Mom is so wonderful to me. Before Christmas she crafted a trip to Bonaire with my sister and her boyfriend for a Spring Break diving trip. She carved out a glorious week in the Netherland Antilles 50 miles north of the Venezuelan coast (part of the A,B,C islands – Aruba, Bonaire, and Curiosa). She wielded my credit card and voila we had a trip planned.
Austin dropped us off at the airport in Denver at midnight on Fri March 14 and after a couple of sleeping pills, a two hour wait in the airplane in Atlanta (we were number 32 in line) and ten hours of flight and two very sore bums we arrived at the Bonairian Pink Flamingo Airport. Paulette was there to greet us and whisk us off to our orientation dive. Wow, everything here is oriented to diving – everything. Within one hour of arriving at the airport we had our tanks on and were easing our way into the clear blue warm waters of the Caribbean. Now that is a vacation. Suspended in a blue medium hovering above jagged coral bathed in multicolored fish swirling with the flow of life. Ahhhh…….
We stayed in a tiny two bedroom apartment near the small but main town of Kralendijk (Cry-l-dike). The whole island’s population is 11,000 and apparently none of them eat out on Sat night. Very few places are open all the time – some only on Tuesday and others serve meals on Mon, Wed, and every third Friday between the hours of 8 – 10 am then 6 – 10 at night. We followed lots of signs for Bar-B-Que or Fish Fry only to find out it was only open some other day of the week. They need to publish a program for the neophytes who don’t know the system. But once we found two ice creams places open all week we were good to go.
Diving places ring the islands and are marked by large yellow rocks with the names of the sites. There are tons of maps to direct you to the most glorious self starting shore diving in the world. The dive shops have multiple locations around the island, so when you use up the first tank you just drop by a shop and trade it in for a new one and away you go again. No waiting for boats, or fighting waves, or hanging in a large group, and no dive masters. You just go and do what you want when you want.
Boat dives are good for easy entries and learning shore entries was a little tricky at first because there weren’t nice sandy beaches just coral rock. You’re carrying 40 plus pounds of awkward tanks, weight belts, mask, and flippers, then wade out barefoot on slippery rock through the waves to get to the deeper water. All of us would sit down to put on flippers only to have the waves batter us up onto the shore side and then the out going wave would drag us back across the coral out to sea desperately holding onto the flippers, trying not to lose the mask, and trying to find the regulator so you can breath something other than saltwater. Thus we discovered the second most popular activity in Bonaire. People would gather around to watch the new divers trying to enter the water and then yell out scored for how awkward they looked (just teasing). Mom figured the large bloody gash on her arm would help attract fish for us to see. What a sacrifice.
I’ll mention two dives in particular. Hilma Hooker is a large wreck sunk in about 100 foot of water and it was spectacular. We were swimming with some very large shinning silver tarpon at the wreck. It was a really cool feeling. I did do a boat dive over at a nearby island and got to see rays, eels, and turtles in addition to the typical fish covered reef. Mom most enjoyed the snorkeling right along the public walkway in town.
Some other things of note:
1. Paulette had rented a truck for us to get around the island and everybody else’s rental trucks look the same. We had heard how bad the crime was in raiding trunks when someone goes diving. We had parked the trunk, loaded up our gear and headed off to dive, but couldn’t dive there and were back to the trunk in just a few minutes and everything was gone, including Robert’s dirty shorts and my glasses. We went to report the theft when mom discovered we had returned to the wrong truck. Boy did we feel silly.
2. Best cultural experience was going to church Sunday morning. Tiny branch speaking four languages – Papiamento, Spanish, Dutch, and English. One of the missionaries translated for us, and the music director operated a boom box with CD’s of church music. The branch has just experienced the first baptism of a Dutch man the previous day and it was a big event. We were loved and welcomed into the branch.
3. My favorite activity other than diving and spending time with mom was finally trying my hand at windsurfing. I actually did pretty well in one direction which unfortunately was away from the starting point and I couldn’t bring the board back with wind power. I also hit a few swimmers while running the wind surfer.
4. We had some great sunset dinners right on the water.
5. We explored the island one day and ran into lots of wild donkeys and goats. We also saw some ancient Indian pictographs. It is very much a desert island with cacti being the main plant and everything seemed to have spines and thorns.
6. The island was a salt producer and the Dutch had imported African slaves to work in the heat of the day to manufacture the salt. They lived in these tiny little shacks in their field of work. Working in the salt fields would have been a miserable life. I don’t think much of colonial Dutch and their brutal treatment of slaves.
7. It was a great and relaxing week and I have had enough diving to last until this coming weekend when Melissa and Austin will be visiting me at the aquarium.