Bonaire our way: a trip report

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Lorenzoid

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This was my wife's and my sixth Bonaire trip. Our first was our honeymoon in 2009, when shore diving was new to us. We have been returning to Bonaire every couple of years or so as part of a small group of 6-8, and this trip was the first time since our honeymoon that my wife and I have been back to Bonaire by ourselves. We love our friends, but a group trip inevitably means compromises. This time we wanted to focus on the sites we like best and, more generally, do Bonaire our way.

We flew ATL-BON on Sat. July 21, and the return was Sun. July 29, giving us a solid seven days on island. It was pouring down rain when we parked the car at ATL and, not having thought to bring an umbrella, were drenched by the time we arrived at the check-in counter. If the Delta flight arrives on time, there is normally time to get to Dive Friends and do the orientation before they close at 5 pm, but this time Delta was an hour late. Telerin had our truck waiting at the airport short-term parking as usual, and we were on our way in about five minutes. We like Telerin because they accept Amex, allowing us to use the Amex rental insurance. The truck was just as worn as the ones we had rented from Telerin before. We did glance enviously all week at the shiny white AB Car Rental trucks, but Telerin's quote was about $100 less, and the $25 Amex insurance versus the CDW from the rental company tipped the balance to Telerin.

We stayed at Hamlet Oasis. On previous group trips, we had stayed in a couple of the Villas--Nos. 8 and 9, I believe--and liked the location. Our Hamlet Oasis unit was a 1-br "apartment" in the building (No. 27) right next to Dive Friends, which could not have been more convenient. We chose Hamlet Oasis because out of the various options in our price range for a place with a reasonably equipped kitchen--Hamlet Oasis, Den Laman, VRBOs, etc.--Hamlet's balance between price and amenities seemed to suit our needs. Den Laman would have been a step up, I suspect, but Den Laman quoted us about $30 more per night. Our kitchen was minimally equipped--no microwave, no blender, no steak knives, plastic cooking tools, small coffeemaker, a gas stove with no ignitor (and no matches/lighter stocked). We ended up buying a cheap, sharp kitchen knife at Zhung Kong because the crappy knife we found in the drawer would have driven us nuts. We also bought a cheap charcoal grill because there are no grilling facilities at Hamlet Oasis (the Hamlet Villas certainly had grills). On previous trips our group members had brought certain food items that would be expensive or hard to find on Bonaire, and so we brought a couple of huge Costco NY strip steaks, which stayed fairly well frozen in an insulated freezer bag in a checked bag.

As it was too late to check in at Dive Friends, we figured it was a good time to investigate the microbrewery, which opened just after our last trip three years ago. Beers tasted okay--not unlike a lot of homebrew--and that was all right with me. Kudos to the brewer. We loaded up on supplies for the week at Van den Tweel and for dinner cooked pork curry and rice. Kicking back with some cold Amstels on our patio made it all good. Ahh, we were in Bonaire. We were pooped and got a good night's sleep.

Sunday morning, by 7:45 we were all breakfasted (eggs, sausage, toast), enjoying our last cup of coffee on the patio, and ready to walk the 50 feet over to Dive Friends for check-in as soon as DF opened at 8:00 am when we saw four AB trucks roll up to DF and 14 people walk in. This group of early birds (which I doubt DF appreciated) took an hour to get checked in, rent gear, and clear out to The Cliff for their weight check dive. By the time we had checked in and returned from our weight check dive, the group had returned and were in the process of analyzing and loading 28 tanks onto their four trucks. Another hour. They seemed to be from somewhere other than the US or the Netherlands--our best guess from their speech was Romania, but who knows. They were polite enough, but 28 tanks! Oh well. This was the first time in all our trips we had to wait for tanks.

