Trip Report 8 Day Trip Report: Sand Dollar, Dive Friends

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drrich2

Contributor
Messages
11,233
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10,384
Location
Southwestern Kentucky
# of dives
500 - 999
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-----I’ll post my research notes for Bonaire separately and focus on practical concerns from this 8-day Sat. Oct. 5th – Sun. Oct. 13th solo dive trip staying at a studio condo. (Unit F1) at Sand Dollar Condo.s, renting an automatic transmission 4-door Nissan Navara pickup truck from Avis, diving with Dive Friends and doing 30 solo shore dives (1,000 Steps x 2, Oil Slick Leap, Andrea II x 2, Andrea I, the Cliff, Bari Reef (house reef) x 8, Something Special, Windsock x 3, Bachelors Beach, Aquarius x 2, Hilma Hooker, Angel City x 2, Alice in Wonderland, Salt Pier x 2, Margate Bay and Sweet Dreams).

-----Airfare to Bonaire runs high; Southwest and Jet Blue don’t go there, and I anticipated paying around $1,100 to 1,200 to Delta or maybe American, plus baggage. Blessed with a sweet deal on United Airlines. Flew Nashville to Houston, then a roughly 4 ½ hour flight to Bonaire. I hoped to pay for inflight Internet service, but that didn’t work out over the ocean; they let us have it free early in the flight before we lost service. United has an app. that, had I downloaded (and set up an account maybe?) it beforehand, I could’ve used a device (e.g: tablet, phone, maybe notebook computer?) to watch movies or other content free (e.g.: Toy Story 4). I fly Economy, by the way. At Bonaire’s airport at the one luggage conveyor, I could see out where they were putting bags on it. Looked a bit rough at times – remember when you’re packing checked bags.

-----It’s been 5 years since I visited Bonaire, but in 8 prior trips there I’ve visited Washington-Slagbaai Park, the Donkey Sanctuary, watched kite boarders at the Atlantis site on the west coast and windsurfers on Lac Bay at Jibe City on the east coast, watched Flamingos at Lake Gotomeer and waves pound the east and north coasts, and ate out of a variety of restaurants (some no longer exist). This time I skipped the distractions and stuck to shore diving.

-----Due to publicized concerns about sunscreen damaging coral reefs, I went with Stream 2 Sea (a sponsor for the 2019 Scuba Board Surge), and it worked well, stayed on and didn’t make my eyes burn.

-----Some sort of ‘summer hat’ to cut down sun exposure is worthwhile, and due to at times brisk trade winds a string running under the chin is need. Bought a nice one off Amazon and happy with it.

-----My chunky body form makes independently zipping up a rear zip wetsuit undoable. Finding non-custom front-zip full wetsuits isn’t easy. I’m naturally well-insulated so I don’t need it for thermal protection, but some people think with repetitive diving, insulation might conserve heat and cut air consumption, so I wear a front zip shorty. To reduce the amount of sunscreen coverage needed, I wore a full front-zip Lycra skin.

-----Now that I’ve been knocked down twice by waves, and stepped on a loose piece of rock and shoved around by waves atop my camera with my hand in a crevice (all that drama over 2 dives at Angel City), and blundered into shallow water submerged rocky structures (which can have light silt and be very hard to see – such as on the south side of the pier at Windsock where I bloodied my knee going forward, but back-finning out across the shallows can mean the backs of my legs crashing into the same problem). A little surge can make it hard to see these things till it’s too late to avoid.
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-----I used to hit Bonaire in swim trunks, maybe a t-shirt. I’m seeing the wisdom of full suit coverage, at least 3 mm for abrasion protection (plus years ago I got nailed by Caribbean sea wasp jellyfish on a night dive). The Lycra was better than nothing, but mighty thin.

-----It’s often recommended wear at least medium-thickness boots due to rough ironshore at some sites (e.g.: Oil Slick Leap). I do, but was surprised how uncomfortable the more usual coral pellets and even the uneven rocky steps at 1,000 Steps could be geared up (I run close to 265 lbs, then add gear, tank & 16 lbs. lead).

