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.

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