Saturday, June 30, 2012

Bonaire Ta Dushi (May­­­- June, 2012)

After four days and nights at sea, we arrived in Bonaire and went through the usual post-landfall activities of cleaning the boat up, cleaning ourselves up, and clearing through customs and immigration.  Bonaire’s small, low profile capitol Kralendijk (pronounced “crawl-en-dike”) is laid-back and friendly. The oldest buildings on the island date from the 1600’s, established by Dutch colonists who survived by harvesting sea salt from the salt ponds, growing aloe, and producing lime concrete from local coral rock.  The old Dutch-style buildings feature typical curvaceous facades and clay tile roofs, but are painted with splashy Caribbean colors applied in imaginative combinations.

The friendly multilingual Bonaireans often speak English, Dutch and Spanish fluently, as well as their local language called “Papiamentu”, a mixture of all three with some indigenous words thrown in for kicks. For instance, “Bonaire ta dushi” derives from Spanish “Bonaire esta dulce” (Bonaire is Sweet!), as we learned from a local man.  For some reason, the mixture just seems funny, like a fish on a bicycle!  But it springs naturally from the island’s colonial history and it's location lying just a stone’s throw from continental South America.
It hardly ever rains in Bonaire- a big change for us coming from rain-drenched Guadeloupe and Antigua.  It’s usually windy here, which cools us during the hot tropical summer, but which also causes our boat to be showered with massive amounts of red-brown dust from the road construction project.  We need to rinse the boat with buckets of water almost every day. The scuppers run with red clay mud, and the grit grinds on our precious Awlgrip deck paint. Our living spaces need frequent cleaning as well, as it dirties the floor, upholstery, the bulkheads. Even our running rigging is caked with dust. That said, it is reasonably cool, and of course the spectacular snorkeling and diving more than compensate (see previous post!).
We rested for a day, and the day after that our friends Rico and Jackson aboard SV Apparition arrived and took a mooring right next to us. We had met them in Culebra and we happy to see them again to continue enriching our friendship.

They introduced us to the cruiser amenities of Bonaire – the good, better and best grocery stores (featuring a delectable raisin brioche bread with almond paste filling), and the laundromat which will send a driver to pick us up at the dock. Moreover, Rico told us about Digicel’s wireless modem for internet connections, connecting  like a memory stick in the USB port, which finally gave us a fast and hopefully long term solution to getting decent internet service aboard the boat.  Yay! 

After the arrival of their young guest Shelby, we made arrangements to rent a car together and visit the Washington-Slagbaai National Park, and hopefully to glimpse Bonaire’s beloved flamingos.

We stopped first at a scenic overlook of the Slagbaai, a picturesque salt pond framed by sage colored mountains. 
The photos depict deceptively soft green colors, but the landscape is parched and rocky. Almost every plant has sharp thorns, sawblade edges, or wicked spines.  Native divi-divi trees grow into windswept shapes, and several varieties of cacti dominate the landscape, some towering to 30 feet.
The park road twists and turns along a rockbound coastline battered by Caribbean sea swells, which have a 500 mile fetch to build before they dash spectacularly against the moonscape shore. There’s a cool blowhole too, spewing a geyser of spray skyward as the swells break.
The road follows a sheer rock escarpment north and westward, and from there we hiked up to the lighthouse, now automated and completely sealed up to prevent snoops like us from climbing up to the top when we aren’t supposed to.  The same lighthouse welcomed us to the shelter of Bonaire on the first night’s landfall, when we stood off in the windshadow of the mountains waiting for dawn to light our way into the anchorage.
Rico and Jackson lead us to a favorite snorkeling spot, where we climbed down a steep and precarious rock stair to enter the water from the beach.  There, a cheeky French Angelfish and several bold Palometos swam around and between our legs as we stood in the shallows.

After snorkeling we headed to the picnic area for lunch. There we were surprised and delighted to find a large flock of flamingoes keeping company with terns, skimmers, pelicans and herons, feeding in a nearby salt pond. 

(Nature Notes: flamingoes are filter feeders, straining pond water through featherlike “baleen” in their beaks which filter out brine shrimp and other tiny organisms on which they feed.  This diet of shrimp gives the birds’ feathers their characteristic coral-pink color.)
On the way back we watched native green parrots courting, and also saw a local yellow tanager-like bird and hummingbirds feeding on the nectar of the yellow century plant flowers.  And of course there were the ubiquitous Caribbean critters- lizards, goats and donkeys.

Together with the crew of Apparition we later snorkeled at Klein Bonaire, went out for dinner at Captain Don’s, ate Barbeque another night, and pizza too, and  had a blast.
We had an unusual random encounter which bears telling. A boat nearly 100 feet long moored just down from Sinbad.  This boat had blaze-orange sails and canvas.  We had not seen that color anywhere since Deer Season in Northern Michigan two years ago, and never on a boat.  On our way to the dinghy dock,  we came alongside and called out a welcome to the crewmember working on deck.  As it happened the crewman spoke only Russian, so we waved and prepared to leave.  He beckoned us back and called inside, and the Chief Engineer came out.  In English, he explained to us that the owner is undertaking a unique and perilous agenda.  The boat, SV Skorpius had just completed circumnavigating Antarctica, where it had gotten pretty torn up (sails shredded, steel torn away, glass broken, and of course innumerable rigging repairs, etc.) They were feared missing in that Antarctic storm for some days in April 2012, and at last put in to Tasmania for repairs and the new orange sails.  They were making more necessary repairs in Bonaire, stopping only to join the owner ashore in the pub to watch Russia tie score with Poland in Euro-Cup soccer. They planned to leave Bonaire in a day or two for the Arctic, to complete a circumnavigation of the Arctic via the Northwest Passage by the end of October, 2012.  To see photos and read more about Skorpius’ marathon bi-polar circumnavigation, visit the captain’s blog at .

On the way back to Sinbad from this unique encounter, we were hailed and befriended by yet another delightful and interesting crew, this time German and Swiss- Rolf and Claude aboard SV Tika.  We hit it off with them instantly, and learned that they too had plans to sail on to Curacao for the summer.  We had hoped to spend more time getting to know them.  However, circumstances arose requiring Di to return to Michigan as soon as possible, so we had to depart Bonaire earlier than planned. We sailed to Curacao, a day’s sail from Bonaire. We had previously made reservations at a marina at Piscaderobaai where we could work on projects with shore power and water. 

This plan didn't work out, so it was necessary to move to Spanish Waters. It was a busy time.

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