“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
Bonaire is part of the ABC Islands, along with Aruba and Curacao. Bonaire lies 30 miles to the east of Curacao and 50 miles to the north of Venezuela. Bonaire is approximately 39 km long and between 5 – 8 km wide. Bonaire is a largely flat, dry, river-less island, which is below the Caribbean hurricane belt. The temperature is generally 27 degrees Celsius or 81 degrees Fahrenheit.
All of the Bonaire and Klein Bonaire’s surrounding water forms a National Park that has been protected since 1979. For those who wish to dive or snorkel, there is a nature fee of $25 for diving (included in the diving fee is entrance to the Washington Slagbaai National Park) and $10 for all others interested in water-sports such as snorkeling, swimming, windsurfing, kiting, etc. With easy access to diving and snorkeling from the shore, as well as clear, calm water, Bonaire attracts many tourists to its waters.
A Brief History of Bonaire
Bonaire’s first inhabitants were Arawak Indians who sailed from Venezuela around 1000 AD. The first European settlers were the Spanish, who claimed Bonaire for their country in 1499. The Spanish found little value to Bonaire, however, enslaving the local Indians to work on plantations on other islands, leaving the island largely unoccupied. In 1526, cattle were introduced to the island, and later sheep, pigs, horses and donkeys joined them. These were raised more for their skins than their meat.
Bonaire, along with Curacao and Aruba, were taken by the Dutch in 1633. Curacao was the center for slave trade and Bonaire became a plantation island for the Dutch West Indies Company, who used the African slaves to propagate maize and harvest salt. Remnants of those days can still be seen today with the salt pans and slave huts on the south end of the island.
Although Bonaire changed ownership numerous times, it was in 1816, as a result of the Treaty of Paris, that it returned to Dutch ownership. Salt was an extremely valuable commodity in the early days as a way to preserve food, and was an endless resource. Slaves were used to harvest the salt until slavery was abolished in 1863, causing the salt harvesting to slow for nearly a hundred years until Cargill revitalized the industry, leaving it operational still to this day.
Bonaire, along with Saint Eustatius, Saba, Aruba, Saint Martin and Curacao, made up the Netherlands Antilles until 2010, when the constitutional structure changed. Since 2010, Saint Martin and Curacao have become separate countries within the Kingdom, much like Aruba did in 1986. The Kingdom is officially made up of four equal countries; the Netherlands, Aruba, Curacao and Saint Martin. Saint Eustatius, Saba and Bonaire chose to remain as part of the Netherlands, alternatively dubbed as the ‘Caribbean part of the Netherlands’.
Bonaire Day Trip – 14/12/2017
After a lot of effort to find a car to hire for the day we ended up getting a pickup truck to share with Totem, Adults in the cab, kids in the back. The aim to see as much of Bonaire in one day as we could.
Slave Huts – by Max Deeley
Our first stop were the slave huts and obelisks. The slave huts were built in 1850 to house the slaves that were working in the salt ponds. The slaves would collect the salt and take it to the ships. Salt is Bonaire’s most exported product. Every Friday the slaves would walk for seven hours to Rincon to spend the weekend with their friends and families. The slaves would then return on Sunday to continue their work. The four obelisks were shore markers to guide ships that were coming in to load salt and were painted white, orange, red and blue which are the colours of the Dutch flag.
Tristan in front of one of the slave huts looking a bit like Gulliver. Tristan, Mairen, Ava and Siobhan in front of the white slave huts.
Salt Pans – Max
The next stop was the salt pans and the flamingo reserve, although you could not enter either, you can see the pans, machinery and flamingos from the road. The Dutch took over Bonaire from the Spanish in 1620s and also the salt production. The salt production slowed after the abolishment of slavery in 1863. Today the Cargill Corporation is responsible for the production of salt and Bonaire’s booming salt industry which produces 400,000 tons of salt crystals a year, 30% of this salt is used for table salt. Flamingos, which are protected by the law and can be seen in the salt pans. The salt in the salt pans stimulate the growth of plankton and aquatic invertebrates which is what the flamingos eat.
