Since we stopped in Houston to see the Johnson's Space Center, we had some time left over on the 2nd day and stopped at the Natural History Museum, which is actually quite good.
We started with a Butterfly and insect exhibit:
bad ass stick insect, I'm impressed it can fly
Then, we went to a China history and Egypt exhibit, the 2nd one being quite good:
The other displays were good too:
Their dinosaur display was extremely good:
Time well spent, not worth going to Houston just for that, but well worth stopping if you are there.
As part of our trip on the Argos in Cocos Island, we signed up for 2 dives on the onboard sub from DeepSee submarine that is part of the boat (although sub dives do cost extra :) ).
The sub is a 3 person sub (pilot and 2 passengers), has 3 different battery systems, and the equivalent of a rebreather system for the cabin to give occupants breathable air for 3 days in case of emergency. While it has full freedom of movement, it's not very fast for horizontal trust, so it gets towed by the surface boat which also keeps constant comms (both voice and telemetry). The cool thing is that they can send location to the sub underneath by locating it compared to the boat's GPS location using sonar.
After arriving Cocos on the Argos and doing some dives on the first day, the second morning we went for our first dive to 100 meters. The whole thing was almost 2H.
A few pictures below:
Diana, our pilot
the surface boat crew supervised the sub going down and back up
it was bullying us, even though we were bigger :)
distortion made it looks like it jumped inside (not photoshopped)
some hammerhead sharks buzzing us
back from the first dive
A few short clips from my camera:
And a 6mn summary of the whole thing taken from my gopro (feel free to skip forward inside it, it's not action packed :) ):
The next afternoon, we went back for a longer 3H+ dive to 300 meters. We got lucky to see Rays swimming around us during the dive, and had a peek at the ocean bottom and the critters that live there in virtually no light:
200 meters deep
300 meters deep
rays were checking us out during a good part of the dive
deep sea crab working in mostly dark seas
Here are some videos of the rays going around us during the dive:
And 7mn summary of the 3h dive:
So, my impressions?
It's obviously an experience in a lifetime, not many people have gone to 300 meters under water
As a geek, of course, I could not but be impressed with the sub. It's super cool see it work, especially if you think about the geolocation technology, marine com technology, and how it can even know how it's moving compared to the ground thanks to 4 sonar pings going down and using the doppler effect on the returning signal.
Taking pictures was difficult because the dome acts as a big prism that splits light colors and makes all pictures somewhat blurry, especially if you try to zoom. The one exception are pictures you're taking without external lighting (mostly pictures above you) which since they're mostly blue, don't have the light splitting problem and look nicer.
All the pictures below are geotagged, so you can click on them to see where they were taken
Cocos is interesting and different, starting with the fact that it requires a 36H trip each way to get there (no runways and too far to get via helicopter). We chose the Argos since it was part of the dive alliance, which contains the best boats in each location, and because they had a special research trip chartered by TIRN (Turtle Island Restoration Network) that was longer than usual (9 days of diving and 3 days travelling).
Cocos belongs to Costa Rica which we spent a week to visit before the diving trip.
It's a 36H boat trip away from Puntarenas:
We got the chance to get talks from Todd, Randall, and Brock about their efforts to save turtles and sharks from overfishing, fishing bycatch, and illegal shark fining. Brock, who volunteers/has volunteered at multiple such organizations, including Sea Shepherds, also joined us. They have been responsible for so much work to help sea life along the years that it was great to learn about it, even if much work still needs to be done. You can read more on the seaturtles.org, Pretoma, Sea Shepherd, and Fin Free sites.
I got a picture with them at the end of our trip:
They organized this trip to tag some sharks and turtles (to see their migration patterns and help keep zones fishing free to hopefully help curbing their clear decline) as well as take some tissue samples from some sharks.
We also did 2 submarine dives to 100 and 300 meters respectively, as explained on this page
Here is the map of what we dived (3 dives a day and just a few night dives):
Argos is a big converted boat with a crane to move skiffs and the submarine on and off the boat:
the inside was spacious enough
The crew kept us well fed :)
Of course, we were there to dive. Argos had some nice skiffs:
Cocos was full of sharks, and mostly fish that sharks don't eat, like lots of puffers, boxfishes, and porcupine fishes (they are all poisonous):
When these two have sex:
with those two:
You get this :)
this one actually looked pissed off :)
this one is "hunting" by blowing on sand to look for things:
This shows sharks bumping into a poor puffer fish and confirming that they don't want to eat it:
Lots of eels, mostly moray eels that have an understanding with sharks, and don't get eaten either:
they always look mean, but this one genuinely seemed to be
this one looked mellow
and had nice bloodshot eyes
Plenty of other eels:
Same thing with triggerfish, some of which were quite colorful:
And same thing with rays too, from marble rays, eagle rays, and mobula rays, some were bigger than sharks:
whitetip sharks mating:
Interstingly, sharks didn't seem to eat flounder fish either:
Hell, they don't even eat lobster, they really go after the easy prey:
Lots of sharks, many many whitetip sharks:
this shark had an old tag
Of course, there were plenty of hammerheads, but we're told not nearly as many as there used to be, unfortunately thanks to illegal shark finning, sadly a lot came from Taiwanese boats :(
Usually we got to see hammerheads at cleaning stations. Here, you can see the barberfish which act as cleaning fish. The hammerheads find them and swim in the middle of them:
a tiger shark, those are huge and eat turtles amongst other things
The night dives were 'interesting'. Sharks followed us to feed. That was impressive and sad for the fish being eaten:
This video shows the shark feeding, and it gets a bit insane. Poor little fish:
But we found some crabs and lobsters, and even a slipper lobster:
On a couple of dives, some wild dolphins came to check us out:
We got to see several huge schools of fish, mostly jacks:
Other misc fishes:
those fish change color from black to white
Also, some jelly fishes:
One day we went on the island for a short hike:
a collection of fishing hooks collected by the rangers
the coast to coast hike which unfortunately we were not allowed to do
this bridge was made with confiscated fishing gear
And here are a few pictures taken from the dive boats:
lots of small volcanic islands
Of course, lots of birds, mostly boobies and frigate birds:
Unfortunately the location of our boat prevented viewing any sunsets, and I didn't catch any sunrise, so I got this:
Unfortunately, we didn't get to see any turtles, having over 63,000 turtles fished and killed per year just in Costa Rica waters, by long line fisheries (thousands of hooks on multi kilometer lines strung under water).
