Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The Bonaire bubble

Both the boats parked on either side of us in the mooring field off Kralendjik, the main town on Bonaire, have been here since early February. Last night on the supermarket bus I met a woman who'd been here since December.  Nobody we've met so far on Bonaire is going anywhere. Well, maybe as far as Curacao to be hauled and stored for the hurricane season.

Canadian Pam does yoga on her paddle board 

"You've got three months, and after that things get a bit tricky," our new neighbour Bill, from Arizona, advised us. He was over in his dinghy as soon as we'd secured our lines. How long would we be here, he wanted to know. We told him about five days. We were waiting to hear whether and when we could be a hauled out at Curacao Marine for a quick bottom job (clean and anti-foul), and then we'd be heading towards Panama. He looked at us as if we were ripping up a winning lottery ticket.

You can't argue with the colours - Boka Slagbaii in the north

Bonaire seems to affect cruisers that way. I first heard the name Bonaire (the B part of the ABC islands) back in Marmaris from Ed and Sue. It was their favourite place in the Caribbean. If they could have taken out citizenship, they would have, Ed said.

The way Alex sees a parrot fish - through the water clearly
It's just too easy here on Bonaire. Far too easy. The water off our stern is swimming pool blue and super-clear. I snorkel between the boats looking down on schools of yellow and blue and stripy black and white fish (sorry, I'm not good on fish names).  Alex (who doesn't snorkel) took this photo of a parrot fish from the dinghy dock. People come here to dive.  A divers' paradise, they say. All the cruisers, it seems, are divers. Bonaire is circled by a coral reef. The coral is obviously a bit degraded as it butts up against the town, but honestly, who's complaining? There are a dozens of diving sites around Bonaire, pegged out with yellow buoys to tie your dinghy/dive boat up to. For we snorkelers, there's Klein Bonaire, an uninhabited island about a mile away, where the coral is in shallower water, closer to the shore, and wondrously variegated.

Everyone's here for the diving - at Yellow Sub

Diving expedition on the coast north of Kralendjik (and below)

Boko di Tolo

The hitch is, there's no anchoring allowed anywhere around Bonaire or Klein Bonaire. To stay here on a boat you either have to pick up mooring along the length of the Kralendjik's waterfront, or go into the marina which is obviously for the poor people since you can't swim or snorkel in there. There aren't many moorings - about 40 or so. Cruisers guard their spots as jealously as front row seats at the Paris fashion shows. There's been hardly any movement in the mooring field since we arrived. So here we sit. Bring on the models.

Looking towards the cruise ship dock from our mooring

Main street Kralendjik

It's a funny place, this tiny Dutch colony - yes, I'm using the word loosely, but in effect Bonaire is a colony. We arrived on election day - Green and Red, the major parties, were being challenged by an upstart, Blue. Very Swiftian. Red and Green are all married to each other, and spend Christmas together, the Indonesian owner of a rather elegant clothing shop told me. It's time for a change (ah, politics....). Blue won, and the next day a pickup truck decked out with Blue flags cruised around town rubbing in the fact. Bonaire's population is about 17,000, so give it time, and Blue will be spending Christmas with Red and Green.

Fringe politics

Coffee at Gio's
Dutch architecture with a local twist

The Grenada Yacht Club
We were caught off guard by the comparative sophistication of Kralendjik. It's a tidy little town. Most of the islands we've stopped at have been rough around the edges, a bit homespun. We like that. But it has its downsides. On one of our last evenings in Grenada we dinghied from Port Louis marina to the Grenada Yacht Club for a quiet drink, which then (because I was feeling lazy) slid into dinner. Well, sort of. The bar menu at the GYC isn't extensive. Perhaps we should have ordered the special, $1 a piece chicken wings, but I'm not overly fond of those bony scraps of meat. So we asked for burgers, Alex beef, Diana fish. Simple fare. Except that when the burgers came, we couldn't tell which was which, even after extensive mastication. As I said, a bit rough around the edges.

