Bonaire
 
  "Perhaps we were feeling a little melancholy as our time in the Caribbean neared its end ... or ... just perhaps, our normal energetic backpacking style of travel was giving way to 'island time'.
   
 
 

Dec 12

Together with Aruba and Curacao, Bonaire forms what is known as the 'ABCs' of the Leeward Antilles (which are the southern islands of the Netherland Antilles.)

Boasting sunny days year round (56cm annual rainfall), an average temperature of 27.8°C, an average water temperature of 26.7°C and constant trade winds, this 39 km long island has become a playground for those liking scuba diving, snorkelling or windsurfing. 

Bonaire's first inhabitants were the Caiquetios who sailed from what is now Venezuela (80 km).  They were tall people and the Spanish called the Leeward Islands, 'islands of the giants'.  Amerigo Vespucci (the fellow after whom the Americas are named) and Alonso de Ojeda, were the first to land on Bonaire and claim it for Spain.  Seeing no advantages to developing a colony on this flat arid island, they enslaved the Caiquetios and relocated them to another island.  In 1526 the then governor of the ABCs began raising cattle on the uninhabited island and imported Caiquetios from Venezuela to protect them ... cattle were then valued more for their hides than their meat.  Cows, sheep, goats, pigs and donkeys were added and the human population grew, mostly convicts from Spanish colonies in South America and a few Caribbean islands.  For three hundred years, even after the island was ceded to the Dutch in 1634, Bonaire remained a notorious penal colony. 

A Travel Tales photo by Sherrie Thorne

While other island's in the Caribbean were valued for sugarcane, cotton, cacao and spices, Bonaire was found to have one of the most precious of minerals ... salt.   Before refrigeration, salt was necessary to preserve meat and fish.   Today the salt pans are operated by the Antilles International Salt Company.

When slavery was abolished in the 19th century, the government sold the island off in parcels and many of the once slaves immigrated to Venezuela to work in the copper mines. 

During World War II, Bonaire was once again used as a penal colony to intern captured Germans and Dutch Nazis.   

With self rule granted in 1954, Bonaire, recognizing it's greatest assets of climate and calm seas, increasingly focussed on tourism.  Prohibition of spear fishing, protection of turtles and coral led to the formation of Bonaire National Marine Park, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The Park, which covers the entire coast of the island to a depth of 60 metres, has ensured that the island's natural beauty, with tourism its economic generator, will survive for generations to come.

A Travel Tales photo by Sherrie Thorne
There are more flamingos living on Bonaire than there are humans.  Being such shy creatures (the flamingos, not the humans) ... folks seldom see flamingos without purposely seeking them.  Visitors do, however, get their share of flamingo pink starting with the Flamingo International Airport Bonaire.  Pink!  Even the air-traffic control tower is cotton-candy pink.   You can see Bonaire's national bird on everything from sides of buildings to T-shirts and key rings.

Taking a taxi from the airport to Buddy Dive Resort was $15US.  The ride took us through the capital, Kralendijk ... a small tidy place; easy for cruise ship passengers to cover within an hour (plus shopping time).  There were two cruise ships in harbour as we arrived.
Our arrival at Buddy Dive Resort was met with friendly smiles from welcoming staff.  
We were directed to 306V (306 being the building) ... perhaps V meant view from the top floor.  Two double French doors opened to a large balcony overlooking one of the pools, the bar/restaurant and a view beyond to the island of Klein Bonaire.
A Travel Tales photo by Sherrie Thorne
After settling in for our two night stay we took a stroll around the grounds, down to the dock and then up to the bar to watch the sun set. 

We weren't the only ones at the bar ... an iguana made an appearance.  Guests found him amusing ... while staff tried to shoo him away.

He was a good metre long ... a little cautious ... a little curious.
A Travel Tales photo by Sherrie Thorne Iguana are herbivores with keen eyesight and are able to see shapes and motion from long distances.  The row of spines along their back to the tail helps protect them from predators and the tail can deliver painful whips.  Like many other lizards, when grabbed by the tail, an iguana can escape by allowing its tail to break away (regenerating a new one over time).  Preferring to live near water, when they swim they let their legs hang limp and propel themselves through the water with their tails.
A Travel Tales photo by Sherrie Thorne
As the sun set lanterns were lit, a buffet was set up near the bar and a live trio played music with Caribbean rhythms.  There was a sense of celebration ... not because of Christmas, though the place was decorated with some bobbles and trees, but simply for having experienced another glorious day and the prospects of tomorrow.
A Travel Tales photo by Sherrie Thorne
A Travel Tales photo by Sherrie Thorne A Travel Tales photo by Sherrie Thorne
Dec 13

A full moon still hung in the sky as the rising sun turned rain clouds purple and peach. 

