Welcome to Bonaire…Land of Flamingos, Topless Dutch Girls and Free Rum Punch. The above is all true, but actually Bonaire is really famous for its diving. Renowned internationally as a scuba paradise people come from all over the world to explore the waters of this exceptional diving mecca. It was Sunday, June 21st (the first day of summer, Fathers Day, and my little brothers birthday) and we had just motored into the alluring bay of Kralendjik (pronounced Kra-len-???). We had spent the past month making our way west through the windward islands of the Lesser Antilles. Finally, we had arrived in Bonaire (the B of the Netherlands ABC isles). We couldn’t have been more ready. As we eyed the colorfully painted buildings along the waterfront, we couldn’t help but salivate over thoughts of ice cream, cold beer and cheeseburgers. Soon those dreams would be coming true, but first things first.
Our passage from Los Roques was one of easiest we’ve made. The seas were relatively calm and the winds kept us moving along at an average of 5 knots, which was perfect for us making landfall the next morning. We had decided to pass over visiting the small island chain of the Aves or “the Birds” in order to get to Bonaire much sooner. And we all felt we had seen plenty of birds on the trip already. The bay of Kralendjik is a wide expanse of water and would be really easy to sail into, but since we had little information on the area and had not been here before we played it cautious and motored in instead. The Skipper complimented me by requesting that I helm the boat as we made our way in, since I keep such a steady compass heading. What can I say…I’ve always liked to drive.
Parking your boat in Bonaire is different from most places you will find in the Caribbean. The westward side of the island is fringed with spectacular coral reefs. This is the reason Bonaire is so popular among divers; however, dropping a 50 pound anchor onto these reefs would be a real bummer for the fish, divers, sailors…everyone. So anchoring is not allowed. Instead, in Bonaire, you moor. For those inquisitive minds who are unfamiliar with this concept, a mooring is a fixed structure (usually of substantial weight) that sits beneath the water. A rope or line runs from the weight up to the surface where it is attached to a floating buoy. Simply tie off your boat to these lines and “Voi la”…you’re moored.
I don’t know if we have blogged about it before, but arriving in a new country by boat is quiet different than arriving by plane. There is a process for coming into a new port. Its not as simple as grabbing your luggage off the conveyor belt, hailing a cab, and then hitting the beach. But I have to say that having arrived by both boat and plane, nothing beats sailing into a new place. There is a feeling of accomplishment and pride at having made it in. You think, “Wow! Yesterday we were on an island 85 miles away, and somehow we’ve used only the wind to bring us here.” I suppose next, I will have to actually fly the plane and land it myself in order to make a comparison,… but I digress.
After we come into a new place, and the boat is safely anchored (or moored) the crew gives each other congratulations and thanks to Quercus for a job well done. Then the work begins. Sails are covered. Valves on the boat must be opened. The log has to be completed. Awnings must be put up. Life vests and harnesses are stowed. The dinghy has to be untied from the foredeck and lowered into the water. Next comes the outboard and fuel tank to mount on the dinghy. Our Quarantine flag must be run up until we have cleared in with customs and immigrations. Technically, we’re not supposed to leave the boat until the Skipper has gone to shore and made sure the boat and crew are all checked in; however, he usually allows us a jump in the water and a swim around the boat to cool off. For about half an hour, its a real production aboard. I remember our anticipation waiting for the Skipper to return from the Bonaire customs office. Alyson and I sat in the cockpit looking longingly at the populated shoreline and desperately trying to pickup a free Wi-Fi signal on our laptops. And the waiting is the easy part. I can’t imagine having to sail 22 hours (all night long) to arrive in a new place, and then immediately go to a customs office and fill out paperwork. And you’d be lucky to find a customs and immigration office that are not on the exact opposite sides of town. Generally, the process ends with long and well deserved naps.
Alyson and I were too anxious to sleep, so we decided to forego a nap and do a little exploring instead. On our way in we had spotted a place called Krael’s, which was a wide pier that supported a large drink bar. We had seen the relaxed customers sitting in the shade of the canopies and umbrellas drinking large and colorful frozen cocktails. Naturally, this was our first stop. We tied our dinghy right to the pier and climbed up to join the groups of sunburned tourists and vacationers. Our first temptation to old familiar pleasures was a chocolate milk shake. On the boat we occasionally will buy a small carton of milk, but we have to drink it within the day or it won’t keep. We have powdered milk too, but thats not really the same, is it? Its been said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but this could also apply to the tongue as well. I was surprised at how the sweetness of our frozen desert almost shocked my taste buds. Its an interesting part of this unique lifestyle. It gives you chance to experience what life is like without such comforts as constant refrigeration, a car, indoor showers, air conditioning, AC power, television, reliable internet, etc. and so on. Its a different lifestyle, and while I occasionally miss some things, its good to know that life isn’t dependent upon them.
The town of Kralendjik was really nice. Everything was centrally located which made it very easy to get around town by walking. The buildings were constructed in colonial fashion and all painted in bright Caribbean colors. We scouted out all the various locations we wanted to visit in the coming days. The post office, grocery store, ice cream stand, laundromat, internet cafes, corner markets and souvenir shops. Then there was the variety of restaurants: Argentine Steakhouses, Japanese Sushi, Caribbean Rib Shacks, Spanish Cafes , a Cuban Bar, and even a Dutch What-a-Burger. Later that night we met Alyson’s parents back at Krael’s to celebrate Father’s day and have those cheeseburgers and ice cream. God, I had forgotten how much I love cheeseburgers. We spent three amazing weeks in Bonaire. We made some good friends, did some unforgettable snorkeling, and even rented a scooter to tour the island. We’re a bit behind on our blog, so we’ll fill you in on the details of these exploits over the next few posts. So keep reading and I’ll let you know about those flamingos, topless dutch girls and free rum punch.