-----Sand Dollar Condo.s is a long, almost strip-mall like sequence of pastel colored 2 (?)-story buildings parallel to the shoreline, adjacent to Den Lamen Condo.s (a fairly small 3-story building). Dive Friends has a small store, gear room, rinse tanks and lots of tanks on the Den Laman parking lot side of where Sand Dollar and Den Lamen meet. They have more tanks and rinse tanks at their nice pier, with showers and wooden benches for gearing up (yet only one ladder to the water, rather shallow; there are other steps down a bit for giant strides elsewhere). The pier is for guests of Sand Dollar and Den Lamen.
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-----Den Lamen has an on-site restaurant, Breeze ‘N Bites; they offer a range of meals (and may be open when Eddy’s is close), and Sand Dollar’s offer for pre-paid breakfast is for here. I used it, and was often the only or one of very few diners. Nice people, but I preferred the breakfast buffet at Buddy Dive Resort. B ‘N B is server-based; I was brought a cut of yogurt, glass of granola crumbles, bowl of fruit and water, and could order more food – I generally went with 5 fried eggs, 3 rolled up pieces of cheese and a glass of orange juice. Here's Den Lamen from the water.
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-----After the maze that is Buddy Dive Resort, Sand Dollar was easy to navigate; at the south end of the property facing the road is Eddy’s Restaurant. Good food, really enjoyed the Tuesday and Thursday night performances by TAFKAH (good male version of Thunder Only Happens When It’s Raining, and he nailed Amarillo by Morning). Buddy’s was okay years ago, but I preferred my Unit F1 studio room at Sand Dollar. Well furnished – plenty of utensils, some cookware, full fridge, stove and microwave. The hot water heater gets water hot, but isn’t on all the time – it’s like an old-style microwave, were you turn a dial and it counts down a goes off.
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-----Sand Dollar and Den Lamen share a Bonairean distinction; a small sandy beach, divided by the pier. The Sand Dollar side is much nicer; a lot less visible rock, a cordoned off swim area and nice enough to put a few lounge chairs if you wish. Den Lamen’s side is rocky (how much seems to vary with tide), and I don’t recommend bare footing if you wade there (just going by looks; didn’t try it).
Sand Dollar side:
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Den Lamen side:
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In front of Sand Dollar’s front office was a bushy tree with little black, cherry-looking fruits; in the late afternoon/evening yellow-shouldered Amazon parrots came to eat them. Saw several of these guys. Lots of iguanas and Bonaire whiptail lizards on-property. Saw a number of donkeys and some goats around the island.
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-----That Nissan Navara truck was rather new and on the whole nice, but we had some issues. When shifting to drive, there’s an option to drop to D (drive), then pull left and there’s even some sort of little dash. Pulling over to the left seems to stick it in a low gear, where even giving it plenty of gas just runs the RPMs up and it won’t go over 50 kph (plus the A.C. quits cooling, likely due to the strain). When parked and shut off, a few times the key wouldn’t turn in the ignition, so I couldn’t start it. Phoned Avis; basically, advised to turn the wheel, I guess shake it up a bit. I had tried, but tried harder. Every time it eventually worked, but sometimes my efforts to turn the steering wheel and pull around on the steering column had to get…vigorous.
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-----Plus the tailgate got stuck. For whatever reason, the handle to open it stopped working. I tried locking and unlocking it. So I geared up a couple times without benefit of a tailgate…not fun! Then it started working again…don’t know why. Never locked it again!

-----Trailboss123 wrote well of Ear Shield, so I bought and tried it. May have helped my ears bear up better over the week. I also used drops intended to prevent swimmer’s ear off and on. He also praised the Gooper Premium Dry Bag Universal Waterproof Cell Phone Case; I didn’t see that in time so I tried the cheaper Joto Universal Waterproof Pouch, and though I spent the week in fear it’d flood and wreck my truck key, it kept everything (truck and apartment keys, driver’s license, credit card, Dive Friends card & wad of cash) dry. Some recommend a tire inflator that attaches to a BCD’s low pressure inflator; bought one and thankfully didn’t need it. Got an XS Scuba x5 Accessory Hanger on a whim; it’s supposed to help dry boots and hold other stuff, and was surprisingly effective.

-----Due to petty theft from rental trucks it’s often suggested don’t leave anything of value in your truck. I get thirsty and love Diet Soda (e.g.: Coke Zero). Picked up a cheap cooler and some extra cold packs from Amazon, kept refilling a 20-oz soda bottle with more Coke Zero, made a nice difference between 1st and 2nd dives of the day. Nobody stole my eye glasses or big generic ‘fit over’ sunglasses (which a friend calls my birth control glasses), or my cooler. One day it seemed there was less soda in my bottle than I packed; not sure if I imagined it or somebody took a drink.

