Calm, peaceful, laid-back. In the movie “Being There”, Chance, the lead character, embodies all of these traits. There, in Bonaire, a sense of calm, peace and easy-living exists, as well. This Caribbean island is 50 miles north of Venezuela and 80 miles east of Aruba. Along with Aruba and Curacao, it forms the ABC islands of the Dutch Antilles. Bonaire’s earliest known inhabitants were the Caquetio Indians who came by canoe from Venezuela in about AD 1000. They were apparently a very tall people because the Spanish name for the island was “las islas de los gigantes,” island of the giants.
On a recent visit, you’ll find no giants, only a warm and hospitable people who embody the spirit of their land – relaxed and easy-going. Bonaire is known for its pristine tropical vegetation, beaches of white-powder sand, stunning coral reefs, and it is consistently recognized as the top diving destination in the Caribbean.
Dive Right In
Diving in Bonaire will spoil you for all other dive experiences. So, what’s a newbie diver supposed to do but give it a try. At Great Adventures Bonaire, a 5-star dive operation, you’ll meet Mark, an instructor of many years experience, who will give you a one-on-one lesson. Before you dive, he’ll explain the use of the regulator (for breathing), the vest (for buoyancy control to descend and ascend) and calculator (gauging time underwater). He’ll then strap a 40-lb. air cylinder to your back and fit you with a wetsuit, mask and a pair of fins. Mark explains that SCUBA stands for “self-contained, underwater, breathing apparatus.” Who knew?
You’ll descend to just about 20 feet and immediately you’ll be transported into another world. All trepidation disappears as you lose yourself in this underwater fantasy of the most amazing, weird, gorgeous creatures ever to be seen. There are fat Blue Parrotfish, adorable Angelfish, yellow and black Rock Beauties and, yikes! Spotted Moray Eels, not to mention exquisite coral of all shapes, sizes and colors. Because of Mark’s calm and confident demeanor, your initial foray into the deep will be all good, start to the finish - about 90 minutes later.
Wanna learn before trying out Bonaire: In NYC, whether you’re a snorkeler, avid diver, just lerning to dive, or interested in becoming a dive professional, Empire Divers NY C has the course for you. Empire Divers offers the highest quality diver education and equipment available. Certifications from all levels of PADI training, and programs with continuing education specialty classes including: EAN Nitrox, Photography, Wreck, Deep, and many more. Empire Divers, 303 E. 81st Street, NYC. Tel: 212- 249-4534.
It Takes a Village
The lovely village is, of course, Harbour Village Beach Club, the exclusive beach-front enclave and the island’s most luxurious resort. The property consists of clusters of Dutch Caribbean-style one and two-bedroom suites set amid lush tropical gardens and bordered by a white sand beach and picturesque marina. On site is a world-class spa with pampering facials, wraps and massages –particularly welcome after a day of diving or windsurfing. Entering your room, you’ll be delighted to find it decorated in typical Colonial Plantation style: dark teakwood furniture, tiled floor and romantic netting enclosing the bed. A door leads to an expansive patio, perfect for doing, well, nothing. Harbour Village is made for this!
The most fun way to see the island is from a “tuk tuk”, an open air electrical vehicle. The Bon Tuk company is operated by Bas van den Hee and his partner. Bas will drive you around in this cute cart, stopping frequently so you can take pictures while he explains what you’re seeing. You’ll visit the Flamingo Sanctuary, one of the few nesting places for Caribbean flamingos whose population in spring swells to 5,000 pretty-in-pink birds. Bas takes you to the island’s southern tip to see tiny hut shelters built in the 1800s for African slaves that were brought over by the Dutch West Indies Company to work the salt flats.
Color it Pink
Picture a body of water that morphs from sky blue to navy to emerald green. In Bonaire, yes. But, can you believe that here you’ll also find water that is pink? In the distance on the salt flats… perfectly pink ponds. Bas explaines that the brine in this water encourages the growth of a bacterium that turns the ponds a vivid pink color – and the small crustaceans that live in the brine turn pink as well.
Wild donkeys grazing by the roadside, pink aviary ambling through the flats, Disney-colored tropical fish …and back at your dream retreat, a hammock gently swaying in the breeze, just waiting for you to slip in…Oh yeah, it’s easy to catch this peaceful, laid-back vibe that is Bonaire. Fingers crossed, it will last long after you’re back home.
If You Go:
Bonaire Tourist Board
Great Adventures Bonaire
Photos courtesy of Sloane Travel Photography using Nikon D-3100 SLR