I LOVED Bonaire. WE LOVED BONAIRE! What is not to love about Bonaire?…It was not too big, and not too small. It was full of great people, the diving was superb, plentiful and easily accessed. The food was reasonably priced, stores well stocked. There was a variety of restaurants. It has a slight Euro feel, including the coffee shops serving mini gelato cones beside the coffee and tea.
It is easy to get around on foot, bicycle or scooter. The water is amazing, crystal clear, with visibility down to 50 feet. There were flamingos, donkeys, turtles, birds and of course beautiful and amazing fish. Did I mention the DIVING? As if the clear water and hundreds of dive spots were not enough, the sea creatures were massive. What was there NOT to love in Bonaire? Well, ya, ok, maybe there was something not to love. We can get to those not so lovable attributes later, but for now let’s talk about this fun photo of Rick, I posted at the top of this post. I love this picture. To me is shows just how picture perfect this location was. Also, the artwork surrounding Rick represents so much of what Bonaire offers.
Starting on far the left of the top photo you see a Conch shell. On the one end of Lac Bay, we saw empty Conch shell piles, heaped up by the thousands. I am not a huge fan of eating Conch. It is a lot of work to make it taste good, so we did not investigate how recently those shells were emptied. Looked like most had been there awhile. This indicated to me there certainly had been a ton of the critters at some point. We really did not see them in the water even when we snorkeled around Lac Bay where we saw these shells. The day we were there was a rare low visibility day so that could be part of it. The winds had the bay all stirred up. It was an area known for turtles, really big turtles. (The real reason we were there). We saw a few good sized ones, but as I said it was not a good day to see sea creatures.
In the picture, next to the conch, you will see one of the many reasons I LOVED Bonaire: the TURTLES.
(For those of you reading this blog, who may not already know me, turtles are like my “spirit” animals (not that I really know what that means, but it sounds good, since I just adore them and seeing them makes me happy). On Bonaire they have the Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire, STCB, a nonprofit research and conservation organization devoted to protecting endangered sea turtles. You can check out their work at www.bonaireturtles.org. I had the pleasure of chatting with the staff at their office and hearing their presentation at the Dive Friend’s Yellow Sub location. Unfortunately for me, I did not find time to volunteer with them. We tried to join one of the trips on “Klein Bonaire”, the small island adjacent to Bonaire, to check on turtle nests but their season was coming to an end so, alas, that viewing will have to wait until another trip.
At a dive sight by the name Karpata, I found a turtle that Rick almost swam right past. She did not move the whole time we observed her. Turtles do not have eyelids, so I was clueless she was sleeping until afterwards when Rick told me that is why we did not see her go up for air. I just love Rick’s pictures of her. I will especially treasure this one with me and the turtle in it. It was only our second dive on the island and the only one where I got to see a turtle up so close, it was not for lack of trying I assure you.
If you look at the picture at the start of this post again, above the turtle you will see a sail. The design on the sail is a representation of Bonaire’s flag. I think it is very cool looking symbol. I have no idea of its history. I do know Bonaire is very welcoming to sailors. I believe that is in part due to a fella by the name of Captain Don. A sailor from California, who as the story goes, back in the 70’s, came to harvest fish for Aquariums. When he saw how amazing the place was, he stayed and worked to protect the reef surrounding the island instead of harvesting it. His work helped establish the protections to the ecosystem that make Bonaire the diving mecca it is today. A National park system protects all of the water surrounding the island and the entire adjacent island of “Klein Bonaire” has been kept in its natural state.
To protect the reefs from the damage anchors can cause, Bonaire has established a large mooring ball area for visiting ships, as well as mooring balls at all of the published dive sites. This way, vessels like AMARA, can visit without damaging the reefs. The overnight moorings are only $10 per day. (If you are unfamiliar with mooring ball rates, in the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John are $26 per night, the average in the BVI’s is around $30.) There was no charge to clear customs and immigration or cruising permits to purchase. We found the idea of not having to pay to enter a country delightful.