-----The Cactus Blue food truck at Corporal Meiss site (just past Windsock) is nice; double cheese burger one day, a lionfish wrap another, diet soda…real handy. I used to eat at the Cactus Blue restaurant so I asked if the food truck is affiliated with it; I was told the C.B. owner got out of the restaurant, then opened the food truck, and the truck is now on it’s 3rd owner. So not anymore.
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-----Happy with Dive Friends; I showed my nitrox and solo cards, the lady mentioned the ‘solo’ bit on the card they made me, and I dove nitrox. The multiple locations were really handy; the Port Bonaire site is near the airport, a bit before Windsock, and if you want to do 2 morning dives, eat at Cactus Blue food truck, swap tanks and do 2 more southern sites, pretty easy. 2 Of the tanks had o-ring issues (at dive sites, not when I analyzed their nitrox mix!) – I had a scuba tool & spare o-ring kit and fixed that.

-----I recommend a spare o-ring tank and scuba tool (e.g.: for tightening 1st stage hoses that get lose); been useful to me.

-----Dive Friend’s main retail location is right off the round-about just south of Den Lamen; they have a lot of stuff, but didn’t carry the Atomic Aquatics B2 2nd stage cover and ring I needed after mine disappeared the 1st dive of the trip. But the staffer directed me to XProDiver up the street, which did (good service both places) – cost just under $30, and that’s with the XProDiver guy selling me a ring off a store B2 and he’d order it another.

-----Big shout out to the Dinner in a Box delivery service – couldn’t figure out how to get a phone call through to them, but they answer their e-mail very fast, and over time I ordered 2 large pepperoni and 1 large fish pizza (maybe tuna? The pepperoni were better) from Pasa Bon Pizza through them. I’d guess it might’ve added $5 to cost? Got me fed my 1st night, and saved me wondering around Bonaire in the dark looking for food.

-----I liked Between 2 Buns, the café just south of Den Lamen, though as with Bonaire generally food’s pricey. A mango smoothie is $6; had about 3 that week. Pretty good double cheeseburger and some sort of spicy chicken ‘burger.’ And that Gio’s Gelato in town that people praise? Yeah, had a very tasty bite of that, too. Next door was Jewel of Bonaire, a gift shop and jewelry store where I picked up a white gold sea turtle pendent with a Caribbean Sea opal (gift for our kiddo). Got all my groceries at Zhung Kong Supermarket (why don’t they have their name on the store? It’s a bit small, with such a dark exterior it’s a tad depressing looking) just up the road past Hamlett Oasis; didn’t bother with Van den Tweel (the large, modern looking supermarket) or Warehouse Bonaire Supermarket (which somebody painted orange). Between 2 Buns was busy -
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-----For Bonaire it was a rainy week; poured down rain twice that I saw, once for half an hour. There were puddles and green grass. Sometimes cloud cover gave a break from the sun (maybe the high was supposed to be around 84 on a given day, but that tropical sun got brutal).
 
-----The reef was a mixed bag. Plenty of partially deal brain & other corals, but many nice-looking soccer ball-sized brain corals, overall reefs decent (it’s a glass half empty or half full thing; you can find good or bad if you’re looking for it). My favorite 2 reefs were those furthest south this trip – Margate Bay and especially Sweet Dreams. Lush gorgonians gave big eye candy appeal. But the waves seemed worse down south. Decently fishy, but not outstandingly so. Compared to past trips, seems I saw more big barracuda, and more tarpon by day. Saw a few large snapper, one free swimming moray eel, 2 green sea turtles and a first for me…what I presume was one of those mantas sporadically seen at Bonaire (swept by the bottom of the reef sloping wall while I was hanging out shallow just past the pier at Windsock). 1 Mackeral-type fish big enough to pass for a small-to-medium barracuda zipped by. 1 Octopus and 2 big reef squid, at least 2 bristle worms, a good assortment of general Caribbean sea life (but no sharks, pork fish or gray angelfish; I’ve never seen any of those in Bonaire).
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-----Part of the Bonaire trip ritual is refilling the gas tank at the end of the trip. I hit the gas station that’s north of the roundabout near Sand Dollar, and over a bit; the info. I kept shows it as Gas Station Mentor, Kaya Korona #107, Bonaire. Was told they don’t take Visa or Mastercard; I had cash, and I don’t know how it is at the other gas stations (not a lot to choose from!), so be aware.

-----Late in the trip I freaked out a bit because my Sunday morning departure was for 6:25 a.m., I was supposed to be there at least 30 minutes before or they could give away my slot without compensation, and I learned online airport hours that day were for…6 a.m. to 11 p.m.! I think that limits when planes can use it; they were open with staff checking us in well before that. Avis opened at 5 a.m. and I had no problems turning the truck in, walking over and getting on with the long trip home. Trailboss123 later said Avis and Budget will let you come by the night before at 8 p.m. to do the vehicle inspection and final paperwork, then bring it in early as you like the next morning, park and lock it and drop the key in a little slot/hole in the office window.

