After our NAUI certifications in August of 2005, we knew we wanted to expand our diving experience beyond the local Texas lakes and scuba parks. It was just a matter of deciding where to go. Then we discovered the island of Bonaire, one of what is known as the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao), located in the Dutch Caribbean. Bonaire is known as a "Divers Paradise" and it didn't take long to find out why. Because the waters surrounding the island have been a protected marine park for the last 25 years the reefs are healthy and marine life is abundant. Moorings are provided and no anchoring of boats is allowed. There is very little to no current on the leeward side of the island and the reefs run parallel to the shore line, making it a perfect destination for novice divers wanting to improve skills and enjoy the wonder of the ocean at the same time.
That would be us.
We flew American Airlines from DFW to San Juan, Puerto Rico and after a two hour layover American Eagle on to Flamingo Airport in Bonaire. All flights were on time and all of our luggage arrived in Bonaire. Since most of our scuba gear was in checked bags we were glad to see them roll into the airport. Picked up our 'beater' Toyota truck from Budget at the airport and it was close to 10PM by the time we got to our destination. It was a full day of travel.
We decided to stay at Captain Don's Habitat. Some of the reasons we chose Capt Don's included the availability of dive lockers at the dock, a "baby" dock just for divers (no boats) and the idea of dive freedom (no babysitting or tour type dives-unless you want them). Plus you just gotta love the nifty pirate flag as dive flag logo!
The first two nights we were upgraded to one of the Oasis Cottages. They are two bedroom, two bath with full kitchen, living room and large patio. They are also fully air conditioned. Unfortunately they are not ocean front so we had plenty of room to spread out but no view of the ocean. It was only for the first day and we spent that day doing orientation, check out dives and familiarizing ourselves with the resort.
We moved into Villa 7, in the ground floor suite on our second day. It was spacious and clean with a full kitchen, living room, dining area, separate bedroom, bath and a half and a large partially covered patio. Also fully air conditioned. There was an outside shower as well. The ocean was right out our back door and a leisurely walk along the walkway topping the rocky ocean cliffs led directly to the dive shop and the docks. This was worth waiting for.
The Dive Shop crew were a great bunch. Orientation with Ernst lasted about 30 minutes and we were given the rules of the marine park (no gloves, stay off the reef etc), an overview of the resort (locations of lockers, tanks, nitrox etc) and Habitat's philosophy of dive freedom was explained. The rest of the crew proved to be personable and helpful. We took advantage of the special packages they were offering and signed up for 6 boat dives and unlimited shore diving with the 24 hour tank availability. Just check your tanks when you pick them up and if they were leaking or not full enough for you, grab another one. There were even smaller tanks available and I took advantage of that a couple of times. Nitrox was available when we wanted it. It was great having the lockers right by the docks to store your gear, made the boat dives and dives off the dock extremely easy. There was a loading area in front of the dive shop and our truck was equipped with a tank rack for shore diving. More about the diving later.
The Island, Kralendijk (the town) and food
The island is small and easy to find your way around. It was a quick five minute drive from Habitat into the town of Kralendijk. The town itself is colorful with plentiful parking and many, many restaurants. Everyone was friendly and there is a notable absence of hawkers and street vendors. Quite easy and comfortable to walk along the waterfront or among the shops. Be warned, however, that the sidewalks roll up pretty early. Restaurants closed by 10PM and most shops seemed to close by 6.
We had meals in town at City Cafe (not recommended-on the waterfront but the food....not so good), La Guernica (fun place, fabulous tapas and wine), Anthony's Extreme Cuisine (where Anthony came to the table and presented a three course meal including goat and iguana and a beautiful dessert presentation, all were very good) and Pasa Bon Pizza (we had the specialty fish pizza, sounds weird but it was quite good). We also ate at Rum Runners, the Habitat restaurant (food was consistently good) and The Lions Den (next door Buddy Dive resort's restaurant where the specials of veal with grilled shrimp, conch salad and fish soup were especially good).
We also found our way to Warehouse Supermarket and bought a case of beer and some food for the villa. We ate some lunches and snacked in the villa on several days. It was so convenient to have a full kitchen. Most days I didn't seem to have much appetite.
On our last day we drove around the island to see the sites, past the slave huts on the south shore that were the sleeping quarters for the slaves working the salt ponds. We continued around the south side where the beautiful blue and turquoise water broke in tall waves against the rocky shore and on to Lac Bay on the windward side to watch the windsurfers at Jibe City. We drove back through town and headed north along the coastline and into Rincon on our way to the Washington Slagbaai National Park. We drove through the park, taking the shorter route across some amazingly rough and partially washed out roads through cactus fields and flamingo sanctuaries. Birds, goats, flamingos and lizards seem to be the main wildlife of the park and we saw plenty of all of them. The dive sites within the park looked a bit more adventurous than we would be comfortable with, I'm glad we saved them for a later trip.