After this late start, we put our plans to head up north for the day on hold and just wanted to get in the water, somewhere requiring no thinking. We like to ease into these trips anyway. So we decided on the ever-dependable Bachelor's Beach. But in our haste to get out and dive, we arrived and found we had forgotten some item of gear and had to return to our place. After picking up the missing item, it was approaching mid-day. What to do? We had already wasted a bunch of time, so what the heck: A favorite lunch place that we hadn't had a chance to hit in several trips is Maiky Snack, which is only open on the weekends. After eating our fill of goat stew and funchi, which we dosed with plenty of pika, we didn't feel up to heavy exertion, so we did a double dip at Bachelor's Beach, the first dive heading north and back, and second dive heading south and back. Found a seahorse. We managed to exchange tanks at DF before they closed at 5 pm. Using a dive op that offered tanks 24-hours, which the DF Den Laman location does, would be nice. The rush to exchange tanks discouraged us from doing a night dive.

The weather, by the way, was windy--more windy than I recall from our previous trips, which had all been in the November-December time frame. At a steady 14-18 kts, we could hardly keep things from blowing off the table. We were told it had been raining lately. We experienced only a couple of brief drizzles all week, but several partly cloudy days. Air temp and water temp were both 81F (by my Shearwater's thermometer). From what I have heard, late July through early November are the best months for Bonaire. I guess late July was late this year.

Monday we got an early start, determined to get four dives in. We also wanted to hit a site or two that we had never done. With the group, we had people of various skill levels and motivations, and for various reasons were never enthusiastic about hitting the more challenging sites. We had Red Slave in mind as a prime site we had never dived, so we decided to try to do a couple of those sites down south. The wind was whipping as we surveyed Red Slave from the shore. We struggled with the current. I don't think we will ever do this dive again. We are content to join the ranks of other divers who feel the challenging sites down south are not worth the effort in view of the great many other sites that are easier, closer to town, and offer essentially just as good a dive on average. Sure, you never know what you will see--that's true on any dive--and we could have happened across something that would have formed our opinion of the southern sites forever. But as it was, we saw nothing we haven't seen elsewhere. We had a short-ish dive because, diving against a strong current on the way out, we were very conservative and did not want to overshoot our exit on the way back, flying with the current.

We then went to Margate Bay, which is another site we had never dived, but it looked like it would be a repeat of Red Slave--whipping wind, stiff current. "What's the point?" we said to each other. Just so we can say we've done it? This is when we decided we were going to do this trip our way, and we headed back up to do our number one favorite Bonaire dive: Salt Pier. Great dive! Two octopuses just hanging out together on a rock. (I hope to get that GoPro footage downloaded and edited in, I dunno, a few months. I hate that part.)

The "problem" with planning a day of dives way down south (or way up north) is that these dives can be tiring; after doing the first one, you may not want to do the next you had planned. We had started this trip with the goal of being more organized than on previous trips. Instead of going up and down the coast haphazardly, we had planned to target certain segments and that way avoid spending too much time relocating. We wanted to do at least four dives a day. But we just weren't up to it--at least not today. We ate sandwiches we had brought in a cooler bag, then did an easy afternoon closer to home of Bari Reef and Something Special, hoping to find a frogfish. No luck, though. We changed tanks at Dive Friends before they closed at 5 pm. We considered a night dive, but we decided four was enough. Besides, we wanted to grill those steaks.

Vis was not great all week, likely from the rain they had had.

Tuesday, we headed a little north and dived Oil Slick Leap and Weber's Joy/Witch's Hut in the morning, ate sandwiches back at Hamlet Oasis, then met up with Bas Tol for an east side shore dive, which is something that has been on our radar for years. Bas had commitments in the mornings that week and was only available for an afternoon dive. He said his usual first-timer's east side site, Cai, was not conducive to diving Tuesday, so we went to Boka Spelonk. What an unusual Bonaire dive! Seagrass carpets. The sight of waves crashing overhead. Loads of lobsters. Fish not commonly seen on the west side: Bas likes to show the Mutton Hamlets and High Hats. A small sea cave (the "spelonk"?). The entry/exit was tricky, but Bas showed us how to do it, right down to where to place each foot and time the waves. We had an absolute blast. Can't wait to dive the east side again.

Dinner at La Terrazza capped off a great day. We had only two dine-out nights planned, and this was one of them. The concept is fun: the owner, from Cinque Terre, Italy, and his Dutch wife cook whatever they feel like that night and bring you a succession of Italian-influenced small plates/courses, paired with wine if you choose.

