On our adventures to the Caribbean and Hawaii we've often snorkeled. We've always thought it would be nice to learn how to scuba dive. We'd often be snorkeling and while choking on salt water see a bunch of scuba divers below us having a grand old time. So Erynn scheduled us for PADI certification at Scuba Too in Cedar Falls, Iowa. We did the classroom work and confined water dives in Iowa and then went to Bonaire to finish the certification.
Erynn found a tremendous bed & breakfast, the Deep Blue View (N12 11.450 W68 16.793), run by a Dutch couple, Esther and Menno. The whole package included the open water dive portion of the PADI certification, a truck to get around the island, a sunset cruise with BBQ, and of course, a room and breakfast. Esther and Menno are incredibly friendly and bent over backwards to accommodate everyone's needs. Plus, they were great cooks (they gave up a restaurant in the Netherlands to live in paradise and run a B & B and dive operation).
I have to dedicate the first portion of this photo album to Esther and Menno who are the proprietors of the Deep Blue View B&B. They are both dive masters that can certify you in many PADI specialties, take you on some cool dives and cook some mean food.
As I mentioned earlier, Erynn and I got certified to dive on this trip. Esther did our four open water dives with us and took us on a night dive to North Town Pier. Menno took us on a two-tank boat dive in his Office to Klein Bonaire, which is a small, uninhabited island just to the west of Bonaire.
The pictures above show the pool area and the outside dining table where most of the socializing occurs. On the left photo you can see the spiral staircase that leads up to a balcony that overlooks the western side of the island toward Klein Bonaire. The B&B only has five rooms and everyone we met while there was a diver, but you don't need to be a diver to enjoy the company, island and good food. However, there isn't much to do on the island other than dive. The license plates even say "Diver's Paradise" on them.
Here's a view from the balcony that I mentioned before. The B&B is a couple miles from the main town of
Kralendijk on the side of one of the island's hills. In the distance you can barely see the outline of
Klein Bonaire, which is part of the island's nature preserve and home to a number of good dive and snorkeling
sites. You need a boat to get there, but it only takes a few minutes (even with only one engine). If you could
over the horizon, you'd see Curaçao
about 30 miles away. And even further would be Aruba.
Bonaire and the others are collectively known as the ABC Islands
and are located in the southern Caribbean off the coast of Venezuela. All three islands at one time were part of the
Dutch Antilles and exhibit a strong Dutch influence to this day. However, Aruba split off and is now it's own
The other two fixtures of the household are the two black labs, Bully and Usco. The two dogs lounge around all day due to the heat and then run around for a couple hours once the sun goes down. They are really mellow and Bully is the more rambunctious of the two as you can see from the photo with Esther.
The main town on the island is Kralendijk, which on an island of only 15,000 people is pretty small. They do get the occasional cruise ship, but there isn't the usual pile of gift shops and duty free. The picture to the left shows the main street. There are a bunch of other commercial and residential streets in town, but this is about it for tourist retail. Each of the resorts have their own dive shops where you can buy gear and t-shirts. The town is on the western (leeward) side of the island and is also the main shipping port. Almost all of our walking and eating occurred within a couple hundred yards of the waterfront.
I have to say that the food on the island was pretty fantastic. Our only "not so great" dining experience was at Donna ∧ Giorgio where we ate our last night. The entire week we feasted on super-fresh seafood and then we decided to temp fate and eat at an Italian restaurant that didn't have much seafood but did have European service (i.e. slow and inattentive).
Having said all that, we did have some great nights out. The picture on the left was taken on the upper floor of the Salsa Restaurant. We went on Thursday and they were having "Fish Market Thursday", which meant everything on the menu was seafood. Erynn ordered the blue marlin and I the barracuda. After we got our appetizers, the waitress came up and asked if we minded waiting 10 minutes for our entrees, because the boat delivering the marlin had not arrived yet. Talk about fresh!!! And it tasted as great as it sounds.
It'll sound funny, but one can actually get tired of having great seafood every night. I know, crazy...
So we took the recommendation of Menno and headed to the Garden Cafe for some cerveza and pizza. There we met Raja from Venezuela and is the spitting image of Santa Claus. Other honorable mentions and great places to eat are Wil's Tropical Grill, La Guernica and the Rose Inn Bar & Terrace in Rincon. The Rose Inn does, in fact, have the coldiest beer on the island and the goat stew is also mighty tasty.