The clouds had retreated by the time we arrived at the restaurant for breakfast.   The difficulty with lounging about this morning was finding that breakfast service was over and they were not about to make any exceptions ... not even for coffee.  The bar was not open yet but an understanding barkeep let us have a coffee from the urn brewing for staff.   We weren't the only hungry ones in search of a meal at Buddy Dive Resort ... iguana were on the move and the cook prepping for lunch in the outdoor kitchen had to shoo them away more than once.  

Also looking around was a dainty plover.  Unfortunately, humans have made life more difficult for him as a piece of orange nylon netting was tangled around his foot. 
A Travel Tales photo by Sherrie Thorne
A Travel Tales photo by Sherrie Thorne A Travel Tales photo by Sherrie Thorne
We rented snorkelling equipment and purchased a mandatory day permit for Bonaire National Marine Park which encompasses Klein Bonaire.   We had hoped we might be able to rent a digital underwater camera but the only one they had available, in a reasonable price range, did not work properly.  Glad we tested it out on shore before renting.  They also arranged for a water taxi to pick us up from the Buddy Dive Centre dock. 

Ted wanted to come but we just couldn't find any snorkelling equipment his size.

While we waited for the water taxi, a lady approached us and ask what our plans were for the day.  When we told her we were going snorkelling off Klein Bonaire she ask if she and her partner might come along with us.   "That would be great, we would enjoy the company."  At the time we had no idea how their company would enhance our afternoon. 

On the water taxi ride out to the island she explained she was a scuba diver but her partner was not, "on occasion she enjoys snorkelling," she added.   Being an avid diver, she told us what kind of fish and coral we would probably see. 
In the water she became our personal tour guide.  She would dive down to have a closer look and bring our attention to specific fish, then surface, tell us its name and make a comment on a feature or habit.  

We were fortunate on two occasions to see hawksbill turtles.  They 'flew' through the water like large, graceful, slow-motion birds.  Memorable sightings. 

The hawksbill turtle population in the Netherlands Antilles is small.  No more than a handful of nests are found each year.  Turtles in the Netherland Antilles are lucky in that there are no communities dependent on sea turtles for their subsistence.  It is also fortunate that there are a number of organizations promoting, protecting and doing conservation studies on behalf of hawksbill turtles.  All turtles here are fully protected ... no hunting, possession, disturbing or other deleterious acts are allowed.

Klein Bonaire, where we were snorkelling, is the most important nesting area for Bonaire's turtles.

Tropical fish were plentiful and we glided ever-so-slowly across the top of the water so as not to disturb life below the waves.
A Travel Tales photo by Sherrie Thorne
We were rewarded by watching a mating dance between two fish of the same species but very different in colour, one being a florescent bluish-black while the other was sparkling white-silver.  We were mesmerized by their movements as the swam in circles facing each other.  If videoed it could have headlined in an underwater documentary accompanied by a Strauss waltz soundtrack.

Our afternoon of snorkelling passed quickly and all too soon our water taxi arrived for the pre-arranged pick-up.   
Buddy Dive Resort has a happy hour each night from 5:30 to 6:30 when drinks are two for one ... but on Fridays they have a Manager's Rum Punch Party ... with free (let us repeat ... free) rum and punch.  How great is that!  There is a barbeque buffet available at 7:00 but since we had buffet yesterday, we opted to join our snorkelling friends for dinner at the on-site restaurant, The Lion's Den (good burgers).

As we were finishing dinner, we could see lights moving in the water.  Scuba divers were having a night outing near the dock and shoreline.  It looked like great fun.


Dec 14
Our flight did not leave Bonaire until afternoon, so we spent a leisurely morning watching plovers, pelicans and lizards.
 
 
As our plane took off and we glanced back towards Buddy Dive Resort and the flat island of Klein Bonaire, just off shore,  we agreed it would be well worth a return visit.  We might get to see more of the island and perhaps seek out flamingo nesting grounds ... but even to do just what we did, but do it for a longer time.  Perhaps we were feeling a little melancholy as our time in the Caribbean neared its end ... or ... just perhaps ... our normal energetic backpacking style of travel was giving way to 'island time'.  
    
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