Flamingo on the salt pans
Willemstoren Lighthouse – Max
The third stop was the Willemstoren Lighthouse. It was the first lighthouse in Bonaire, built in 1837. The locals now go there to collect driftwood in many different shapes and make pyramids out of objects on the shore. The driftwood that is collected is used for various things, often tourist-related.
The lighthouse is easily reached, just pull off the side of the road when you see it on the south end of the island. While you are not able to go inside the lighthouse you can walk around the outside of it.
Lac Bay – Tristan
On our drive to Lac Bay we spotted this wild donkey. He was a little shy, Max took a carrot but he wouldn’t come close.
Lac Bay and a whip tail blue lizard
Donkey Sanctuary – Ava Deeley
In 1993 a Dutch couple, Marina Melis and Ed Koopman set up a donkey sanctuary in Bonaire to protect and help donkeys in need.
Marina, the founder of the sanctuary with the kids.
Donkeys in Bonaire die from dehydration, starvation, illness, car accidents, human abuse and foals being taken away from their mothers. Luckily many donkeys have been saved and nursed back to health and are now protected. There is also a Special Care Unit which have donkeys that are suffering from illness and also mothers and their foals. There are seven hundred donkeys in the sanctuary and a further four hundred more donkeys in the wild. Very little is grown in Bonaire so they have to import food pellets from Holland and they get hay from Venezuelan fishing boats.
Totem and my family drove around the donkey sanctuary in a pick-up truck. We brought packets of carrots which we fed to the donkeys from the back of the pick-up truck and we spent time petting them. We hopped out of the car and looked around at all the donkeys around us, we had some come up to us and nudge us with their noses to be patted. As we drove along again we had some donkeys trotting alongside us, others stood in the centre of the road to get us to stop and then they would surround us. Our last stop was the Special Care Unit, where we saw a 4-week-old foal who was brave enough to eventually walk up to us and we got to pat its fluffy little head.
In a matter of minutes of entering the gate we were surrounded by these lovely donkeys.
Dad up close and personal with this donkey
Eventually the kids climbed out of the pick up and petted the donkeys. Even after the carrots were all gone they were still happy for the attention.
Our final stop at the Donkey Sanctuary was the special care unit, which included this little girl, a four week old foul whose mum was rescued just before she was born.
Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire
You can bike, scooter, drive or walk around the sanctuary and they have carrots for sale or bring your own to feed the donkeys.
Open: Daily from 10 am – 5 pm, last entrance is 4 pm.
Cost: $7 US for Adults/$3.50 for U12
Phone: +599 95 607 607
Boka Onima – Indian Inscriptions – Ava
The Arawak Indians originally came from Venezuela and they came to Bonaire in wooden dugout canoes. Arawak Indians painted in red, symbols and pictures onto the cave walls at Boka Onima about 500 years ago. We stopped there to have a look at the cave walls, there were also whiptail blue lizards around the nearby cactuseand some were also sun bathing on the warm rocks.
The Indian Inscription and a whiptail blue lizard
Gotomeer – Ava
In the Northern end of Bonair there is a saltwater lake called Gotomeer which you can see flamingos, also called ‘pink clouds’. Gotomeer is beautiful with the lake, roads, trees and cacti spread out here and there. You can find the lake at the edge of Washington-Slagbaai National Park. The flamingos are so pink and pretty from the food that they eat. They eat crustaceans which have beta-carotene in them and there is also beta-carotene in the plankton too, which gives them there pink colour. We stopped by briefly to have a look at the lake and at the flamingos. There were lots of flies, but the flamingos were very pretty.
Gotomeer saltwater lake with its flamingos
Echoe’s Conservation Centre – Tristan Deeley
Brown Throated Parikeet of Bonaire
Echoe’s Conservation Centre (Yellow shouldered Amazon Parrot)
Tour the rescued and released parrots at Echo’s facility and walk through the dry forest.
