Parrots! And Other Fun Tourist Traps

The Echo Dos Pos conservation center offers tours, but only early in the morning when the birds are active. So we made a reservation, and on the day, we got up, got to shore, and drove the Carcycle up to the town of Rincon. And then down to the end of a narrow road, only getting lost once, and we arrived twenty minutes late to find a class of high-scholars and a tour guide who hadn’t been warned we were coming. But she took it in stride, and took us on a walk through the woods as she explained what the center does: a combination of bird rescue and rehabilitation, and an introductory education in naturalism for the local youth. Along the way, she explained about the importance of various species as bird food, like the tamarind and calabash trees, or this “tourist tree” (named for its red and peeling bark. We also stopped by a wind-driven water well. These used to be the main source of water on Bonaire, and are now still used by local farmers.

Most of the birds there are Loras and parakeets rescued from the illegal parrot trade. The birds with chances of reintroduction to the wild are off limits to visitors, as parrots that trust humans are easy to capture. But there are several cages for the hopelessly socialized, and that’s where we went. Our first stop was the retirement home for a macaw named Stanley and his companion, Baby. Stanley was having none of it today, so here’s us with Baby.

We surprised the tour guide by somehow getting Baby to dance; apparently she doesn’t like people much, but she seemed to like Andrew just fine. This would prove to be the story of the day: Andrew, the bird-whisperer.

The next stop was the Loras, who were pleased to meet us and accept some fresh calabash.

In addition to taking care of the birds, the center plants lots of trees.

On our way back to Rincon, we saw lots of birds in the trees, like this troupial. Also Rincon wants very badly to be a tourism center, and has built a big sign. We had to stop and take a picture.

Our next Rincon stop was at the Chich’i Tan Museum, where Carcycle was the only car parked outside. The museum turned out to be a little house, significant because someone important had grown up there. But who? And why was he important? This was never explained, but we did find out that his bed was for sleeping in, that the stove was where they used to do the cooking, and that the tour guide’s grandfather had once met the queen of the Netherlands. We also learned, to our shock and dismay, that the younger generation of girls in town is, for mysterious reasons, woefully unmotivated to volunteer their time to clean and play hostess at this important cultural landmark.

Our next Rincon stop was the Cadushy distillery, where they make a green liquor flavored with the bark of the local cactus. They’ve also branched out into a set of other colored liquors, one for each Dutch Caribbean island, as well as rums, whiskey, gin, and even a cactus-infused beer.

And the booze is fine, but the real draw is the parrots: in the morning, they crack open a couple of calabashes and feed them to a population of local semi-wild Loras.

Driving back through town, we took a couple of pictures of two very yellow churches.

The road back south from Rincon is edged with apparently-delicious cactuses, as well as occasional warnings about donkey crossing. “Overstekende ezels”!

Since we were in bird-tourist mode anyway, we figured we’d drive down to the other end of the island to see the flamingo sanctuary. One of the landmarks along the way is the Cargill Salt Works, which takes up a truly impressive amount of area right across from the southern dive sites. The pink in the salt ponds is apparently from the same tiny shrimp that gives flamingos their pink color.

We also passed by two sets of slave huts, white and orange, preserved from when salt production and loading was done with slave labor back in the 1850s. The huts are neither large nor comfortable; the plaque refers to them as “camping facilities”. You might think the big orange pillar was a memorial, but in fact it’s one of several differently-colored pillars that were once used to tell ships where to anchor to buy the various grades of salt produced here.

We continued down the coast, and we saw flamingos! The birds don’t really care whether they’re inside the boundaries of the sanctuary or not, and all these pictures are from further north. Once we got to the sanctuary, no birds. Go figure.

We continued down the road a little further, and discovered just an absolute ton of cairns and … other structures.

We drove back to Kralendijk for a late lunch at the brewery. We’d been promised an excellent barbecue sandwich there, and it turned out to be pork belly. Andrew was thrilled, Jazz was nonplussed.

And, because it wouldn’t be a Bonaire post without at least one sea creature: as we walked back along the dock, we saw a sharptail eel just hanging out by the town wall.