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Bonaire 2013  

My son, Drew, drove me down to meet my dive buddies, Errol and Don at Errol’s house in Ajax.  To celebrate our pending adventure I accepted an offer of a beer and we waited for the Chinese food to arrive.  Another friend, Sean, showed up a little later and we dined together and shared a bottle of wine.  After dinner we retired to the smoking lounge where we further indulged ourselves with glasses of scotch and hand rolled Cuban cigars.  By the time that midnight rolled around I was feeling absolutely no pain and decided to call it a night.  Unfortunately, as soon as my head hit the pillow the room started a clockwise rotation.   I managed to drag myself into the bathroom and cuddled up with the toilet bowl for the next hour or so.  I was not able to vomit so just suffered through the lingering effects of too much substance abuse.  Eventually I was able to steady myself sufficiently to make it back to bed and slept fitfully for the next few hours.  Waking up at 06:00 a.m. with a hangover to prepare myself for the trip to the airport was not perhaps the most intelligent course of action.  We had a quick breakfast, loaded the vehicle with our gear and set off.  The drive was uneventful since most people are not out on the highway before 06:30 a.m. on a Saturday.  We checked in relatively quickly although there were quite a few people already assembled in the line-ups.  We boarded our flight which departed on time and within a few minutes I managed to fall asleep to recover further from my distress.

Landing in Aruba we were immediately faced with the heat of a scorching sun.  Inside the terminal was air conditioned and comfortable and we quickly checked through customs, reclaimed our baggage and went to a nearby restaurant to get something to eat.  After lunch it was time for me to check in since I was on an earlier flight than Errol and Don.  Or so I thought!  The check-in agent could not find me on the passenger list so he phoned the office for assistance.  It needs to be understood that the office is within sight of the check-in area but nobody was answering the phone.  To further exacerbate the situation there was only one check-in agent.  The line behind me grew steadily longer and patience started to wane.  After almost an hour somebody in the office noticed that the phone had been ringing off the hook and actually bothered to answer it.  Another agent came over and within a couple of minutes I retrieved my documents and was offered my boarding pass.  I hurried to the terminal gates since my flight was scheduled to leave in about five minutes.  When I got there the glass doors were shutting and although I banged on them and got the attention of one of the attendants she just looked at my ticket and pointed to the overhead screen, which showed a completely different flight number than was on my boarding pass, and then turned and walked away.  A fellow passenger informed me that my ticket was for the flight on the board which had now been delayed by a further ninety minutes.  So, we waited but the wait was shortened by meeting Peter and Sally, an older couple who were also travelling to Bonaire.  Peter told me that he was an architect and I mentioned that my father had also worked as an architect.  Peter then brought out his iPhone and showed me pictures of some of his projects.  Peter was not only an architect but he was an architect to the stars.  He patiently explained picture after picture of some of the most incredible dwellings that I have ever seen until eventually he came to pictures of Bill Gate’s house.  He showed me pictures of several of the elements of the house that he had designed including the pool and surrounding pond, the entranceway to the main house, the underground garage and the guest house.  The time passed quickly and then it was time to board.  Instead of flying directly to Bonaire the new flight path included a stopover in Curacao.  After a twenty minute flight we landed, two people got off the plane and then we waited.  Nobody knew why we were waiting and nobody told us what was going on.  Some passengers thought that we should disembark and others decided to remain where they were until we arrived in Bonaire. After about ten minutes with the engines turned off the cabin was beginning to resemble a sauna and somebody complained so they turned the air conditioning back on again.  After more than an hour a group of tourists boarded our plane and we were now ready for take-off.  Fifteen minutes later we arrived in Bonaire, went through customs, retrieved our luggage and were whisked away in a taxi to our respective destinations.  Although Errol and Don’s flight was two hours later than mine they had already been at the bungalow for more than an hour before I arrived.  Exhausted from the day’s exertions we went to bed and slept soundly through the night.