Trip Costs:

-----1.) 8-Day Package deal at Sand Dollar Condo.’s, Studio Unit F1, with bundled daily breakfast at Breeze ‘N Bites (at Den Lamen, walkable), automatic transmission 4-door dive truck via Avis, 7 dives shore diving with Dive Friends: $1,873.
-----2.) Nitrox upcharge with Dive Friends: $20.
-----3.) Round Trip Airfare via United Airlines: $607.02.
-----4.) Round Trip Baggage Fees for 2 checked bags via United Airlines: $140.
-----5.) Nashville Airport Economy Parking: $108.
-----6.) Insurance on that rental truck: $138.65 (not full coverage; one step down).
-----7.) Full gas tank at end of week: $60.76 (still had well over ¼ tank).
-----8.) Replace regulator 2nd stage cover & ring at XProDivers: $29.90.

-----Total (without any food except bundled breakfast), souvenir, tips or added entertainment costs): $2,977.33. Add in groceries, eating out, airport food & various miscellaneous costs, and without buying gifts for the kid, should be < $3,500 for a 30-dive 8-day trip (could’ve done 2 more morning dives the last Saturday, but I’d had enough). Compares decently to a live-aboard trip aboard a Caribbean Aggressor boat (if booked during an > 30% off sale); the live-aboard would be valet service, easy diving, no driving around or hassles of shore diving. The Bonaire trip offered dive freedom; not only could I dive when/where/how I wished, but I did the dive instead of being led around. Shore and solo diving are growing experiences for me.

-----I’m not including groceries, eating out or trips, since such costs are highly discretionary and you’ve got to eat at home. If you want some examples, the Cactus Blue Food Truck at Corporal Meiss sold me a big double cheeseburger (no fries; I had her hold the bacon) and a can of Coke Zero for $17; another day a lionfish wrap, flamingo droppings desert (think peanut impregnated fudge) and 2 cans Diet Coke for $24. At Eddy’s, a spicy crab croquette appetizer and Catch of the Day (wahoo) with water (free) was $28; another day some sort of pumpkin soup and seafood fiesta (free water) was $35.50. (Tips not included in food cost). 1 Scoop in cup at Gio’s Gelato ($1.75, small but heavy, very tasty).
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-----Between 2 Buns had tasty mango smoothies for $6. I bought one with a Farmyard Burger with fries for $22.50; got one with a spicy chicken ‘burger’ and fries for $22.50 (so same cost). Dinner one evening at Breeze ‘N Bites (Catch of the Day, Wahoo or Barracuda (I chose ‘cuda) with rice, vegetables and fried plantains, then a chocolate 3 ways desert, water to drink - $37.50. 4 2-Liter Cokes (diet or zero) at Zhung Kong Supermarket were $16. I think a large pepperoni pizza from Pasa Bon Pizza was $22; Dinner In A Box added $5 to the cost delivered.

A few shots wandering in Kralendijk, the capital:

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P.S.: Since I showed you Den Lamen's back, from the water, here's the front:

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This is the musician who did a good job at Eddy's Tuesday & Thursday nights:
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And here is one of the most endearing lizard scenes I have ever seen:
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-----Addendum: I originally ‘planned’ this trip back in late 2017, till a great Aggressor Fleet sale led me to take a live-aboard trip instead. Rather than research all over again, I just went with a Sand Dollar Condo.s package, which was the ‘winner’ of my earlier comparison. I’ll post my old 2017 comparison notes here, in case they’re helpful to anyone.

Bonaire Solo Trip Comparison.

The goal: an 8-day solo trip, maybe in May 2018 (low season), shore diving only, automatic pickup truck. Be mindful most packages won’t include extra charge truck insurance.

1.) Coral Paradise.
Basic package with 8-night stay, 6-days shore diving, nitrox, $1,930. But if I go before May 14th, $2050.

Automatic: Add $5.65 per day, including all taxes - x8 = $45.20 more.
Breakfast Buffet: $17.50 per day, $140 (it’s at Buddy Dive Resort).
Full vehicle insurance upgrade: $10/day, $80.

$1930 + $140 + $45.20 + $80.

$2195.20 so ~ $2,200. I’d want an extra day shore diving on an 8-day stay.

Misc.: Minimum age for kids is 13 years.
Non-smoking anywhere on the property.


2.) Caribbean Club.
Drive & Explore Package with shore diving only, breakfast buffet, manual transmission, nitrox, does include airport transfers, studio standard room, $1,180.42 per week ($1,237.12 for studio deluxe; that’s so close, what’s different about them?), + $164 for the extra night (for deluxe, $172.10 for the extra night).

