Final Adventures in and Thoughts on Bonaire

Our days in Bonaire were coming to an end, and we began to reflect more about the general character of our time on the island. We’ll get to that, but first, a few last sunrises and sunsets, and a few more adventures.

One day, we went land sailing. The track is set up so that the trade winds generally blow across it, so the carts have reaches along the straightaway, a tack at one side, and a jibe at the other. It was a pretty fun time.

Another day, we got up to go diving, packed our gear into the rust-bucket, and went to morning yoga. At the end of the class, the wind picked up and we got a short, unexpected reversal. Reversals are what they call it here when the wind comes from the south or west, and the isand can’t provide any protection against the wind-driven waves. Here’s Villa rocking around in a previous reversal. Not really dangerous for us, as we’re a small, shallow boat, but not super comfortable either. Bigger boats can damage the moorings, either by picking it up and moving it, or by breaking off the lines. They might also have issues with shallow water as they circle closer to shore.

So everything would have been fine, but because we were in a rush after a late key transfer, our dinghy was still at the town dock instead of at the more protected marina. The staff there tried to save it, but not before it and it got sucked under the dock and hammered. This broke the fuel connector and snapped off the choke knob.

So instead of diving, we spent the day driving around to the various marine stores and workshops, trying to find replacement parts. We were not successful, but we did manage to find a barb joint and bypass the connector entirely.

While we’re on depressing topics, the replacement parts for our alternator came in, and we searched around for a shop that could install them, because we don’t have a soldering iron on board and neither of us is great at detail soldering anyway. The part to switch out was the rectifier plate, first picture. All those perfectly good electronics gone, just for a mechanical breakage! Heart-breaking. Anyway we figured while we fixed it, we’d upgrade the wiring, and throw away some of the other spare wire we were realistically never going to use. Captain helped.

Of course, we got it all in and wired up, and it still didn’t work, but that’s an even longer story. It would serve as a perfectly good flywheel to get us to Curacao. In the meantime, and partly to feel slightly less like Sisyphus, we finally got the back shades we’d finished some months ago attached to the boat. We also did some re-organization, which is why the forward hatches were available for Captain to sneak into.

Probably the best thing about Bonaire was that we made so many friends. Lots of friends meant that we went out to dinner a lot. Peter and Ninoska brought us to their favorite “snack”, which as far as we can tell means a casual roadside bar that may or may not also be an excellent restaurant. Pretty sure this was before a visit to the excellent outdoor theater, which we’ve mentioned before – although this time, we would have our feet brutalized by an ant colony.

On the other end of the schmancy spectrum, we had a great diner with them at Ocean Oasis.

It’s interesting how different the service norms are from the US. This is a fancy restaurant, and in the US, that implies that the staff will be friendly and welcoming (because that’s how they earn tips). Dutch servers are not there to earn tips, they are there to do a job, which is to take your order and bring you your food. (The Dutch do not tip, but Americans are still expected to.)

COVID has kept things less exuberant than usual, but there was a very brief window during which dancing was allowed, before it was banned again, and we went with Peter and Ninoska for salsa night. We had a great time, but Jazz paid a terrible price for dancing in socks.

We also had some great food and drink with Drew and Patricia. Here we are at the local tiki bar.

And here’s a group dinner with excellent company, tasty drinks, and surprisingly bad food.

Knowing we were on our way out, we made sure we had one last dinner with Kim and Topher from Dorothy Rose. We had great food, and a great time chatting with the sommelier, who it seems is orchestrating a hostile takeover. The restaurant, currently called La Terraza, has no set menu, but instead, they bring you food and wine pairings until you tell them to stop. This concept is basically Andrew’s dream, and Jazz also managed to get a lot of courses she enjoyed.

On the rare occasions that we ate on our own, we took advantage of the good food scene, with cocktails, crepes, and of course, lots of visits to Gio’s for gelato.

We spent a lot of time off the boat, so when we got back, we’d have to make sure Captain got all the attention he needed and deserved.

Sometimes all that activity would lead to some profound small-boat laziness about actually getting up for things.

So, more general observations about Bonaire and our life here. Probably the most important thing to us was that we had access to both excellent yoga and a gym. Elisabeta, left, teaches every morning at the otherwise terrible Eden Beach resort. She has amazing insight into how bodies work, and managed to fix longstanding issues in both our posture. Right, the door of the downtown gym. Note the mirror and scale right by the doorway. The Dutch can be very direct sometimes. Andrew was mostly at the gym for the squat rack, but Jazz loved the manager’s Zoomba class for her mesmerizing… gluteal isolations? as she sang along to an extremely dirty playlist.

Driving along the roads, you see a variety of animals. Donkeys, of course, and birds, but also the occasional pig. Notice the fence, made of cactii? It’s very common, and that one looks recently planted; as they get older, they grow denser, and the wire separator becomes less obvious. We were also surprised at how much of the construction uses shipping containers as building materials.

