It is cold, damp and disgusting,
so we will have to leave Denmark for a while. Plan A is northern
Indonesia where the diving is amazing. Unfortunately, it is in the
middle of the rainy season and the waves are too high and the water
too cloudy. Plan B is Namibia, but it is just before the rainy
season, and everything is, if possible, sweated more than usual.
Plan C is the Netherlands Antilles, located north of Venezuela in
the north of South America.
I succeeded in
luring Morten along - or was he the one who lured me? The planning
is almost as intense as for Madagascar (where we flipped a bit in
the book, on the plane down there. This time we just don't have a
book!). Bonaire is part of the Netherlands Antilles, known as the
ABC Islands. It is 285 square kilometres, exactly the same as
Langeland, and the population is 13,000 (15,000 at Langeland).
Unemployment is great, but then the similarities hold up.
October 19th. The clock rings; it's two o'clock. Rolling something confused out of the feathers, and turning a few laps around myself before Morten comes by and picks me up. Good time at the airport, but with the new security rules, it's a good thing. All liquids in a one litre zipper bag, off with jacket and waist belt, the PC up from the bag, and then we are through the first hurdle. We go through this routine three more times before we are done. Almost with the same frequency and enthusiasm as the Muslim prayer.
Sleeps when we are not eating, and after close to three hours in Amsterdam, it fly west. Morten sits next to a fresh Englishman, heading for a tour around Peru. He just has to stop in on Bonaire. I sit next to a German lady who has come to Bonaire for a few years, and then sold her trucking business and moved to the island. Now she sells ice cream from a car. Earns three to four times as much as others, in a third time. Care to travel first class, with that was sold out. She tells a lot about the island, and gives some good advice.
We land at half past four in the afternoon,
Morten gets all his diving and kite gear, and then we go out to rent
a car. I had found a cheap one on the web, but the office is closed.
There's a phone on the counter and I'm trying to redial. Turns out,
I'm getting hold of Avis a little further down the line of shops. We
go down there and a fresh woman finds a "good" price for us; 20%
discount. It is 227 kroner a day, and we will probably just go to
the capital; Kralendijk, today (We actually end up giving only 132
kroner per day, don't quite know why).
A little hassle with getting on their wireless
networks, so we can tell folks at home; we have arrived well. After
it gets dark, we walk the ten minutes to the centre of town to raise
money and find some dinner. Not surprisingly, it's sea-food it's all
about. Morten gets a fillet with mushroom sauce, I a huge dish of
shrimps with pasta. A couple of beers and a coke will be 330 kroner.
Guess that is the price here, when you have to sit on a terrace
beyond the coral reef. Sitting and calculating a bit: Renting diving
gear, car, room and food will be about twice as expensive as I had
20. Ten hours of deep sleep, we're about to work. Days and nights are hot; from 26 to 34 degrees, and rain is something you try to explain to young children. I repack my suitcase. From home it was half empty and I threw in an extra knit sweater, some thick T-shirts and a few other superfluous things. I regret that now, where shoes, fleece jacket, long legs and more are stuffed back. Sorts 2/3 pieces from, which be stored away in the small bag; then the last thing can be in the hard suitcase and jerk around with the PC. The usual 1.5 kilos have this time has grown to eight kilos. Of course, this is small compared to Morten's diving and kite equipment.
The day starts with bird singing and the hunt
for breakfast. Our hotel serves it quite big for ten bucks, but I
just need a bowl of oatmeal and Morten skips. It's definitely not
worth the twenty bucks! We head down town to find a breakfast snack
or a grocery store, where we can supply. It's just not open
anywhere. They obviously close early, but open late. Good life...
We have traveled enough, and can feel the strength of the sun. Get to see a little green iguana, a bunch of giant lizards with turquoise tails, some yellow birds, small pigeons, a frigate bird, some pelicans, black and white spotted birds of prey (eagles), a few flamingos, a hummingbird and some exciting plants. I'm not sure which ones are local and which ones are imported. Here are some oilseeds (Riccinus communis), small-flowered passion flowers (P. suberosa) and one with larger flowers: P. foetida, columnar cacti (Cereaus), Turkish hats (Mammillaria), acacias and many more. Looking forward to getting out and botanizing.