Morning dawned and Errol set off to see if he could get our rental truck.  Unfortunately, even though we had booked our accommodation and truck rental in August, they had failed to secure a vehicle for us.  So, I waited at the bungalow in case a vehicle showed up and Errol and Don walked to town to purchase groceries.  When they returned the truck still had not arrived so I went off to see if I could sort things out.  Apparently the business is run by Robert, the son, in the Netherlands and Robert, the father, manages it in Bonaire.  Since they did not have a rental truck available they gave me their own truck for our use.  So now we were good to go.  After a quick breakfast we set off for the gas station and then on to the Dive Friends dive shop.  Shelley greeted us; we signed the requisite forms, obtained our park tags, weights and tanks and set up our equipment at the shoreline in front of the store for our check-out dive.  All of the aggravation of the previous two days slipped into obscurity as I let the air out of my BCD and slowly submersed myself in the water.  The peace and serenity of being underwater again relieved all of the stress and although there was very little of interest to see it was just good to be diving again.  We completed our check-out dive, rinsed our gear and loaded the truck with more tanks.  Getting to our second dive site was a bit of a challenge since there was some sort of a parade going on and many of the streets were blocked off and the other streets had numerous people strolling down the middle of the road.  Eventually we negotiated our way out of town and headed south.  For our second dive we chose Alice in Wonderland since it is a relatively easy dive but Don was perhaps a little dismayed at how far the marker buoy was from shore.  After catching his breath we descended and swam against the mild current until reaching our turn around air pressure.  Since it was nearly dusk I was shooting with the lights but, unfortunately, one of them was not working.  The lights bring out the colour of the tube sponges and the corals and made for some good shots.  Of all the divers that I have known over the years Errol is by far the best at underwater navigation.  He brought Don right back to exactly where we had entered from shore.  We broke down our gear and headed back towards town.  After rinsing our gear and showering we went back into town in search of a restaurant.  At first we went looking for a restaurant that had been recommended but, since it was closed, we opted to search for a parking spot instead.  We were able to find a spot on the main drag right beside La Guernica which appeared to be very popular since there were no tables available.  The hostess told us that if we went to the bar next door she would come and get us when a table became available.  After a few beers she showed up and escorted us to our table. We all ordered the tapas version of their three specials, wahoo, tuna and conch.  Each was prepared with a distinctive sauce, each was different, and the flavours were incredible.  It was the finest meal that I have enjoyed in quite a long while.  After dinner it was back to the bungalow for a much needed rest.

Monday morning dawned overcast.  Jose showed up to make sure everything was satisfactory so we bitched and complained for a few minutes but nothing was likely to change.  Errol cooked breakfast, I cleaned up and then we set off for our first dive of the day.  One of the advantages of diving with Dive Friends Bonaire is that they have air fill stations all over the island so we stopped by the airport to pick up an extra tank.  Then it was off to Angel City for our first dive of the day.  The shore entry is relatively straight forward but, once again, it is quite a swim out to the buoy.  One of the nice aspects of Angel City is that the shore reef and barrier reef connect so it is easy to gain some depth.  We leveled off at about 75’ and I shot video of Errol’s T-shirt for his band.  We swam against the current until it was time to turn around and, once again, Errol brought us right back to our entry point.  We switched tanks, drove down the road for a bit and stopped at Invisibles for our next dive. This was the easiest entry that we have encountered so far but it was still quite a swim out to the buoy.  Although it is basically the same reef system there are different types of coral at each location which makes things a bit more interesting.  By now the sun had come up which brightened up the colours underwater and I was able to get some good video.  At the end of this dive we went back to the Dive Friends outlet and exchanged our tanks for fresh ones.  I also picked up a weight belt since I was finding it a bit of a struggle to haul around the BCD with the weight integration.  Then it was back to the bungalow for lunch.  After lunch we headed to the north part of the island to dive Andrea II.  I had forgotten how far the entry is from where you have to park the truck and I had also forgotten how challenging the entry can be.  To make matters worse once we had managed to get into the water and all geared up the housing would not turn on.  Murphy’s Law dictates that we will now get to see things that I would have liked to film like a couple of schools of barracuda, a huge parrotfish and a young turtle in the shallows.  It seems as though the right hand grip connector is not engaging fully and occasionally gets disconnected.  Hopefully I have been able to resolve the situation for future dives.  We returned to the bungalow, rinsed our gear, showered and prepared to go into town for dinner.  We went to a restaurant that advertised the best ribs in Bonaire and each of us enjoyed a full rack of ribs.  Afterwards we strolled about downtown and then headed back to the bungalow.

