Tuesday 17th April - Bye Bye Bonaire
17th April Bonaire Reflections
Having largely sorted out the admin on Thursday 12th we spend Friday 13th sorting out boaty things, planning the way ahead and booking dives for Carol.
On Saturday Carol went diving with one of the many dive shops on the island – Yellow Submarine (there is a theme here – see later on!). The vast majority of dive sites can be reached from the shore and this would be a new experience for Carol. It was quite odd to don kit (minus fins) in the dive shop, walk across the road, go down a couple of steps and straight into the water with the reef starting only ten yards or so from the shore. The next challenge for a novice is putting fins on in the water – not a very elegant performance. The diving, however, was tremendous – the water is so incredibly clear and there is great variety of fish. Names are gradually being remembered – the little half yellow half purple ones are Fairy Basselets, white with a yellow stripe are Goat Fish (no-one knows why!) and the ubiquitous multicoloured Parrot fish. The next dive was a little further afield and reached in a long-serving small truck. There was much further to walk this time – many more steps and rocks to clamber over – it becomes quickly obvious how unfit one gets on a boat! There were supposed to be many large fish at that spot but they weren’t coming out to play that day – nevertheless there were still lots of new fish to spot and some spectacular corals.
Sunday 15th was the day we chose for touring the island by hire car. Much of the northern part of the island is hilly and has been established as a national park. The terrain and vegetation is fundamentally different from the other Caribbean islands we have visited. In place of rain forests you have scrub land and massive cacti. The highest peak is a mere 784 feet (235m) above sea level.
Washington Slagbaai National Park
The cacti are a theme – someone in the in the park authority obviously had a sense of humour when designing the signs for the loos:
An unexpected variety of wildlife greeted us - plenty of pelicans, flamingos, iguanas, brilliantly coloured lizards and bright green parrots about.
Parakichi or Green Shouldered Amazon Parrot
Head turning pretty flamingo
Who’s a pretty boy, then?
There are dive sites and snorkelling sites everywhere along the coast and we took advantage of that at one of the best snorkelling sites in the park. The reef was spectacular and the number and variety of brilliantly coloured reef fish amazing.
Wayaka – where we snorkelled
The southern end of the island is taken up, very largely, with salt pans and a large lagoon which offers, reputedly, unmatched snorkelling and windsurfing. The salt production industry has been re-established following around a 100 year gap following slave emancipation and the pans make a remarkable sight with each huge shallow pan changing colour from purple and lilac to white as the evaporation of the sea water takes place over around a year to leave the salt behind. It’s a quite impressive sight. Some 400,000 tons of salt are exported annually.
So, this is really what Bonaire is all about. It’s a little piece of Holland in the sun, there are a lot of Dutch holiday makers around, it’s quiet, organised and pleasant. It has spectacularly clear water and some really excellent diving. The inhabitants are completely sold on conservation and it all works. Nobody hustles or hassles anyone. Even the fishermen in their tiny dinghies quietly go about catching their fish on hand trolling lines and just as quietly disappear. No reggae music – it’s anything but. We’ve heard a bit of south American in a café in the hinterland and we’ve heard 1960’s anodyne pop (it’s a long time since I heard ‘Love me do’ or ‘I wanna hold your hand’ by the “fab four”). But, Bonaire doesn’t really cater much for yotties. It is friendly enough to them – as to anyone else - but they do not feature much in the consciousness of the planners and doers. On the other hand, as far as yotties are concerned Bonaire is probably just somewhere on the way to somewhere else – as it pretty much is for us. You’d be sorely pressed to make the 3 islands comprising the Dutch Antilles a cruising area in their own right. They are ranged pretty well due E-W, the wind is almost always a robust easterly and the current runs west underneath it. So, whilst a sail from Bonaire to Curacao and on to Aruba might be fun, the return trip wouldn’t be. Of course, were you to see the chain as part of a north Venezuelan coastal cruising ground it might all make a bit of sense. But, our guess is that few yotties, let alone their insurance companies, currently consider the Venezuelan mainland coast to be a sensible place to spend much, if any, time.
So, at around 1100 on Tuesday 17th April we slipped our mooring and headed west, on a 500+ NM voyage, past Curacao and Aruba, bound for Cartagena in Columbia.