Bonaire, Part Two: Off to a Good Start

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 12:58 pm

We arose around the crack of 9am on Saturday morning to sunny skies and breakfast by Esther. Menno gathered us around a table on the patio for our Bonaire dive briefing, going over the basic layout of the island and the rules of the Marine Park. With that out of the way, the boys headed off to obtain our rental truck, while Kathy and I relaxed in the poolside hammocks.

About 10 minutes after they took off, the sunny skies were replaced with a rainy-season style downpour. I started to feel bad for Jeff, who about this time was trying to follow Menno’s twists and turns uphill in the pouring rain, in a rental stickshift. Kathy and I made a few mad dashes to save logbooks and liability forms that had been left in the rain’s path, and then curled up on the patio to enjoy the downpour.

Trying to save papers from the rain:

After our menfolk returned with the truck, we all loaded it up for our first boat dive with Menno (the rain having abated to an occasional drizzle). It was now about noon, and my tummy was beginning to crave lunch. Oh well – diving is better than food!

Menno somehow managed to snag a prime spot at the marina; his boat is the closest one to the loading area! It’s a simple little boat with an outboard motor and a sunshade; it can fit up to 8 divers at a time, though 4 or 6 is more comfortable. We loaded up and headed out to Klein Bonaire, the small island to the west. By the time we moored the boat at “Bonaventura,” the sun was peeking out from behind clouds and the rain had completely stopped.

Our first adventure of the day was learning the backroll entry. Having done all our dives in California, Jeff and I are only familiar with the “giant stride,” used for walking off boats that are several feet (or more) off the water. When you’re in a small boat that’s close to the water, and doesn’t have any place to walk off it, you have to maneuver yourself into a sitting position on the edge and then roll off backwards.

Slightly easier said than done in this particular boat.

The suggested way to prepare for a backroll from Menno’s boat is to:

1. Get completely geared up while sitting on the bench (your back against the outside edge of the boat)
2. Put on your fins
3. Stand up
4. Reach above you and grasp one of the sunshade struts to help keep your balance
5. Step up onto the bench (which is behind you), using the struts to help pull you up
6. Sit down on the edge; leaning forward so your tank doesn’t overbalance you
7. When you’re ready, roll off backwards
8. As soon as you hit the water, inflate your BC to bob to the surface

Now, I had one gigantic problem with this method. I’m about an inch too short to easily handle Step 4. I could touch the struts, but in no way could I grasp them. Menno wound up steadying me with a hand on my tank valve, while I awkwardly twisted and turned my way until I was standing on the bench (turning is made extra tricky when one is wearing fins that bump into things and catch on edges; stepping up onto a bench is made tricky when one is weighed down by a tank and 12 pounds of lead). At last, I was sitting on the edge; falling over backwards turned out to be the easy part.

Menno’s boat as seen from the water, tilting as someone climbs up the ladder

After the four Californians were all in the water (mmmm, 80-degree water! I was very glad that Nicki talked me down to a 1-mil suit instead of the 3-mil I originally contemplated), Menno showed off by doing a headfirst entry, basically diving over the edge of the boat fully geared. Nice.

We dropped down in 80 foot (or more) visibility, into a fish- and coral- filled slope. The first thing I spotted was a giant grouper at a cleaning station, opening his jaws for little fish to come in and pick out parasites.

The next thing I saw was a frantic-looking Jeff gesturing wildly towards the camera, and showing me a dome port that was slowly filling with water.

Jeff and I bailed for the surface, and Menno helped him get the camera into the boat. After determining that the camera didn’t actually get wet (whew! All the water stayed in the dome port), we headed back down to complete the dive camera-less.

Off to a good start, no?

The rest of the dive was fun, despite the fact that Jeff and I were stressing about the camera housing. Menno pointed out several juvenile filefish hiding in gorgonians, and trunkfish and fairy basslets abounded. After about an hour of bottom time, we headed back to the boat, just in time to see another rainstorm gathering to the east.

Menno floored it back towards town, hoping to beat the rain – but alas, we were caught in it. Despite the fact that we were already wet from diving, rain in a boat just isn’t fun, especially if you’re moving fast. So we slowed to a crawl through the downpour, and Jeff and I silently wondered if our trip was jinxed. At least we had a nice dive in between downpours!

Back at DBV, we took a little while to regroup. Jeff discovered the reason the housing flooded: an O-ring in the strobe sync cord assembly was poking out a bit. This particular O-ring was new, having been sent to us the week prior along with a new sync cord assembly to fix another problem we’d been having. When Jeff hooked it up, he noticed that the O-rings weren’t perfect fits, and had to kind of be mashed into place. Unfortunately, after the mashing, he didn’t notice that a little piece was sticking out. Doh. Something else to add to each pre-dive check. We chalked this one up to a combination of quick equipment fixes and user error, and prepped the camera for our next dive. Then we chucked all our dive gear and 8 tanks into the truck, and headed back down the hill.

But before we could dive again, it was time for our next adventure: Finding Lunch.

We decided we’d go check out a restaurant that Menno recommended in Kralendijk, City Cafe. We figured we could either park in sight of our table, or just get take-out, and avoid risking leaving our dive gear in the truck (there’s a bit of a theft problem on Bonaire, so you never want to leave anything of value behind).

We found a great parking spot right across from empty tables at City Cafe – empty because they were closed. It was now 2:30pm. No restaurants are open in town at this weird time of day. Oh right, we’re on island time.