Tuesday morning dawned bright and clear and we were up early to see if we could get on the Hilma Hooker before the dive site became overly crowded.  Yesterday there were at least ten trucks at the dive site so it is obviously a popular dive.  Errol prepared breakfast while I made sure that the camera and housing were functioning properly.   We stopped off at the fill station to get an extra tank each and then headed toward the Hilma Hooker.  There were already seven trucks and two dive boats at the site but we timed our entry so that there was only one other dive group on the wreck at the same time as us.  It was Don’s first wreck dive and first descent to more than ninety feet.  We toured around the wreck and then headed towards shallower water and the reef.  Schools of blue tangs provided some interesting footage on the way back to shore.  After a reasonable surface interval we next dove Aquarius which has the easiest entry we have encountered thus far.  The current was now running south to north so we swam against it at the beginning of our dive.  A couple of spotted moray eels, a spotted drum and a stonefish provided interesting photo opportunities.  Then it was off to the fill station for fresh tanks and back to the bungalow for lunch.  Don decided to take a break from diving and go into town and do some shopping.  We dropped him off and then headed south to Sweet Dreams.  It was probably a good thing that Don bailed since the current was quite stiff.  Soft corals abound at this site but it really was a struggle to make any headway.  When I reached 1500 psi I signaled to Errol that we should turn around and we were able to reach our exit point by using only a further 500 psi.  We then drove to the dive site called The Lake.  A relatively easy entry was followed by another long swim out to the reef and when we descended I was amazed at the variety of corals at this site.  Both hard and soft corals of just about every description adorn this reef but the fish life is pretty much what we are seeing everywhere else.  There was virtually no current which made for a pleasant respite from our previous dive.  Unfortunately by the time we reached the air fill station they were already closed so we did not have enough tanks to do a night dive.  After cleaning up we went to town for dinner where we all opted for cheeseburgers after our steady diet of fish.  We strolled through town after dinner where we were entertained by a couple of wannabe bikers.  Two overtly obese young men were riding huge customized motorcycles as loudly as they could down the main drag, obviously compensating for some deficiency in their otherwise exciting lives.  We struggled with camera technology as we took some pictures along the boardwalk and then set off back for home and bed.

Wednesday brought another bright, clear sky.  Since we only had two tanks left over from yesterday the first order of business was to acquire more air.  We decided to go back to the dive shop in town so that we could get fresh tanks and dive the site across the road from the store since it is where we will be doing a night dive later on. However, we had run out of eggs so Errol was not able to prepare breakfast which resulted in us getting a rather late start to the day.  It was 11:00 a.m. before we even started thinking about going to the dive store.  We grabbed fresh tanks at Yellow Submarine and dove their shore reef this time going towards the south.  Then it was off to The Cliff a bit further north for our second dive.  This dive site has unique and interesting topography with a couple of mini walls.  We dropped Don off at the bungalow and Errol and I set off to dive Something Special where we encountered a very small sharp tail eel foraging for food in the coral crevices.  After we finished our dive we went back to pick Don up for his first ever night dive.  We chose to go back to Yellow Submarine since we were familiar with the site by now.  Unfortunately the camera battery died so I was not able to shoot any video.  It did not take long before a four foot tarpon joined us to use our lights to find food.  Shortly thereafter it was joined by another four foot tarpon and they followed us back and forth along the reef.  It was like taking a pair of hungry fish for a swim.  Interestingly, they are actually picky about which fish they will eat and left a lot of potential targets alone.  After the dive we went back to the bungalow to shower and change and then went into town in search of Patagonia, an Argentinean steak house that I remembered as being very good.  We ordered the 21 oz. prime rib steak and the shrimp to share amongst the three of us.  The shrimp was very good but unfortunately the chef overcooked our steak and the complimentary desserts hardly made up for his faux pas.  Then it was back to the bungalow for a good night’s sleep.

