IT WAS A WINTERY Wednesday night in the basement of a London student’s union when I first heard whispers of an island swarming with hammerhead sharks. I had just completed my final BSAC Novice Diver pool session and, while de-rigging my gear, I overheard two seasoned divers talking animatedly about an island off Costa Rica.
“There are like hundreds of them…” one diver said.
“And whale sharks too, don’t forget about them,” the other interrupted.
I remember sighing wistfully.
The following weekend I was heading to Stoney Cove for my open-water training dives, and I’d be lucky to see a pike or perch, or even a hand in front of my face.
One day, I dreamt, one day I WILL get to this magical place.
Fast-forward 20 years and that day has finally arrived. I’m on my way – and the way is long. Very long, 36 hours-across-bumpy-seas long, in fact. As we board Aggressor’s Okeanos I, our dive vessel for the next eight days, Captain Alberto promises us “rain, wind, rough seas”.
And we cheer, kind of.
It’s June, the start of the rainy season, perfect for schooling hammerhead sharks, which are attracted by the abundance of nutrients in the water. But it also means strong currents and stormy weather. Seasickness tablets, anyone?
Three hundred miles later, it’s 6am as the lush volcanic island of Cocos looms before us. Coconut trees cling precariously to its sides and waterfalls flow from rugged cliff-tops, dropping 50m to the shoreline.
“Breathtaking” is an understatement. Not surprisingly, in the late 1990s UNESCO declared the island a World Heritage Site, but the true treasures are to be found beneath the surface.
If it’s pretty corals and relaxing diving you’re after, Cocos is definitely not for you. But if the rush of fast currents gets you smiling, and the promise of big pelagics such as tiger, hammerhead and Galapagos sharks, rays, dolphins and whale sharks gets your heart pumping, read on.