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Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.

Journal Entry:

Tuesday, May 04, 2010 11:58:24

Isla del Coco 2010: 2 - There and back

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Originally I was really looking forward to getting away on this trip, however after the introductory meeting anticipation turned to trepidation. Apparently only 9 of 94 people will SCUBA dive, so when told there would be no problem with having as many dives as I'd like I took the application form. The list of requirements was amazing. In addition to a very long list of equipment that must be provided by the diver, it also required evacuation, medical insurance and travel insurance, totally ridiculous requirements as we will be on a small ship at an island with no airport and out of range of local helicopters. It would have cost me about $500 per dive in total, so I declined.

Weights were the only essential item for diving supplied, but divers must bring a quick release belt to put them on. When I phoned to inquire as to whether I could rent or borrow weights for snorkelling, I was told it was out of the question, and that I'd not be permitted to wear weights unless approved by the captain! That infuriated me, as without weights free diving is strenuous and the time underwater very limited. On our next weekly visit to our condominium construction project near Playa del Coco I went to Rich Coast Diving, where they gave me a weight belt to use at no charge.

After working most of the morning, having a swim and packing we taxied to the meeting point for the bus near our San Jose office. The ride to Playa Herradura marina was in a comfortable bus that parked next to the ship Pacific Explorer, operated by Cruise West. Our bags were taken from the bus by crewmembers and the only formality was to show a residency card or passport - no heavy security. We were delighted with our stateroom - we'd purchased the lowest price available but it was comfortably large with twin beds, a big window, bathroom with a full shower and all accessories such as shampoo, conditioner, alcohol gels, bottled water, etc. Included in the price are snacks, soft drinks and juice.

Our location on deck 2 was only a couple of steps from the stairs that led to a spacious bar, half under cover and half open air. A table of hot & cold snacks was waiting, along with complementary rum drinks. Booze is the only thing not included in the price; it is charged a room account and must be paid in cash at the end of the cruise. The bar was well stocked, from draft beer to a wide range of hard liquor. I had a Scotch whiskey, and the pour was so generous there was little room for soda!

The safety lectures, introductions to the crew and itineraries were in Spanish only, in spite of the fact that some people on board don't understand the language. We sat with a couple from the US who had no idea what was going on. Marilynn translated or them, then talked to one of the representatives of the Foundation (FAICO) and got a "so what" answer, but when she went to the crewmember who greeted us at the dock the attitude was completely different. He immediately came to the table to give a condensed version of the talk in English, and requested future loudspeaker announcements to be in both languages - about half were.

Dinner was an extensive, well prepared buffet served in the dining room one deck below our cabin. Wines were included with dinner and the meal was great. Once back in our cozy stateroom we watched Mother Nature perform with a non-stop lightning storm. We expect to arrive at Isla del Cocos about 5:30 AM the day after tomorrow, Monday. I'm looking forward to a day at sea!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

All meals aboard are buffet - breakfast and dinner last night were first class. There were several lectures about the island, its history and our program, preceded by an introduction of the passengers. All but one fellow from France are residents of Costa Rica. The FAICO lecturer was first class, and lectures were accompanied by video or slides. We can expect daily rain, apparently, as the island's profusion of running water comes from clouds formed when warm ocean air hits the high peak - an average of 7 litres per m2 falls annually (about 300 inches).

Costa Rica came to control the island when there was a shipwreck. Another ship passed the message on and a Costa Rican ship went to the island to rescue the survivors. Shortly afterwards a decree was issued in Costa Rica claiming the island.

The diversity is astounding. Of the huge variety of trees and plants, 30% endemic. The vast number of insects reminded me that I forgot insect repellent, but they had some on board. There are 111 bird species (99 migratory, 12 permanent). Of 5 species of freshwater fish 3 are endemic, of 5 freshwater crustaceans 2 are endemic and there are 2 types of reptiles - both lizards (no snakes). The ocean drops to over 3,000 meters (9,840 ft), and has over 300 fish, 27 shark and 503 mollusc species. 20 of the molluscs are endemic.