Another relatively late start to the day where we sat around and reminisced about construction stories over breakfast before setting off to the south for fresh tanks.  The entry at White Slave is a little tricky and another group advised us that there was a strong current from the north.  We modified our surface direction to accommodate the current but when we descended we very quickly learned that “strong current” is a relative term.  We were easily able to swim against the current to the north and, just as we reached our turnaround air pressure I noticed a turtle just descending back to the reef.   Not wanting to miss out on a good photographic opportunity I continued north until I could close in on the turtle without scaring it away.  It provided a couple of minute’s entertainment but then it was really time to turn around.  The current assisted us back to the entry point and Errol directed us back to within twenty feet of our entry point.  For our next dive we were going to the Salt Pier but a ship was docking so access was restricted.  We ventured further north to The Lake since Don had not dived that site yet.  Again the entry is tricky but there is a large dead coral at the shoreline where I could place the housing before going back to get my scuba gear.  Another long swim out brought us to the edge of the reef and we descended.  Unfortunately the screw holding the red flip filter had come loose and I was unable to raise the filter.  So, I attempted to shoot with the lights instead of just ambient light.  Errol spotted a large green moray eel which was the highlight of the dive but otherwise the photo opportunities were limited.  We completed the dive and exited the water to find that a local person driving a Subaru Outback had conveniently parked his car right in the middle of the access route.  Since there was at least a four foot drop on the right side into a gulley we had to leave via the other entry which resembled a well carved mogul run on a ski slope.  We eliminated a lot of the excess weight from the truck and Don took a run at the slope.  Fortunately he was able to make it to the road.  I wrote a not completely unpleasant note and placed it on the offender’s windshield.  Errol, while not satisfied that the owner would notice, placed a large stone on the hood of his car and placed the note beneath a second stone placed on top of the first.  For added measure he selected a smooth tube like piece of coral and placed it on top of the second stone as if “giving the finger” to the inconsiderate idiot.  Then it was back to Dive Friends for fresh tanks and back to the bungalow for lunch.  During lunch we began imbibing so spent the afternoon rinsing and drying our gear.  Don went into town for more beer.  We imbibed some more and then went back to La Guernica for dinner.  Once again the chef established himself as the best we have encountered on the island so far.  Then it was back to the bungalow for more imbibing.

On our last day of diving Errol and I were up early to get our first dive in before breakfast.  I had conceded that I would not take the camera on this dive so Murphy’s Law dictates that photo opportunities will abound.  We selected Bari’s Reef as our dive site which is regarded as the number one dive site in the Caribbean for diverse marine species with more than 300 different fish species documented at the site.  At the very start of the dive a young turtle was foraging for food, a little later we encountered a tarpon patrolling the reef, a stonefish, a sharp tailed eel, a spotted drum and numerous garden eels swaying in the current on the sandy bottom.  We started the dive heading south but the reef terminated at a sandy slope so we turned around and went in the opposite direction.  The current is light and after about 50 minutes it was time to turn for shore.  We got fresh tanks at the Yellow Submarine and then went back to the bungalow for breakfast.  Jose had stopped by and indicated that there may be problems with our flights in the morning so we had to stop at the airport to straighten things out.  What a waste of time. Tiara Air is the most incredibly inefficient airline that I have ever come across.  I wasted another hour trying to sort things out and eventually decided to come back when somebody else is manning the booth.  We headed south to Invisibles because Errol wants to take Don to below the hundred foot level.  Don experienced some difficulty equalizing at that depth so we modified our profile and ascended to shallower water.  Unfortunately I had forgotten to turn the camera on inside the housing so consequently was not able to white balance. I tried a few shots with a light just to see how it works out.  Then we went one site further south to Tori’s Reef.  We pulled into the parking area and Errol calmly states that there is a manta ray at the entrance to the estuary not more than ten feet from shore.  At first I thought he was just pulling my leg but once we realized he was speaking the truth we grabbed snorkel gear and my camera and headed to the shoreline.  Tori’s reef is a reasonably difficult entry for Bonaire but we all managed to be in the water very, very quickly.  To see a manta ray in the wild is one thing; to see one feeding on krill at the shoreline in no more than ten feet of incredibly clear water is quite another.  Amazing!  Tori’s Reef is also a nice site with lots of fish and coral and very little current. We enjoyed a fifty minute profile at this site and then we scurried back to change, grab our wallets and head to the Yellow Submarine to square up on our bill. Then, it was back to the bungalow to rinse out our gear and start packing for tomorrow morning.

