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Netherlands Antilles

Bonaire Day 8: Of Salt and Sea

We woke this morning with a sense of dread that it was our last full day on the island. I was adamant about getting some shopping done first thing. Bonaire is not a shopping mecca. There are a few souvenir-type stores and some higher end jewelry stores but that's about it. This didn't make for very long shopping but we were able to find a little something for ourselves and everyone back home. Mike wanted to take this home:

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Even I can't compete with that.

We drove over to Lac Bay on the eastern side of the island where we had an appointment for a couples' massage at 2 p.m. We arrived with just enough time to grab lunch before our massages. Lac Bay is the windsurfing area with one of the few sandy beaches on Bonaire. We stopped in at Bonaire Windsurf Place and Mike ordered some nachos and I ordered fish and chips. Both were good (sorry, no pictures). By now it was time for our massages at the Massage Hut.

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We were treated to a one hour full body massage and a Bonaire sea salt scrub. Afterwards, we hung out on the beach for a while watching the windsurfers fly back and forth. Mike used to windsurf many years ago in Austin and he really wanted to do it again but given his broken heel injury, we didn't think he should risk it on this trip. So we were content to watch.

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By late afternoon, we left Lac Bay so that we could drive the coastal road down the east side, around the southern tip, and back up the west side of Bonaire. The east side takes the major brunt of the trade winds so it's often referred to as the "wild side."

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Willemstoren Lighthouse is at the southern tip of the island.

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We then came upon the slave huts which will literally render you speechless. After the Dutch took over Bonaire in 1633, the island became a plantation for the Dutch West Indies Company. Slaves were brought over from Africa to cut dyewood and produce maize and sea salt. They were forced to live in these simple huts with doors only three feet tall.

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Next to the slave huts was the first of four obelisks built by the government in 1837. Each obelisk was a different color (orange, red, white, and blue) that corresponded to a different grade of salt. Ships would come in to Bonaire next to the obelisk that matched their cargo to be picked up. The slave women would then carry the salt out to the ships in containers placed on their heads.

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Further up the coastal road, a couple of kitesurfers were catching some wind.

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Bonaire has been producing salt for over 350 years and currently salt production is controlled by Cargill, Inc. These are the salt pans where sea water is captured. It then evaporates, leaving behind salt crystals.

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The salt crystals are piled high like mountains.

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A conveyer belt carrying 2,000 tons of salt per hour runs from the salt domes, up and across the road, to the loading dock on the other side where it's loaded onto ships for transport.

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Sometimes salt crystals fall off the conveyer and if you find any, you can keep them as souvenirs. We looked but didn't find anything.

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We made it back to the condo just in time for one last sunset.

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Since it was our last night and we had an early flight, we decided just to eat dinner at the condo restaurant, Sunset Grill. We weren't especially hungry so we split an order of fish ceviche with onions and pineapple and conch fritters. The ceviche was wonderful and very spicy. The conch fritters were practically inedible. There seemed to be no conch at all in them and they had a cinnamon taste to them. Yuck!

After dinner, we hurried back up to our room to get ready for a night snorkel. I didn't think I could handle a night dive just yet and we couldn't dive the day before flying anyway so we went snorkeling instead. At least it gave me an idea of what it's like. We thought there would be a ton of fish life out and about at the Aquarium but we didn't see much for some reason. The one great spot of the night was a huge lobster scrambling down the cement slabs to get away from our dive lights.

The only thing left to do was pack and get ready to be at the airport at 6 a.m.

Bonaire was all that we hoped it would be and more. The island was calm, quiet, and beautiful both above and below the water. The people were friendly. The food was for the most part, delicious. The freedom to dive when you want, how you want, and where you want is unmatched anywhere else in the Caribbean. The only bad thing about the trip that we could see was that one week is too little time to really relax and enjoy everything the island has to offer. We normally don't like to visit a place more than once because we feel there are too many other places in the world to visit but this island we could come back to again and again. Until next year...