Bring water with you and wear appropriate footwear for walking (not flip flops)
Open – Wednesday’s at 4.30, no booking necessary and you meet at the windmill at Dos Pos (near Gotomeer) Lasts 1 – 1/2 hours. Cost is donation based.
Private Tours – Are available at either 7 am or 5 pm by appointment 48 hours in Advance, with a minimum of two people, cost is $25 per person. Bookings can be made online or by phone: +599 701 1188
Gingerbread Houses – 14 – 15/12/2017 – Ava
Gingerbread houses originally came from Germany during the 16th century, although there are many different recipes for gingerbread. People started liking the gingerbread houses even more when the story of Hansel and Gretel was written by the Brothers Grimm.
On the 14th of December my brothers and I, with my mother’s help started making gingerbread houses. At first it wasn’t going to well because one of my brothers’ house had started to lean forward like it was going to snap, then part of my roof broke but all was fixed with extra icing. I also made stained glass windows by breaking some hard candy and melting it in the oven, then sticking it to the back of the cut out whole I made in the front and back walls. Overall, they turned out okay, but they tasted even better.
My Gingerbread house complete with stained glass windows
Tristan’s gingerbread pyramid, he went a little overboard with the lollies
Max’s gingerbread house
With over 86 dive sites we are definitely not go to get to all of them. We will write about ones that we found interesting though below.
Hilma Hooker – 15/12/2017 – Karen
Tristan, Andrew and I did a dive today on the Hilma Hooker Wreck. The water clarity was excellent, the wreck clearly visible before we even descended. Tristan and Andrew descended much quicker than me as I struggled to clear my ears, but I eventually got there. On my descent I thought there was two sharks near Andrew and Tristan but as I got closer they were just large Tarpons. There were a few tarpons lingering around the wreck.
The wreck is in excellent condition, with little growth on it, which was surprising as it has been down there for over 30 years. Any hanging objects or things that make it dangerous for diving on wrecks have also been removed. We started at the stern of the boat at about 100 feet and then worked our way to the bow and then along the other side before ascending. There were a lot of smaller fish but apart from the tarpons we saw no other large fish while we were there. Tristan did notice an interesting thing on the top side of the wreck was a steady stream of bubbles coming out a small hole. We later found out that after it sank, holes were cut into it so that the air exhaled by divers could escape.
The wreck has an interesting history, launched in 1951 in the Netherlands, it is a 236 foot freighter. The boat changed hands and names many times during its time from ‘Midsland’ to ‘Mistral’ to ‘Williams Express’ to ‘Anna C’ and then ‘Doric Express’ its moniker ‘Hilma Hooker’ will perhaps be what she is remembered as. Although she sank in 1984, this was not her first sinking, having sunk in 1979 off of Dominican Republic before being raised, sold and renamed yet again.
It was in 1984 that the ‘Doric Express’ aka ‘Hilma Hooker’ had trouble off the coast of Bonaire, some say it was steering difficulties other say engine problems. She was towed into port in Kralendijk, Bonaire, where after a search 25 000 pounds of marijuana was found. The crew were arrested and the vessel impounded at the port, however no owner came forth for the boat. The boat was in poor condition and leaked, requiring constant pumping to keep her afloat, the costly process and potentially dangerous situation resulted in the government, the tourist bureau and dive operators deciding to move the ship to Angel City another dive site, so that if she did sink she could be used as another dive site.
Hilma Hooker was moved to Angel City, where 5 days later she sank to the sea bottom. Some believe the bilge pumps couldn’t keep up with the leak, others believe that dive operators may have helped her to sink. No one can say for sure.
If you are doing a boat dive there are three buoys which you can tie up to, two at the bow end and one at the stern end. If you are doing a shore dive follow the coastal road from Kralendijk heading south past the airport. When you get to the Trans World Radio Station and tall transmission masts, just opposite this you will see the yellow rock marking this dive site. There is plenty of parking there.