On our way into Bonaire

The cruise/cargo ship dock in Kralendjik

Bonaire has two faces. Kralendjik is set up to manage both diving tourism and the mammoth cruise ships which stopover for the day. It has just enough in it to sustain passing interest for a few hours - restaurants, a few interesting shops, bars etc. Beyond the town though, the island is startlingly  barren, as we discovered when we rented a car. Cacti and scrub, dust and volcanic rock.  The southern half has the salt pans. There was a particularly brutal form of slavery practised here by the West India Company. White Hell, the enslaved Africans called the place. Bonaire still produces sea salt, but mechanically.

Kite surfer in the south of the island, with salt pans beyond

Volcanic rock and fossilised wood in the north

The higher terrace is about 1 million years old, heaved up from the ocean 

Nice tail

Picturesque, unless you're a farmer

Iguana on watch
The northern end of the island is a national park. It was once a plantation, producing salt, lime, charcoal, cactus products. It's arid in the extreme. The roads around the park are so rough that when you rent a car you must specify if you want to take it into the national park. There's no merchandise for sale at the gate. Nothing is served up to you. You have to look hard to see anything of interest.  I'm not very good at seeing (in general), but even I couldn't miss the flamingos. They're dazzling. Ditto the iguanas, and we ticked the boxes for wild goats and donkeys, parrots, and sundry other colourful flying objects.

Gotomeer, the lake with the flamingoes

He couldn't leave us alone

Flamingo suite (and below)

We got a lot of pleasure out of being off the boat for a day, but underneath our keel there's more than enough life to keep me happy.

Bill's boat, looking north to the marina entrance

Locals are allowed to fish, with a handline only

We're here for longer than five days, as it turns out. Alex's back has slipped a cog.  He sees a chiropractor today, a Dutchman called Andreas Klassen who has a practice in Curacao and slips over to Bonaire mid-week. Sometimes you just get lucky. We'll pass on the citizenship though.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Go West young(?) man

It's a three-day run to the ABC islands from Grenada, and embedded within those days is a birthday. All things being equal (I must say that, not to say it is like leaving the front door open), we'll get going this morning. The strong trades are breaking up and by the middle of next week we sailors will be crying out for wind. That's what Chris Parker, the Caribbean weatherman, says.

Saturday morning in St George's

Pigeon peas

Grenada has been our place of reckoning. We have made a rough plan, something we can work with. We've bought another (outdated) guide book for the Pacific, Warwick Clay's South Pacific Anchorages, and Alex has a new cockpit seat.  For him, that's like buying new runners - feel the bounce. The old seat had bottomed out. We don't want to be crossing the Pacific ocean on a bottomed-out seat, not with HIS skeletal shortcomings.

The Tiki bar at Prickly Bay marina - communications hub for a month

Thanks to Grenada, from the Italians whose ship caught fire in the harbour

When we were browsing the Clay book in the chandlery, trying to assess its usefulness, we compared what we remembered of the approach and anchorage in Port Vila with his notes.  Vanuatu is a bit of heaven in our memories, and our point of reference for things tropical.  It won't look the same now. The photos coming through of the damage caused by Pam's vicious winds are awful. The country was poor enough without being ripped apart by a cyclone.

An old island trader is loaded on the Carenage

Quite a few buildings have never been repaired after Ivan 

Hurricane Ivan which hit Grenada in 2004 destroyed 85% of the island's nutmeg trees, according to Cutty. Grenada was then the second largest producer in the world of nutmeg. Thousands of people lost their jobs when the nutmeg cooperatives closed. Trees re-planted after 2004 are only just starting to mature and bear fruit, and the jobs are coming back slowly. The cocoa crop was more resilient. I bought more bars of Grenada Chocolate Factory 82% dark chocolate yesterday. It's good stuff.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Blessed in Grenada

The  woman in the magenta turban and fringed white tee-shirt printed with Barack Obama’s face has tomatoes. We’re almost finished at the market, but we need tomatoes.  We always need tomatoes.