We had the pleasure of being on Bonaire during the time of their annual regatta. A gentleman from the yacht club came by to encourage us to participate. I do not like the idea of racing my home. Plus, we were waiting on our new mainsail to arrive. So we did not participate, which I believe was a very good decision particularly after listening to Rick’s analysis of the way the race course was set up. I am sure it would have driven him crazy to race around it. The whole island loved that it was Regatta time as did many visitors. It was like part Arcola Days, part county fair, part Carnival and all very Caribbean – that is to say – rides, games, food booths, decorations and VERY LOUD concerts. A lot of folks came over on their powerboats from Curiçao to join the party. It would appear lots of people had a good time.
Below the sail in the picture you will note a yellow stone with the word’s “Diver’s Paradise” – a statement I believe to be true. They mark the dive sites and many other places with these brightly painted stones. In the tourist shops they sell little ones you can take home. We took a picture of the rock for the dive site “Tori’s Reef” in honor of friend, Tori Ruben, who sails on sailing vessel, Solitude. The picture was taken on the underwater camera because it was the only one we had with us at the time. That is why you can see the fish eye effect across the top, pretty cool, eh?
Back to the diving, Bonaire was a diving paradise with over 60 marked sites on the main island and about another dozen or so from Klein Bonaire. You could snorkel and feel safe swimming right off the back of AMARA. My last post on this blog was just of the pictures from dives. We also have videos and even more memories. The creatures there were plentiful and large. For example, the French Angels were about the size of dinner plates. We saw this one porcupine puffer fish that was 4 foot long. I noted when I had the identification book out after seeing it. The guide stated max size 3 foot. I know the authors included pictures and descriptions of Bonaire sea life, so they have to have been to the island. Therefore, it looks to me like they need to update their book.
I did many first dives on Bonaire; First night dive, first deep dive, first navigation dive, etc. We did enough dives, my comfort diving was greatly increased. I even went ahead and I got my Advance Diver certification from Dive Friend’s Dive shop. We got to go on the dive to see the Ostracods. AMAZING! We were not able to get any photos or pictures of it. It was like under-water Christmas lights. You can see some national Geographic footage of it on You-tube, I heard.
Above the yellow Diver’s stone, stands Captain Rick. I spent a little time with this guy while on Bonaire. As usual, we tried to mix in plenty of fun while getting projects finished. Since we were preparing to sail AMARA to the South Pacific, where it might make a hot sunny Caribbean day feel like we had been in cool shade. We want a lot of sun protection options on AMARA. So Rick sewed many a sun cover. Including a front sun cover, that attaches to the Bimini to increase shade above the main saloon and shade panels to replace plastic widow panels in the cockpit enclosure.
The Phifertex in the panels will allow airflow, shade, and visibility. He made a new cover to protect the wooden steering wheel. We sewed pillow shams for use as cockpit pillows. We spent a lot of time at coffee shops using their Wi-Fi to order all sorts of parts and pieces to increase safety, comfort and comply with the World-ARC requirements for our up coming sail to Australia.
Above Rick to his left is a large bird that looks like a stork. Not sure the significance of these birds to Bonaire. I don’t recall seeing any. We saw herrings, parrots, thousands of flamingos, some smaller yellow birds we don’t know the names of and osprey. I understand some people come to Bonaire to bird watch. Storks are associated with the delivery of packages of a certain nature, (not any that we are interested in getting at this point of life, mind you). I shall use this reminder to tell you about how we learned to utilize the services of E-zone to get many a package on Bonaire. Also, I sent many post cards from Bonaire. There were a lot of nice looking post cards available, even though the island itself is a bit of a desert. There is cactus growing everywhere. They make fence posts and rum out of catus. We will get back to the rum part in a bit. The most beautiful part was the under water and there were great postcard photos of that to be sure.
Next you may note in the picture, there is a Flamingo flying over Captain Rick’s head and some more he is leaning against. This serves as a good representation of the fact that there are a lot of flamingos on Bonaire. We tried to get pictures, but you would not believe how un-cooperative these pretty birds were. They fly away if you try to get at all close. In the distance you can see flocks and flocks of them. Thankfully, there are more patient photographers out there that already had great photos of these very pink strange looking birds. So we will leave the good photos of them to those photographers.
