I think I’m in love already. After being in Bonaire for only a couple days, it is already becoming one of my favorite islands. Diving, diving, and more diving here. We rented scooters to get a lay of the land and figure out how the dive sites work. After the Windward Islands, the topography and ecology are surprising. Not at all what I expected.
We watched and watched for signs of land. We thought 30 miles out or 20 miles out we would surely see land. But it wasn’t until about 11 miles out that we spotted the highest point on Bonaire on the north end of the island. We continued to the south end without seeing it until we were very close. The land is very flat. We didn’t see signs of life until we rounded the point and headed back north to the anchorage of Kalendijk. Then we didn’t know what to think. First we noticed a huge salt mining plant.
Next we saw rows and rows of tiny houses on the beach. Each set of houses had a color coordinated huge cone by them. Okay, we were baffled.
But then Dave spotted the kiteboarders. That was all it took. This island would be great no matter what weird or industrial stuff they had going on.
We arrived at the city-side moorings to find Milly already here. Peter jumped in his dinghy to lend us a hand, if needed, with their strange two ball mooring system. We were already given a heads up by Blue Moon that we needed to pick up a mooring ball for each side of the bow and we didn’t have any problems.
Marie was at the helm on Slow Flight to pick up their mooring balls in front of Milly. She did a great job driving, but Steve wasn’t so graceful when he lost the hook off the end of his boat hook. No worries, though, Peter was standing by to lend assistance. Great job, Marie!
It always feels good to get into an anchorage, but this one felt great after nearly 5 days at sea. I just relaxed in the cockpit and took a good look around. I noticed a frigate bird stealing some food from some terns at the shoreline. Dang pirates! But then I noticed something hilarious. These two tiny birds chased off the frigate bird! I think they were swallows. They must have had babies nearby or something. I don’t know for sure, but they won!
I noticed this tree with all kinds of sandals in it. Upon closer inspection, I also noticed swim suit pieces, swim fins, and other various clothing items. My guess is that this is a sort of lost and found. If found diving, snorkeling, or washed up on shore, it goes on the tree.
We discovered the Yellow Submarine Dive shop right away. The people there are so very friendly and helpful. They sold some used gear and we planned to do a lot of diving, so it made sense to buy used than to rent every time. We also bought our park passes that allow us access to the national park and the dive and snorkel sites; as well as a fill card to get Steve’s tanks filled (which we would borrow).
Sally and Peter joined us all for a day of island exploration by scooter. While the guys rented the scooters, Marie spotted her first flamingo. Cute, right? But, no, I don’t think that counts.
The islands from Martinique to Grenada are all green with lush and leafy rain forests and these were the last islands we visited before coming to Bonaire. So it was a little shocking to see all the scrub and cactus. Even more shocking was all the old broken coral all over the island. Here is the explanation I found:
Geologists believe that Bonaire was formed relatively recently. As the nearby continental shelf (now located near Montserrat, and the cause of the volcanic activity on that island) moved through the area, it forced a large mass of rock to the ocean surface and created the islands of the Lesser and Greater Antilles, including Bonaire. As the sea bed rose a vast coral reef grew on what is now dry land. These corals were eventually exposed to air and perished, becoming surface limestone deposits over the millennia. (Wikipedia)
Just like Antigua, donkeys can be seen roaming freely about the island. And just like Antigua, these donkeys are descendants of donkeys retired from service. We learned that they were used to haul salt among other uses. There is a donkey sanctuary that takes care of the sick, injured, pregnant, and senior donkeys that require special care. You know we are going to have to visit it!
Windmills or wind turbines were all over the island. These were at the salt pans (or salt ponds).
With closer inspection it looks like they may power water pumps used in the salt pans.
This looked like a flood gate. It opens to allow the tide to bring in salt water and closes to retain the water. Eventually the water evaporates and leaves behind the salt, which can be harvested and processed to various degrees for different uses.
Peter and Sally took a turn at leading our gang.
Bonaire has a huge radar tower. Dave thinks it is to keep an eye on the comings and goings of sea-going vessels. Bonaire is only 50 miles (80 km) off the coast of Venezuela. With all the upheaval in Venezuela, the government of Bonaire is likely to be patrolling.
Our mean choppers (aka gutless scooters) were a fun way to see the island. Everything feels more accessible than when enclosed in an air conditioned car.
I spotted terns on the salt pans. Anyone who knows me knows that terns are near and dear to my heart. But you also likely know that I have always adored flamingos…
Finally! We spotted some flamingos in the salt pans. And they were pink! No, they are not always pink; it depends on their diet. The salt pans must have plenty of the algae and crustaceans that provide the carotenoids that give them the gorgeous coloring.
The flamingos are so big and stand out so completely from their surroundings. Just fantastic to see. Much of Bonaire is protected for bird and turtle nesting. Along the shoreline is also protected for the mangrove and reefs. I am happy to see their efforts at keeping Bonaire as unspoiled as possible.
Here is what a salt pan looks like with the pink algae in it. Algae is a determinant of salinity. If green, yellow or orange, the salinity is low to medium. Pink to red signifies high salinity.
This pier is located at the end of those huge salt piles. It is here that they load the salt onto ships.
People are allowed to keep any salt crystals that fall to the ground. Marie found some good sized ones.
They sure have a lot of salt ready to go!
We found out that these cones are markers for the ships that come for the salt. By the pier, the cone is blue.