We get about by bus

The bus boy is the hustler of the Caribbean transport network

I’m not really focused on her, more on how ripe the tomatoes are, but out of habit I greet her: “Good morning. How are you?” In Grenada, this is what people say. Not hi, or even hello. Always good morning, or good afternoon. As a pleasantry it’s a little formal to our ears, but it’s interesting how, say, greeting other passengers as you clamber onto a crowded minivan-bus warms the space between people, softens their edges. Mostly people say good morning in reply and leave it at that.

Good morning on Young St - and other photo ops on St George's streets

But this market lady looks me straight in the eye, and answers my question. “I’m blessed.” She pauses. “How are you? Are you blessed?” I flinch. She’s found her target.  Am I blessed? I’m not feeling it. Actually, I’m quite distressed on this particular morning.  But yes, I tell her, I am blessed. I buy her tomatoes and some carrots as well, and as we walk away from the market, I can’t stop thinking about what she’s asked me.

Coming back to the Spice Island dinghy dock in Prickly Bay

The neighbourhood - Prickly Bay (and below)

It’s nearly three weeks since we arrived in Grenada, and in all this time we haven’t moved from Prickly Bay. The wind has been blowing hard most days from the north-east, which is unusual, but other boats have come and gone. We have stayed, trying to figure out what our next move should be.  It hasn’t been obvious. We’ve had to work harder at this problem than at almost anything else we’ve encountered in our life together.  We are on the point of making a decision.  Time is of the essence, but not just our time. There is no path forward for us without cost, or without risk, so whatever course we take needs to be one we are least likely to regret. If that makes sense. Again, I’m sorry if it doesn’t, but the problem is in the heart of the family, and the family is where our heart lies.
Cocoa as it grows on the tree

Cocoa beans spread out to dry at the Grenada Cocoa Cooperative

Bagged to go

The Grenada Chocolate Company - move over Lindt

Esmond is the guy who runs Grenada Chocolate Company now

In the mean time, my mother has turned 80, and the party in Auckland at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron on March 3 was, from all accounts, a wonderful one.  We wish we’d been there to fire off a 21-gun salute. 

The cannons at Fort George,  St George's

St George's waterfront - and the RC church

The St George's anchorage - with Grand Anse beach behind

St George's harbour, from Fort George
Maurice Bishop (see below) was executed in the Fort George courtyard in October 1983

Annandale waterfall - not so very high, but...
Every so often we’ve taken ourselves off the boat for the whole day and flushed our minds with the island’s colours and sights. Car hire on Grenada isn’t straightforward, nor is driving around the island. There are very few road signs. On the recommendation of our friends Charlotte and Serge on Kuaka, we did what we haven’t done before, and signed up for a day-long tour of the island with a man called Cutty.  No regrets. Cutty has our recommendation too.

The genial and well-informed Cutty

When in the Caribbean, tour a rum distillery...this one in the north of Grenada

Now here’s something to chuckle over. The first time we visited St George’s, we noticed a handmade-looking sign (normal in Grenada) for a restaurant called Schnitzel Haus on the Carenage, St George’s harbourfront. It’s hot in Grenada, and schnitzel is not the first thing you think of eating for lunch on a sticky 30 degrees C day. Alex was about to pull the plug, but I told him to “man up” and goaded him up the stairs to the first-floor Schnitzel Haus.

If we’re still here next week, I’ll take him back for a second helping of schnitzel followed by apple strudel. He was in seventh heaven. I would have thought this “restaurant-least-likely-to-last-the-distance” in the Caribbean where what goes down is crab meat and conch and pizzas and roti. But this is the sixth year of business for the Schnitzel Haus which is run by a German and his Austrian wife (who cooks), who ask nothing more of their adopted country than that they can work in 30 degrees on a winter’s day. If asked, they would probably say they are blessed. 

On the windward side of the island, the Atlantic is running a decent swell