Also, what doesn't help either that tiger sharks have become more abundant in Cocos and like to eat turtles :(
But this was a great trip, 9 days of nice diving, plus 72 hours traversing to Cocos and back :)
But again, these ecosystems are vanishing fast. The amount of sharks that are being killed just for shark finning, is unbelievable, and the number of turtles and other sea animals thare being killed mistakenly just as bycatch for other seafood we eat, is a huge problem.
Please take a chance to learn more aobut these problems and spread the word, contribute, and/or donate:
After getting back to La Fortuna to return our rental car, we took a transport to Monte Verde, which took a little while. We arrived at our hotel (hotel Belmar) just in time to have dinner and plan for the next day. We elected to go to Sky Adventures earlier than our planned time so that we got time to go to an insect and butterfly sanctuary afterwards, and then do a coffee tour at Don Juan before doing our night tour at El Bosque Reserve.
view from our room
We started with hanging bridges and a nature tour:
trying out vines for strength :)
Next, was ziplines:
Next, we went to the insect and butterfly sanctuary:
Jennifer got a friend during the tour :)
From there, we went to our coffee and chocolate tour at Don Juan:
Then, we went to our night tour at El Bosque:
The next morning, we got up early to go to Santa Elena for a bird tour in a high forest, but we got rained out, so we didn't see much :(
From there, our transport took us to Puntarenas to meet our boat going to Cocos Island.
After time around Arenal, which wasn't ideal, Arturo had reserved a car in la Fortuna, and we drove to Cano Negro for a boat tour around the river going into the lake. We got to see nice wildlife, which while it mostly was birds, included some monkeys. The roads there were iffy at times.
the roads sucked
those bats were awesome, almost impossible to distinguish from the bark
Eventually we got to our nice eco-hotel:
The next morning, we went to Tenorio Volcano NP for a guided hike on muddy trails after a nice breakfast:
those leafcutter ants have been busy :)
I was happy to have rented mud boots
very nice green-blue
you can see the volcanic water mixing with the river and causing the nice blue
Next, we went to a river to due tubing. It was a bit more extreme than normal tubing with lots of rocks to avoid, and low branches here and there, and we saw a huge tree on the way:
We then drove back to our hotel and went for a hike and night hike on celeste trail:
The 3rd day, we had to drive back to Fortuna but Arturo found a cool cave we could go visit on the way, and we got lucky to find 2 sloths while driving there. One had 3 toes, and the 2nd one had 2 toes and a baby:
Usually sloths are very very slow, but we found this mother that was going fast across phone cables to get to the safety of a tree
Finally we got to the cave where we got a guide and photographer. That cave tour was really nice, it was quite tough to get through some holes, and challenging not to get my flashlight or camera under water in some crossings (some had to be done on my knees). That was definitely an experience you wouldn't get in many other places, and definitely not in the US where some tourists would get stuck or be physically unable to get through some passageways, and likely complain bitterly and/or slip, fall, and try to sue :-/
Thankfully this kind of stuff is still possible in Costa Rica, so that's what we did :)
the frog was guarding its eggs
you can see the eyes on those tadpoles
We then just had enough time to go back to La Fortuna for our transport to Monteverde.
After arriving in San Jose (yes, we would have liked to have a flight from San Jose, to San Jose, but we got SFO to San Jose via Houston instead :D), and a night at hotel aeropuerto, we took our transport to Arenal.
Arenal is a geothermic area that's supposed to be a highlight in Costa Rica, but during the rainy season, it's obviously very rainy. That said I think for our group it just wasn't a highlight because we've all seen better volcanos and much better sceneries, but oh well...
We went to the volcano national park, but unfortunately the rain started and then got really bad, so we didn't see much and got pretty wet:
the path ended up with a stream that was almost knee-high
view wasn't great
The next day, we went on a kayak and mountain biking tour. Thankfully we only got light rain during the kayaking, but we didn't get to see many animals, outside of one at the parking lot:
Since we didn't get to see that much, we went to the Hanging Bridges Park where we took a naturalist guide to help us spot wildlife:
Leafcutter ants are super cool. They cut and bring back leaves to their nest to cultivate a fungus which they eat afterwards.
the leafcutter ants worked hard :)
After our day, we got back to our room to enjoy the towel art :)
The third day, we had a hike to the top of a point where the volcano erupted, then collapsed, and is now filled with a big lake. Thankfully the rain stopped as we started our hike and we got decent enough views. The trail was very rough though and I'm not certain it's a must do hike, just an ok one:
we got lucky and got a good view
did I mention the trail is bad?
After the hike, we went down to an impressive waterfall (especially with all the rain we had gotten). That one was worth the trip:
We then had a quick stop at La Fortuna to pick up our rental car to enjoy our towel art: