easily done the whole tour except for climbing the 170 steps up to a church, which many people skipped. Better to be safe that to pay for something and then not be able to participate. However, the cable car takes visitors within about a block of where the toboggan rides start, and it's all downhill from there.
Our tour group used the cable car to ride from the waterfront (six to a car and 10 euros person if not on a tour) up to Monte, a village perched high on a hill (>1,800 feet) above Funchal. Lovely and very quiet and peaceful ride. Arriving at the top, we had time to use the restroom and then walked about a block or two past the spectacular botanical gardens (would like to tour on another visit) to a large plaza in the town of Monte. We had 30 minutes to tour the town or walk the 170 steps up to the Nossa Senhora do Monte Church. Needing the exercise, I walked up to the church, but the views weren't much better than those down below. It was interesting to see that Charles I, the last emperor of the Austrian empire, was buried in the church. He was exiled to Madeira following World War I and died there.
Soon it was time for our big ride. I got in the basket with another Silver Spirit guest, and we were off--sledding down the very smooth hill (not bumpy as advertized) with two guys dressed in white with straw hats and goatskin shoes with soles made from rubber tires controlling the sled as we zipped around corners. Marvelous fun and the 10-minute ride was much longer than expected. The drivers stopped twice to put rags soaked in lard on the ground and run the sled over it to speed it up some. We had to avoid a couple of cars, and once a motor bike passed us--gave me a start since I thought it was another sled! All in all, a memorable ride and a great "thing to do" on Madeira, since it's the only place in the world with these "snowless" sleds. (Note: The sled ride is priced by the sled, so 2 people can ride for 30 euros if doing on their own.)
The bus picked us all up at the bottom of the hill, and we rode through Funchal and up into the mountains for a stop at Pico dos Barcelos, which features nice views of Funchal, the bay, and surrounding hills. The Pico stop also had a view of the small house (next to a church down in the valley) where Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the world's most famous soccer players, was born. Ronaldo's talent was recognized early and he left Madeira at age 11 to move to the mainland to hone his skills as a professional. His family still lives on Madeira, and his sister has a shop selling shirts, etc. with his name on them.
We rode by the famous Reid's Palace Hotel on our way back to the ship, arriving just in time for lunch. After a nice buffet lunch (mom had pasta and I had sushi and roasted chicken and Greek salad), mom and I rode the free shuttle into Funchal (only about a 5-minute bus ride) and strolled the pedestrian streets and visited the farmer's market (Mercado dos Lavrodores). Gorgeous day and a nice way to spend the afternoon.
We returned to the ship and sat out on the balcony and had a cold drink while watching the action in Funchal. I pulled out the binoculars (supplied by Silversea in the suite) and traced the cable car route for mom. Soon it was time to get ready for dinner. We went down to The Bar for a drink before joining another couple at The Grill (hot rocks) for another delicous meal. I was afraid it might be cold since we were sailing, but it was not. (They provided heavy pool towels for us to wrap in if needed). It was a fun evening and we all enjoyed the salads, steaks, and giant prawns.Continue to 6 of 8 below.
06 of 08
Driving to the Crater on La Palma in the Canary Islands
After visiting Morocco and Madeira, the Silver Spirit returned to the Canary Islands, arriving at the island of La Palma about noon after a relaxing morning at sea. Mom and I had a late breakfast and then skipped lunch since we had a 12:30 tour. The ship docked in the small town of Santa Cruz de la La Palma, and our bus rode through the scenic village on our way to the La Caldera de Taburiente National Park. La Palma is the northwestern-most island in the archipelago and is often called the "pretty isle". We all thought it looked much like Hawaii, with birds of paradise flowers growing everywhere, along with bananas and other tropical plants. The town of Santa Cruz is very pretty, with colorful buildings (kind of like the Caribbean). Many of these buildings have large enclosed exterior balconies like I've seen in South American countries.
Like some of the other Canary Islands, La Palma is very mountainous, so getting anywhere on a bus takes longer than you might expect on a map. We first stopped at a small church, the Santuario Viregn de las Nieves, which has a painting of the Virgin Mary of the Snows, the patron saint of La Palma. Even more interesting to me was the huge solid silver altar. Quite impressive!
