||Downwind to Bonaire, goose-winged, rolly but fast.
First thing we spot is the tower of the salt pans - that being Bonaire's only
export. Next is the wind farm. How did mariners find these islands
before they covered them with windmills? We motor up the coast in the lee
of the island towards Kralendijk, the capital. Our first impressions are
positive, the waterfront is full of Dutch style buildings all painted in pastel
colours. It looked clean.
There's no anchoring allowed in Bonaire.
Even if it was, there's virtually nowhere to anchor. The underwater ledge
that extends out from land is narrow and with only a thin covering of sand.
More importantly, aside from salt the main revenue generator of Bonaire is
tourism, and tourism of an underwater kind. Virtually the whole island is
surrounded by stunning coral reef, dropping off the ledge into the deep and the
associated marine life on the reef is prolific. Diving is why people come
to Bonaire. The whole coast line and it's reef is a protected marine
park, and to protect the reef, the authorities some years ago dropped 40
or so substantial mooring buoys for visiting yachts and banned anchoring.
|The buoys are in pairs (port & starboard) which
makes picking them up a tad tricky. No problem as it turned out. Bouncing across the waves
in his little Zodiac comes Yves from Imagine to pick up the mooring lines and
hand them to Lindy, easy peasy. Only I misjudge it, and slowly fall away
to leeward leaving Yves standing in his dinghy holding a mooring buoy in each
hand and grinning. I come in faster next time and duly ram him (Ha.
That'll teach him to grin at me!) No problem, he's still grinning and
miraculously still holding both buoys! In a few more minutes we're tied up
and receiving a potted island guide from Yves in very broken Spanish (trust me
his English is worse). He has been here for several days and seems to have
discovered where everything is, but has so far failed in a very Gallic way to
trouble either immigration or customs. "No problem, we'll all go together
tomorrow." And then he's off. He's spotted Kanaloa arriving and he's
off to help them with their lines as well.
|And tomorrow we do go and complete the
formalities. All very easy. Relaxed smiling people who just want to
make everything easy for us. Yves is ticked off at each office for not
having cleared in earlier. He grins, rolls his eyes, shrugs his shoulders,
looks bemused, confused, speaks only in French and finally the officials grin as
well and stamp his papers.
We spend the next days just relaxing, sitting in
waterfront bars or restaurants. So different from the last 9 months in
Venezuela. Then the 6 of us hire a car for a day to tour the island.
We quickly discover that a day is all it takes. We do the salt pans, slave
huts and flamingos. That's the south of the island covered. Then we
head for Rincon, Bonaire's second city (actually village). Rincon has a
restaurant which is in the guide, but it's closed. We find another
(actually the other) bar/restaurant. We ask what they have to eat.
The lady behind the bar eyes us uncomfortably. Turns out it's a quantity
issue. No matter which way you cut it she can't come up with enough dishes
to serve 6 people. Tourists just don't come to Rincon. In reality,
tourists in Bonaire don't really move far away from the dive sites.
|So we have a few beers and carry on north (we're
nearly at the end of the island now). See some more flamingos and then we
arrive at the entrance to the national park. We debate whether to go in.
It doesn't really look like there's much to see and we're all starving. In
half an hour we can be back in Kralendijk and sitting in a restaurant.
Then somebody spots on the sign that there's a restaurant in the park. We
confirm that it's open and pay our entry fees (the tickets are valid for a year
- hurrah). The park does not fail to meet our expectations - cactus scrub
and a couple of semi-wild donkeys. Not even a flamingo! However, the restaurant is open. It's also predictably overpriced
and awful, so we eat a mediocre meal and then do what cruisers with a hire car always do - go
shopping and fill the car with all the heavy stuff we would otherwise have to
carry by hand back to the boat.
|As we said above the reason people come to
Bonaire (apart of course for the flamingos) is the diving. Our mooring
buoy is not much more than 100 metres from the Yellow Submarine dive school.
So we sign up to do our PADI open water certification, which will qualify us to
dive, hire equipment, fill tanks, etc anywhere in the world. A week of
buggering around with buoyancy, taking equipment off and putting it back on
under water, and (Lindy's particular favourite) taking our mask off whilst
sitting on the seabed, letting them fill with water and
clearing them again. Then we were qualified. And not being people to do
things by halves, and scuba gear being completely incompatible with any other
gear we had on the boat, we next took the opportunity to spend hundreds of
pounds scuba shopping - and then converting our forward head into "Scuba Room"!
Prospective guests will now have to deal with the fact that it's not possible to
use the toilet without donning a wet suit!
Our time in Bonaire coincided with the World Cup
2010 which seemed to totally engulf the island. The islanders didn't seem to be
particularly chauvinistic in their support. The white/Dutch inhabitants
predominantly fell in behind Holland of course and covered everything in orange. The
majority, black population were much more varied in their allegiance. Brasil probably was most supported, whether because the local language,
Papiamentu - a mongrel mixture, but with Portuguese probably being the major
constituent - gave them a natural affinity, or whether because Brasil were
favourites to win, who knows. Ultimately, of course, all the others fell by the wayside and it was Holland and Spain in the final, by which time the island had
more or less 100% fallen in behind the Netherlands.
We're not big football fans so hadn't been making
the quasi compulsory trips to bars with large screen TVs. However, our
next door neighbours, Adrian and Jackie on Ocean's Dream convinced us to join
them at the Mona Lisa bar to watch the final. "Free food and free drinks
every time that Holland score!"
Well in the event Holland didn't score so there
were no free drinks, but we were liberally supplied with dodgy Dutch Frikandel
sausages and deep fried fish with heads still attached. Personally I
prefer it when my lunch doesn't look me in the eye!
Next morning we woke to find that Ocean's Dream
was nowhere to be seen. Our first thought was that Adrian and Jackie had
taken the Dutch defeat much more seriously than we'd imagined, but then we
noticed that their mooring wasn't there either - that's a bit like taking the
ball home with you isn't it?
It transpired that they'd (luckily) been woken by
a rain shower in the middle of the night and getting up to close the hatches had
found themselves in mid- channel, mooring buoys still attached, drifting towards
Klein Bonaire. A bit more investigation uncovered the fact that whoever
had installed the buoy had seized the
shackle onto the seascrew with copper wire. Electrolysis had done the rest, all the
thread on the shackle pin had been eaten away and it had just fallen out. Unceremoniously detached from their mooring they decided to leave for Curaçao
the following morning.
A few days later we were also on our way west.
Bonaire was clean, safe, pretty with great diving, but not a place to get
anything done and we still had problems with that generator!
It was also becoming
increasing difficult keeping up with our new neighbours!