Kathy and I hung out in the truck, and again sent our menfolk off, this time in search of food. We’d passed several other restaurants, and as an absolute last resort we’d been told there was a Subway (which could take forever) and also a KFC (which apparently had terrible food) that should be open.

Imagine our delight when the boys returned with KFC. Oh well. And then it started to rain again, so we piled into the truck for our lunch.

It actually wasn’t that bad. At least, the chicken was good. (And hot, which NEVER happens at KFC’s in the states.) The fries, however, were quite icky.

Once we’d loaded up on grease, we struck out for Buddy Dive Resort to do an afternoon and night dive off their pier. I don’t have anything particularly interesting to report from these dives, aside from the following:

  • Between dives, we attempted to find some sort of snack. The Buddy Resort restaurant didn’t serve dinner until 7:30, however, and didn’t serve appetizers on days when the OTHER bar was open. However, the OTHER bar didn’t open until 7pm. Again, thwarted on our hunt for food.
  • There are these great big silver fish called tarpon that like to hunt by the light of divers’ lights at night. It’s great fun to be poking around in the dark, and suddenly have a 3-4 foot long fish with teeth pop up over your shoulder.
  • It’s also great fun to be blinded when Jeff’s flash bounces off their silver scales. Yowch!
  • The zoom ring that connects the zoom control on the housing to the camera lens came loose on this dive, and proceeded to give us trouble for the next few days. What did I say: jinxed!

After a lovely couple of dives, a trip back up the hill, and a VERY lovely shower (in slightly lukewarm water; it’s solar-heated, so by a few hours after sunset it’s no longer super-hot), we set out for another adventure: Finding Dinner.

At this point, I will mention two important details about our eating habits:

  • I don’t eat fish
  • Kathy is a picky eater. Like, scary picky (I don’t think she’d consider it insulting for me to say this, since I’m pretty sure she’s aware just what a picky eater she is, and she knows I love her anyway!)

On this particular night, we ate at a yummy (though expensive) place called It Rains Fishes. Kathy ordered safe: tuna with no sauce on it. She was pleasantly surprised when the tuna arrived mostly raw. The waiter was surprised when she requested it be cooked, but did so anyway.

(They had enough chicken dishes to keep my fish-free palette satisfied.)

At least dessert would be easy. Kathy will eat anything chocolate, and Jeff and I will pretty much eat anything dessert. Except that their chocolate offerings were corrupt chocolate: chocolate cheesecake (not Kathy-friendly) and white chocolate fondue, which I have to agree with Kathy just sounds icky.

So began a week of fine Bonaire dining. I will step in here and say that the food was actually delicious most places, once we managed to find something to order!

There was a bit of discussion back at DBV about what the plan was tomorrow. Jeff and I wanted to get a semi-early start and try to get 4 dives in, while Ben and Kathy wanted to catch up on sleep. We said something about aiming to get up at 8am and figuring it out from there. At least, I thought we said something. Next morning when we banged on the Brantleys door at 8:30am, they seemed surprised. Ah, the importance of communication!

To be continued…


  1. These stories are pretty fun. But why does that fish have fangs?

    Comment by Sarah — 12/22/2004 @ 1:16 pm

  2. Fangs for biting, chomp chomp.

    Comment by Jeff — 12/22/2004 @ 11:43 pm

  3. I know you said early; I don’t remember anything about 8am. In any case, sorry about that! I’m glad you got in a dive while we slept, but we should’ve just made that the default plan so that you couldn’t gotten two morning dives in instead of one.

    I do, however, take full responsibility for being picky. However, I would like to add two caveats: (1) I’m home in Boston with my family, and when you compare my tastes to theirs, I look like an eat-anything GOAT; (2) I threw up a couple times early Monday morning, which curbed any desire I had to try more adventurous food n our trip. I’m actually *trying* to get better.

    Comment by Kathy Brantley — 12/23/2004 @ 8:25 am

  4. Don’t worry; I’m a pretty picky eater myself – I really wasn’t bashing you. :) Mostly I felt sorry that you couldn’t find Kathy-friendly food! And after hearing your stories, I would looooove to go out eating with your entire family sometime! (And 3 dives that day was plenty, by the way – we wouldn’t have gotten up any earlier!)

    Comment by Anastasia Laity — 12/23/2004 @ 10:39 am

  5. So did you rent your gear from Menno and Esther, or from another dive shop? And where did you rinse your gear?

    Comment by Ginnie Reynolds — 12/27/2004 @ 5:58 pm

  6. The grouper at the cleaning station is outstanding.

    Thanks for your writeup. It was hilarious.

    Aside from the mosquitoes which is why we don’t go to Bonaire in December anymore, our experiences have been 100% different. We took one trip to Klein Bonaire and bagged the entire idea and focused on shore diving. We stayed south of town and dove between Windsock and the south end most of the time, only venturing to the north occasionally. If you go back consider building a bonaire stick [http://www.bonairestick.com/] and carrying a backup camera. Our photos are at [http://www.happyholidayhomes.com/guest_photo_album/album-1/index.html]

    Comment by Tom Reynolds — 12/27/2004 @ 8:00 pm

  7. I think you got fantastic pictures. I was using my Olympus point and shoot and found the shutter delay to be a real problem in trying to capture moving targets! And on dives I sure could have used a flash. So I’m very impressed with what you all did. It was a great to have met you all, especially a fellow Pomona alum!

    Comment by Sally Vogel — 1/4/2005 @ 7:41 pm

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