Bonaire, Part One: Getting There

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 1:36 pm

Traveling from Los Angeles to Bonaire is a bit of an adventure. We knew this when we booked the trip, from reading countless reports of lost luggage, nasty layovers, and the general wackiness involved when dealing with the small island airline “BonairExel” that makes the final hop. But we couldn’t have guessed just how much of an adventure it would actually be.

The first leg of the journey was a red-eye to Miami. No problem (other than a truly crappy movie). This was followed by a pleasant 5-hour layover in Miami, when most places weren’t open to serve anything resembling breakfast. We did find some cold sandwiches to take on the next flight though (since they would not be serving lunch).

The real fun began when we finally landed in Curacao around 2:30pm (N.A. time) on Friday. Our original reservations were for a 5pm flight to Bonaire with BonairExel. We collected our luggage, breezed through customs, and strolled boldy up to the check-in desk. (Actually, we waited in line for about 30 minutes as 2 or 3 customers were taken care of ahead of us – talk about island time!)When I showed my passport to the man behind the desk and said we were on the 5pm flight, he looked at me like I was nuts.

“Where’s your ticket?” he asked.

“I don’t have a paper ticket. We made reservations on the phone.”

“Yes, but you need to buy the ticket. The ticket counter is over there.” He waved towards a tiny BonairExel office in the corner of the airport.

The four of us hauled our substantial collection of luggage out of the line, and went to buy our paper tickets. The BonairExel office was staffed by 4 or 5 very nice-looking women with computers – but they didn’t actually use the computers. I think they were just decoration. Instead, they searched through a handwritten appointment book.

“Laity? What month did you make your reservation? Hmm… June… Laity, Laity, Laity… .” her finger scanned through the pages.

I finally dug up a confirmation number, which for some reason made it slightly easier to find our reservation (although it still involved scanning through handwritten pages).

Finally our reservations were located- but the flight was now for 8:30pm.

“8:30?” I asked. “When we made reservations, it was at 5.”

“Yes, but that was in June. Now we’re on our winter schedule.”

5.5 hour layover – oooookay. We asked if there was any place to grab dinner around here, and were instructed to head “up the hill” about 5 minutes to some hotel.

Back to the check-in counter, to try to offload our bags. After they’d been tagged and carted away, Ben decided to ask what should have been a simple question to the guy at the desk:

“So, what time should we be at the gate?”

This prompted a lot of behind-the-counter discussion, shuffling, and typing. It went on for a good 10 minutes, by which time we were wondering why this was a difficult question to answer. Finally he looked up from his fiddling and said:


“Midnight? I thought our flight was scheduled for 8?”

“Maybe 11:30.”

Ooookay (again). We finally dug out a bit more of the story: some sort of unspecified equipment problems were delaying the flight. 9 hour layover in Curacao – yay.

We stuffed most of our carry-ons into a locker and began the hike “up the hill” to find food. After about 15 minutes of walking, it began to rain just as we discovered the hotel with a restaurant. Unfortunately, the mosquitos also discovered us. It was also at this point that we learned Hawaiians have NOTHING on the Caribbean when it comes to the concept of island time. Dinner, despite the fact that we were the only customers present and ordered very simple meals, took nearly two hours. Good thing we had time to kill.

Back at the airport, we were muddy, sweaty, mosquito-bitten, and exhausted – and still had a five-hour wait to go. At least the gate area was air conditioned, and had a little snack bar where we could get Cokes.

Ben and I took turns walking over to the boarding area to try to find out what was going on. There was quite a bit of heated discussion happening in Dutch, with the sole BonairExel gate employee answering lots of questions. I finally got her attention and asked if she could describe what was going on in English.

“We only have one plane.”

That was a much shorter explanation than she’d been giving out in Dutch. Luckily, we managed to track down plenty of bilingual passengers (who, unlike the gate employee, had plenty of time on their hands to chat with tourists) who were able to explain the problem. Apparently, BonairExel operates 2 or 3 planes, which make trips from Curacao to Aruba, Bonaire, and St. Martin. Today, several of the planes had developed mechanical problems that weren’t easily fixed – indeed, they now only had one plane.

First they cancelled the St. Martin trip to use that plane to make the shorter Aruba/Bonaire hops; then the one overtaxed plane started shuttling people back and forth like a bus. We were starting to wonder if we’d be stuck in Curacao for a few days (at this point, I should also mention that the Curacao/Bonaire ferry had been broken for several months).

At about 10pm, they started making announcements about flights 2959 and 2963. Our boarding passes said 2961, which we could find no evidence of on the (seldom updated) computer screens. We finally pushed through to the employee again, and asked her what was happening to flight 2961.

“2961? Your boarding pass doesn’t actually say that; there isn’t a flight 2961.”

We assured her that our boarding passes , which we’d bought a few hours before, did in fact say flight 2961, and showed her evidence of same. She shuffled through some passenger lists and told us not to worry; we’d be taken care of in the same flight as 2959 and 2963.

(By my calculations, they were now stuffing the contents of 2 or 3 flights onto one plane. I began to worry again.)

Around 11pm, people noticed that the Bonaire plane appeared to be ready to board. No actual announcements were made, but everyone crowded up to the gate, no doubt worried by the same numbers I just mentioned. I think they managed to get everyone on board (either the St. Martin’s plane is bigger than the usual Bonaire plane, or the flights were only half-full). I’m not complaining: we touched down at Bonaire’s Flamingo Airport at 11:30pm.

Throughout all this, we’d tried to keep our Bonaire hosts, Menno and Esther (of Deep Blue View) alerted to our flight status, since the original plan was for Menno to meet us at the airport, walk us through the car rental, and then lead us to the B&B. Bless his heart, Menno was still awake and lively when we phoned him at 11:45pm to ask for a ride, and showed up 10 minutes later. Of course, the car rental office was long closed, so we piled our gazillion pounds of luggage into his pickup, crowded ourselves into the cab, and wondered how on earth we’d ever find Deep Blue View on our own as Menno made all kinds of strange forks and turns on his way up the hill to his home.

We got a brief tour of DBV, and were dead asleep by 12:30 – 24 hours of travel from door to door. Whew.


  1. Yeow, you’d better put up some pictures so that I can find out what possessed you to leave the country. (Good story, though!)

    Comment by Sarah — 12/21/2004 @ 2:59 pm

  2. Wow, ok, that is definitely the most bizarre delay story I’ve ever heard, it makes our upcoming LA-Virginia-London trip look like a snap! That’s insane!

    Comment by Sam — 12/21/2004 @ 5:03 pm

  3. Great story! I kinda miss island time… but only on occasion, and very briefly :)

    Comment by Mir — 12/21/2004 @ 11:37 pm

  4. I was going to post a similar story but you wrote such a good narration I think I’ll just link to yours! I will not miss the Curacao airport. At all. :)

    Comment by Kathy Brantley — 12/22/2004 @ 7:11 am

  5. Aargh — what an ordeal. We have made multiple trips to Bonaire, on Jamaica Air, a redeye with a 4 hour layover in Montego Bay, followed by the final flight, still on Jamaica Air, to Bonaire. Never any problems. So those who want to go to Bonaire, don’t despair, it can be done with few hassles. The layover feels long in Montego Bay, but all the connections are easy. Use Jamaica Air.

    Comment by Ginnie Reynolds — 12/27/2004 @ 3:25 pm

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