(continued in part II)
 
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Lorenzoid

Lorenzoid

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(continued from part I)

Wednesday, we drove up to Washington Slagbaai National Park, yet another must-do Bonaire thing that we had amazingly never gotten around to doing before. The drive to the park entrance just past Rincon took about 20 minutes. We planned to dive at least one of the easier sites, such as Wayaka II or Boka Slagbaai, and so we took the "short" road, arriving at Wayaka in another 40-45 minutes or so. The driving times given in the park guide are apparently conservative, to ensure people leave enough time and get out of the park by closing time. If roads are muddy, I can imagine it would take longer. We found Wayaka unimpressive. The coral looked storm damaged (which is exactly what we had read in comments on SB and elsewhere, but of course we had to see for ourselves). Again, we can now join the ranks of people who have dived in the park and decided that, given the time commitment and the alternatives, it's just not worth it. We stopped at Boka Slagbaai, ate a lunch of steak sandwiches, and decided not to dive there. We used the Dive Guide Bonaire book (an improvement over the venerable Bonaire Shore Diving Made Easy that we had used on previous trips), which describes the site as being of historical interest for the cannons, chains, and ballast stones but not so great for marine life. We decided to leave the park to do a couple of the sites we knew we wanted to hit.

For some reason we had never dived The Lake before. Now it's one of our favorite double-reef sites. True to the guidebook description, the sort of enclosed "lake" of sand between the reefs makes it a little different from the other double-reef sites. We then hit one of our other favorites, Alice in Wonderland. For dinner we thought we might cook some fish, but the seafood market, Zarpin, had nothing of interest to us that day. Zarpin said they have a reliable supply of mahi mahi from Venezuela on Mondays, but other than that, what they get from local fisherman is hit or miss. So we picked up a smoked chicken from the Royal Chicken Tukkie outside Van den Tweel. We did get some fish from Zarpin another night and made grilled fish sandwiches for dinner.

Thursday, we dived the Hilma Hooker by way of Angel City, just for something a little different and perhaps to avoid the parking crush at the Hooker site. Saw some tarpon and barracuda. We hadn't dived the Hooker since our second trip, I think, and in view of some positive recent reports on SB (eagle rays?!) it was time to give it another try. But I still don't see the allure. It's not very encrusted in growth, and there's no guarantee you will run into big fish around it. But at least a wreck is something different and breaks up a roster of otherwise similar sites. We followed this with Larry's Lair, where we met a couple of divers who told us to look for a seahorse at 44 ft. Voila--there it was. Then The Invisibles, where we found a colorful flatworm of some type. And topped it off with another Salt Pier. We just can't get enough Salt Pier. We saw a big squid, a group of big rainbow parrotfish that apparently like to hang out there, and a huge midnight parrotfish as well. Four dives made for a pretty good day.

Friday, we did a double dip on (I know, I know) Salt Pier. For lunch we wanted to try Surinamese food--yet another "Bonaire thing" we hadn't done on previous trips. Grace Place was closed for their vacation. The Surinamese place with the gelato and Belgian beers doesn't serve lunch. So we went across the street to the new-ish (wasn't there on our last trip) doner kebab place, Doner Station. Very good--as good as any I can remember eating in Europe. In the afternoon, again with the goal of finding a frogfish, we hit up Yellow Submarine and Something Special. Great dives, as usual, but no frogfish. Exchanged tanks for tomorrow at the DF Yellow Sub location.

Friday night we ate dinner at Osaka. The idea of (somewhat) locally caught sashimi intrigued us. Unfortunately the only local fish they had available sashimi-style that night was mahi mahi. The "local roll" featured tuna from Venezuela but no tuna sashimi. Another roll had tempura-fried jack. Local-ish fish sushi was a novelty, what can I say. Was Osaka great? No. Service was slow. The mahi sashimi certainly didn't top the yellowfin I have eaten minutes after landing it. Osaka is on the upper floor of a building in which the ground floor houses an Indonesian restaurant. From our table's view on the balcony, the rijstaffel that people were eating in the Indonesian restaurant looked very good. Noted for next trip.