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Posted by zihuatcat 21:13 Archived in Netherlands Antilles Comments (0)

Bonaire Day 7: The Life Aquatic with Mike Zissou

This was to be our last day of diving. Unfortunately, I didn't feel like diving first thing in the morning so Mike decided to do a solo dive while I snorkeled. Mike slowly descended down to 135 feet in search of the garden eels he'd seen earlier in the week. He found a field of them. Garden eels are small, snakelike creatures that live in the sand. They poke their heads out, swaying in the current to catch food. They are also pretty skittish so whenever he'd get close enough to take a picture, they would disappear into their holes.

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Also on the ocean floor, he ran into this blue male Sergeant Major who was most likely guarding a nest of eggs in this tire. He kept attacking Mike and followed him for a long time. He wanted Mike to know that tire was HIS house.

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Here are some other general pictures from the bottom of the reef.

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Schoolmaster

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Purple tube sponge

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Trumpetfish

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Hawksbill turtle

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Banded butterflyfish

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Honeycomb cowfish

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After the appropriate surface interval, I joined Mike for the very last dive of the trip.

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He wanted to go deep again so he descended down to 137 feet while I stayed above at 35 feet. He didn't stay down that far very long because he'd already done a deep dive earlier. After a few minutes in the deep, he ascended and joined me to finish out the dive.

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Graysby

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Rock beauty

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Blackbar soldierfish

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Blue tang

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French angelfish

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Stoplight parrotfish

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Foureye butterflyfish

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Honeycomb cowfish

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Spotted moray eel

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After diving, we drove into town to hit the ATM and do a little shopping before dinner.

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Cadushy was one of the items we bought to bring back with us. It's a liquer made in Rincon from lime and cactus. It's really nice to sip cold or it can be mixed to make martinis, margaritas, etc.

For dinner we chose a sidewalk table at a restaurant called Mona Lisa. Though famous for their steaks, Mike opted for the wahoo remoulade and I chose the dog snapper in the same remoulade sauce. We also ordered a bottle of pinot grigio.

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For the first time on the trip, we actually ordered dessert--a mango cheesecake with almonds and blackberry sorbet.

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We ended the evening with drinks and a Cuban cigar (for Mike) at a small bar around the corner called Little Havana.

Posted by zihuatcat 17:53 Archived in Netherlands Antilles Comments (0)

Bonaire Day 6: Flamingoes, and Donkeys, and Lizards! Oh my!

After a good night's sleep, we woke and were ready for a dry (no diving) day touring the northern end of the island, the village of Rincon, and the Washington Slagbaai National Park. We headed north on the coastal road, stopping at a marked dive site called Oil Slick Leap just to take a look.

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At the northern end of the coastal road lies BOPEC, the Venezuelan state-owned oil storage facility. All week we could see tankers lined up in the distance ready to load or offload their cargo.

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East of BOPEC is Lake Gotomeer, a saltwater lake and home to flamingoes during the January thru July breeding season. We missed out on seeing any flamingoes on this day but the view from the observatory was beautiful anyway.

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Leaving Gotomeer, we continued eastward to the village of Rincon. The oldest town on Bonaire, it was founded in the early 16th century after Vespucci arrived on Bonaire, claiming ownership for Spain. It's a sleepy little village dotted with colorful buildings and tall cactus. We were getting hungry by this point so we decided to stop at a little place called Le-Ma-Se, owned by the ever friendly Norman, for a bite to eat. The "restaurant" is really an extension of Norman's family home.

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Norman is famous for his creamy milkshakes and he does have a menu but that doesn't really matter. You eat what Norman serves you.

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What that meant for us was a cup of Norman's homemade squash soup and a couple of drinks while we waited for the main attraction.

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The main attraction was a pastechi, a flaky crust stuffed with meat of your choice. I chose beef while Mike chose tuna. It was served with the famous Bonaire mango sweet and sour sauce. Now I don't know why this sauce is so popular on Bonaire since there are no mangoes growing on the island and sweet and sour sauce is not exactly Dutch or Spanish but it's delicious and that was good enough for us.