Leaving the church, we had great views of the valleys below. The La Palma roads have numerous switchbacks, making our ride to the national park very interesting (and a little scary). The park was filled with Canary pine trees. We've seen throughout the Canary Islands that plants in this archipelago are a different species than similar plants found around the world. For example, holly bushes and laurel plants have the "Canary" name in front of the species name.
Unfortunately, as the bus climbed higher, it got foggier, and by the time we got to the overlook of the huge caldera in the national park, we could only see fog. This caldera is five miles wide, and resulted from the cave-in of a huge volcano. The crater wasn't formed as a result of volcanic activity, but from the subsequent erosion. Wish we could have seen it.
Since we couldn't see anything, we didn't spend as much time at the national park as planned. So, we had an unscheduled stop at a small town just outside the park named El Paso. We wandered the streets a little and visited the information office. Forty minutes there was way too long, but I guess they had to substitute something, and most of our group found a small cafe or just explored the streets of the tiny town.
Leaving El Paso, we drove back across the island, stopping one more time at Mirador de la Conception, a high overlook near Santa Cruz. The weather certainly was clearer once we went down the mountain.
We arrived back at the ship about 5:15 pm. I had dinner with a friend at the Asian specialty restaurant, Seishin. The restaurant has a choice of two 3-course menus or a 9-course degustation. It was an interesting evening, and the food was delicious and delightful.Continue to 7 of 8 below.
07 of 08
Hiking on La Gomera in the Canary Islands
We continued our tour of the Canary Islands on the Silver Spirit, as we docked at San Sebastian, the capital of the tiny (25 km by 22 km) island of La Gomera the next day. Although this Canary island group is all close together, each island has a different topography and personality. Up until about 10 years ago, about the only visitors to La Gomera were Austrians and Germans who loved to hike on the numerous trails criss-crossing the mountainous island. Although the island is very small, it takes a very long time to drive across it since the roads are so winding.
If you think you might have heard of the island, it's probably because it was Christopher Columbus' last stop for provisions before heading for the new world in 1492. He sailed from La Gomera on September 6, 1492. Columbus didn't marry anyone on La Gomera like he did on one of the other islands, and La Gomera doesn't have a replica of one of his ships like we saw on La Palma, but they do have a museum honoring Columbus.
Like La Palma, the unemployment rate of over 35 percent is even higher than the Spanish mainland. The day we were on La Gomera was a scheduled day for a general strike in Spain, but our buses and tour guides all showed up as scheduled. Our German guide (who had lived on the island for 12 years) told us that most people on La Gomera do not think striking will get the government to give up on their plans to implement the stringent measures necessary to save Spain's economic woes. Older people are being forced to work longer (used to be full government retirement at 60, now has changed to 66/67), which exacerbates the unemployment rates of the young who can't find jobs. Raising taxes just makes a bad thing worse. Sad situation.
I signed up for a morning forest hike through the Garajonay National Park, while mom read her book and relaxed around the ship. Sometimes the shore excursion information makes the tour sound more strenuous than it really is (like the Madeira toboggan ride). Others, like this hike, understate the level of difficulty. For example, our guide told us it was a 6 km hike (about 3.5 miles), and the book said 3.5 km or about 2.2 miles. Not a huge amount of difference, especially since it was mostly flat, but it might have been for some folks. The tour info also didn't mention that we didn't have a real potty (other than the woods) until our short break after the hike at about 11:30 am (left the ship at 8:30). Many of us women on the hike probably wouldn't have drank so much for breakfast had we known!
The bus ride to the national park was absolutely gorgeous. La Gomera is another mountainous island, but hasn't had any volcanic activity for millions of years (unlike its neighbors). I think the guide said only 17,000 people live on La Gomera, and many live on desolate farms with their livestock and crops grown on terraced fields. The ancient peoples of La Gomera developed an interesting language to communicate with their neighbors, many of whom lived across deep ravines or on the next mountain. Called "Silbo", it's a whistling language that was routinely used from aboriginal times up until the dictator Franco forbade its use in the 1930's. (No one in his government could understand the whistling language and feared it was subversive.) By the time the Fascist regime was gone in the 1970's, few people knew how to communicate this way. Today it is taught in the schools as a way to honor the La Gomeran culture. Our guide said it is very difficult to learn since you have to be able to whistle very loudly, plus differentiate the sounds.
