COCOS, CHAPTER 1: Journey to Cocos Island

The immigration agent was engaged in a serious texting conversation as she asked me, “Where are you staying?” I answered, “The Cocos Okeanos Aggressor.” She continued to text in silence. I elaborated, “It’s just a boat at Cocos Island.” She eventually looked up, “Where is that?” I answered, “Um, it’s an island here…hopefully?” I glanced around for confirmation that I was in fact in Costa Rica, but the airport in San Jose was in such a heavy state of construction that I couldn’t be certain where I was. She smiled at her incoming text message, shrugged her shoulders and stamped my passport. I grabbed my dive bag and headed for the exit where I was greeted by a crowd of taxi drivers. The hotel was supposed to send a shuttle, but I didn’t see one anywhere. An airport worker found me a taxi; and, as we waited, a woman ran her cart full of luggage into him. All of the bags flew off of her cart and the airport worker clutched his leg. I asked him if he was okay and he groaned, “The airport needs to give me…how do you say…insurance?” I suggested, “Yeah, tell them you need workers’ compensation.”

Endless road construction slowed the taxi on its way to the hotel. From the window, I saw McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, and other American fast-food chains smashed between dense jungles. I noticed large non-digital billboards hovering above the main road. There were beautiful churches next to piles of shacks. There were houses wrapped in wrought iron bars and concrete walls. Up to three layers of barbed wire curled high above those walls. I realized I was definitely not at home. My hotel was also under heavy construction, so I dashed across the street to an outdoor plaza surrounded by security guards. I plopped down at a deserted seafood restaurant. A waiter approached me and I smiled, “Bula…errr hola! Do you accept credit cards?” He mentioned colones and I chuckled, “My colon is fine so far, but I can’t say the same about my last trip to Fiji!” He looked confused. I asked him for a Coca Cola and a filet mignon cooked well done. He said it would be cooked medio. I said, “No, no roja whatsoever. Well done, por favor.” He looked confused. I elaborated, “Errr…bien fuego? Mucho mucho caliente?” He nodded and smiled. The steak arrived mucho medio. I dunked it in the mashed potatoes to hide the blood and cursed myself for ordering a well done steak in butchered Spanish.

Suddenly, a flock of crimson-fronted green parakeets flew by me and landed on top of an umbrella at the Indian restaurant next door. I dropped my fork and rubbed my eyes. Wild parakeets as plentiful as pigeons. I grabbed my cell phone, crept over to the umbrella, and tried to snap a photo, but they flew away. My waiter brought me my bill and I noticed the numbers totaled thousands of…colones. “Oh!” I exclaimed. “You weren’t asking about my colon. Colones is the currency.” I quickly signed the bill while my cheeks flushed a bright roja. As I hurried back across the street, I noticed green parakeets nesting in the neon sign of my hotel. Then, I looked up at all of the tree branches alongside the road. There were chattering parakeets in every tree! I sat at a table and snapped photos of them when I noticed a man across the street pruning some flowers outside of his barbed-wire lined compound. I waved to him and continued chasing after parakeets.

The next morning, I wandered down to the lobby to eat breakfast and meet the other divers. I met Peter (from Utah), Henry (from England), Su and her husband, Alex (from Sweden) and Ed, Jim, and Brian (from California). I shook hands with Peter who stated, “Hi, I’m Pete, and I’m not a Mormon.” I laughed, “I’m Megan, and I’m not a Mormon either.” He clarified, “I just get it out of the way early on since everyone just assumes.” I shook hands with Henry as I, for some reason, commented, “Hi, I’m Megan and I love London and the Queen’s jewels, of course.” He replied, “You know those aren’t real, right? She doesn’t keep the real ones for just anyone to see.” My smile dropped and I turned to the Swedes, “He’s joking, right?” The Swedes looked at each other. Henry didn’t smile. I protested, “Oh, come on! I know real diamonds when I see them.” As we shuffled to the bus, I pondered whether the Star of Africa was indeed fake. Maybe that’s why the Beefeaters let me merry-go-round in line and gecko against the glass.

On my way to the back of the bus, I squeezed by the rest of the quiet divers, who whispered to each other in all sorts of different languages. Outside of San Jose, there were monotonous mountains of jungle and wide canyons of rushing rivers. I tried to keep my eyes out for wild sloths or monkeys, but I was instead awed by purple and orange bougainvillea that slithered down the treetops and dangled above the road. The clouds grew dark and lightning burst through them. A local man stood in the middle of the road and offered plastic bags filled with water to passing cars. The rain poured down the bus windows and the divers looked around with wide eyes. It seemed the weather grew worse the closer we got to the harbor at Puntarenas. When the water grew so high on the tires that the bus created a rooster tail as it moved, I became nervous.

