“So many islands, so little time.” So the saying goes, and a good reason indeed to keep planning trips to new destinations. While I do aim to explore as many dive destinations as I possibly can, I must point to Bonaire as one place that I could dive again and again. January 2013’s Team Manta tropical destination, this shore diving mecca did not fail to surprise and delight us all.
We began our journey at the ungodly hour of 2:30am with a limo ride to Chicago O’Hare airport. Check in was the usual lines, waiting, document checking, etc. that air travelers have come to expect. Our route was Chicago to Atlanta to Bonaire. We arrived at Flamingo airport at 3:04 pm local time, or 7 hrs after take-off. Staff members from our resort, Buddy Dive, were there to greet us. As we turned our luggage over to them, they put our room numbers on our bags so they could be brought to our rooms. Then they loaded each piece into a truck for transport to Buddy Dive. We then boarded a bus to head to the resort. Check in was speedy, especially since we were printed out and completed the various forms that were available on the website ahead of time. We got three vehicles for our group and drivers had to show their driver’slicense and sign the rental agreement. One thing to be aware of is that the grocery stores are not open 24-7 as they are in the states, so if guests are planning to eat in, a trip into town for supplies is a first priority.
There was an omen of the great week ahead of us as there was a manta ray that patrolled along the rocks on the edge of Buddy’s Reef. It was a bit smaller than the pacific mantas and was quite unusual for this area. In fact there were scientists there studying the animal to determine if this was a yet undiscovered species of manta. One could see that this was highly unusual for Bonaire because everyone stopped and shouted for all to look when the manta swam by scooping up plankton in its large gaping mouth.
Once settled in our three bedroom condos, Team Manta was ready to explore the resort. The dive shop was our first stop to drop off our releases, show our C-cards and nitrox certification cards, and pay our marine park fees. After attaching the marine park tag to our BC’s we toted our gear for storage near the dive shop so we would be ready for the morning’s diving. Some of our group, anxious to hit the water, jumped in at Buddy’s dock for snorkeling, the rest of us walked around, checking out the two pools, outside restaurant, breakfast area and generally getting the lay of the land. Several of us were veteran Buddy divers, but rest assured that the dive and resort orientation the next morning would fill in any of the blanks for those new to Bonaire.
Sunday morning we headed to the restaurant for the full breakfast included in our package. They offered eggs, sausage, bacon, pancakes, potatoes, hot or cold cereal, cold cuts, rolls, croissants, fruit and omelets made to order. For beverages, they had juice, coffee, milk, and tea. After fortifying ourselves with breakfast fare, we were off to the dive shop orientation.
Buddy Dive’s orientation was thorough, including a tour of the various places the divers can pick up tanks, a demonstration of the O2 analyzer, a briefing on our scheduled boat dives and the various services available to us, including underwater camera rental and photo coaching. Once that was complete it was time for our check out on Buddy’s Reef. This is where newly arrived divers can get reacquainted with their gear, figure out their weights and ease into their week of diving. I was training a new open water student, so once our weights were set and we were feeling comfortable, I guided him out on his first open ocean dive. We headed north on Buddy’s Reef to the little wreck, La Machaca, that is on the reef in front of neighboring Habitat Resort, accompanied by tangs, grunts, and the occasional tarpon. On our way back to the dock at Buddy Dive, we checked out the little coral nursery set up in cooperation with the Coral Reef Restoration Foundation.
Back on shore, we caught a quick snack in the condo and decided where to dive next. For our next dive, we chose Angel City, a site a little to the south of Buddy Dive. The entry was very challenging with a fair amount of wave action and rocks ready to trip up the heavy leaden, geared up diver. (For more details, check our Blog from January 20, 2013). All our work to enter was rewarded with beautiful reefs and lots of marine life: eels, anemones, tiny shrimp, grunts and others.
Our next stop was the site with my favorite entry, Oil Slick Leap. The entry is literally a jump off of a wall into the aqua water below. At the site, we saw many varieties on eel, including one I am particularly fond of, the chain moray. I was using my underwater laser pointer to highlight the interesting critters to my divers and made a great discovery. If you have a cat, you probably have already got it to chase a red laser point, but did you know that a damselfish will chase the laser too? Really! It was hilarious to get the fish to chase the red dot all around the reef. The problem came in though, when I would be pointing out a juvenile drum, or cleaner shrimps and a damselfish barges in to chase the laser.
The next day we did the first two of our 6 boat dives. We went over to Klein Bonaire to checkout those sites that are not accessible from shore. On this initial boat dive, we visited Sharon’s Serenity and Keepsake each at an average of 65ft and later in the week, we dove Small Wall and Mi Dushi. The Klein Bonaire sites are very healthy and home to many fish. We saw sea horses on many of our dives over there. We opted to dive the Hilma Hooker also by boat in spite of the fact that is possible to do from shore. We decided that we would save ourselves the long swim and possibly squeeze out a longer dive. A 235ft cargo boat, The Hilma Hooker was seized by authorities in summer, 1984 when it was discovered that the crew was using it to smuggle drugs. After several months, she started to take on water and the owner had still not come forward, so in September, 1984 she was towed to an anchorage near the dive site Angel City. As she sat there, she started to list and take on water, until finally she disappeared underwater. She sits in a sandy area at 100ft of water and has become one of the most popular wrecks in the Caribbean.
We dove other favorite spots, Karpata, Invisibles, Alice in Wonderland, all with rather challenging entries. The sites that had the easiest entries were Tori’s Reef and Alice in Wonderland.
With the exception of occasional brief sun showers, the weather was gorgeous, 85F and sunny daily and the water was consistently 80F. Conveniently located near the dive shop and restaurants, our condos were clean, with a full sized refrigerator, toaster, microwave and stove. There were plenty of pots and pans and utensils for meal preparation. Each bedroom had its own bathroom, and shampoo and soap dispensers in the shower. Strangely, though, there was no bar soap in the unit (nor could you get any from your housekeeper), and no liquid soap near the bathroom sinks, so you had to step into the shower to get soap to wash your hands after using the bathroom. It is recommended that you bring bug repellent with you as the mosquitos, or whatever biting insects they have there are voracious and plentiful.
I was unimpressed with the food at the Pool Bar restaurant, so if we were not eating in, we dined off site. We returned to Mi Banana, a restaurant we discovered on our last Bonaire adventure and had wonderful sea food and Tres Leches cake. We also ventured out to Kontiki, on the south end of the island. The service there was slow even by island standards; mostly because our waitress was also the bartender and hostess and I would speculate that the chef was wearing several hats as well. The cuisine however was spectacular, and many of our group commented that they had not had a better steak. (Mook gave it 5 forks!) Both of these restaurants, located off the beaten track and well beyond where the cruise ship passengers venture, had very reasonable prices. If you want food that is a little more “American,” try Zeezicht. Their burgers were out of this world, but it was a bit pricey.
On our last day, we took some time to explore the island, going up to the Washington Slagbaai park. They had a nice visitor’s center with geological samples and a display of the geological formation of the island. They also had presentations of the history of the inhabitants, both human and animal. On our journey, we came upon flocks of parrots, wild donkeys, pigs, goats and flamingos.
The whole week was an adventure and this island offers activities for divers as well as non-divers. It is way to see why someone would return to this island repeatedly. In fact, though I have been here diving three times, I still have not managed to dive all the sites. I guess I’ll have to go back again sometime.