The big draw to Bonaire is the world class diving. In fact the whole coastline is a national park and Bonaire was the first Caribbean island to protect their reefs. They do not let you anchor, instead you pick up a mooring and you can snorkel and dive right from your swim platform. The moorings are lined up right off the city front and everything is found along the water. About 150 feet from shore the bottom disappears and descends to a depth of 200-300 feet. After we did our obligatory housekeeping tasks (on-line banking, checking on the house, checking on other work related properties, ordering spare parts) we were able to jump in the water and dive right off the boat. Zander and Mike took the dinghy every morning to several other sites around the island, but diving on the waterfront turned out to be almost as good. The entire waterfront is marked as one long continuous dive site. I have not been diving much on this trip, call it mid life fear of large volumes of water over my head, but also because most of my gear has been commandeered. The masses of hours spent snorkeling have helped with my anxiety and Zander finally convinced me to try diving again (more than just the shallow dives I did in Belize). Not to sound cliche, but it is a magical underwater fantasy world beneath the boat and I didn't want to miss any of it in spite of my fear. Zander took me down the first time (he is infinitely more patient than Mike is with my newly acquired phobias about deep water) and after the initial shock of being back under water, the reef took my breath away. No decompression chamber visit for my first dive, success is all relative! The diversity on the reef can only be rivaled by the great rain forests of the world and it was spellbinding. We saw huge coral colonies, fan coral, swaying in the light current, enormous purple sponges, brilliant colored sea anemones and exotic and colorful fish. It is hard to put into words how special the coral reefs are. The Great Barrier Reef may still have more biodiversity than the reefs in Bonaire but I've never been anywhere that has surpassed the clarity of the water surrounding this island. I only went to about 80 feet, but below me the reef continued as far as a I could see and above me the hull of the boat rocked as the waves lapped gently against the sides, as clear as if I could reach out and touch it. Snorkeling will always be fun, but diving allows you to get up close and personal and really see the minutia of the reef community. You can interact with algae farming fish and watch how they defend their gardens. You can witness a cleaning station in play and watch large fish get primped and groomed by cleaner shrimp. It is always a treat to see an octopus, a shark, eel or something equally rare, but the regular reef dwellers never get old.
Zander has become an excellent diver. With only a few dozen dives under his belt, he carries himself like a pro underwater and I feel very comfortable going down with him, he takes it all very seriously. Porter has not been certified (and takes practically nothing seriously), but we are allowing him to go down and do shallow dives with Mike when the conditions are ideal. He doesn't dive deeper than an atmosphere, so he can't hurt himself, and although he doesn't have all the hand signs down and doesn't fully understand the physics, he is still a pretty decent little diver. His comfort level in the water certainly helps and he can free dive as deep as we let him scuba dive, but he enjoys being able to stay down longer. He is also a gear head, so he loves the diving paraphernalia; dive knife, computer, spear gun. Since we start many of our dives off the swim platform, Ana dives down to meet us when we are about five feet down and is learning to buddy breath on the regulator. Soon we will have 5 divers on board.
From Bonaire we headed west, 35 miles to Curacao, a larger and independent, former Dutch colony island. We had a different experience in Curacao. We didn't dive, but tried to take in the culturally important sights of the island instead. Like Bonaire, Curacao has a mix of ethnicities that make up a culturally diverse population, but they have a much larger African heritage and it is evident in the art, the music, the food and the people themselves. Curacao has a sad history of being one of the most important centers in the slave trade in the Caribbean and of the 12 million slaves that were taken from Africa during the hundreds of years of slavery, many came through Curacao. We wandered around neighborhoods and visited the Kura Hulanda, the old slave trading courtyard that has been transformed into an African artifact museum with a section on the dedicated to the slave triangle. The museum served as a horrific reminder of how brutal human beings can be to other human beings. They had a replica hold of a boat so you could see how packed the slaves were and almost imagine the unimaginable. It was a somber visit, but an important one for the kids.
The main city of Willemstad has been included in the list of prestigious United Nations (UNESCO) sites and many of the city buildings have been preserved as national monuments. Apparently it is one of the best preserved and most interesting cities in the Caribbean and we enjoyed meandering around. Willemstad also has a floating market of colorful boats that come over from Venezuela to sell produce from their boats. We wandered around the market, walked across the floating bridge and took in the sights. We also did quite a bit of provisioning since the prices and quality of grocery stores in the Dutch islands was really great. The boat is once again loaded to the waterline with enough food to survive a nuclear winter.
We are hoping to take off tomorrow en-route to Colombia, but with a possible stop in Aruba if the weather isn't great.
|Floating bridge with Willemstad in background|
|The very depressing replica of a slave trading hold|
|Slave auction yard|