The thunder continued to boom and crack, and the lightning flashed through the windows until we finally arrived to the Okeanos Aggressor. The 110 foot ship looked enormous as I waited in line to board it. There were 22 divers and 8 crew members onboard. As we all shuffled into the main room on the second deck, everyone introduced themselves. The crew members were all from Costa Rica. The divers were from Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, England, Philippines, USA, Chile and Costa Rica. As Captain Al gave the boat briefing, the anchor lifted, and we began our 36 hour long voyage to Cocos Island.

I spent my time at sea eating, sleeping, Netflix bingeing and trying not to throw up. I mostly sat on a bench at the back of the dive deck and stared at the horizon when it was visible. The boat moved side to side instead of up and down, so one minute I stared at the clouds and the next at a wall of ocean. Although the ship seemed enormous to me, the immensity of the rolling open sea dwarfed it. With no land in sight, it was hard not to let my mind wander. Instead, I pretended like I was on a rollercoaster ride….a 36 hour long ride with “wees!” and arms up and the whole bit. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one who occupied the benches. Henry was a frequent rider and every so often another diver took a whirl.

My bunkmate, Sofia, was from Chile, and she didn’t speak a word of English. Our room was on the third deck, which was a nightmare for me because the higher the deck, the worse the rocking. In addition, I lost the coin flip for the bottom bunk. At first when she revealed a colones coin to me, I assumed she had opened a bidding war. I revealed my prized bull shark paper colones, dumped my remaining colones coins on the bed, and motioned to Sofia to raise my bet or fold. She shook her head, tossed her coin in the air and pointed to the “heads” of the coin. I pointed to “tails” and nodded. Sofia flipped the coin, it landed on “heads” and she plopped down on the bottom bed.

There was no ladder to the top bunk, so I stepped on Sofia’s bed with my left foot and swung my right leg up, pulling on the sheets to haul the rest of my body up. Since there was only a foot of space between my bed and the ceiling, I army-crawled to the pillow to avoid hitting my head and back. I realized why Sofia wanted the bottom bunk so badly; she was too short to climb to the top bunk without a ladder. At six feet tall, my feet dangled over the bathroom sink, but it would have been way more difficult for her. On the bright side, once I got over my claustrophobia of being in such a small room with the ceiling at my face, I eventually felt like I had my own crow’s nest to escape to when I wanted to avoid absolutely everyone.

At some point during that first night, I awoke to light flashing in my face. The fire sprinkler was next to my head, so in my haze I assumed it was the culprit. I wrapped my blanket around it and went back to sleep. I awoke again to a series of flashing lights and the noise of the cabinet doors banging open and close. I jolted up and hit my head on the ceiling. “Son of a B!tc#!.” I slid my leg to the bottom bed, careful not to squash Sofia and wormed my way to the floor. Sofia was so silent I wasn’t sure if she was dead or pretending to be asleep. Then I thought about squashing her since I didn’t think anyone should sleep so well on a rocking ship. The light flashed again, and I realized it came from outside. I stood in front of the open window and watched an explosion of lightning bolts on both sides of the ship. “Woah!” I impulsively lunged for the door, but stopped myself once I reached the knob. I shook my head and rummaged through the cabinet for my duct tape. I closed the blinds and taped the cord to the wall. I then taped every cabinet door shut. I climbed back up to my bed, anchored myself in the corner like a frogfish and fell asleep.

I awoke to laughing voices on the bench outside the window. Our room was next to the main hangout area. I melted off my bed and onto the floor. Sofia pointed to all of my duct tape around the room and smiled with raised eyebrows. I laughed, “Oh! Yeah, it’s to keep the cabinets and everything from making noise.” She carefully peeled back the tape on one of her cabinets, rummaged through her clothes and rubbed the tape back over the seal. To my surprise, she nodded and said, “Good idea.” I pointed at her and exclaimed, “You DO speak English!” She frowned and shook her head, “No, no Ingles.”

Time was difficult to track at open sea, but at some point while I was sucked into season 2 of “Stranger Things” in my crow’s nest, I heard the massive anchor chains clinking alongside the bow. Then, the engine cut and in that welcome silence echoed cheers from all sides of the boat. I dropped my phone and scrambled up the ladder to the top deck. I slinked past the captain’s area around to the bow and peeked over to admire the immensity of Cocos Island. It was a big emerald jewel bursting into waterfalls. Enormous frigate birds sailed up and around the boat and chased each other back to the tree tops like fighter pilots. The sapphire blue waters of Chatham Bay nestled against a huge uninhabited white sand beach, which I badly wanted to jump ship for. To my right loomed Isla Manuelita, which was fresh in the news (and on all of our minds) due to recent tiger shark incidents with scuba divers that resulted in a death. Tiger sharks were such a big topic that safety signs were posted in every room on the ship.


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