Here's Erynn in front of our rental truck, Milo, at the Andrea II dive site. Almost all of the diving on Bonaire can be done from shore. Throw all your gear in the back of a truck, drive to the site, walk a few feet, swim a few meters and then descend to the reef. If you feel like sleeping in a bit, no problem. Everything is completely relaxed and simple. And no matter what the weather is doing, there are always a bunch of dive sites that are sheltered.
This was our first-ever dive by ourselves after we got certified with Esther. Three of our open water certification dives were done at Front Porch and the last was at Oil Slick Leap. This was also the first dive that I got to use my new Sea & Sea underwater camera. I got the 750G model with waterproof housing and YS-15 external strobe. It was the cheapest setup I could find on B&H Photo and from the photos you'll see why. It was absolutely adequate to take the photos that I was interested in so I was happy. However, I bought the PADI Underwater Digital Photographer Manual (BTW fantastic if you're interested in underwater photography) and this camera doesn't allow you to do most of what the manual instructs you to do for great photos. The only really decent photo I got of a Parrotfish was on this first dive (I didn't take the camera during our certification dives). Parrotfish are everywhere and swim really fast when you try to take their photo.
Click here for a complete listing of Bonaire's dive sites.
« Menno hard at work
On our second day after being certified Menno took us to his Office for a boat dive off Klein Bonaire the little island off Bonaire's west coast. Our first stop was Capt. Don's Reef followed by Bonadventure. As you can see I also took the camera and made a few snappies.
Capt. Don was just sailing around the Caribbean one day in the 60's and discovered the sparsely populated island and decided to call it home. He pretty much started the diving scene on the island and it's reef conservation projects. As of this writing he still lives on the island, but has nothing to with tourism or diving because he's pretty old. He is no longer affiliated with the dive resort that bears his name. There is a plaque at the bottom of the mooring at Capt. Don's Reef that reads:
This reef is named for Capt. Don Stewart.
A pioneer in reef preservation and
conservation in honor of his 30th year
on the island of Bonaire.
From all the marine life his efforts
have helped to save and from all
who have enjoyed the wonders of
the sea - thank you.
November 2, 1992
The rest of our dives during the day were at Weber's Joy/Witches Hut, Ol' Blue, Bachelor Beach and Angel City. All together, we logged 12 dives with over 10 hours of bottom time. All of the dive sites are marked with yellow rocks with the dive site name on them. Here you can see Erynn next to the rocks for Witches Hut and me with the actual hut in the background. The fish is a Stoplight Parrotfish, which is Erynn's and her sister Amy's all-time favorite fish. "It looks like Indian corn!" I also got a little artistic at Ol' Blue and took a photo of our scuba tanks in the back of Milo the Toyota Hilux.
I ended up taking about 400 underwater photos. There is no way I'd post them all, especially since their mostly a ghastly blue color. I like the photos because I have a vivid mental image and can remember the incredible colors, and many of the landscape photos I took are not as breathtaking as they are in real life. The brain coral in the lower left photo I took at Angel City was about 15 feet in diameter. The coral was perfect with no blemishes. The island's southwest side has a section of double reef, and these two reefs meet at Angel City. This reef was our favorite day time dive. Once you descend onto the first reef you swim across a sandy bottom that's 80-100 to the second reef. We then swam south along the second reef to where the reefs met and then back north to the exit point. The corals were perfect and the number of fish was amazing. The upper left photo shows a Blue Tang and the upper right is of a French Angel Fish. The coastal shot was taken Bachelor Beach looking north toward Kralendijk.
By far the best dive of the trip was the night dive, escorted by Esther, to the north Town Pier. To limit the potential for damage to the aquatic life, all pier dives must be escorted and are limited to only four groups per hour. Since everyone wants to eat at the normal time, the rush always occurs at the 7 o'clock slot. But because permission is given by the authorities on a first-come, first-serve basis these slots always fill up (apparently). We decided to eat early and try for the 9 o'clock slot and it turned out that no other groups were there leaving all the cool stuff to ourselves.
