On last year’s Sardine Run in South Africa, there was a boat of photographers organized by Wet Pixel – an online community of underwater photographers who share stories and photos and tricks of the trade they’ve gathered through their various years of travel. I got to know a few of them and became good friends with Eric Cheng – Wet Pixel’s founder. Eric is a professional (and incredibly talented) underwater photographer who travels around the world, diving in exotic locations, adding to his photo portfolio, and making friends whereever he goes. After the Sardine Run he sent an email titled “Come Dive With Me” to tempt all of his diving friends into joining his various trips and on his list were Cocos and Malpelo Islands; two islands on my list of Places To See. Though I hadn’t planned to take another mega trip this year, FOMS (“Fear of Missing Something”) set in and soon I was booked as Eric’s roommate on the Sea Hunter.
Cocos and Malpelo Islands are 300 miles off the coast of Costa Rica and Columbia, respectively, and are considered Meccas in the wonderful world of diving, boasting schools of hammerheads, floating manta rays, and the occasional elusive whale shark. The islands are protected natural reserves, so there is no lodging or airstrips on the islands themselves which means the only way to get there is by boat: a 36-hr boat ride from the coast of Costa Rica. And the only lodging is on that boat: a well-equipped liveaboard run by the Undersea Hunter Group. Not for the faint of heart – so of course I was determined to go. The fact that the trip would take me away from the office for almost three weeks was an added bonus.
Being a self-professed adventure seeker, I accept the inherent riskiness of the places I visit and the activities in which I partake. In order to experience unique sights, injuries are bound (indeed, expected) to happen. You swim with sharks – you might get eaten. You bike with elephants – you might get charged. You jump out of an airplane – you might splatter all over the ground. It’s all for the sake of the adventure and the adrenaline and, hey, if I die at least I died doing something that thrilled me. This inherent riskiness does not, however, include injuries obtained in transit to said adventure – and especially not from luggage.
This afternoon as I left my apartment to catch a taxi, I rolled my 50-pound scuba gear bag over my big toe and ripped the nail halfway back. This is not part of the adventure seeker repertoire. Not adventurous. Not sexy. And not a good portent to my holiday. I cursed, I cringed, I sighed heavily, and then I returned to my apartment to snag a box of band-aids, since I was clearly going to need them over the next two weeks.
The flight was a non-event (hooray! for the first time in ages.) and when I arrived in San Jose I was ushered directly to the Marriott shuttle bus and soon delivered to the San Jose Marriott – a gorgeous resorty hotel with an open, tiled courtyard and infiniti pools. ShanVan and I stayed at the InterContinental when we were here in 2005, and clearly that was a poor choice when compared to this oasis. This hotel was so tropical and inviting.
Eric wasn’t in the room when I arrived, though his bags were and – of course – his laptop showed signs of life. After a quick anti-airplane shower I went exploring through the hotel and found him in the restaurant with Lucien, his brother Renee, and Renee’s partner Richard. Lucien was in South Africa with us last year and, though I didn’t get to know him well, I’m looking forward to learning more about him. Their dinner plates were just being cleared away but since they were still drinking wine I ordered a tasty dish of eggplant stuffed with tuna and goat cheese and we got caught up with each other.
I succumbed to jet lag around 11:00, lulled to sleep by the sound of Eric typing on his laptop.