Head home to The Lodge, and check right next door on the road. The best offer on scuba gear so far. Calls for Avis car hire and gets picked up at the airport shop by a sweet girl, who rents us a four-door pick-up for about 1,600 kroner with everything, for a week. Then we drive to the first B&B we were recommended and which should be one of the cheapest. Get a bargain without a private bath down to 270 kroner per night. He also has a room, car and dive package, but it's a little late. We book from tomorrow and save 500 dollars a week.
A little more around the small cozy and very relaxed town to find a supermarket. We buy Nescafe, sugar, milk, pear, apples huge plums, a few litres of water, deep plates, spoons, oatmeal and muesli, and have to pay the same as the breakfast at the hotel would have cost. There is a definite advantage to not travelling fast, as we usually do. We just slip a bottle of local golden rum with, just in case ...
Home to book a guided dive with the neighbour this afternoon. The guide is expensive but for the first dive it is very nice. Morten picks up Nitrox bottles for the dive: oxygen-enriched air that make him less tired. I do not have the license, but can take a 1½ hour course for 450 kroner. Worth considering. Morten has the lodge's key with him, so I'm locked in the yard. It takes 1½ eternity before he comes back, but they are still fresh on taking us out and diving.
We have to buy a one-year subscription to the
national park, which surrounds the entire island for 150 kroner. I
get some good stuff delivered and then our guide drives us to Oil
Slick Leap. Here are just 20 Americans jumping in.
We'll get up after three quarters and I'll have air left! Actually 90 bar, which is nine times more than I average end with. We are usually dragged into the depths by our instructors, so we consume a lot of air, but he obviously didn't care. In fact, he was not worth much, and certainly not the 150 kroner we have to pay each. This is the last time we pay for a guide here on the island.
Home to make a cup of coffee and find the next
dive site. It will be The Lake, just outside of town. We get there
just over six , and must be up after a quarter, as it gets
dark. Very fast even. It's night, when we reach home. The equipment
is rinsed in fresh water, and so do we. Takes the car down to the
city to find a restaurant. We end up with a half pig, which they
call spare-ribs and a dish of full Caesar salad. It comes with
drinks, and cost 200 kroner. Food is not very cheap here on
the island, but it is huge portions they serve.
21. We enjoy our own morning complete, and check out of the first hotel. It was 900 kroner for two nights. Drive into the Bonaire Inn, also known as the B&B. Get a room without a bath, toilet, fridge and TV, but with two beds. Here we have to pay 272 kroner per night, so we save about 3500 in total. We live right behind the yellow church that may be the cathedral. By the way, they have an astonishingly relaxed relationship with religion; though most are Catholics, I have not seen a single beating the sign of the cross. I've never liked it, when the bus driver or scuba instructor starts the ride with it.
We still have some air left from the evening
dive, so we head a little north, to the "1000 Steps" dive site.
There are 65 steps
down to the sea, but they feel like 1000, when
after a dive you walk up with your 40-50 kilos on your back.
Fantastic place. The visibility is up to 30 meters and it is teeming
with life. Spends a small hour emptying the air tanks, and then tows
us to the car.
We drive past my dive centre to buy a week of
unlimited air for me for 600 kroner. Then we just have to dive! Now
it costs me 250 kroner a day, so the more dives, the lower the dive
price for each. Three a day is probably realistic. Fortunately, the
vast majority are in so low water, you do not have to worry about
getting the bends.
Stopping several times to photograph a new colon cacti, some Aloe barbadensis? and a bunch of flamingos. A huge iguana disappears in the swamp where at least four different herons are fishing. Various small waders dart around quickly, but not right in my camera angle. We pass a few wild donkeys and a few tame goats. They are found in such small numbers that they do not significantly affect nature.
