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Day 9: Deep "See" Submarine at Cocos

Destination: Puntarenas

In my mind's eye, the world continued to rock back and forth long after I set foot upon Wafer Bay's shore. Wilson suggested bringing my cell phone and laptop to utilize the ranger station's communications tower, but I opted not to.

My fake excuse was that I didn't want to risk water damage during the beach landing (as if the rangers didn't have dry bags).

The true reason was that I didn't want to mess up my nine-day streak isolated from society -- probably the longest I will have in my adult life. I couldn't bear to contemplate the mountain of emails and voice messages waiting for me back in the real world.

I pushed those thoughts out of my mind as Gaby, the head of Cocos' volunteer program, showed me around the island. She talked about a mysterious WWII airplane wreck discovered in the 70's, and then took me to a shed brimming with ocean litter. Thousands of rusty fishing hooks and miles of line were piled to the ceiling. The sheer quantity of gear was astounding, and I winced at the thought of how much more accumulated in the sea with each second.

Local artists put some of this trash to use by building a musical bridge over Rio Genio. The overpass is made completely out of recycled buoys and ocean garbage, and a symphony of bells sounded when I walked from one side to the other.

The rest of the passengers on the Sea Hunter continued along Chatham Trail to a waterfall, but I had plans to dive on the Deep See submarine with Oda, the coral scientist. It was sad to leave the island in such a rush, but I didn't want to miss out on my chance to venture 650 feet below the surface.

Back at the Sea Hunter, I was surprised to find Oda dressed for a pajama party (for hygienic reasons, we were required to wear a dorky blue nightgown and knee-high socks in the submersible). I slipped into my own frock and became a passenger on the sub's 1,057th trip.

At first glance, the Deep See looked like an enormous glass bubble mounted to the bottom part of a seaplane. Its HD underwater camera and mechanical collection arm are perfect for filming documentaries and scientific research -- or for joyriding to depths of up to 1,500 feet.

razor surgeonfishInside, there was just enough room for me, Oda and the pilot -- an Israeli named Shmulik. An assistant jumped underwater and attached us to a speedboat via a long rope. Then he took off the protective cap covering the very top of the sphere (I nicknamed this the 'yarmulke'). The sub bobbed about the surface for about 20 minutes. We waited patiently as the skiff tugged us farther away from Manuelita Island, and then we began the descent.

Being partially submerged felt like looking at a half-empty glass of liquid, but in reverse. This time I was inside of the cup looking out at a trippy world half-full of saltwater.

We sank faster than I had originally expected, and the three inches of glass separating us from certain death completely disappeared. I had a 360-degree view of the underwater world -- including directly below my feet.

deepsee above (22)correctedGoing deeper, the ocean changed from blue to turquoise to deep green. Meanwhile, our complexions began to look like the skin of a blueberry. We watched some interesting corkscrew plankton illuminated by our headlights, and kept our eyes peeled for signs of life. In no time we were at the bottom of the ocean and fighting a strong current.

The sub had incredible precision and control, even in such undesirable conditions. Oda picked out several species of soft coral, and Shmulik used the robotic arm to pick them up and drop them into a collections box. The process seemed a lot like a crane game. We also saw a couple of crabs and small scorpionfish with alien-like antennae.

After an hour, it was time to come up. I was a little sad that we didn't get to see anything big like my friends (Roberto and Guiseppe saw a prickly shark), but then again today's mission wasn't to find big animals -- it was to collect coral samples.

colorful fishAs if on cue, a huge devil ray loomed above us for a few moments before speeding off. It looked small compared to what I had seen at the dive sites. "When you scuba dive things look 1/3 larger than they actually are," said Shmulik. "From this perspective, it is the opposite -- things appear 1/3 smaller."

Moments later, we broke the surface. Watching the water cascade off the top of the sub was surreal, and a small pod of dolphins raced the small boat back to the Sea Hunter.

I made it back in time for one last perfect dive at Submerged Rock. There we said goodbye to scalloped hammerheads, marble rays and Galapagos sharks. A curious school of bigeye jacks mixed with green durgeon came to see us off, and a final hammerhead swam in at close range. At the very end, Mau shook all of our hands in congratulations and pretended to cry underwater. Just when I thought, "it doesn't get any better than this," I noticed the raindrops bouncing off the water above us, and a graceful manta ray glided into view. Life was good.

hammerhead sharksBack at the Sea Hunter, everything was winding down. Premature nostalgia kicked in, and I realized that I loved everything about being on a boat. I loved swinging from the strategically placed monkey bars on the walls and ceilings (much more fun than getting around my city apartment). I loved living without shoes or real clothing (today marked day nine barefoot and in my swimsuit). And most of all, I loved not having to communicate via cell phone or the Internet (despite a dream I had about Facebook last night -- that website has the power to waste time even in my sleep!).

Although I was going to miss Cocos Island, a part of me was ready to return to reality. I was beginning to miss land activities like yoga and walking farther than the 100-foot length of the boat.

In celebration of our last night together, Sara organized a full moon party on the sundeck, where we all swapped stories and pictures. The talented videographers on board presented movies on the big screen, and I played poker with the "Forza Italiana." Arak broke out his guitar, and he and Marcos sang to us in Hebrew and then in Portuguese (respectively). Under an orange sky, my new friends and I drank wine and made promises to keep in touch. It was official -- Cocos Island was in our blood.

Day 9: Deep "See" Submarine at Cocos in Pictures