I spent last week in sunny Bonaire, an island of the Caribbean Netherlands about 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela. This trip offered a series of fun firsts for me:
- First actual passport stamps
- First time I’ve ever passed through U.S. Customs with literally no-fuss/no-muss efficiency
- First visit to the Caribbean Sea
- First visit to (geologic) South America
- First visit to (political) Europe
I went with my friends Jen and Dave. They both had been to the island (twice before!). We stayed at Buddy Dive Resort, just a hair north of Kralendijk. The entire week, the weather was in the mid-to-upper 80s and humid, with water temps between 80 and 82.
A summary of the week follows, wrapped up with a photo gallery.
The Week in Review
I started the excursion two weeks early, in a sense. I dropped into Moby’s Dive Center in Grand Rapids to knock out a Nitrox course. Andy (the shop owner) was quite accommodating. During the Nitrox training, Andy agreed to open a specialty course for buoyancy skills. I took that, too—I had purchased a set of specialty courses last May, so everything was locked in already. Both courses proved exceptionally useful. Before the buoyancy course, I typically weighted 24 lbs. and often tinkered with my BCD in the water. After the course and its pool session, I got down to 8 lbs. (freshwater, skin suit). Add four pounds in Bonaire for salt water, and I literally never touched my inflator or my dumps until I began and ended my dives.
Also, I managed to finagle my friend Brittany into checking in on Murphy and Fiona d’Cat. She brought them treats and took good care of them.
Our flight to Bonaire, via Miami, left around 6:45a from Grand Rapids. I got up at 3:30a, showered, and drove my car in the snow to my friends’ house in Lowell. From there, we carpooled to the Gerald R. Ford International Airport. For the first time ever, GRR was an absolute shitshow, with a 30-minute wait just to check bags at the American Airlines counter.
However, the trek to MIA was uneventful and from there, the flight into Bonaire proved beautiful. We routed southeast, crossing over the Bahamas and skirting the north coast of Cuba (I saw Cuba from my window!). We passed over Haiti, including directly over Port au Prince, then headed straight into the one-runway, four-gate Flamingo International Airport.
Passport Control was a breeze. We grabbed our bags, loaded onto a shuttle van, and made our way to Buddy Dive Resort. Check-in was efficient, and we enjoyed dinner at the on-site Blennie’s restaurant. Most of our dinners were at Blennie’s; a lovely breakfast buffet was part of the package, in a restaurant overlooking the dock and the ocean.
Dive day! Our first dive, on Buddy Reef, lasted 50 minutes at a max depth of 61 feet. We followed it up with an afternoon dive of 41 minutes and 39 feet. Our afternoon dive was cut a bit short and shallow given that Jen’s tank experienced a slow leak from the yoke. This leaking-tank problem plagued the entire week. Wasn’t the O-rings, but rather dents in the steel inner assembly of the yoke that precluded a tight seal. After this point, we incorporated an additional in-water gear check for safety.
Between dives, we drove around the island, going as far north as the Thousand Steps dive site and as far south as Lac Bay and the windward side of the island, past the salt flats and the donkey preserve. Took several hours, including a stop at a “broh” bar for kite surfers staffed by a hilarious pair of foul-mouthed, German-speaking bartenders.
No dives today, but not for a lack of trying. Our morning dive aborted after Jen experienced her second consecutive tank leak. Dave and I elected to abort, too, because the back-to-back leaks left her spooked. In the afternoon, we went back in, but a combination of (a) intense sun, (b) forgetting my mask defogger, and (c) feeling sufficiently heatstroked that my breathing got heavier, I hopped right out and Dave and Jen did their dive without me.
A boat dive in the morning. We were supposed to visit the Hilma Hooker, but our boat encountered an engine challenge, so we dived “Something Special” instead. A lovely reef, just south of Kralendijk. My computer logged 81 feet max depth and a 47-minute total dive on EAN32. Water temp was 81, with no noticeable thermocline.