We reach the coastal road, just before the
huge salt lakes. They recover salt from the sea, and the low and
heavily pink lakes are surrounded by white deposits and white foam.
A few huge mounts towers in the otherwise flat area, and a large
conveyor belt ends in a tower, far out in the sea.
It's not entirely wrong what it says on all the license plates: Divers Paradise. There is good visibility, the temperature is at 29 degrees and there is a nice coral reef on at least half of the island's perimeter. They don't have the big numbers on the license plates: A B followed by one to four digits. We drive past the big supermarket to get the things we didn't get last. Grab a couple of sausage horns and eat them with a cup of coffee at the hotel. It is just past four o'clock, and we can just reach one more dive.
Takes one of those in the middle of town:
Something Special. The sun disappears, but it is amazingly
beautiful. Here are the spotted eels again, and Morten is spotting a
nice shrimp while I find two unusual separate shrimp. So, in photos,
the dive was "eel & shrimp". We head up as the light disappears
completely. Showers to us and stuff, and then look a cash machine
and some food. Ending up at a French restaurant, where we choose
chicken with exciting accessories. Nicely arranged, good
accessories, but I make chicken better!
22. The alarm wakes us at seven. Quick breakfast and then south to Jeannie's Glory, which is a dive site. It is located off the huge pink salt lakes and the sea water is also very salty. We are in the water before nine, and are rewarded with an incredible amount of corals and fish, but it gets better: An eagle ray that is incredibly happy with us hunting around the bottom, between the corals. We dive on the edge, which runs from four to 40 meters, on most of the west coast. As we enter the lower parts, we are greeted by twelve tarpones; fish over one meter, that are completely metallic. Then there are nine Caribbean reef squid in the middle of the open water. They are completely parallel but facing both ways. They respond to us and a great colour show starts. Down on the bottom is a 20 centimetre worm. It looks like a velvet animal, and is very keen on getting up. It's a fireworm, an animal I've never seen before.
Home to get an apple and a cup of coffee, as well as some more air. I buy a plastic ball in a rubber cord, that I can cling to my tank and contact Morten. I happen to mark something he also wants to see (and I have a photo of). Then we head south again, to dive at Tori's Reef. We intentionally take a detour that will take us across the island and around the southern tip. First through the desert with acacias and colon cacti. Some endemic parrots gnaw in a cactus. The parrots are the size of rosellas, bright green with a screaming yellow head: Yellow-shouldered Amazon parrot;Amazona barbadensis. We hear them often, but rarely see them.
Then we get to the swamp, with its herons, waders and flamingos. The coastal road is almost a very low dam around the huge salt lakes. There is a natural wall of washed-up coral blocks and driftwood toward the sea. Here the waves are somewhat more violent than on the inside of the island.
We arrival at Tori's Reef, where we follow the channel of the salt lake out to the reef. We try something new: Not only do we lock all doors this time, we also roll up the side windows! Here is also a lot of life, but the only new thing is a giant tuna. We are down for an hour, and have plenty of air left, as we have scrambled the area thin. We have been searching the area where the huge legs carrying the conveyor belt that carry salt out to tankers are placed. They are overgrown, and provide new opportunities for the animals.
Our tailgate lacks a bolt and it would be a good fit to use when loading or unloading. We pass the airport and both girls are in the Avis office. One guides us out to a workshop, in the middle of a scrap yard. They take two men a little half an hour to put the bolt in, but then it works.
Home to Mortens Dive Shop, which provides coffee, and far north, right up to the national park. There is a one-way road around the island, and there are still many marked dive sites. We have chosen Rappel, also known as Boca di Tolo, located right on the border of the park. You no longer have to rappel down (and not least: Up!). Again a delicious dive, with masses of fish, animals and corals. Nothing new, but really nice.
