Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Bonaire Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles, Saturday, 14 July 2012 8:57pm

I just spent a week on the island of Bonaire. It's technically part of the Netherlands, so I was in the EU for this trip, despite being only about 50 miles away from Venezuela on the north coast of South America.

Bonaire is a fairly nondescript island, all scrub brush and cacti. The main industry is salt extraction, dating back from the Dutch colonial period. There are large salt drying pools marked off by dykes and filled with windmill pumps, and hills of salt waiting to be shipped out (mostly to places that salt roads in winter).

Most of the attraction of the island is just off the coast. There are over fifty marked shore dive sites around the island. You just park your rental truck, strap on your air tank, and wade into the surf. Not quite as easy as just rolling off of a live-aboard boat, but still very convenient. I ended up doing 18 dives over 6 days of diving, including my 100th overall scuba dive.

A lot of the fish were familiar from my other Caribbean diving, but there were some new faces. One fun fish was the tarpon. They're big fish, often five feet long and probably weighing over 100lbs in some cases. They're apex predators, at the top of the food chain, but they actually like divers. I found out why on our night dives. As nocturnal hunters, they've learned to follow divers around as they shine their dive lights at interesting fish, at which point the tarpon zooms past the diver to eat whatever was just spotlighted. We often had one or two large ones swimming circles around us in the darkness. Once two almost collided, and one of them snapped at the other—a cracking noise that was loud even through ten feet of water.

Also new to me was the spotted snake eel, which was often hunting along the sandy sea floor. And there was a frilled nudibranch that I hadn't seen before. We got to see a spiny sea cucumber spawning on one of our dives, which was weird. Normally they're just sitting there on the bottom, or moving very slowly, but this one was standing on end, waving around.

There were some old favorites as well: I got quite close to a few pairs or trios of Caribbean reef squid and got to see them changing color in flashes. There were some pretty flounders trying to avoid being seen. And I got a good look at some honeycomb cowfish.

The trip was organized by Gina again. She found us a great vacation house that had rooms for most of the party. One of the best things about it was that at the end of the back yard was an entry right into the water, so we did a lot of dives right there.

We also did a number of boat dives off of Klein Bonaire, the little uninhabited island off of the coast of Bonaire proper, and on the east side of the island, where the wind makes the surface fairly choppy.

I think the best dive for big creatures was on the east side, at a site called Turtle City. We saw dozens of green sea turtles and some spotted eagle rays there.

For fish, the best dive was at the Salt Pier, where salt would have been loaded or unloaded, had there been a salt ship around. Since there wasn't, we got to dive around the pilings of the huge pier and swim through shoals of fish. It was nesting season for Sergeant Majors, and the males were being quite territorial. It's hilarious when a fish the size of your hand charges at you to try to get you to leave its clutch of eggs alone. Occasionally, I'd feel something with my fins, and look back to see if I'd accidentally kicked something, only to find that it was a Sergeant Major trying to get me to clear out.

The best dive for coral was the last dive I did, at a site called Karpata. Many of the sites we dived were walls, where the coral was mostly one one side of a cliff, but at Karpata it was a shallow field extending further along a slope before the drop-off.