I have to say that we saw everything. Above are the two sea horses we saw on this one dive (brown on the left and
orange on the right). The photos didn't come out very well because I was:
1. trying to figure out how to take night photos with my new camera,
2. trying not to kill the seahorses,
3. trying not to kill anything else or myself (there was an octopus a few feet behind me for the brown one),
4. trying to maintain my buoyancy having just learned to dive a few days before,
5. and trying to do all this while holding a light in one hand, the camera in the other, and synchronizing the flashlight and camera strobe to get decent photos (using the flashlight to point the camera then pulling it away to take the photo with the strobe).
You try it.
On the left is an Arrow Crab on a tube sponge. The right photo shows one of the two octopi we saw on this dive. It's in an old paint can and you can just barely see it's eye.
The coral formations on the piers are amazing. The colors at night are nothing like anything I've ever seen before. On the reefs during the day the sponges were mostly purple and brown. At night on the pier they were every color of the rainbow. In particular, the orange cup coral are everywhere and intensely beautiful under this pier (center of the right photo). They look like orange fur (almost like a Dutch wig) at night, but are all closed up during the day. If you go to Bonaire, do this dive. Period.
Two of the more interesting photos I took were of this Redeye Sponge Crab and the HUGE Green Moray Eel. You can see the piece of sponge seemingly hanging off the left side of the coral formation. Well actually it is hanging there because inside is a crab. Apparently, the crab fashions a living piece of sponge into a nice little home.
The photo of the Green Moray is shown here exactly as I took the photo. As you recall, I was learning to do many things
at once on this dive. One of the skills I did not master was stopping my forward momentum with both my hands
occupied. Therefore, when Erynn saw this eel in the gigantic truck/lorry tire (i.e. eel = bigger than Erynn) I rushed
over for a photo. I then snapped this one from a number of feet away, which resulted in the sub par quality. So I continued
my drift to get closer for another photo. However, the tire was in between to piers and my approach was a bit too low
for comfort (only about 2-3 feet above the tire). Previously, I had been using my hands to help me stop, but they were
holding the light and camera so were useless at this particular moment of encounter. Fearing that if I continued, the eel could simply extend it's jaw
and take a hunk out of my thigh. Therefore, I frantically swam to the side screaming like a girl into my regulator.
I'm man enough to admit that I was a little freaked out. It didn't help that all the other
divers back at the B&B kept saying that Green Morays are nice and friendly and that I was scared for nothing.
I'd like to see you try it!!!
If you'd like to see much more professional looking photos from Bonaire I'd recommend you check out this site. I can only wish to have enough money to afford the camera equipment it takes to take such good photos underwater.
Another highlight of the trip was the sunset cruise Menno and Esther took us on. Some snacks and rum punch were on offer while we slowly idled along the shore. We got to know the other group that was there from Denver and points west. The group consisted of four couples that found a way to dive with each other every year. Lots of fun.
For dinner, Esther had made from scratch six different salads: pasta, lettuce, Italian, potato, etc. Menno then manned the grill and made some fresh barracuda and chicken. Before the Deep Blue View, they owned a restaurant in the Netherlands and they didn't lose their skills. Menno, Esther and the group that was there with us were tons of fun. They even play the "I've got your nose" game in Holland!!!
Erynn and I have been to a number of rowing world championships and have had the pleasure to sit next to some crazy Dutch fans in orange. If you're ever at an international event always seek out the Dutch fans, because they're always the most fun. Seriously. Anyway, during dinner the topic of Dutch fans came up and Esther pulled out Menno's football (soccer) wig that's reserved for special occasions. Esther did her best imitation of an orange cup coral. I have no idea what I was doing.
One day after diving we decided to drive around the southern half of the island. The most prominent feature of the south is the salt flats. Looking at a map it looks like almost a third of the island is devoted to evaporating salt water in large basins to harvest the salt. The operation is owned by Cargill Salt and the salt piles can be seen from miles away. They use the salt for roads and industrial processes since it has too much algae in it for human consumption. All of the sea salt at the island's restaurants come from South Africa.
