|A Bigeye Scad noses the submarine|
But my early morning caffeine reverie was broken abruptly by Golfin: “Listo por el submarino?” Ready for the submarine?
Whoa. That wasn’t out of the blue or anything. Did I hear him correctly? “El submarino?”
Pinto and coffee forgotten, I sprang to my feet and hustled down the path to the Casa, taking the stairs two at a time up to my room. Dry clothes...check. Camera...check. Dry bag for both...check. Then out the door and down to the river landing before I had a moment to catch my breath and process. A submarine dive! Two months ago? The thought was laughable, unthinkable, out of the question.
I was dropped off on the deck of the Argo by Michael and Roberto, who continued on to another newly-arrived diving boat to give their standard introductory presentation. On board, I was introduced to the operating team of the Argo’s submarine DeepSee by a tall man with curly dark hair and serious eyes by the name of Arik. One of the submarine pilots, he would be in the control boat on the surface for this particular dive. Jose Antonio was to be the support diver on the surface with Arik. Felipe, a submarine pilot in training would be the other passenger, and Eli would be our pilot. Firm handshakes and “Pura vida” were exchanged all around, then Felipe and I were ushered into Argo’s salon for the safety briefing and the signing of the Deep See’s release form.
|Mount Everest rising up out of the blue gloom|
The hatch clicked shut and I felt the slightest pressure in my ear canals. Then submarine instruments whirred to life, digital displays flashed on, and we pulled away from the Argo, towed by the surface support boat. We weren’t going far from Argo’s anchorage to the east of Manuelite - only 5-7 minutes of tow time. Our destination was a dive site by the name of Everest - the summit of which is some 40 meters down, and the bottom of which is a whopping 80 meters below the surface.
|Felipe, pilot in training (left) and Eli, our pilot (right)|
After Jose Antonio finished the final surface checks of the exterior, we were clear to make the descent.
|A Mobula ray overhead|
We continued our descent down the side of Everest, a steep rocky slope covered in delicate Stylaster corals. Moray eels gaped out of cracks in the rock, jaws working open and shut. Octopuses blended perfectly with their mottled surroundings of red algae and white coral, and only the texture of their tentacles gave their presence away to the experienced eyes of Eli and Felipe (I was oblivious until they pointed out the suction cup pattern). Brotulas fluttered amidst the corals. An incredibly shy fish, they attempt to hide whenever they feel threatened; the catch is that they feel secure when their eyes are hidden from the threat, and oftentimes half of their flat, undulating bodies protrude from the rock where they have taken refuge. As we neared the bottom, a lone king crab was perched among the corals. “Keep in mind that everything viewed through the bubble is thirty percent smaller than it is in actuality. That king crab looks fairly small, but in reality, it’s a least a foot in diameter. Probably bigger.”
Once at the bottom, Eli guided the sub around to the “backside” of Everest, and we began to ascend slowly, ever so slowly, Eli skillfully guiding the hull within feet of the mountainside, but never making contact with the delicate marine habitat. Black coral, immense and shrub-like - three to six feet in height - swayed in the gentle current; Everest is the only place around Cocos where this black coral is found. We saw more Stylaster corals and Basket Star corals too - a kind of coral that closes into a tight, mistletoe-like ball in the day, but opens up into a spectacular star at night. Above us, a small school of Amber Jacks congregated around the summit, darting to an fro in search of a meal. Four black jacks engaged in a complex, writhing ritualistic dance. Passing in front of the submarine’s lights, the school of small, plain looking Creoles turned a brilliant red. And then the exclamation we’d all been anticipating: “Martillo!” Hammerhead sharks, a small school of 15 or so, moving through the water several dozen meters overhead.
Amber Jacks and Yellowfin and Bonitos tuna feeding above Everest
We passed from Everest towards Manuelite to Bajo Everest and then on to Bajo Manuelite in search of more hammerheads, but they proved elusive. We did, however, encounter two Galapogos sharks, another Mobula ray, and two quirky fish called Roselip Batfishes, that half walk, half swim across the sandy bottom as bats crawling across a ceiling. By the time we had finished the dive we were underneath Argo, and as Eli began to fill the sub’s tanks with air the bottom disappeared and the hull materialized overhead. Moments later the acrylic bubble emerged from the water into the blinding white light of the sun, and Jose Antonio was guiding the sub back into the docking bay, padded heavily with white buoys.
Climbing out of the submarine can only be equated to the imagined scenario of stepping out of a spaceship after some intergalactic voyage. It is at once a relief and an immense disappointment to be back in the above-water world that we know so well. It’s as if emerging from a dream, a wonderful dream, in which time seemed infinite and life so beautiful, but to wake up is to come to the painful realization that the dream world is fleeting and temporary.
Yes, the dream is gone, but the feeling remains. I’ve been walking around all day cherishing the feeling of wonder and amazement, guarding the memories of the submarine world closely, to access on those days when I am far from here, desperate for beauty and hope.
Thank you to Sea Save Foundation, the Undersea Hunter Group, Alan Steenstrup, Cocos Island funcionarios, and in particular Geiner Golfin. I would like to also thank Avi Klapfer without whose generous support the Sea Save Foundation, "Cocos Island News" and my "DeepSea" adventure of a lifetime would not have been possible.