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After writing a message in Norman's guestbook and a lecture to Mike about drinking the Venezuelan beer, Polar, Norman was kind enough to send us on our way to the park with a cheese pastechi on the house.

We followed the road out of Rincon and arrived at the Washington Slagbaai National Park. The park was established in 1969 and now consists of about 13,500 protected acres. Previously, the area was used to produce salt, charcoal, aloe vera, and goats for export.

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At the entrance is a museum, restroom, and souvenir shop that actually sells beer.

Skeleton of a juvenile baleen whale hit by a cruise ship in 2000 and restored by a Bonaire youth group

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Donkey saddle

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Original mask and regulator of Captain Don, founder of tourist diving on Bonaire

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Before heading off into the park, we made a restroom pit stop. On Bonaire, no words are needed to tell you which bathroom to use.

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There are two scenic routes through the park--the long route (four hours) and the short route (two hours). The long route was closed due to heavier than usual rain this time of year so we set upon the short route.

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Mt. Brandaris, the tallest point on Bonaire at 784 feet above sea level

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Our first stop on the route was Playa Funchi, home to flamingoes and lots of iguanas and lizards who seemed eager to pose for photos.

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Next stop was Wayaka, a popular snorkel and dive site.

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The final stop was Boca Slagbaai, also a popular snorkel and dive site.

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We didn't have much time at the beach because they close the park at 5 p.m. sharp and rangers were already here telling people to pack it up and start heading out. It was another hour's drive or so back to the entrance so we scarfed down our free cheese pastechi, took some photos, and were on our way.

The candle cactus seen all over this northern end of the island is also used by the locals to make fences.

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This house just outside of the park made convenient use of a telephone booth. You can see their house phone inside instead of a pay phone.

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On the way back to our condo, we stopped at Boca Onima on the rough, northern coast. The entire coastline was made up of sharp, mafic igneous rock with embedded fossil imprints of coral.

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I picked up some sea glass.

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Down the road from Boca Onima are Indian inscriptions on the cave walls. The drawings are believed to be made by the Caiqueto Indians, a tribe of the Arawak Indians brought over from Venezuela to be used as laborers in the early 16th century.

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We had to dodge the bees that made a hive in the cave.

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These wild donkeys were hanging out on the coastline. One was very suspicious of Mike.

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We were already getting hungry again so we headed straight into town for dinner on the waterfront at Paradise Moon.

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We started with an appetizer of walking sticks, fried pastries filled with cream cheese and jalapenos, served with that yummy mango sweet and sour sauce.

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Mike ordered the pulled pork tacos and I ordered shrimp fajitas. He loved the tacos but my shrimp were pretty bland. Both were served with refried beans and saffron rice which we hated.

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After dinner, we felt a bit like hanging out in town so we went across the street to Karel's Beach Bar to end the night with a few drinks and a lovely view from the pier of the waterfront at night.

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Posted by zihuatcat 15:39 Archived in Netherlands Antilles Comments (0)

Bonaire Day 5: Let op! drempels

First thing this morning, we knew we had to take care of the flat tire issue. Mike did change it the night before but this meant we had no spare and with flat tires so common on Bonaire, we didn't want to be without a spare for long. We called the rental company and they asked us to drop off the flat tire. They would fix it then come out to the condo and switch out the spare for us. Driving back to the condo, we came across our favorite sign. Apparently the Dutch word for speed bumps is drempels and caution signs were all over the place. It became our little joke of the week.

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After getting the tire taken care of, we did our normal two dives on Bari Reef. Most people who go to Bonaire drive around to multiple dive sites each day. That was originally our plan but once we saw the convenience of diving at Bari, we got a little lazy. The reef there is so diverse that it was an interesting dive site all week. Many of the people who have been going to Bonaire for years spend their entire week on Bari as well. As much as we loved it and were comfortable with it, next time we'll probably do a little more exploring just to see some different underwater landscape and critters.