I skipped the afternoon dive; my right ear was plugged enough that I felt a bit dizzy. So I got some writing done on our apartment’s porch, sipping a bit of rum and enjoying a Cuban cigar.
Later that evening, we drove into Kralendijk and did some shopping and then dinner at Donna & Georgio, a small authentic Italian restaurant. Small enough and authentic enough that Miss Donna herself hand-writes the menu on a chalkboard every evening in a space that might fit as many as 20 people. But oh, man, that beef lasagna!
A morning reef dive at Buddy Reef (56 minutes, 35 feet) proved pleasant. This time, Jen brought her camera. We went again in the afternoon, but it was my turn to suffer a tank leak, so I aborted and Jen and Dave went together.
Another boat dive. We went to “Sharon’s Serenity,” a wall reef at Klein Bonaire. This group dive lasted 50 minutes with a max depth of 52 feet. After that, I spent the rest of the day on the porch performing a mix of contract editing, personal writing, cigar smoking and rum drinking. We did not plan for an afternoon dive because Dave and Jen went back to Donna & Georgio for dinner—to celebrate their 19th anniversary.
It’s safe practice to not dive 24 hours before getting on a flight. So, we took a boat to Thousand Steps for snorkeling. I think I might really like snorkeling, but this experience wasn’t a fun one. It was the first time all week I wore my wetsuit (I dove in my full-body skin suit, instead). A combination of 3-foot seas, stiff currents, baking sun, a restrictive wetsuit and salt water leaking into my snorkel conspired to annoy. However, I did get to swim with a sea turtle, which passed just beneath me and eyeballed me as he or she passed.
Later that day, we went to Blennie’s for the Captain’s Party—a large, well-provisioned dinner buffet, all-you-can-drink rum punch, live music, and socialization.
After the party, I enjoyed my last cigar and finished my bottle of Flor de Cana 7-year rum.
A day of travel. A long-ass day of travel, I should say. After breakfast, we packed, then hoofed it to the “hotel lobby”—an outdoor patio. We broke up our two-hour wait between checkout and shuttle bus with lunch at Blennie’s. After that, we made our way back to Flamingo International Airport. Passport Control and airport security weren’t terrible, but the waiting area was literally standing-room only, simultaneous with ongoing construction that featured, believe it or not, jackhammers. At one point, Jen had to cover her ears.
The problem with the airport there is that on Saturday, three jets arrive and depart roughly simultaneously—one each from Delta, American and United, via Atlanta, Miami and Newark, respectively. Plus, this particular Saturday, a private charter arrived. The airport could comfortably handle two aircraft. Not four. And given that there’s no jet bridges, you’re left to follow the white-striped road along the tarmac to the staircases at the fore and aft of each aircraft. We flew an A319eow both ways from the island, which isn’t a huge plane, but it was still more of a logistical nightmare than it needed to be.
Miami, too, was a clusterfrack. I passed through U.S. Customs easily thanks to Mobile Passport Control. I basically didn’t stop walking until I spent 15 seconds at the CBP checkpoint. I actually got through the same time as Dave, who has Global Entry. However, re-checking domestic luggage was awful. Machines were down and according to TSA, “everyone is Pre-Check!” Which was code for everyone is half-Pre-Check, including the people who are full Pre-Check. I kept my shoes, belt, etc. but had to remove my tablet and watch. And they had dogs everywhere.
We arrived in Grand Rapids around 1 a.m. Uncharacteristically, GRR was inefficient; we waited 15 minutes on the tarmac just to pull to the gate, then another 15 minutes for luggage to sort through.
I arrived home to my feline overlords around 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, driving through four inches of snow.
Although I posted some of the following shots to Instagram, I’ve also collected a gallery of images that I took (on land) or Jen took (under water). The underwater images are a bit misleading, insofar as her flash didn’t work, so there’s a bit of a green tint to the photos that I’ve elected to not retouch. The real-life reef and its fish are much more colorful than what you’ll see, below.