Another thing that's hard to miss on the southern ring road are the two areas with little concrete huts. They are recreations of huts used to house slaves. The slaves were used in colonial times to harvest the salt. If you've read the history of salt by Mark Kurlansky then you know why Bonaire was so important before there was refrigeration. Though we only saw two hut clusters, there seems to have been three in the past that were designated by colors: white, red and blue. Ship captains would be told to approach the island at "Red Slave" and that would mean their should would be loaded by the slaves from the red huts. The photos above show White Slave (left) and Red Slave (right). Of course, this explanation was given by a Dutchman that is, on occasion, known to wear an orange wig so I can't attest to it's validity.
The other exciting aspect about the southern half of the island is the prospect of seeing flamingos. There is a section of the island that's not accessible by public road that's designated as a flamingo sanctuary. Therefore, in order to see some they need to stray outside the protected area. Near the end of our drive, we spotted a flock and quickly parked the truck and went on a mission. The area we stopped had a number of these windmills used to pump water for the salt ponds so I had Erynn pose for a photo. You may be able to see that it's a bit windy (eastern, windward side of the island), which makes it a hot spot for windsurfing and land sailing. Both sports have schools on the island.
The northern portion of Bonaire is devoted to the Washington Slagbaai National Park, which we visited during our rest day before being able to fly home. The road through the park is a single track and should take about 3.5 hours. However, Erynn and I are fans of the World Rally Championship so we wanted to see what our little truck was made of. We made it around in just over 2.5 hours with stops for photos (about 40km/hr). There are a few cool things to stop and take photos of, but for the most part the entire road is mile after mile of dirt road lined with cacti. We even took a photo of the endless cacti... interspersed with some dramatic scenery.
One of the stops on our tour was at the Blow Hole, which is a coral formation in the shore that creates a neat vacuum effect that makes a loud noise when a wave comes in. The sound was cool, but visually not that amazing. The shore inlet just to the north of the Blow Hole was more visually appealing in my opinion. There was a huge cave leading into the cliff below Erynn (right photo). The cliff and wave are huge compared to tiny Erynn in the photo.
Our last stop in the park was at Boka Slagbaai, which has some buildings from the 1860's that were restored a few years ago. I thought the color of the buildings, rocks, and water made for some good photos. Also, on the other side of the road from the buildings was another salt flat with a bunch of flamingos. I guess that your chances of seeing the birds up close is much better in the park, because you normally can't get close in the south part of the island due to the restrictions.
On our way to and from Bonaire, we had a 4 hour layover in San Juan. So instead of sitting around in a crappy airport, we decided to take a taxi to town and see what there is to see in Old San Juan. During the first layover, we just went to the Hard Rock for lunch and walked around a bit. I didn't take many photos. On our second layover, we walked around El Morro and took a ton of photos.Back to top and Bonaire photos
Over the centuries the defenses around San Juan have been built up in spectacular fashion. Here's Erynn on a bench in front of El Morro. The left photo is from inside the fort looking down the city wall toward the San Cristóbal fort at the other end of the city.
Here's a cool (if I do say so myself) panorama photo from inside the fort. On the left is the Atlantic Ocean and to the right is San Juan Harbor. In the center where all the old buildings are is Old San Juan. The large grassy area in the foreground is called the Glacis and is meant to augment the strategic advantage of the fort in case of a ground attack. It's smooth and sloping so attackers would have no cover. No thanks!
To the left is an aerial photo of the Santa Barbara Battery. The fort is laid out as a series of stepped, fortified walls. There's a battery at water level, the Water Battery, and this photo shows the "second" step. I took the photo from a porthole in the third step, the Carmen Battery. The small garita (sentry box) in the center of the photo is where Erynn is standing. The place is pretty big...
The highest level of fortification is known as the Hornwork because the two bastions look like a bull horn from above. These photos are from the Austria Bastion on the southern side of the fort. I think everyone visiting the fort took their photo by the cannonball stack so Erynn wanted me to pose too. The lighthouse on the right dates from 1908 and is the latest of three lighthouses that have been on site. The flags in the background are the Cross of Burgundy, Puerto Rico, and USA (from left to right).
Old San Juan has street after street of brightly painted house fronts. Very pretty, and almost like French Quarter in New Orleans but more extensive and less dirty. We enjoyed our few hours walking around.
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