We drove up and over the mountains, noting the huge canyons, most of which were formed by erosion. The Spaniards cut down many trees when they first arrived, and many of the lower elevations remain full of fields or scrubby bushes. As we climbed higher, the weather cooled and fog set in. I feared a repeat of the day before, but once we stopped for our hike, it cleared up. One sad thing as we drove upward. In August of 2012, a wildfire roared across La Gomera, destroying trees and vegetation on about 10 percent of the island, mostly in the national park. La Gomera had not had rain for over a year at the time, and the trees were dry and burned easily. The destruction was especially bad since (according to our guide) the fire was set by an unknown arsonist.
Fortunately, the trail we hiked on was not through the burned laurel forest. On the top of a ridge, it was mostly flat and interesting, with many mulberry trees and a nice path (most of the way). The 20 of us hiked a little over 2 hours, with a short 5 minute break for those men (and one woman) who wanted to find a bush and relieve themselves.
After the hike, the bus picked us up at a second location and we rode back to the pier, stopping for a "real" potty break at a park information center/cafe. We were back on the Silver Spirit by about 1 pm, and mom and I had lunch at the buffet and then walked into town to see what it was like. Since there was a general strike, most places were closed, but San Sebastian was clean and a couple of souvenir shops were open.
Back on the ship, mom finished her book while I did some computer stuff. The ship had its pool deck barbecue dinner. Lots of great food--a little of everything. The weather was very nice and we didn't sail until about 11 pm--after the dinner and outdoor cabaret show.
The Silver Spirit didn't have to sail far--just a few miles to the island of Tenerife.Continue to 8 of 8 below.
08 of 08
Tenerife in the Canary Islands - Mount Teide National Park
Our last full day on the Silver Spirit was in Tenerife. This Canary island is dominated by Spain's highest mountain--the volcano Mount Teide. It's also the fourth highest mountain in Europe -- after three taller ones in the French Alps. In order to get a closer look at the volcano, I selected a bus tour that would take us close to Mount Teide.
The bus ride was an easy trip with not much walking. We passed through the three main layers of vegetation on the island on our way up. From sea level to 3000 feet is the tropical vegetation like bananas, flowers, fruits, etc. From 3000 feet to 6000 feet is the Canary pine forest, with almost all pine trees. These trees are especially fire resistant and only grow in the Canary islands, but look much like our pine trees back home, although they have branches down lower. Above 6,000 feet are scrubby bushes and not much vegetation. Very distinct plant life at all three levels and an interesting ride.
We didn't go to the top of the volcano, but there is a cable car you can ride. Our guide said the wait is usually about two hours, so most cruise ships stopping in Tenerife don't include it on excursions. Although it was foggy at the lower elevations, we passed through the clouds when we got up high and had great views of Mount Teide and its huge caldera. This national park (my fourth in the Canaries) is wild looking and has been used for many movies like the Planet of the Apes, Italian spaghetti westerns, and Raquel Welch's One Million Years BC.
We enjoyed hot tea/coffee at the end of the road at the 7000+ elevation, and then came back to the ship, arriving about 2 pm. The ship was docked very near Tenerife's spectacular Concert Hall, and the bus driver was nice enough to give us a photo stop. Since we missed the buffet, we ate out by the pool and then returned to the cabin to pack before going to dinner at the Le Champagne specialty restaurant.
Le Champagne was very good, with a sampler of hors d'oeuvres, followed by a selection of cold appetizers, hot appetizers, soups, main courses, and desserts. I had tuna carpaccio with daubs of different mustards, followed by mushroom soup, rack of lamb, and souffle with Grand Marnier sauce. Mom had a lobster salad and the lamb.
All too soon our voyage on the Silversea Silver Spirit was over. With its excellent amenities, fantastic service, and memorable cuisine, this luxury ship is a joy to sail on. I know her crew will continue this high standard of cruise excellence into the future.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary cruise accommodation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.