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Cocos Island

One of the first places we visited two weeks after our arrival was Cocos Island.  We drove on Marine Corps Drive past Big Navy along the shore to Merizo, about 25 miles from Tamuning. We parked, joined our church group, and boarded a ferry taking us over the pristine turquoise waters to the pier of Cocos Island Resort.

We walked the long pier to the resort area, then over the sand where we staked out a spot under the trees for sunbathing and swimming. I removed my shoes to walk to the water, but my feet felt prickly. Our pastor’s wife handed me an extra pair of water shoes. “Here,” she said. “Use these. They will protect the soles of your feet from coral rock and course star sand.”

“Star Sand?” I asked. Star sand is composed of pieces of coral, seashells, and the remains of foaminifers (single-cell protozoa). The sand particles are various shades of tan and brown. They are tiny and shaped like stars. These living marine creatures wash ashore and die, becoming star sand. Not all beach sand is star sand. Most star sand beaches are found in Hawaii, Japan, and a few in the Philippines.

Cocos Island is where I learned to wear sneakers or swim shoes whenever I visited the beach or walked along the shore and into the ocean. People do go barefoot, but they tend to get little cuts on the soles of their feet. Many locals wear flip flops and leave them on the shore once they enter the water.

star sand on Cocos Island

Star Sand up close

pier on Cocos Isladn

While visiting Cocos Island Resort, we swam in the warm waters wearing swim shoes, and jet skied. We also sat on banana floats while being towed around the island and ate a typical Chamorro lunch. Lunch consisted of barbeque chicken and ribs, red achote rice, golfan apsi lemmai (breadfruit) Finadenne sauce, and bunelos aga (banana donuts).  We joined people playing beach volleyball and watched children on the playground and freshwater pool. On another trip, we hiked the back-section forest, went birding, and found the courage to try a new adventure.

I chose to parasail, but I didn’t want to go alone. A woman from our church group volunteered to fly with me. The pilot fitted us into a life jacket and hooked a belt/harness tied to a long rope at our waists.

I sat in a swing type contraption. As the boat gained speed, a canopy wing that resembled a parachute unraveled behind me. I ascended into the sky. Seeing the water below, feeling the warm air, and praying a little, I felt free. The trip lasted about 15 minutes, going higher and higher and floating with a soft breeze. I soared above and behind the boat.

I looked down through the transparent, aquamarine, ripple-free water and saw a rather large dark object moving below. As I focused closer, I realized it was a solitary stingray as big as a double-sized bed. I smiled and watched as the fish skimmed the ocean floor below, and I glided the air above. Too soon, the boat slowed and pulled us onto the craft. We remained seated in our swing with our legs straight out and landed with a slight thud.

Map of populated places in Guam

There are more birds on Cocos Island than on Guam’s mainland. The national bird of Guam, the Guam Rail or Ko’ko bird, became extinct due to the infestation of the brown tree snake after WWII.  However, due to efforts by many conservation companies and the Guam government, the bird is making a comeback. It is a small (about 11inches long) flightless, omnivorous bird. It has a brown head, neck, eye stripe; near gray throat and upper breast, short wings that are dark with brownish spots and barred with white; lower chest, abdomen, under tail coverts and tail are blackish and white barrings; gray bill, long legs, and dark brown feet, and red iris. 

 A Chamorro legend explains how the Ko’ko got its colors. Once upon a time, there lived an egg so beautiful, white, tiny, and delicate. But when the egg hatched, the bird was nothing like the egg. It had ugly brown skin. The bird was unhappy. One day it fell asleep listening to a beautiful sound, so the bird looked to see who was making that lovely song. Ko’ko found an ugly green lizard iguana singing the beautiful song. They became close friends.

One day, Iguana asked Ko’ko to paint spots on his ugly green skin, and Iguana, in turn, would paint white stripes on the bird’s surface. Ko’ko was a better painter than Iguana. The Iguana was happy with his new look, but he couldn’t sing anymore. Iguana was not a good painter. The white stripes became crooked, and Ko ‘ko thought they were ugly, so he stopped being Iguana’s friend and flew away. But just like Iguana losing his lovely song, Ko‘ko lost his ability to fly.

Cocos Island is an island on the barrier reef first owned by Don Ignacio Medniola Dela Cruz (Tu’an) during the Spanish times. In the late 1920s, the U.S. government acquired 2/3 of the island via eminent domain. In the mid-1930s, Don Ignacio sold the remaining 1/3 to a businessman named Gottwald.  He created the Cocos Island Resort, which is still in operation today.

In 1690 the Neustra Senora del Pilar de Zaragosa y Santiago, a ship loaded with silver swords and artifacts, heading from Acapulco to Manila sank off Cocos Island. The shipwreck is still there, containing a treasure never found. Divers and treasure hunters explore the wreck noting varied tropical fish and their habitat.

It can be expensive. Cocos Island Resort charges for everything, towels are rented for $3 each, and beach chairs will set you back $10-20. Residents would do well to bring their towels, snacks, snorkel gear, and floats, which could save a family of four around $100. Transportation by ferry is available from Merizo Pier to Cocos Island Resort for $40 per adult and $20 per child. Residents and military ask for the local rate and pay only $25 per adult.

Cocos Island Resort is a day resort with a pool, volleyball court, cafe, ice cream parlor, restaurant and bar, and water sports equipment rentals. Visitors to the resort can snorkel, dive, kayak, dolphin watch, parasail, jet ski, and bike. Prices for activities range from $15 for a mini jungle tour to $100 for two adults to parasail.

The resort sells day packages that include meals and extras such as entry to the Sand Castle dinner show, Mandara Spa, and a beachside BBQ at Fiesta Resort. All the water activities available on Cocos Island are also available on Guam’s mainland, but bird lovers will enjoy the sunbathing under the trees on the north-facing beach.