Cadushy distillery and Hilma Hooker

We visit the local distillery in Rincon. They locally produce several sorts of liquors and spirits. The liquors are based on the cadushy cactus and pure alcohol distilled out of local plant (can’t remember the name) and are then flavoured as of the 6 islands of the Netherlands Antilles. They distil agave as well to produce a local mezcal they name the Tequilla of Bonaire as well as a vodka. They produce as well Rhum aged differently and a whisky, but those require imported ingredients.

The cadushy cactus

In the afternoon I go with Wanna Dive for a boat dive on the Hilma Hooker. You can reach the wreck from the shore, but it requires a 5-10 minutes surface swim and I wanted to do it the easy way, in the comfort of a guided dive.
I changed the setup of my camera and used alternatively the red filter and the light. I start understanding the way to operate the assembly, I will continue with this setup for my next dives.
The wreck is 72m long and sits on a shallow sand patch and it’s impossible to miss. It’s surrounded by tarpons. On the way to the wreck, I spot a small lionfish in the reef.
On the way back, a scorpionfish was kind enough to swim that I could clearly see and follow it to its camouflage position.

Hilma Hooker
Hilma Hooker
Hilma Hooker
Hilma Hooker
Hilma Hooker
Hilma Hooker
Hilma Hooker
Hilma Hooker

Donkeys, flamingos and beach

There are a lot of private initiatives on Bonaire that are run as non-profit organisations.
This morning we’re going to visit one of them, the donkey sanctuary. There are donkeys in many places in the Caribbean islands, as they were brought in by the early settlers to perform hard labour and for transportation. With modern ages, they became superfluous and the donkeys were just left by themselves in the wild.
The islands like Bonaire are not a good habitat for them, as it is very dry and there isn’t a lot of plants that they would naturally eat. In addition, there is now a high risk of accidents with cars when then wandering around areas having heavy or fast traffic.
The donkey sanctuary is rescuing the ones that are injured, sick, starving or badly dehydrated. They now have more than 600 donkeys on their site that are cared of. When you enter the huge enclosure, you’re immediately met by a crowd of donkeys that are really eager to find out if you have some delicacies. We bought a couple of bags of carrots at the entrance, but we quickly realise that driving though them with the windows opened is a challenge! Most of the donkeys aren’t shy and they pass they heads well into the car to get their due.

Donkeys are given horse food, hay and water
A two months old foal was rescued a couple of days before our visit. Still to weak to stand.

We continue exploring Bonaire’s east coast. It’s much less built than the west side and there is basically only one road. We leave the tarmac lane and go on a dirt path that goes around a mangrove. There are smaller salt pans and wild animals here; some flamingos find plenty of food on the shallow swamps.

Flamingos in the wild

At the end of the path, we got a beach. And yes, that is what we were looking for. There is a little bar that even serves food, a sandy beach with easy entry in the water. Some places are deep enough to swim, and the water is really warm. There aren’t any sunshade or sunbeds, but we brought a couple of inflatable ones, so all good. A cold beer lying on the beach, what else?

Sandy beach and warm water.

Organisation day

We realise two key elements to take into account when coming to Bonaire:

  1. There are no sandy beaches having both easy entry into the water and facilities (such as drinks and food).
  2. Most of the shops and activities open from 10:00 to 17:00, and when cruise boats are moored, everything becomes really crowded

Because Curaçao and Bonaire are so close (geographically and historically), we wrongly assumed we could handle our days the same way than we already did. Here, most of the things to do need advance planning, including the boat dives that may require booking with several days’ notice. Finding a buddy to go shore diving isn’t that straight forward either.

So today, we’re planning for the next few days in Bonaire. We take the opportunity to look around Kralendijk early enough, before it gets crowded by the cruise ship passengers’ land. We visit the Terra Mar museum. It’s a small museum that exposes the social history of Bonaire, from the first Indian tribes to the various colonisation stages until now. Some of the facts can be found in the national park and the salt pans, but we have here a linear exhibition of the past 6000 years.

While walking around the quay, we saw fishermen preparing their morning catch. The medium sized swordfish should have taken them a serious battle to bring back on the small boat they use. It invariably reminds me of the “Old man and the sea”, especially being in the Caribbean.

Fishermen prepare their catch

For lunch, I get my favourite Caribbean dish, the “Kabritu stobba” (goat stew). I remain in a historical mood when pirates had quite simple cooking habits. Basically, the preparation options were stew or barbecue, the main ingredient were fish or goat.

We keep looking for some possible options in the beach department, but definitely couldn’t find something appropriate around Kralendijk. We end up in the swimming pool of the resort. It was quite a surprise to see an iguana had made the same choice! I didn’t know that they fancied going into the water.

Iguana in the swimming pool

Washington Slagbaai national park

Today, we go around the national park. It takes all the northern part of the island. The east is windward side, and some places looks like a lunar landscape (never been on the moon, but that’s a common place to say).