My airline status is still in limbo at the moment.  We waited for Jose to show up until after 08:00 p.m. without any luck and then headed back into town to Bobbejan’s BBQ for dinner.  They are only open on weekends but their ribs are spectacular.  We also ordered takeout for the next day.  We then set about trying to finish all the beverages that were left over at the bungalow.  Don went to bed anticipating our early start but Errol and I continued to deplete our beverage stores.  Shortly after midnight we accomplished our task; now there was only a pile of empties on the floor.  We set our alarms for 06:00 a.m. and were pleasantly surprised when Jose showed up to take us to the airport.  We loaded our gear and then set of to see what further adventures awaited us at check-in.  Although they had assured me that my ticket would get sorted out when I arrived at the ticket booth they still did not show any record of my booking.  Undaunted I asked which hotel they would be putting me up at and which restaurants I should go to get my meals while I waited for them to get me a seat.  Realizing that it was likely going to cost the airlines way more than I was worth if they could not get me to Aruba she managed to find an available seat and I checked in.  However, once again, my luggage was significantly overweight so I had to pay the $50 overweight baggage fee.  But at least I now held the very valuable boarding pass.  Errol and Don seemed to have a much easier time although their original flight was delayed.  Then, apparently in order to accommodate a number of Americans flying to Miami, another plane was dispatched and their flight changed once again.  We realize that there is a major blizzard going up the eastern seaboard of the United States but it should not directly affect flights in and out of the Netherlands Antilles.  We hunkered down in the restaurant to await our flights but, although they apparently called my name twice, the loudspeaker system does not carry into the restaurant so I almost missed it.  As my flight was already boarded they hustled me through the gates and out onto the tarmac.  I took my seat and noticed that there were several additional empty seats on the plane. We took off and headed towards Curacao.  At least this time upon arrival we did not have to wait too long before some of our passengers disembarked and new passengers boarded the plane.  We then took off for Aruba and, once we landed, I realized that I had left my jacket behind somewhere.  Undaunted, I secured a table in the restaurant courtyard and awaited Errol and Don.  They showed up a little later and we ordered a round of beer.  Eventually we were able to check our luggage and Errol requested three seats together so we were sent right to the very back of the plane.  In all the confusion of seating us together the agent neglected to charge me for overweight baggage.  Bonus!  Since Don is an ardent connoisseur of fine single malt scotch we strolled through the duty free while he advised us as to what we should purchase.  I settled on a 15 year old bottle of Highland Park at $61 instead of the $3300 they were asking for a bottle of Johnnie Walker.  Our flight was delayed an hour and apparently they had run out of food and the entertainment screens weren’t working but by now we had become used to such events.  Once in the air the hostesses went through the plane offering whatever sustenance they had remaining so, while the other passengers were settling for little bags of bits and bites, we pulled out our stash of ribs from Bobbejan’s restaurant.  They were just as good cold as they were when we had them for dinner.  The seats at the rear of the plane do not recline and when the people in front of us relined their seats we were left with very little room which made for a rather uncomfortable flight.  Eventually we landed in Toronto and made our way through customs.  When we reached the luggage carousel it was not in operation so I went and asked one of the WestJet staff what the hold-up was and she informed me that they did not have any baggage handlers to unload the plane.  It took almost an hour before our luggage eventually arrived.  By now, thoroughly exhausted we set off in search of a taxi.  We hailed a cabbie with a van which would easily accommodate our gear and left the airport for home.  Just as we arrived at Errol’s house Drew drove up to meet me so it was an easy transition to load my luggage into his car.  Errol’s wife, Oriana, had prepared some pasta for us so that we could have something to eat and then Drew drove me home.  It felt good to crawl into my own bed.

The Good, the bad and the ugly. 

Dive Friends Bonaire:  This is an amazingly workable concept for the island of Bonaire.  They have several conveniently located stations all over the island which means that you can go to the closest facility to obtain fresh tanks.  The dive staff is friendly, knowledgeable and willing to share information about the various dive sites and local conditions.  Their prices are excellent and the service is outstanding.  You can upgrade to Nitrox at no charge for those who are Nitrox certified and their tanks, both air and Nitrox are always completely filled to maximum working pressure.  There was never any attempt made to pressure us into hiring the divemasters as guides or to take advantage of the boat dives although both those options were presented to us.  I give them my highest recommendation.