Saturday, our last dive day, we hit some favorites: up to 1000 Steps and Andrea II, then after lunch down to Bachelor's Beach (again) and (drumroll) for our last dive of the trip, Salt Pier. By this point, we had made another realization: on average, we prefer the southern sites to the northern sites. Given just a week to hit everything we know we like, we feel the sites after the northern road becomes one way aren't worth it. We saw another octopus at Salt Pier, as well as big tarpon and barracuda, and an assortment of eels. Someone reported seeing an eagle ray, but we did not. We cracked open cold Amstels from our freezer bag upon returning to the truck and toasted our trip's success.

A Town Pier volunteer cleanup was held on Saturday, but we did not attend. If our trip had been for two weeks, we totally would have done it, but we wanted to do our own thing. In appreciation, the volunteers got a barbecue party at DF Hamlet, which we watched from afar. We wanted to empty our fridge of leftovers (and use up our charcoal), so we made grilled chicken satays with peanut sauce and fried rice.

Sunday we packed up and spent mid-afternoon at Sorobon, watching the windsurfers and getting our traditional "last meal" of bitterballen and vlammetjes, washed down with Amstels, before heading to the airport. That's Bonaire our way.
 

Dogbowl

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If I ever get to Bonaire, I’ll remember to hit Salt Pier...errr....more than once! :D
 

DeputyDan

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We did Salt Pier On August 3rd - the two Octpi were in the same rock and are still there.

There was also an eagle ray at the hooker site.
 
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drrich2

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While Bonaire your way was highly individualized, it's an interesting depiction of the charms of a 'land-based live-aboard' approach - giving people the potential high dive count of a live-aboard trip, coupled with the versatility of shore diving freedom (pick your site, time to go, # per day, etc...) and going where you will (e.g.: sight seeing in Washington-Slagbaii Park, which is good for some nice scenic shots), eating various places, etc...

I'm not saying it's better than a live-aboard (where you set your gear up once, don't worry so much about turning an ankle or falling in rough-bottomed entries with surge obscuring a view of the bottom, petty theft from rental trucks isn't a concern, etc...), but it does offer significant advantages for some.

Glad you got to sample the east cost diving with Bas Tol - from what I saw, it's like a way different place over there.

Richard.

P.S.: Now you've got me wondering why the Hilma Hooker doesn't have more encrusting growth.
 
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Lorenzoid

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From your dive at Spelonk

That's not us in the video (at 4:22), so it's either from another day or a compilation of both days. Regardless, Boka Spelonk is a great dive. Thanks again!
 

MN Lakeman

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"... We like Telerin because they accept Amex, allowing us to use the Amex rental insurance. The truck was just as worn as the ones we had rented from Telerin before. We did glance enviously all week at the shiny white AB Car Rental trucks, but Telerin's quote was about $100 less, and the $25 Amex insurance versus the CDW from the rental company tipped the balance to Telerin."

Like you, I've been using the Amex one time $25 auto insurance option when traveling, however....are you aware that this coverage does NOT cover pickups? Unless they've changed this exception recently, I would read the fine print in your contract. 'Just trying to help!
 
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Lorenzoid

Lorenzoid

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Like you, I've been using the Amex one time $25 auto insurance option when traveling, however....are you aware that this coverage does NOT cover pickups? Unless they've changed this exception recently, I would read the fine print in your contract. 'Just trying to help!

I have never read that. I couldn't immediately find the detailed contract without exercising some Google-fu, but I did find an overview: Car Rental Insurance Coverage - Premium Car Rental Protection

"WHAT IT COVERS Many types of vehicles, such as luxury vehicles, SUVs, and pickup trucks."
 

Jersey

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Great trip report, thanks for taking time to write. We love Salt Pier too! Your knife comment made me laugh - we got so frustrated with crap knives, we bought a set of 3 that we travel with - serrated, carving and paring. They are wrapped in cardboard sleeves, then put in a plastic pitcher we also travel with. Clothes are then stuffed in the pitcher and packed away. I found wrapping the frozen food in neoprene (wetsuits) then wrapping a BC around that keeps frozen stuff just fine.

There are multiple AmEx cards -could it be some cover pickups, some do not? I've read the fine print and called AmEx regarding this and they say my card covers pickups.
 
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