Automatic: $245 per week, $35/day, so figure $280 for 8-days?

Misc.: If you boat dive, you get on the boat at Buddy Dive Resort.

$1,180.42 + $164 + 280.

$1,624.42.


3.) Buddy Dive Resort.
8-days, 7-nights in a studio, with 6 days shore diving, nitrox, breakfast buffet, airport transfers, $1712, + $241.14 for the extra night.

Extra for automatic transmission: $245/week, $35/day, so I figure $280.

$1712 + $241.14 + $280.

$2,233.14.


4.) Happy Holiday Homes.

1 Bedroom Deluxe x 8-days, booked for May 27 - June 4, 2018:
$560.
Room Tax: $6.50/day $52.
Service Charges: 10% $56.
Use AC in 1 bedroom ($10/day) $80.
6 Day shore dive package $157.50.
Extra day shore dive package $30.
Pickup Truck (taxes include. CDW insurance)/day $464.

$1,399.50. So about $1,400.
But that’s without breakfast buffet or an automatic transmission.

5.) Sand Dollar Condominiums.

1 Studio Condo. ‘ride to the reef’ package for 7 nights is $1579. An extra night with room tax, added $161.50. Upgrading to an automatic truck & add 8th day adds $94. So $1,834.50. On that 8th ‘extra’ day, breakfast adds $16.50 and adding an extra unlimited shore diving day adds $34.

Basic Package: $1579.
Extra night: $161.50.
Automatic Truck with extra day: $94.
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$1834.50.
Breakfast 8th day: $16.50.
Extra shore diving day: $34.

$1,885.

6.) Curacao option - 7 days at Go West Apartments, all shore diving.

1.) Single occupancy at Studio Apartment - $1,341.00. Includes 6 days unlimited air tanks for shore diving,, free wifi, rental truck with insurance with a $450 deductible, taxes & round trip airport transfers.
2.) I think 6-days nitrox upgrade - $130.00.
3.) Option to add 3 2-tank dives - $190, or $304 for 5 2-tank dives.
4.) Round Trip Airfare on American Airlines (Aug. 7 - 24) - $630.
5.) Round Trip 2 Checked Bags - $140 ($70 each way).
6.) Might add $40 flight protection coverage.
7.) Tank for gas for week - maybe $100? (Likely less, but if I go to Superior Producer, well…).
8.) Nashville Airport Parking - $88.

Total - $2,659 with 3 2-tank boat dives, nitrox, basic truck insurance, $40 flight protection coverage. Still have pay to upgrade to automatic truck, food and soda for the week, various tips. But this includes airfare and basic truck insurance.

By comparison, Bonaire packages include automatic truck upgrade, but not airfare, baggage fees, truck insurance or boat dives. They are 8-day figures. Airfare for those same dates via Orbitz to Bonaire $691.02, shockingly good for Bonaire. In this case, which is quite unusual, airfare between the 2 destinations is almost equal.
 
Thanks for the in depth review. It was almost like being there, except for the being there part.
 
Thanks. It's a great place to go. Got a little nostalgia about Bonaire. Since I started going years ago, 2 of my favorite restaurants (City Cafe' and Wil's Grill) are no longer in business, the original Cactus Blue restaurant is gone, Papaya Moon relocated and I haven't heard of it in a long time, Richard's became something else, so much has changed. Pasa Bon Pizza moved, somebody painted Warehouse Bonaire Supermarket's front exterior orange, it's just different.

On the other hand, donkeys are still all over the place. Lots of iguanas on the Sand Dollar grounds; I felt bad for bothering one when I used the pier at times. Having sought those parrots in vain in the past, it was a face palm moment to realize how many were right there around me at Sand Dollar.

If anyone is new to Bonaire, please understand it's well worth your time to spend a half-day driving through Washington-Slagbaai Park, go watch the kite boarders and windsurfers, see the rugged, wave-pounded east coast, drive across the interior and maybe visit the Donkey Sanctuary. There's more to Bonaire than shore diving.

I've been 8 times before. Did all that already. I've been blessed to spend about 2-weeks per year doing something I love, recreational ocean diving.

Oh, and see what I mean about how Zhung Kong looks from outside? I like them, but people, get a nice, friendly sign.
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Richard.

Optional Extra Cost: Due to some hassles getting settled in, I decided to pay AT&T the $60 for their temporary 'Passport' option, which limited the added expense of texts, data and voice calls while on-island. While I didn't carry a phone around, for various reasons I deemed it worthwhile this once.
 

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