La Guernica:  Located right across the road from the waterfront this restaurant scored highly.  It was fully booked when we arrived so the hostess told us to go next door to the bar and she would come and get us when a table became available.  Since Errol smokes we were seated on the patio with an unobstructed view of the water.  We ordered the tapas versions of their daily special and I was absolutely amazed at the quality of the food.  This chef really knows his business.  The rest of the staff is equally as competent.  We were so impressed that we went back a second night and would have returned again had our stay on the island been longer.

Bobbejan’s BBQ:  A small place that is only open on weekends provides some of the best BBQ that I enjoyed while on the island.  You can dine in on their patio or order take out.  We did both and enjoyed their ribs on successive occasions.

Patagonia:  I remembered this restaurant from a previous visit to the island and was looking forward to their grilled steak.  Unfortunately an emergency with the plumbing caused the owner to leave our steak on the grill until it was well done.  Complimentary desserts did not make up for this mistake.  Their meat is excellent and the portions are generous but it was spoiled by being over cooked.

Exclusief Bungalows: I booked our stay here thinking that it would be a nice upgrade from some of the other locations that I have stayed at in Bonaire over the years. We were in bungalow #26 which is a 3 bedroom, 2 bath unit. The unit was clean and bright and we did not have any issues with security. Each night I left my wetsuit out to dry on the line and it was still there the following morning. There are lockable gates surrounding the porch area so your equipment can be kept secure. The unit comes completely furnished with cutlery and dishes. However, certain essentials were missing like dish detergent, toilet paper, a light for the gas stove, tea towels, toiletries, and hot water taps in the shared bathroom. Bottom line is that you are completely on your own for supplies. I tried to connect to the WiFi but could not figure the web payment page out since it is only presented in Dutch. The rental truck situation was a complete fiasco. Although we had booked in August to travel in February they had omitted to reserve a truck for us. Eventually we used their personal truck but it was so badly rusted that the tail gate would not operate and was almost out of gas when they gave it to us. This is a reasonably nice facility for the price that they charge but improvements need to be made with respect to customer satisfaction.

Tiara Air:  This is an airline that should mercifully be put out of business.  Although my flight had been booked for almost six months it did not register on their computer.  The attendant tried to phone the office which is only about 100’ away to obtain assistance but nobody would answer the phone.  After almost an hour at the only available check-in desk another attendant came out and resolved the situation so that I could get a boarding pass.  Meanwhile, the line behind me had grown quite long with a number of other frustrated passengers.  The flight was delayed 90 minutes and then the flight plan was changed to go to Curacao first.  After arriving in Curacao we sat on the tarmac for a further 75 minutes waiting for another plane to come in.  Eventually we arrived in Bonaire.  My traveling companions were scheduled to leave 2 hours after me but they, in fact, arrived 2 hours before me.  Total flight time to Bonaire is 20 minutes; it took me almost 6 hours to get there from Aruba.  Wanting to avoid a repeat performance I checked in at the airport the day before we were scheduled to leave only to find out that I was once again not included on the passenger manifest.  After spending about an hour without resolving anything I decided to cast my fate to the wind and left the airport to complete the last couple of dives.  The next morning I arrived at the airport early to ensure I could get a flight and was told the plane was fully booked.  I asked the attendant which hotel they would be putting me up at and whether they recommended a restaurant or if I should just present them with a bill for my meals.  Realizing this was going to cost them money she was suddenly able to find a seat for me.  When I got on the plane there were actually three seats available.  Bonaire offers great diving at a very reasonable price but hopefully an airline carrier is going to start flying there directly so that all this inconvenience can be avoided.

Word to the wise:  It is a good idea to carry some sort of insect repellent with you at the airport since there are plenty of opportunities for the local mosquitoes to harvest your blood.  Both Errol and I were smothered with bites which tend to itch much more than is absolutely necessary.  

 

 

Katyk BriceƱo
"Amazing!!! Beautiful!!" 
 
Daniel LaFrance  
"Beautiful, akin to an underwater spiritual experience of sorts."
 
Walter Marshall   
"Whenever I watch your videos I am just taken away." 
 
Shaun Diaz   
"Well done, very well done. Mysterious, gorgeous and deeply inspiring... The best part is I am not naming any of it. It is nature in its most perfect and beautiful form." 
 
Christie Lopez  
"David...the video is beautiful and so is the music!! I love the music!!!!" 
 
Brian Dodd
"I just wanted to thank you for the moments of peace and beauty these clips brought to my hectic life."