Interestingly, despite only cat napping for no longer than 10-minute stretches for 4 nights, we weren’t tired enough to sleep when we arrived at 0700 so went straight to Customs. Perhaps we could have continued surviving on that sleep pattern for many more nights, something to test out another time. It is now officially hurricane season but we are already south of 12 degrees 40 minutes north.
Not a lot has changed in Kralendijk, happily and we recognize many of the staff in the marina, bars and shops. Barb and Chuck on ‘Tusen Takk’ invited us to join them at the Friday night ‘Arepas’ event at the marina. This is a Venezuelan meal, consisting of toasted flatbreads with a choice of hot meat fillings such as shredded beef, pork and chunks of chicken with accompaniments of avocado, salsa, cheeses and fried banana. They each cost 7US$ and 3 easily fed us both. ‘Happy Hour’ at the bar ensured a good value evening.
Wednesday is still the ‘Dive Master’s Night’ at the same marina, with really good burgers grilled to order, with different toppings, chips and salad. They are 8US$ each, so another reasonable night out and you need to book a table as it is very popular. May has been ‘Cuisine Month’ here, with lots of special events organised but there are many wonderful restaurants to choose from at any time, offering food from countries as far apart as Peru and Japan.
Our friends, John and Debs were here on ‘Orion I’ and we joined them for a day tour of the Washington Slagbaai National Park, which covers a fifth of the island in the ‘hillier’ northwest of Bonaire. There is a long route, taking about 4 hours and a short route, taking 2 but you need a jeep for most of it. The name comes from the 2 former plantations Washington and Slagbaai, meaning slaughter.
With a scuba dive permit it is free to enter but with a snorkelling pass it costs 15US$ each. Bonaire is a relatively new island, being about 60 million years old and was still underwater when the dinosaurs died out. The landscape is spectacular: arid, rocky and a bit like I would imagine the moon to be! There are blowholes, deeply indented bays where the sea is very rough, cactus everywhere and some great viewpoints. We were glad to have sailed past the coast the other night without coming too close to the shore, as it looked treacherous.
There is a small museum at the park entrance, with a walking trail depicting life at the plantation in years gone by. They used to produce aloe and charcoal here, with salt being extracted in the south where it is flat. Aloe was produced between 1920 and 1943 and used in the medical and cosmetic industry in the USA. Goats and cattle were also exported. The Spanish introduced lime production around 1580 and used it in construction and paint. In contrast to today’s guardianship of the reef, coral used to be cut into blocks to use as building bricks.
Iguanas and lizards were the main wildlife we spotted, along with some bright yellow parrots and a few goats. We saw a few flamingos but not the huge flocks we had hoped to see. Naturally they had their beaks stuck in the water, feeding. They are the only birds that filter feed and because the young have finer filtering elements, they are herbivores until they grow large enough to allow tiny molluscs and shrimps through.
Ancient Indian inscriptions can be found near one part of the coast road, where a Simacan, or ancient astrologer used to sit and gaze at the stars to read dates and use his experience of the planets to understand the weather. He registered the important events of the community and used the stalactites against rocks on the coastline beyond as points to work out the star’s tracks. The stars are inscribed as crosses, with outlines depicting how bright they were. Quite fascinating. I can’t quite imagine sitting up on that ledge in all weathers.
We stopped for a very late lunch just outside Rincon, their second town. Not for vegetarians, the starters were tripe soup, goat soup or iguana soup. For mains you could sample goat stew, iguana stew, iguana liver stew or, fortunately, fish. John bravely tried the iguana stew, totally full of bones and it took ages to separate the meat from the skeleton. The fish was a delicious boneless, skinless fillet. We had traditional side dishes though, fried plantain, rice, pumpkin and salad. Great meal with home made sangria and far reaching views from the veranda on the hilltop.
On the way back to town we took in the views over the entire island from the cross, built for the year 2000. The island of Klein Bonaire a mile off Kralendijk is very clear, surrounded by turquoise water and the reef.
Having the car meant it was easier to do the supermarket shopping but the free bus still runs on Tuesday and Fridays, just at 1700 rather than 1000. Don’t they know it’s happy hour at 1700!! Whilst we had transport we also changed the handles on our weight pockets for our Aqualung BCD (dive jackets) as the original ones had been recalled. Rob’s had broken, meaning it would have been difficult to release the weights in a hurry. Naturally we found things to buy as we waited for them to be replaced and ended up with a new snorkel, rash shirt (to keep Rob warm underwater) a dive knife and a light stick so we can hang it over the stern in order to find the boat again when we do night diving.
Another ice cream, another lunch and a couple of happy hours later and it was time for John and Debs to head west for Curaçao. We might catch up with them in Panama before they head through to the Pacific but that all depends on timings as usual. It was good to see them both again and we wish them safe passages.
On that note, we have actually got firm plans through to May next year. The Ocean Cruising Club are organising a casual Rally from Curaçao to Belize, spending time in Aruba, Colombia, the San Blas Islands, Panama, offshore islands up to Guatemala and finally Belize. Some boats are carrying on to Cuba and the US but we have the option of joining them or staying in Guatemala for the hurricane season, in the Rio Dulce. The sill in the river entrance is 7 foot deep, which is the same as us, so it might be a close call or a case of being dragged through the mud by the local fishermen, a common occurrence.
The Rally gathers for Christmas and New Year in Curaçao, which fits in well with our return from the UK in October, giving us another 6 weeks diving in Bonaire before joining everyone for the start of the Rally. It is visiting so many of the places we wanted to see, so made perfect sense and it will be safer to have company in a few of the anchorages along the way. It has been almost 4 years since we last took part in a Rally but we are looking forward to the camaraderie and meeting new cruisers.
So for now I’m afraid there isn’t any sailing going on but we have replaced it with lots of diving and socialising. There are 13 of us for the burger night later on, Americans, Norwegians, a Swede and us Brits. We are the only British boat here at the moment but new boats arrive all the time and take up the moorings left empty by new friends. It is very windy, just dying down a little at night so we can sleep. The small mooring buoys don’t bang against the hull, which is a big relief and we appear to be safe on the 2 separate lines to 2 separate blocks. Might still put a line of our own to the 3rd block next time we dive.
The laundry in town still picks up customers and I have 4 loads to do, having waited to get here to do the sheets and towels. A boring morning beckons but at least the place has good WiFi, air-conditioning and a TV. They use cold water here unfortunately and it isn’t cheap but it is a fact of cruising life, just like finding comms. We got a Digicel data card and phone SIM allowing us to call the UK, for 58 GBP for the month. Doing the washing and keeping in touch are probably 2 of our most expensive ‘extras’, things we didn’t think about too much before we left the UK 🙂