Is up after just over an hour, and takes advantage of the last hour of daylight to hit this part of the island. First, I spot some groups of medium-sized Agave vivipara, which must be photographed on occasion. Then comes huge quantities of column- and barrel cacti, and some rocks that seemed taken from the Coyote and the Roadrunner. They will be exciting to explore one day.
We get home and relax with photos and diary
until it is time for some dinner. We have to go out into the hallway
to catch the wireless internet, and here I meet a small bat. My
first thought is to open a door so it can come out. Then I see one
of the many mosquitoes, and the bat must stay and do its thing.
23. I'm pretty sure Morten has set the clock wrong: It can't possibly fit I've been sleeping over eight hours. After breakfast we drive out to Alice In Wonderland, but many others have come up with that idea. We would have dives next door, but just change. Angel City is a diving site by the double reef. The first is similar to what we've dived on before; it is teeming with life. We cross the 30-40 meter deep and 30 meter wide gab between the reefs. The water is so clear, you can easily see both of them clearly. The corals almost cover the sandy bottom, but are quite close to the sides. The outer reef is overgrown with large columns, three four meters high and two to three meters in diameter. These are completely different corals than we have seen otherwise.
Morten has found a fun game: He drops one of his lead weights and I look for it, while he is resting on the beach. He can do another too: He leaves the dive computer and compass in the car, and swims in after that. Then there is the one where he does not open to the air, or take a camera without power to dive. Since Morten does not keep a diary, I can emphasize with serenity that I NEVER make mistakes ...
A recital or two: There is almost no waste anywhere. There does not seem to be any poor population here. Most - except the mechanic - speak English. There must have been a large population immigration in recent years. Most people we come in contact with come from other countries. If they did not have the diving, there would only be work for about ten or twenty in the salt resistance area.
We sit looking blankly out over the sea after the dive, gnawing an apple and a pear. Then we drive 100 meters off the coast road to Alice In Wonderland, where there is now better space. Again fantastic reef, and we see the first crawling octopus. After a few hours we have had enough and fight our way across the belt of dead corals at the coast.
Past the supermarket where we buy lunch and more breakfast. New air and nitrox bottles, and then home to a cup of coffee, and a little more empty stare into the air. However, I am awake enough to discover we are sitting under some official Guaiacum trees. They do not have their beautiful blue flowers, but then I can find seeds for the Botanical Garden.
It is one o'clock and we have gathered energy for yet another dive. We have been looking for Bari Reef in the past and since it is # 1 Caribian Fish Diversity Place. It turns out, the yellow stone that marks the spot stands a little further out of the road. And it faces a huge resource. We sneak in and find out it's actually outside. We jump in at the old quay, and after a lot of sandy bottom we reach a nice reef. Had heard of some big seahorses by an old barrel, but we can't find it.
There are a lot of other things; horned green
trunk fish, the amazing blue small fish with metallic blue spots, a
black fish, with neon yellow and blue stripes I have not seen
before, and a whole lot else. There are some streaks of deer-angler
corals, and there is a dense cloud of fish around them. We follow
the wall down to 18 meters, and the corals and fish continue
unchanged even deeper. In many places, despite the 30 meter sieve,
we cannot see the bottom.
It's past five before we roll out, north of town. Finds a ravine buried with Acasier and Cereus. I just say: Hope it is solid gravel before we are almost stuck. Push Morten out to push, before we are buried. I forgot my shoes, so it's about treading carefully. Acasia and cacti towers go like nothing through the soft soles of the clippers.
walk in an arch over the slope as the light disappears. Finds
Pilosocereus lanuginosus, Subpilocereus repandus, some
yellow-tailed Melocactus macrocanthos and Opuntia wentiana
with very powerful thorns. Reach the car just before it gets
dark. Drive into town and find Casablanca, an Argentine restaurant
in the Netherlands
Antilles. Morten thinks the waiter is American. I
only settle for a Caesar salad that is not impressive. Morten gets a
very large dish of fish with shrimp, cheese sauce, rice, fried
potato slices and salad.
The diving and adventure continues in Diary 2