Like many Canadians, the chill of winter gives me the urge to go south at some point to thaw out. My destination of choice is the Caribbean, specifically the island of Bonaire. “Where is that?” is the first question anyone asks me when I tell them about my vacation plans. Bonaire is the “B” of the ABC islands, consisting of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. All three islands form the Netherlands Antilles, located off the coast of Venezuela.
My first trip to Bonaire was in February 2014, when my brother’s in-laws invited me and my parents to join them at the house they had rented for the winter. My brother, sister-in-law and her parents are all avid scuba divers, and I basically spent my entire week on the island with them underwater. We went from dive site to dive site, exploring the reefs and wrecks along the shore. One of the coolest sites was right in front of the house. We could simply put on our gear, walk down the steps to the beach and plunge into the sea. It was perfect, especially for someone like me who tends to get seriously seasick on dive boats.
That week I did an awesome glow-in-the-dark night dive. We dove down into the water just as the sun was setting. As we were floating alongside the reef, I kept feeling something slithering around my legs. At first I thought it was my brother trying to freak me out, but then I realized that it was these humongous tarpons that only come out at night. It was very impressive to see fish that size swimming beside me.
I returned to Bonaire this year at the end of January. My brother’s in-laws love the island so much that they bought a house a few doors down from the house they used to rent. I joined them at their new place, along with my parents, brother, sister-in-law and niece. This time, we focused much less on diving and much more on spending time with baby Hannah. That suited me just fine. I’m over the moon to be an aunt, and since my niece lives far away in British Columbia, I appreciate every second that I can spend with her.
At the start of the week, I decided to join my brother’s father-in-law Bob on his daily early morning bike ride to Rincon, on the northern side of the island. Bob kindly slowed down a bit to guide me so that I wouldn’t get lost along the way. We biked through the upscale Sabadeco neighbourhood, down a windy road along the shore, and around Lake Gotomeer, home to flocks of flamingos. Although we were technically on the same bike ride, Bob and I had very different journeys. Bob went on a leisurely trip at a slightly slower pace than normal. I huffed and puffed on a 20-km death ride that caused my legs to buckle when I got back to the house. I really need to work on my cardio!
Every other morning that week, I joined my parents on a walk to downtown Kralendijk. The city has a beautiful path along the water, and we kept seeing the same people out for their morning stroll. On some mornings, the downtown area was almost completely deserted. But on the days when cruise ships were in port, the locals set up stalls in the main square, and the city’s population temporarily doubled or even tripled.
I did manage to squeeze in some fun under the sea. My brother Tony, sister-in-law Alana and I spent one afternoon exploring the reef right outside the house. We saw loads of neat fishies, including a flounder. I don’t have pictures from any of the dives this time. I didn’t have the heart yet to buy another waterproof camera since my Nikon disaster in Jordan!
Tony and I also did a fantastic wreck dive near the salt pier. When we reached the boat, the Hilma Hooker, we were surrounded by a school of barracuda. So awesome! We also saw a moray eel in its cave. Eels look so cool, but their faces are terrifying. You never want to get too close to one!
If you’re not into scuba diving or snorkelling, Bonaire has a beautiful windsurfing spot at Lac Bay. It’s a great place to try the sport because the water is only thigh-deep. Personally, I’m not overly keen on windsurfing. I have a weird condition where my ankles hardly bend at all, which makes it tricky to get a good stance. Whenever I try windsurfing, I usually max out after about twenty minutes (and twenty crashes into the water!)
When we drove back from the bay, we stopped to look at the pink salt pans and the salt pyramids. Salt is Bonaire’s second largest industry, after tourism.
The highlight of my day in Bonaire was my evening dip. Right before sunset, I would walk down to the beach and swim out to deeper water, taking care to avoid touching the reef. I would do laps between two buoys, while surrounded by colourful sea creatures. It was actually wonderful not to be weighed down by diving or snorkelling gear, and to just enjoy the sea. It felt so freeing!
Every evening, the whole household would grab a drink and sit on the lawn chairs by the water to watch the sun go down behind Klein Bonaire, the island facing us. Carribbean sunsets are always spectacular!