Bonaire in November 2002
We went back to Bonaire for our fourth visit in November of 2002. Why do we keep going back – because of the shore diving. The relaxation of diving where and when you want – no getting up to catch the boat, no sharing a dive site with other divers. Plus my dive buddy has a nap in the van between dives while I read – a long and relaxing surface interval.
We stayed for the third time at Happy Holiday Homes. They have one to three bedroom units with a kitchen, dining area, living area, air-conditioned bedrooms, tiled bath with large shower, back porch with clothes lines and front porch with table and chairs plus fresh water hose, a huge rinse bucket and wooden pegs for hanging dive gear. These units are “Dutch clean” and the owners are nice, friendly people. Air conditioning is for night time sleeping only but there are ceiling fans in the living room, dining room and each bedroom. With the steady trade winds, air conditioning is not often needed.
We always do some of our own cooking and part of the fun is going downtown to Cultimara to do our grocery shopping. They have a large assortment of foods but not always a lot of choices or the brands we are used to. Sometimes you have to try to read the Dutch writing to figure out that what you are looking at is Curry Ketchup. Their bakery products are very good and they have a good selection of meats.
Restaurants in Bonaire are all good and the prices are about the same as you would pay to eat out in Canada. Karel's Beach Bar is the place to go for a drink downtown and look for the green flash at sunset (yes we have seen it from there more than once). Recommended restaurants; Mona Lisa, Capriccio's, Old Inn, Chez Lucielle, De Tuin Eetcaffe (with Internet).
There are two ways to do your diving. Sign up with one of the dive shops and get up and catch the dive boat every morning or buy a shore diving package. We buy our shore dive package from Buddy Dive because they have a drive through tank station. You drive up to the station, drop off your used tanks and pick up fresh ones without ever carrying a tank more than 3 feet. To dive in Bonaire you must have the current year's dive tag. Tags are available at any dive shop. You have to attend a short dive orientation and do a check out dive when you purchase your tag. When you purchase your shore dive package at Buddy's you are free to use their dock for day or night shore dives. You can also purchase boat dives at a reduced rate when on their shore dive package.
There are 60 dive sites around Bonaire and 24 sites around Klein Bonaire. Every time we go to Bonaire we keep vowing to get over to Klein but we keep finding new and interesting sites that we just have to dive again before we leave, so we never do make it to Klein. This time the new sites were Angel City and La Dania's Leap. The water was 84 degrees and the viz was 50 to 100 feet, normally about 60 feet.
Angel City should have been called “out of the blue” because each time we went something different happened out of the blue. The first time we had three King Mackerel come and swim all the way around us. This was after seeing a 5 foot coronet fish in the shallows. Diving this site four days later we came upon a feeding frenzy involving trunk fish, trumpet fish, sergeant majors, and others. Out on the second reef there were large schools of school masters and margates. A large horse eyed jack came cruising along the top of the outer reef. Diving this site the next day we found a large octopus inside a coral head at 15 feet. On the outer reef a large school of brown chromis was being hunted by twelve large schoolmasters. There was a ball of large margates hanging over the reef, a school of 8 barracuda and a school of bermuda chub. A large crevelle jack came cruising along the outside of the outer reef. Angel City is part of the southern double reef system, but here the second reef is much shallower. The site can be done as a circle by dropping over the inner reef at the mooring and heading north along the inner reef until over the coral bridge across to the outer reef. Go out to the outer reef and head south until the outer reef comes back in to the inner reef (at about 30 foot depth). Head back north along the inner reef until you reach the mooring. By watching your depth when heading over to the outer reef this site can be done as anywhere from a 50 to a 70 foot dive.
La Dania's Leap is a site that is only for experienced divers because once you enter the water there is no way back out until you get to Karpata, the next dive site to the north. La Dania is a bit of work but worth it. You have to drop off your gear at the road and drive your vehicle to the next dive site, Karpata, and then walk back. You have to carry your dive gear across a large/long area of ironstone to the shore. After you gear up you climb onto a ledge about 3 feet above the water and jump in. Swim out to the mooring and then head down along an absolutely beautiful wall. Head towards Karpata and after 40 to 60 minutes depending on the current and your swimming speed you will be at Karpata. It is best if you have previously done Karpata so you recognize the exit area. Until we did La Dania we thought Karpata was the the best of the northern dive sites. On the La Dania dive we saw four turtles, a lettuce leaf slug and a vertical wall covered in large corals and sponges (and of course lots of fish). At the start of the dive the viz was over 100 feet but was down to 60 feet by the time we reached Karpata.
One word of warning, a few of the northern dive sites can have a rough entry/exit due to waves, check the wind and waves before entering. Webers Joy/Witches Hut is known for tossing divers onto their butts. The Karpata exit can be surgy but only when the wind is up. Ol Blue is an easy sand entry and a nice spot for lunch and swimming.
We were told there is a new ladder at Oil Slick Leap, making shore entry possible again.
Andrea II has a new entry area with a parking lot just before the entry to the Santa Barbara subdivision and an easy path down to the sandy shore.
If looking for eels try Tori's Reef, one of the southern dive sites. If you dive late in the day the eels will be coming out to feed. We have seen five different kinds of eel here on one dive. Check out the small coral heads in the shallows, the eels like to sleep down inside the coral. Many of these are fire coral so be careful. This time we saw a sharp tailed eel, a chain moray plus a golden moray and a spotted moray sharing one “coral castle”.
The Pink Bus/Crime
Bonaire does have one problem and that is petty crime. It is safe to go walking downtown at night but it is not safe to leave anything in your car while you are diving or to leave your hotel room or house unlocked. Leave all your valuables in the safe. The best thing to do when leaving your rental vehicle is to put on the steering wheel club and leave the doors unlocked. The thieves will break locked windows to check out the vehicles but if you leave it unlocked they will just have a quick look and leave. If you have to bring valuables with you, the best thing to do is dive where the pink bus is and use it's lockers.
The pink bus is a pink coloured bus that goes to a different southern dive site each day of the week. It does not cost you anything to park by the bus, use it's lockers or get advice about the sites. The bus also has an emergency phone and oxygen available. The bus has snacks, ice cream, water, pop and beer for sale. On Thursday the bus will get the dive permit for the salt pier if possible. This is the easiest way to dive the salt pier, you don't have to worry about getting permission to dive from the salt company. The pink bus will be at a site near the salt pier if it could not get permission to dive the pier. For the schedule of the pink bus check with any dive shop on the island.
Vehicle rental is available from a number of companies on the island. Booking ahead seems to get the best rates. Small vans and pickups are the most common dive vehicles rented on the island. Warning – if using your credit card to cover the CDW not all vehicles are covered; our card covers vans but not pickups or four wheel drives, check your coverage before you pick your vehicle type.
We went from Toronto to Bonaire with American Airlines all the way. The good – we got all our boarding passes at Toronto, cleared US customs at Toronto, and all the luggage made it to Bonaire with us. The bad – we had to take three flights to get there, US security was heavy at every airport, we had to stand in line for an hour at Toronto to clear US customs and immigration with our luggage, then you got yelled at if you put your luggage on the wrong conveyor belt after you went through customs and immigration, out of three meal times you got one snack, it was a very long day. The reason we did not take a charter to Curacao or Aruba and then the small hopper was because we like to go for 10 days and you can't do that with a charter.