Saturday, November 26, 2011

Beautiful Bonaire

A nice thing about being on the move is reaching new places and exploring them in every which way. When we left Los Aves, a slow downwind sail with the jib brought us to the south side of Bonaire. Once we pulled up the mainsail and rounded the corner to sail north for the last stretch, the wind came soaring over the salt flats, pushing us forward at 7-8 knots. We were flying and thoroughly enjoyed the last hour’s sail (now that was a sail!) to Kralendijk, Bonaire’s capital and only place to moor. Anchoring is prohibited in this eco-friendly island, so boats are obliged to pick up two (!) mooring lines - which was a bit confusing and unfitting for our size cat - and pay US$10 a night.

Together with Curaçao and Aruba, Bonaire is part of the ABC-islands, just north of Venezuela. It belonged to the Netherlands Antilles until recently, but became an integral part of the Dutch Kingdom (Queendom?)  on 10-10-10. The official currency now is the US Dollar and things have changed a lot for the residents, who speak Dutch, Papiamento, English and/or Spanish. Bonaire is most famous for its excellent diving, but there is much more to this little island than meets the eye or the fame. Almost every day during the high season at least one cruise ship docks at the big pier in the crystal clear water. When wanting to do some inland exploring, it’s better to wait for a day that dock is empty!

Mark and I don’t dive, but we like to snorkel and Bonaire is wonderful for that.You can just jump off your boat and swim to the sea wall ashore, while gazing at many colorful fish and the pretty coral head here and there.  Along the west coast, a multitude of dive sites are marked and parking is provided. Some of these sites are also suitable to snorkel and a free brochure explains what there is to see. For US$10 a year, you are free to explore Bonaire’s underwater world. Divers pay US$25.

One afternoon, Mark and I took the dinghy to Klein Bonaire, the small, scrubby island ½ mile west of the “mainland”, where the best beach is located. The pretty sandy stretch is called No Name Beach and the coral reef with the same name is worth checking out. It gets very busy on the weekends, but other days you are apt to find a free mooring ball to tie up your dinghy and swim to shore. More than one dinghy fits these floats. There’s also a “big” mooring for bigger boats. I was looking forward to taking a whole bunch of underwater pictures at this site, but unfortunately, my relatively new camera broke.

The highlight of our weeklong stay in Bonaire was the day we rented a scooter and drove around the island. Following the coastal road north, we passed a plethora of dive sites and meandered through low laying brush, cacti and rock formations. At the eye sore of the oil terminal, we turned inland to reach Gotomeer (Goto Lake), which looks very picturesque from the viewpoint above. We didn’t see any flamingos, but there were a few more chances later. The road brought us past Rincon, the second biggest town on the island and along many properties surrounded by cactus fences, a pretty and interesting concept.

Then we arrived at Washington-Slagbaai National Park. Cars and motorcycles are allowed to drive around the northern part of the island encompassed by the park, but scooters are not. Instead, we parked our little vehicle and walked the trail closest to the entrance. The desert-like scenery, very barren with prickly cacti, sharp black coral and rocky cliffs has a beauty of its own. The colors were provided by the wild green canaries, pink flamingos, blue sky and endless ocean. The walk was a bit tough with flipflops and the sun was extremely hot, but we both enjoyed to be “in the wild” for a bit, all by ourselves.

In the afternoon, we continued our tour, back through Rincon and the capital Kralendijk, southeast to Lac Bay, which is popular with windsurfers. We drove by wild donkeys and marches with more flamingos. After Lac Bay, we followed the rough east coast with the extensive salt flats to our left. More pink dots were visible and a short stop at the reconstructed slave huts made us realize that our living space on the boat is much bigger and luxurious than during those terrible days. At Pink Beach, which consists of old coral, we decided to go for a snorkel. We had to cut it very short, since we were running out of time. A short stop at the colorful salt pans and bright white salt mountains concluded our whirlwind tour of the island.

The mooring field in Bonaire is not very protected in anything else than wind with an eastern component and the coast of Columbia is getting more treacherous the later in the year we get there, so we decided to move on. And, that’s the bad thing about being on the move… you have to keep moving and leave the places you like before you actually want to! 

 Sailing from Los Aves to Bonaire at dawn. The moon is still up!

Gotomeer seen from the viewpoint

The "famous" Bonaire cactus fence

The barren landscape at Washington-Slagbaai National Park

A little bay in the national park

Blowhole in the national park

Wild donkeys along the road to Lac Bay

Wild flamingos along the road to Lac Bay

Pink salt flats and bright white salt mounts waiting to be transported

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