The supermarkets are recognizably first-world, but the goods can be… odd. Pre-wrapped hotdogs already in a bun! Mayonaise in a squeeze tube! A surprisingly wide selection of romance novels! Dushi Deals! Full wheels of gouda, and pre-cooked crepes and pancakes! Ripped cowboy-mermen!

But there’s lots of great food. Jazz was super excited that there were three different kinds of cucumbers. And our favorite market had a friendly dog that seemed to be the store mascot and lived outside. We may have gotten a little spoiled being able to buy cheap, pre-marinated kebabs.

Speaking of the necessaries of existence, the laundromat was fantastic. They’ll pick you up at the dock, their space is clean, and they have great wifi. But we did have a small laundry problem when we ran out of detergent. Can you tell which of the bottles on the right is fabric softener? … neither can Andrew.

We didn’t always have to wash our dive gear with our own water – as we’ve mentioned, WannaDive let us use their rinse tanks. But when we did transom rinses, Captain loved the chance to get into the empty gear box.

It was pretty interesting living in a dense mooring field for so long. It started to feel like an adult summer camp, or like a retirement village. There’s really no privacy; if your neighbors are fighting, you know. If your neighbors are naked, like the guy on the giant palace-boat that was in front of us for the first month, it’s hard not to notice. We got used to showering off the back and pretending we were alone, because it was just too hot to shower inside. We tried to avoid doing this during mid-day, because of the frequency with which tourist boats would come by to gawk at all the lifers. (Or the kids sailing by in tiny sunfishes.)

The water is beautifully clean and clear all the time, so it’s one of the most comfortable places to jump off the boat that we’ve been. And that’s good, because it got really hot as the summer wound on. Despite all our time in the Caribbean, we haven’t had a lot of times when it’s been uncomfortably hot, but in Bonaire, it was often important to get in the water and cool off a little. With all the boat traffic, it’s wiser to stay by your boat. Sadly, by the time we left there was a bit of an uptick in jellyfish, and Jazz picked up a sting.

We were also right at one of the common land entrances to the Something Special dive site, which meant that there would frequently be “bubblers” under the boat. The first time a diver passed below us we both very briefly lost our shit at the unfamiliar sound (this is an occupational hazard living on a boat; she talks to you, and you get used to listening). But we figured it out, and soon came to celebrate these unknown strangers’ joy at being underwater. Left, many tanks set up by the shore; right, bubbles coming up right by the boat.

The dinghy dock at the marina is pretty awful. Despite access being part of what your mooring fees pay for, there’s really only space for three boats, all on one crappy cleat, and your boat may end up under the dock where the spacers have rotted away. But the town dock at Club Nautico marina is excellent (and $35 a month). Lots of space, a gate that locks at night, and great walking access to downtown Kralendijk and its sidewalk-flamingos. The only weird thing was how frequently we’d come back to our boat and find that someone we’d tied on top of had left, and left our boat with a really strange knot.

We had some neighbors with great boat names. We loved “Dr’s Orders”, as well as the “This side up” stickers on Cosmos. I mean, nothing quite competes with “Entropy” and “Patronus”, but these are still good.

We also had occasional aquatic visitors. OK, only once, but we saw these dolphins out the window while making breakfast. Our neighbors claim to have seen hammerheads and a whale shark pass through the mooring while we were elsewhere.

Most days the breeze was pretty strong during the day, a little weaker at night, and then flat calm for about an hour in the morning before the cycle continued. But one day it seemed dead enough for long enough that we decided to blow up the paddle-boards and explore the mooring field. Of course, by the time the boards were inflated the wind was starting to pick up again, but we went for it anyway, and battled our way upwind about halfway to town before giving up, turning around, and basically sailing back to Villa. Patricia got this picture of Jazz as she passed their boat.

The mooring field feels like a small community, and maybe surprisingly relative to other islands we’ve been to, the town feels like a totally separate small community. In poorer countries, sailors are more of an income source for the island, whereas here, we’re a very small part of a much bigger tourism industry. This takes both focus and pressure off of us, and it means that there are land-based communities and activities available, where the way people relate to you has nothing to do with whether you’re a sailor. Because the visa times are short for so many people, and it’s only a twenty-thousand person island, coming and going is accepted, and the community is necessarily both fluid and welcoming.

A majority of the population coming and going is Dutch, and we fit some of the stereotypes, so we found that people often assumed we were Dutch. At some point Andrew decided to lean into it and get a super Dutch-looking haircut while we’re here. It was nice to have a little break from the default assumption that we’re American tourists.

On our last day with Rust Bucket, we figured we’d give him a goodbye bath. To do this, we went to the town carwash, which inexplicably is a paved lot surrounded on all sides by dirt. So, you come in, wash your car, it’s dirty again before you hit the road. Still, RB had spent several nights under a tree, so it was hard not to make a big difference.

All in all, we would be in Bonaire for nearly three months, during which time we did 44 dives. We kept track of them with a map and a list on the wall, with the ones we did highlighted in yellow, and repeats in green and triples marked in green on the left.

Eventually, though, it was time to go, and we treated ourselves to one last dinner at Het Consulaat. Here’s Jazz, fully enjoying The Pasta.

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