I think I could agree with the sign over Rick’s head, which states, “once a visitor always a friend”. We also found old friends and made new friends while on Bonaire. Our friends who live on sailing vessel, Someday, spent a good part of last year’s hurricane season on Bonaire. They arrived a couple of weeks before we did this year. They showed us the ropes around Bonaire. They had a tradition of renting scooters every Friday to get off the boat and enjoy some down time at Jibe City. A wonderful beach was bar on Lac Bay, which is on the winding side of the island – the side we would never park our boats. It was shallow for miles and absolutely the most scenic land spot on the island.
They had gone enough times to know the staff including Beverley, who is starting a sky diving business on Bonaire. I claimed this spot as my Friday office, since there was decent wifi there for me to get some things done for Trades of Hope, while enjoying the sunshine.
During the two months we were on Bonaire, we only missed one Friday at Jibe City, Lac Bay, because we had the chance to dive at a spot we would not otherwise get to. Of the weekly trips we made there, we utilized all most all possible ways of transportation. Most of the trips we rented scooters along side Kim & Zim, but we also rented a car once and on another occasion we rented bicycles. Therefore, I can tell you for certain that the ride was 7 miles up hill and against the wind all the way. It was a very hot and dry ride over, but the sweetest rest when we got there and an easy and fun ride back.
It was on one of our lovely Friday scooter rides that we saw the green parrots like the ones represented above Rick’s head. We rode to the north part of the island near the “National Park Washington-SLAGBAAI”. There were tons of these parrots flying around, unlike the wooden billboard version, the real ones were always in pairs. That same Friday, we went to the Cadushy Distillery. We enjoyed the tour and the samples. The rum distillery is called Cadushy because it is distilled out the Cadushy cactus that is so abundant on the island. They have a basic rum, a 5 year aged and 7 fruity flavored rums. Of the fruity rums each one has something in its flavor to represent each of Dutch Caribbean islands, except St. Maarten because they say they could not find anything distinctly Dutch about St. Maarten. Rick, not surprisingly, did not like the fruity rums, but he did like the aged rum a lot. I liked the light fruity flavors especially the one that reminded me of Chia.
On the right side of the photo you see the many donkey’s represented in the first photo. Bonaire is known for its wild donkeys. Rumor has it when times are drier the donkeys come into the towns and make a nuisance of themselves. The island had gotten a lot of rain right before we arrived, as well as, occasional showers while we were there, so we only saw the donkeys in the wild Donkey sanctuary areas. As you can see, they were a bit more co-operative to be photographed than the flamingos.
On the far right of the first photo you can see ½ of a windmill and yellow buildings. (Yes, they are a little cut off, what can I say, I took the photo early in the trip, long before I thought of basing my blog on it. Plus when I took it I had no idea it would turn out so AWESOME). The windmill is a representation of Bonaire’s Dutch history. The yellow buildings represent the architectural style used in construction of many of the island’s historical buildings including the customs office that was the first building we sought out the first time we came ashore.
So after all these pages of great things to love about Bonaire, have you any guesses, what is not to love about Bonaire? Sad but true, even divers paradise had some things not to love. For us, and other sailors we met, it was the dust, a very fine, persistent, excessively plentiful, just kept coming back and covering even the underside of the Bimini , DUST! It coated everything and I mean everything! Three weeks after leaving, I was still finding dust in crazy places like under the bimini cover. I have never needed to clean this spot under the cover. (Did I mention dust covered everything?) It was extremely hot while we were there; so we lived with the windows and doors open as much as possible. Therefore, this dust covered AMARA inside and out. Like I said there was a lot of cactus on the island, it was a hot dry place. The mooring field is down wind of this dusty island. So, it seems most probable the dust is blowing off the island. The locals will tell you the dust comes over from the Saharah desert on the jet stream. I still need to research this story. I do believe they are talking about a desert in Africa. Either way, I did not love that dust and wish Bonaire would find some good help to take care of that dust for them.