In the late afternoon a lecture was held on snorkelling and quite good equipment was loaned out. It was recommended that non or weak swimmers put their life jackets on backwards to snorkel Snorkelling is controlled by the ship, not FAICO, so I talked to the crew member in charge about wearing my wet suit and weights. The happy answer was that if I could swim, no problem. What a different attitude with the crew!

The weather has been mixed, and the seas for the first night were moderate sized rollers, but these increased substantially in size in the afternoon sending a number of seasick passengers to their staterooms. Gravol was available all over the ship to prevent this very uncomfortable malady, but some had chosen not to take it. Channel 7 TV has a crew aboard videoing most of the proceedings.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Our 5 AM wakeup call was from the captain announcing that we were approaching the island. At 6 AM breakfast was served on the open sundeck so everyone could enjoy a mini-tour as the captain sailed along the lee side of the island. A video was shown by a five-person contingent of park rangers who came aboard to talk about park rules.

At 8:30 we boarded Zodiacs to go snorkelling in Chatham Bay. The water was clear, and there were masses of fish. We saw a number of white tipped reef sharks, but most were small (2-3 ft or less than 1 meter). The largest was about 6ft (2 meters) long. Many were resting quietly on patches of white sand on the bottom. We were in the water for about 1-½ hours, covering quite a bit of territory by riding the gentle current along the shoreline while the protective zodiacs maintained position nearby. People were surprised at my 18 lb (8 kg) weight belt, but it was perfect for diving.

After lunch and a nap we were off snorkelling again, but this time the current was flowing the opposite directing, taking us to an area of healthier coral and some steep cliffs. The sea life was much more extensive, with congregations of brilliantly colour fish numbering in the hundreds. The sharks were larger, more plentiful and more active as well, but they ignored us as they went about their business. It was a great!

In the evening a Costa Rica singer put on a show where the bar is located. A good time was had by all!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

We woke up this morning to lightning, heavy rain and mud brown ocean from swollen rivers pouring into the sea. Activities were re-scheduled and hikes into the interior of the island cancelled, including one we booked to a large waterfall. A short walk to see rocks where over the centuries names of visiting ships were carved was laid on, plus kayaking and a snorkelling trip. We opted for the snorkelling, which was along the cliffs of Manuelito Island, slightly off shore.

The first few feet of water was quite murky, not great for those who didn't dive, but further down it was fairly clear in spite of the rain. There was a current along the cliff, so a Zodiac was stationed near the end of the island where it joined with a much stronger current. We were badly spoiled by the marine life from yesterday afternoon, so were not overly impressed, although I swam with a school of half a dozen reef sharks on a deeper dive, and saw a manta ray on another. On one dive I found myself in the midst of a group of scuba divers, a bit of a surprise to them when they noticed I had no air tank! Eventually my nose started to bleed from the deep dives, not a good thing with lots of sharks around, so we returned to the ship for a beer.

We tried to join the circumnavigation of the island by Zodiac, but it was full, so I had a siesta while Marilynn went with a Zodiac escorting snorkelers to photograph cliffs full of blue foot boobies and frigate birds. It was just as well we missed the circumnavigation - heavy seas soaked them, so they turned back.

After a great happy hour and dinner in the company of new friends, it was back to the bar for another evening of entertainment with singer Maria Fonseca.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The ship moved to Wafer Bay this morning, where the waves were much higher, to leave for the hike to the Rio Genio waterfalls. Zodiaks surfed us ashore at the main park ranger settlement, and from there we were guided up the trail. The first river crossing had a suspension bridge, but once passed the generator building the going got more interesting. The continual rain covers rocks, roots and wood with slimy growth, and turns trails into slippery mud, so the warnings about watching your step aren't just talk. On both sides dense, green jungle soared overhead. The steep trial is for a large pipe carrying water to the generator station, so it was necessary to cross back and forth over it. When on the outside of the pipe, there were only a few inches of mud to keep one from sliding a long way down to the river below.