And speaking of diving................................
Our reason for coming to Bonaire, of course, was the diving. What a perfect place to dive in January, 75 to 80 degrees above and below the water. Our very first dive was the required 'check out dive' directly after orientation and getting our marine park tags. Chris at the dive shop recommended our weight for saltwater, handed out the weights and ask if we would mind if Katrina, a single diver from Columbia, could join us on our check out dive as she didn't have a buddy. We warned her that this was our first ocean dive and we were pretty new at this whole diving thing, but since she was certified at Rescue Level we didn't mind having her along. We all geared up and did a giant stride off the 'baby dock' and descended into beautiful warm water with 100+ feet visibility. That dive was 35 minutes long, with a max depth of 64 feet and Bill and I were instantly hooked. It was like diving in a swimming pool......with fish......and coral and sponges and wow. We came out of the water ready to grab the camera and do it again. We dove off that dock several more times including our first night dive. We also managed to do three Nitox dives during our stay.
We hired Ernst for a dive-master guided night, pier dive, opting for Salt Pier vs Town Pier. The pier dives must be guided and approved by the Harbor Master, due primarily to ship traffic. We decided on Salt Pier because there would be few people and we could do a deeper dive. It was Ernst suggestion that we do a twilight dive off the 'baby dock' the day before we embarked on the pier dive. A 'practice' night dive if you will. So we found ourselves with another first on that first day, first ocean dive, first dive below 60 feet and now first night dive. This trip was rife with diving firsts. We did three night dives over the course of the trip and a dawn dive, jumping in before the sun came up and watching it rise while under water.
We were joined by Julia and Geoff for the Salt Pier dive, a brother and sister team. It was a shore dive on the southern end of the island. We geared up on the beach as we watched the sun go down and Ernst gave us a briefing on how we would do the dive. The colors and sites under the pier rival any other dive of the trip. It was a memorable dive in that it was completely different. Because there were no other divers, the five of us could explore and wander amongst the pier supports without ever feeling hemmed in. In addition to all the beautiful red and orange sponges and cup corals we saw a slipper lobster and some very large adult spotted drums.
We did a total of seven boat dives. With crews of Chris, Max, Netto, Christina and Robbie alternating between boat captain and dive master. The boat dives were truly easy and comfortable. The sites we dove were: Something Special (our favorite with the garden eels), Monks Haven on Klein (big coral formations - and stinging jelly fish pieces), Rock Pile on Klein (first Barracuda spotted), The Hilma Hooker (first big wreck dive - We had a pod of dolphins following the boat out to the site and once in the water encountered BIG tarpon and barracuda), No-Name Beach on Klein (this was suppose to be Knife but another boat was moored there), South Bay on Klein (ascended into pouring rain and some white capping waves - saw a very large yellow frogfish) and Petries Pillar (large blue spiny lobster around 75 feet).
Our shore diving was spread out over the trip for a total of 6 shore dives (not counting those seven dives from the dock). In addition to the Salt Pier we dove Oil Slick Leap (first shore dive on our own, where I had an encounter with a sticker-bush upon exiting, ouch), 1000 steps (easy entry and the steps were much easier than anticipated-great dive, saw 3 foot blue parrotfish), Angel City (double reef with sandy bottom between, spotted a scorpion fish hiding in the rocks) and Cliff (evening dive many many wrasse in streaming schools) and Small Wall (impressive to see the top and the bottom of the wall at the same time), both from the beach right behind our villa.
As mentioned we did several dives off the 'baby dock' and either swam to the right towards Cliff or to the left to La Machaca the small wreck in front of Captn Don's. We saw an abundance of marine life in this area, something different each time. From a large free swimming spotted moray to a peacock flounder, crab, tarpon, schoolmasters, angels, smooth trunkfish, trumpetfish, squirrelfish and of course many many parrotfish. There were so many beautiful large purple stove pipe sponges and unusual coral formations as well as the diversity of fish and reef creatures. Every dive was something new and interesting.
The Photo Album link above will show some of the pictures we managed to get. Bill didn't take the camera on every dive (SeaLife DC500) and of course some things just wouldn't hold still long enough to photograph. In spite of it being our first dive trip and first time to use the camera somewhere besides the low visibility lake around here, I think there are some nice shots. Unfortunately on the next to the last day the camera flooded. It was such a small amount of water we had hoped we could dry it out but water and digital camera's just don't mix. The camera is toast. We live, we learn. And we will have a new internal camera for the housing before our next dive trip. Which hopefully will be very soon.
Someone ask me on this trip if I would return to Bonaire in the future and although there are many other places I want to visit and dive, there is no question that I would return to Bonaire in a heartbeat. Hey there are 60 or 70 more dive sites I haven't seen yet!
Click on the diver above for another movie