Lunar Bonaire

Along the coast, there is display of the geological formation of Bonaire, where the three layers that form the island are clearly visible. When diving, you can see some sorts of similar formation as well, but it’s less common to see them like this.

Hundred’s milleniums on display

It has a lot of “boka”, which are very narrow but deep creeks that have been dig into the land by the strength of the waves for millenniums. A majority of those bokas end up with a small sand patch, and they are natural nesting places for sea turtles. But some of them have not been dug long enough and ends up with an abrupt wall, and the waves crush strongly against them; there are some places where some invisible rock formation creates the ideal condition to eject water in the air.

Blowhole in the Washigton Slagbaai national park

The west side of the park continues to be much higher than the sea level with sharp cliff of several meters. But the bokas on that side are protected from the wind, so some of them don’t have crushing waves. There even is a sandy beach at boka Slagbaai, Jackie goes snorkelling and I decide to go for an easy shore dive. There is quite a lot of current, so I don’t go too far from the shore line and remain at a very conservative depth. Again, I find the variety and quantity in marine life a bit disappointing. I wanted to take the opportunity to experiment some settings with my new TG5 and its underwater case, but I need some more of that…


The south and south-east of Bonaire

The historical business of Bonaire can be found at the south of the island where the Salt pans are located. When you’re there, the feeling of the sun and the wind makes it a really obvious place to develop such production. Along the coast, there are the remains of the slave huts when the commerce started in the 17th century, they are very tiny, and you can’t even stand in there.
Despite the harsh history of the borough, the view of the surroundings with the different pans is staggering. You can see the various stages of the evaporation of the water and the concentration of the salt through the colors blue, turquoise, marron and finally pink, before the salt is extracted.

The ocean on the left, the last stage of salt concentration in the pond

The sun is so hot, that despite the really strong wind you still feel very hot. We look for a place to go snorkel and swim, but in fact the beaches are not really friendly for beaching: we realise that there aren’t any long sandy beaches on Bonaire. We get our masks and snorkels and get into the water  at Red Beryl . Down here, we did not find that much fishes, but we met with a lonely but photogenic barracuda.

Small lonely barracuda

We continue our drive going south east towards Sorobon. We get to the windsurfing area of Bonaire. We get lunch there and end our day on the sunbeds beers and cocktails.

First dive and snorkelling

Today is my first dive on Bonaire. Checked in with Dive Friends Bonaire and we go out on a boat.
We go to Klein Bonaire on its south side, which is a 10 minutes ride from the pier.
Water is 26C and we go for a maximum of 60 minutes dive.
Ver cool and slow dives, the life was quite diverse, but I was expecting a bit more. We’ll see for the next dives.

Klein Bonaire – Lobster
Klein Bonaire – Grouper hide and seek
Klein Bonaire – juvenile yellowtail damselfish

In the afternoon, we tried snorkelling just outside our condo from the dive centre next to us. The dive site here is named the Cliff. Variety and quantity were not as good as some places we’ve been to on Curacao. We’ll try other places as well as in the Washington Slagbaai national park.

Bonaire – Snorkellin

We ended up dining at La Cantina Cerveceria. This is a really good place for food and service, and they brew two beers there. We liked the way dishes were revisited but keeping the original gist. Booking is not option, but you can easily do that from their website .

Getting ready

In the morning, Jackie and complete a bit the research we’ve done prior to coming to Bonaire. It’s always better to adjust our finding and get a proper orientation when we get in the place.
This is the place I stay which the closest to a dive center; it’s litteraly at 10 seconds walk of Dive Friends Bonaire. I’m checking in with them and get the marine parc tags.It’s mandatory here and you can see quite a lot of people of those tzars on the masks. The divers pay a fee of 45$ and allows you to dive and snorkel anywhere on the island. There is a cheaper 25$ snorkelers fee, but you will be asked for an access fee depending on the spot you go to. The divers need to pass a simple flotation test to make sure you are weighted correctly. As I’m going to dive for the first time with my new photo equipment, I choose to go with a bit more than I would go  (3kg), I can always go back lighter when I get used to the control and the flotation of the TG-5 case.

We then hit into town to get a general impression of Kralendijk. First, it’s really small, the town consists of a few streets with shops. We get the breakfast in a place with a spelt of avocado! We got the caribbean version of the dutch tartine: that’s gorgeous! We talk to a lady sitting at the table next to ours, luckily she’s living on the island half of the year and we receive some hands on tips. We hear as well that there was until recently heavy shower. They are quite unusual for Bonaire this time of the year, but we can see now everywhere we go that the climate is changing quite a lot. During those talks, we’ve learned to fend off the inevitable mosquito attacks that come with moist tropical weather. We brought from Geneva some mosquito repellent but the ones we met here were not really concerned by them. One of the tip we’ve received was that only one repellent really works and it was totally different! We asked the waitress if we could get some of their spray, and magically all the mosquitos disappeared! We definitely getting some of the repellent named OFF as soon as we hit a shop.
Another big surprise for me here, is that the island only uses US Dollars. I was not expecting that as Bonaire is still part of the Netherlands, hence the EU. When you get to an ATM, you can only withdraw USD, and they don’t use at all the Caribbean Dutch Guilders. In fact, you can see that most of the local shops in town live a lot on the schedule of the cruise ships docking right next to a square where merchants from all around the island have little stands.  While we were looking around and got some ideas for some visits for our next days.

