You may have already heard how earlier this month I went on a trip to Bonaire with the dive club I joined. So I figured I’d write this post to tell you all a bit about the trip and share some of the photos I took topside and underwater while I was there because (a) some of you might care and (b) if I want someone to pay me someday to travel the world and write/talk about it I’d probably better practice the traveloguing.
The Island of Bonaire
Together with Aruba and Curacao, Bonaire is one of the “ABC Islands” which lie in the southern Caribbean off the coast of Venezuela. It is part of the Dutch Antilles (along with Curacao, St. Maarten, and some smaller islands) which is, in turn, part of the “Kingdom of the Netherlands.” Apparently the “Kingdom” is going to be reorganized in December 2008, with St. Maarten and Curacao opting for greater autonomy (as Aruba has already done) while Bonaire, Saba and other small islands will become legally akin to municipalities in the Netherlands like Amsterdam or Delft.
At various points in its history, Bonaire was ruled by the Spanish, the Dutch and the British, however none of those Empires did much to colonize the arid island. The Spanish enslaved the indigenous Caquetios people and shipped most of them off to work on sugar cane plantations in Santo Domingo. They’re also responsible for transplanting wild goats and donkeys to Bonaire, the descendants of whom still roam the island today. The Dutch West India company began the commercial production of salt (which is still Bonaire's #1 export) in the 17th century using convicts, Native Americans, and Africans for slave labor.
Today, most of the islands inhabitants are of mixed African/European ancestry but there is also a sizeable percentage of Dutch Europeans. The official language is Dutch, but a lot of people speak this Creole language called Papiamentu which combines Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish -- it even has some words whose roots come from English and Italian as well as from African and Native American languages.
As I said, Bonaire has an arid climate, so it's not a green island known for its fresh produce. Wandering around you see a lot of tall cactus fences that people have cultivated to seperate their property from the road. But despite the desert clime, I was struck with the diversity of animals I saw on and around Bonaire. On land I happened upon some of the wild goats as well as iguanas, salamanders, small amphibious crabs that scuttled sideways back into the water, a parrot, a pelican and a white flamingo. Flying fish jumped out of the waves in front of the dive boat. And underwater, Bonaire is surrounded by reefs which support a thriving, colorful ecosystem.
Most of Bonaire's tourism industry is centered on diving. While I was there, staying at Captain Don's Habitat resort, I went on a total of 14 dives. In addition to a multitude of different kinds of fish, coral and sponges, I saw some a bunch of coral shrimp (did you know they like to clean fish by eating little things off of them? I don't think I knew this), a few turtles, a lobster, a sting ray, and a couple of dolphins! (granted they were like 50 feet away, they seemed like they were in a hurry to get somewhere -- no time to play for these guys).
I went on a wreck dive of this sunken 80s drug smuggling ship (sounds pretty Miami Vice doesn't it?) called the Hilma Hooker which was pretty cool. According to the dive computer I was wearing, I got down to 96 feet and we got to swim through this opening in the ship's cargo hold. Equally other-worldly was the night dive I went on. At night (I guess this is obvious), the water is dark except for the flashlights carried by the divers in your group and these huge tarpon, who were maybe attracted by the light and which I liked to think of as "ghost fish," kept on swimming by us. Also on the night dive I saw a slipper lobster and this big crab that looked like it was delicious.
Anyway, I made a slideshow of all the photos I took (with captions and all) so check it out if you want. Oh also, at one of the dive sites ("Something special" which is right by Kralendijk's harbor) we swam by this webcam at 50 feet. You can check out live images from the cam here.