Next, we saw a colorful bus stopped by those strange tiny houses.
The bus was a tour bus. The houses were slave houses. Barely tall enough to stand in the middle and containing sand floors, this is where the slaves slept at night. Every day the slaves walked across the island in 90 degree heat with 80-90% humidity to work the salt mining operation.
What a terrible history these houses have! And the lovely view of the beautiful turquoise water would not have done anything to make their lives better.
Learning about the salt markers and slave operations.
Marie looked so beautiful in her blue shirt surrounded by the changing hues of the blue water behind her!
We made our way to the kiteboarding area. The companies use the school buses to run their operations, storing the equipment inside. Oh yeah, the guys are just itching to go!
More slave houses along the coast. These were color coordinated to match the white salt marker.
This house or beach shack appears to be made out of wood pallets. Good thing it doesn’t rain much here.
Explaining the color coding of the salt markers.
The lighthouse looks in good working order, but the building next to it is just a shell.
What do you do if you find wood and/or garbage washed up on shore? If in Bonaire you make art out of it.
For some reason this remainded me a little of the Blair Witch.
An osprey sitting on a rock as the waves come in around it.
We saw these yellow painted rocks all along the coastal roads. These are markers of dive sites. There are so many, someone wrote up a guidebook on them to help us visitors find our way around.
Here is a spot where you can see the forming of the island. This was pushed up from tectonic motion as described earlier and displays a cross shaped vein in the rock.
These were perhaps used to move the salt?
Kadushy cactus doesn’t look good for much, but there is a liqueur made locally from it: Cadushy of Bonaire Liqueur. That’s another place we have to go!
Tough guys. eh? Maybe we’d look tougher with matching jackets? Nah, probably just ridiculous.
Lac Bay is windsurfer territory; no kiteboarders here. This island believes in segregation of water sports.
This sweet surfer van may have a big whole in the roof, but it just makes more room to hold surfboards.
What a beautiful spot they have here. The water is crystal clear. You can see everything. If our boat were floating in a little deeper water here, it would look like it was floating on air.
As we waded through the water, small white fish swam between our feet right at the shore. Love it!
Since no one can resist getting their feet wet, they offer a friendly reminder. It’s so Margaritaville.
You know what they say, when there’s more than one scooter it’s a race. We weren’t hard to beat. Our poor scooter was barely holding together. Maybe Dave and I need to go on diets.
Pulling into Rincon, I really wanted to visit the Cadushy Distillery. Unfortunately, when we arrived it was closed. We WILL be back!
Funny thing was that we had to walk through the church yard to get to the distillery (unrelated to each other, of course).
We were fortunate to see these Amazon parrots. Their numbers are diminishing with habitat loss.
Peter and Sally barely made it up the big hill. I thought Dave and I would have to walk our bike up, but we eventually made it with Dave weaving side to side to lessen the grade.
Meanwhile, everyone else left us in the dust. And I do mean dust. Bonaire is one dusty island!
I’m telling you, people here are artistic with refuse.
Funny sign: donkey crossing.
And here they are!
And a goat. A BIG goat.
A big scary looking goat. It is too bad they have been demonized in the movies as demonic or associated with the devil. But that is what came to my mind when I saw this guy.
It was easy to find our way back, just aim for the big-ass boat! It is so big and the island so flat, we could see the cruise ship from far away.
Now here I need to share a story. Warning! It is a horrible story, but I insist on sharing it so all our cruising friends can learn from it. While we were cooling off at the Million Dollar Bar with some ice cold beers, Steve noticed that someone fell out of their dinghy. The person had been alone, going full throttle when thrown from the boat. The dinghy did not slow down, but immediately started to circle at top speed. The person was caught in the middle of the circle trying to swim to the dinghy to stop it. By the time this person swam toward the dinghy it was already gone. We could tell this person was in a panic. Two other dinghies and a small fishing boat came by to help, but what do you do? The slightest bump to alter the path of the dinghy put the person in more danger. Time passed, it felt like 15 minutes but no one checked, with this person trying to catch their dinghy. It had to be exhausting. Finally someone threw a rope to pull the person out of the circle, but the person was not pulled out fast enough. The dinghy ran over the person, who did not surface afterward. The fishing boat went to where the person went down and eventually dragged them out, most likely unconscious. The person’s face was cut up and the nose nearly cut off. Also there was water in their lungs indicating that the person was drowning. This site was so awful and none of us can unsee it. We see it over and over and can come up with any better way to help the person. Please, please, PLEASE wear the kill switch lanyard. This tragic accident could have been avoided if the dinghy kill switch had been activated in the fall. This came a mere two weeks after Dave and I had a similar experience. Dave was driving and was thrown from the dinghy. Fortunately, I stayed in the dinghy and was only thrown forward on the floor. I crawled back and slapped it out of gear, so it would not run over Dave. I safely picked him up, but it could have easily been worse, especially if I had been in or stayed in the dinghy. Since our experience, we’ve been spreading the word. PLEASE WEAR the KILL SWITCH lanyard! You know all of us who witnessed this wear it now if they didn’t before. It’s easy to become complacent. DON’T!
Bummed out after seeing that, we had a quiet, hot, pensive walk back to our boats. By the way, the doctors in Bonaire did an excellent job. The person has since recovered (I am a month behind in blogging). You can’t tell anything ever happened. Even this person was lucky. It could have still been worse. Please wear the kill switch lanyard. That is all.