The pipe ended at a dam, which had to be crossed in spite of the 6 inches (15 cm) of water running over the top of it. A park ranger scrapped some of the slippery slime off before we worked our way across. A little further the next challenge was to cross the Rio Genio among slippery boulders in rushing water, sometimes past our knees. Shortly after that the high waterfall came into sight.

There are actually two falls tumbling down the cliff, a smaller one to the left and the main one plunging into a large deep pool. We dropped our packs and plunged into the cool, refreshing water fully clothed. The pool was bordered by a cliff on one side and a shallower area of boulders on the other. The deepest spot would be a bit less than 4 meters (13 feet). A natural ledge under the falls allowed people to stand there.

We had lots of time in the pool before we headed back down the trail, which was now muddier and slipperier than ever. I took a header when my feet went out from under me, but without serious damage. We returned to find the Zodiaks in the river mouth, as the waves were now too high on the beach. A park guard showed me a warehouse full of bagged drift nets and other confiscated fishing gear waiting to be burned while we waited.

Snorkelling in Wafer is reputed to be the best around, but it was cancelled due to weather, so the ship returned to the calm waters of Chatham Bay. Snorkelling was arranged at Manuelito where we went yesterday, but we chose to have an easy afternoon lazing around reading and recuperating. After happy hour and dinner we put our aching bodies to bed!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

What a difference a day makes! The sun was out, and seas were calm. The ship returned to Wafer Bay, which was also calm, and we headed out snorkelling again. It was disappointing to find that instead of snorkelling in Wafer we once again returned to Manuelito Island. There were thousands of fish, many very near the surface where they swam right to us. Quite a few sharks were present, but the Zodiacs let us off at the wrong end of the island, so we had to fight current to stay in the same spot. We were both sore from yesterday, so after awhile gave it up and went back to the ship.

At noon lunch was served on the bar deck while the captain took the ship on a narrated circumnavigation of the island. Other than where the park guards are stationed, there are only two small valleys leading a short way into the island and ending in box canyons with waterfalls cascading down their cliffs. On most of the island high cliffs drop straight into the sea. Dozens of waterfalls plunged down the cliffs, and bare spots in the folage showed where about a hundred more flowed when it was raining. The entire island is covered in shades of vivid green.

Snorkelling was offered again in the afternoon, but we declined.

Friday, April 30, 2010

During the night the ship set sail for the return trip to Playa Herradura. The seas this morning were unbelievably calm, with light rollers causing the surface to move up and down like molten silver. There were some talks and videos, but most of us socialized in the bar, exchanging contact numbers, or just resting. A farewell ceremony was held for the crew to say goodbye on the bar deck. After dinner we packed most of our gear and made an early night of it.

This is the first time we have travelling with a group of Ticos, as Costa Ricans call themselves. Ticos as a rule have a great sense of humour, are quick to laugh and are very welcoming to others. Being polite is very important, and by nature the people of Costa Rica are peaceful. I don't think I've seen a fight in a bar since I've been here. It was a very special experience for us to travel with this group - at no time did we see pushing into a line, or hear a harsh word spoken.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

I was up early, greeted by a spectacular sunrise that coloured the ocean in gold and orange. It was still very calm as we slowly entered Herradura Bay. We paused in the middle of the bay long enough to have a good breakfast, and then docked to board the waiting busses. We were in San José by 9:30 AM, well ahead of schedule, where our taxi driver was waiting to take us home.

The overall experience was great. The anticipation would have been better had the two women giving the talk at the country club and dispensing information from the office been more knowledgeable, but once aboard the crew attitude was "can do". There wasn't a crewmember that would not go out of his way to make a passenger happy. I did not hear one of the 94 people aboard complain about anything - service, food, value or anything else. The trip is an annual event, and is well worth taking.