Territory number: 205
When? January 2019 coming from Aruba, going on to Curaçao
‘A day without laughter, is a day without life.’
The flight is only half an hour, crossing Curaçao on the way. The ABCs are not arranged in alphabetical order. A late arrival, but a happy one. ‘Have a good stay,’ beams the efficient lady on immigration. The reception at my new hotel, a dive resort is less effusive. They’re making me pay to rent the safe in my room. I’ve never come across that one before, when the safe is already in the room. ‘Otherwise we will lock it up….’
I’ve been having another quiet day in the sun, while I suss out the locality. I’ve been to the local Chinese supermarket (expensive). Like Aruba, the island is flat and arid, but without the wide sand beaches. The area around the hotel is hardly scenic. There is a water processing plant, cactus fencing and a view across to an even flatter, smaller island, Klein Bonaire, half a mile away. Instead, Bonaire has a reputation for the best diving in the Caribbean. I’ve tested the snorkelling off the hotel jetty. There’s a drop off to a reef five metres out, but the wind and boats have kicked up sand and visibility isn’t great. There are pair of tarpons – enormous- under the pier though. They lurk around, as the hotel kitchen tips the scraps of fish into the sea for them.
Snorkelling at Klein Bonaire. I spend an hour and a half happily drifting along drop-offs that start opposite my hotel. Like all coral in the Caribbean this is not particularly colourful, but at least it’s alive and there’s plenty of interesting animal life: eagle rays, angelfish, barracuda, turtles, eels, varieties of parrotfish and the usual assortment of striped sergeant majors and shoals of minuscule blue flashes. The stoplight parrotfish is common here. It’s one of those fish that changes sex, in this case from female to male. It must be a weird life.
My very organised Dutch boat hosts say that Klein Bonaire used to be owned by Harry Belafonte. It’s where he wrote Island in the Sun.
I find the most rewarding travel often happens when I get a local to take me round. Today, Oy (short for Gregorio) is taking me on a figure of eight tour round Bonaire, in his Kia. He is quietly knowledgeable and goes out of his way to stop for photos. It’s a surprisingly interesting and diverse place. The reef runs right round the island, which is almost entirely coral and limestone as a result. The drop-off is really close to the shore, all up the western coast, so divers can access without boats. All of the sites are marked with yellow stones. ‘Thousand Steps’ (there’re really only 67 Oyo says), though access looks rather too adventurous, across slippy rocks in some. There’s a stripe of turquoise running along the coast, immediately turning cyan at the reef, so it’s very easy to see where it is.
The land rises to 2000 metres in the north, where there are some small mountains, lakes and a few flamingos. The limestone hills and cliffs are entirely finger cactus covered. It’s the only thing that grows (they make liqueur and slimy ‘healthy’ soup from it). All the food has to be imported. There are tall metal windmills running pumps, numerous small ranches and some goats scattered across the countryside. Road signs also warn of wild donkeys and sure enough we encounter a small, shy group, grazing in the scrub. Rincon, famous for its annual festival, visited by the king and queen, is the only town outside the capital, Kralendijk. The latter sits at the centre of our figure of eight, so is encountered twice. It’s unsurprisingly, a smaller version of Philipsburg, in Sint Maarten, with brightly painted shops cafes and bars and Dutch gables, geared up to cater to the cruise ship market.
This hotel is a little hit or miss. The staff are mostly very friendly and work hard, though not very efficiently. However, one man who works the late shift around the office has had a distinctly off tone of voice whenever I’ve dealt with him. When I inquire about my return transfer to the airport, which I’ve already booked by email, he reprimands me: ‘You’re supposed to give us the information’. So, I ask for his name, thinking I will mention it on Trip Advisor. ‘Rudy’ he replies. I can’t help smirking.
I’ve been hanging out with two friendly Canadian couples, Dave and Barb and Bob and Sharon (sounds like a film) at my hotel. I met them first on my trip to Klein Bonaire and all four, although now retired, are in education too, so we’ve plenty to talk about, as well as the usual topics, Trump and Brexit. They invite me snorkelling on the local reef this morning – we’re all leaving this afternoon. Dave is so keen not to be mistaken as American that he even wears a Canada T shirt while he’s in the water.
I sit with them again at the airport this afternoon, recovering from today’s disasters. I lost my passport and boarding pass after I checked in. It was eventually handed in to the airline. Heaven knows what happened. But in the kerfuffle of searching for the passport I then lost my Maui Jim sunglasses. They don’t turn up. It’s an expensive and stressful day, especially as Insel Air are back to normal. The illuminated sign at the gate says ‘On Time’, but my flight to Curaçao is really running an hour late.
Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao form the ABC islands located less than one hundred miles northwest of Venezuela.
Bonaire is also one of the three Dutch BES islands in the Caribbean, along with Sint Eustatius and Saba. Bonaire was part of the Netherlands Antilles until the country’s dissolution in 2010, when the island became a special municipality within the country of the Netherlands. An 80% majority of Bonaire’s population are Dutch nationals, and nearly 60% of its residents were born in the former Netherlands Antilles and Aruba.
It’s a tiny island. The population is roughly 20,000 and it is 38.6 kilometres (24.0 mi) long from north to south, and ranges from 4.8–8 kilometres (3.0–5.0 mi) wide from east to west.
Bonaire’s earliest known inhabitants were the Caquetio, a branch of the Arawak who came by canoe from Venezuela in about 1000 AD. In 1499, Alonso de Ojeda arrived at Curaçao and a neighbouring island that was almost certainly Bonaire, but the Spanish conquerors decided that the three ABC Islands were useless, having no mineral wealth. Nevertheless, the Spanish remained until they conceded the islands to the Dutch in the Eighty Years War. During the Napoleonic Wars, the Netherlands lost control of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao to the British twice during the early 1800s. The ABC islands were returned to the Netherlands under the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814.
The official language is Dutch – the locals speak Papiamento.
The currency is the US dollar.
To see more of my photos of Bonaire visit this page.