It was 1 p.m. by the time we started the first dive and on this one, we pretty much stayed together in our exploration of the reef. After a surface interval back in the condo, we got a bit of a late start on the second dive at 5 p.m. By this time, it was getting a bit dark on the reef.

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I got down to about 60 feet and Mike was just below me at 70 when suddenly, I had a panic attack. Mike helped me with a controlled ascent and we decided to finish the dive in the shallows since I seemed to be feeling a little claustrophobic on the darkening reef. This turned out to be a good thing as we saw lots of cool things we probably wouldn't have seen otherwise.

Smooth trunkfish

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Ocean surgeonfish

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Foureye butterflyfish and Spanish hogfish

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Sharptail eel being chased by various fish

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Peacock flounder

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Smooth trunkfish

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Porcupinefish

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Coney (sea bass)

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French angelfish

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Mike hadn't been sleeping much at night on this vacation (what else is new, right?) so he was pretty exhausted after our last dive. We decided to get a quick dinner in town at La Guernica, a restaurant serving Spanish tapas. Dinner included a view of the town waterfront.

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We shared three tapas plates--bruschetta with tomatoes and onions, grilled shrimp in a lobster gratin sauce, and crab salad wraps. The food was excellent but we didn't waste any time with food pictures as I swear Mike was actually falling asleep at the table.

We made it back to the condo and Mike was fast asleep by 9 p.m. I read a little and followed suit shortly after.

Posted by zihuatcat 13:39 Archived in Netherlands Antilles Comments (2)

Bonaire Day 4: Polly Want a Cracker?

This morning we awoke to the outer bands of Tropical Storm Emily passing by the island.

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The storm only lasted about 30 minutes so we waited it out until the skies cleared.

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Then it was time for dive #4 back on Bari Reef. We entered the water and did the standard follow-the-pipe routine out to the reef. I was starting to feel pretty comfortable diving on our house reef so Mike was able to do some exploration on this dive. We made our way down the reef together with him going down to the bottom at 114 feet and me staying above him with a max depth of 87 feet. This was my deepest dive yet.

Sea cucumber

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Trumpetfish

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Graysby

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Purple tube sponge

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Smooth Trunkfish

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Smooth Trunkfish

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School of fish in the shallows

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Ocean Surgeonfish and Sand Diver

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Black Sea Urchin

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Fry underneath the dock

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Widestripe Gobies

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Blue Tang saying hello

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Rainbow Parrotfish initial phase

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Princess Leia on the reef

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After diving, the plan was to drive into town and locate Echo Bonaire, an organization that recently rescued 112 endangered parrots that had been illegally poached and were bound for the pet trade. The parrots were taken from their nests too early so volunteers had been hand-feeding them for weeks with the ultimate goal of releasing them back to the wild once recovered. I found out about the situation from the Bonaire Talk forum where they posted a request for people coming to the island to bring syringes to be used in feeding. We tracked down a box of syringes at a feed store in Dallas and brought them with us to donate. Unfortunately, when we went out to our truck to head to town, we found this:

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Because the terrain and roads are so rough in Bonaire, flat tires are very common. It's not a trip there without one. That didn't make Mike feel any better though.

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Tire changed and disaster avoided, we made it to Echo Bonaire and were treated to a visit with the parrots. This little fellow, named Sid by the volunteers, was the youngest one rescued.

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These guys were so personable and fun to play with.

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We drove back to Sunset Grill, the restaurant at our condo, for Lobster Night. We started with more delicious fresh bread with an olive tapenade that Mike could not get enough of. We both ordered the Caribbean lobster with drawn butter and potatoes au gratin and the drink special of the day, Deep Red Lobster (vodka with four berry juices).

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Bellies full of succulent lobster, it was a short stumble back up the stairs where we retired to the balcony. Each night after dinner we spent looking through the day's pictures, catching up on emails, and watching the night divers on Bari Reef play Luke Skywalker with their dive lights.

Posted by zihuatcat 19:56 Archived in Netherlands Antilles Comments (2)

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