We wanted to find out about local markets and food producers. Jackie found Krusada, a Foundation that helps convicts and drug addicts getting back on their feet. As we were quite interested in what they do, we had a little tour of the compounds and explained to us what Krusada was about. They have programs to get them back into a less chaotic life by giving them tips on how to handle their daily life, give them a job to grow vegetables, work in a small car repair shop. They get as well a visible return, as everything they learned and put to use are marketed through the island. Krusada is a Christian community and their work weeks and days have rituals in accordance to their faith. We’re shown the various stages of their production and how they handle their green houses, and we can see as some of their people at work. We got some vegetables and fruits from their production, we’ll be back soon to restock.

Hydroponic salads are grown in Krusada

To get a bit more of a bearing, we decided to go around the island, to have an idea of distance and the time it takes to go around on the north side. The first impression is that it’s much smaller than Curacao, but the surroundings are very similar; just everything is at a smaller scale. We’ll go into more details probably in the next days.

Plongée à Klein Curacao

Daan du Scuba Lodge nous a indiqué un plan poiur aller à Klein C uracao avec Breeze.
C’est une bonne chose car très peu d’opérateurs y vont le samedi, la plupart fonctionnent pricipalement les vendredi et samedi.
Pas de chance, le temps n’est pas très bon et le trajet pour aller sur la petite île est très mouvementé. Plusieurs personnes du voyage (nous ne sommes que seize sur le bateau) ont le mal de mer.
L’équipage consitué du Capitaine Evert et du maitre de bateau Pablo veillent au grain et nous font traverser la forte mer de mains de maitre.
Quand nous arrivons à Klein (comme disent les habitués, que nous sommes maintenant), nous constatons effectivement que la météo ne nous est pas favorable.
Un spectacle epoustouflant nous surprend lorsque nous nous approchions de l’île, une migration de flamand rose passe non loin de nous. Décidemment, nous aurons vu ici des choses vraiment exceptionelles.

Un vol de flamands roses

Une mauvaise météo au standard de Klein Curacao

Lorsque nous attendons un petit canot pour nous amener jusqu’au point de départ de la plongée, Daan appelle une tortue que nous voyons nager à quelques mètres de nous en tapotant la surface de l’eau, curieuse elle s’approche viens nous regarder.

Joe la tortue vient saluer Daan

Nous partons pour chasser quelques “Lion Fish”, Daan me confie un harpon et m’en explique le maniement. Pas très compliqué de pèrime abord, il faut beaucoup s’approcher pour les harponner mais cela ne pose pas de problème, car ils n’ont aucun prédateur naturel et ne se méfie de rien. Même si le harpon ne fait que 1 mètre 20 de long, ce n’est usuellement pas un problème.

Lors de la première plongée, le résultat est assez maigre et ne constitue que de 6 prises.
Aucune touche pour ma part, mais quelques images.

Les turbots naissent avec les yeux du même côté, un oeuil se déplace par la suite

Anémone avec les pointes violacées

Revenus à la surface, le barbecue qui se trouve à bord à été mis à contribution et nous trouvons des grillades, salade et pain à disposition. Tout le monde se retrouve à bord pour le repas, les “snorkellers”, les “plageurs” et les plongeurs.
Pablo met l’ambiance sur le bateau, il attire les poissons et Joe la tortue en les apâtant avec de la nouriturre. Joe vient en surface pour se nourrir, Pablo arrive à attraper des “Trunk Fish” à main nue et le garde posé sur sa paume! Antropomorphie faisant loi, il nous semble qu’il nous regarde d’un air étonnée par ce qui l’entoure soudainement.

Nous partons pour une deuxième plongée vers une partie différente de la côte. Ce coup ci, nous ne triuvoins aucun “Lion Fish”, dommage pour la pêche mais rassurant pour le récif. Cependant, je ne pense pas qu’ils ont tous été éliminé à Klein Curaçao, mais que ce n’est qu’un concours de circonstances.
Nous voyons malgré tout une ENORME murène, je ne pouvai malheureusement pas m’approcher plus pour la prise de vue à ce moment là de la plongée car elle se trouvait à une trop grande profondeur.

Une vraiment très grosse murène

Le voyage du retour est plus calme et Pablo met encore de l’ambiance avec de la musique latino. Nous sommes de retour sains et saufs au port de départ. Une excellente journée, et Jackie a attrapé un coup de soleil malgré les précautions qu’elle a prise et la “relative” mauvaise météo d’aujourd’hui.

Pour éviter trop de fatigue, nous commandons un repas à l’emporter au “Pop’s Place” que je vais aller chercher. Un red snapper pour Jackie et un Cabrito stew pour moi.
Excellent repas pour finir cette journée à nouveau bien remplie.