At the beginning of the 21st century, the traveler has so much choice but so little time. So why would you choose to visit, a cactus-covered island where the capital city is called Kralendijk, one of the island¹s primary features is salt harvesting and where flamingos outnumber people? I was determined to find out, after Pete and Shannon Connelly invited me to stay at their Bed and Breakfast, "The Deep Blue View."

I read the February 2000 issue of Rodale¹s Scuba Diving Magazine on the flight to Bonaire. An article on the Reader¹s Choice Awards for the 100 top scuba diving destinations in the world caught my attention. A survey of 6,000 readers rated Bonaire as the best destination for shore diving and snorkeling in the Caribbean. It was second to Little Cayman for the best fish life and the scores were close 92.9 to 92.5. It came in third for the healthiest marine environment in the Caribbean.

I arrived on February the 7th, a Monday, after a short four-hour flight from Toronto on Canada 3000 airline. I left a cold and snowy Toronto behind and stepped out of the Flamingo Airport in Bonaire to an island cooled by God¹s own air conditioning, the steady cool northeast trade winds. I had to gear down for a change of pace. I had come to an island of four digit phone numbers, two-lane traffic and no traffic lights. Wild donkeys and large iguanas roamed the streets and the blue sky was often interrupted by flocks of wild green parrots screeching as they flew out of the bushes.

The Deep Blue View Bed and Breakfast was located on one of the highest hills in Bonaire in a quiet residential neighborhood that overlooked downtown Kralendijk and the Caribbean Sea. The villa had a distinct Mediterranean flavour. It was "L" shaped, with one leg containing the guestrooms and the other Pete and Shannon¹s residence. The large open patio was surrounded by lush landscaping that enclosed the pool and the observation deck. Hanging beneath the deck were four shaded two-person hammocks. I stayed in one of the four spacious bedrooms for guests. It was called the Clownfish room. It had a large king sized bed with two closets, writing desk, a sitting area and a bath with a private sink and fresh towels, daily. The use of the fresh water pool after a morning of diving was refreshing. Drying off in the hammocks swinging in the cool trade winds trying to read a book often resulted in deep slumber before the first page was completed. At night Pete would take out his Meade telescope and we would see the moons of Jupiter, the shadow of the ring around Saturn or the rough surface of the Moon all shining brightly in the dark Caribbean sky.

Beyond the good breakfast, the elegant ambience, Shannon¹s great service, there developed a camaraderie between the guests and the owners. This often resulted in a Scrabble game at night. Pete and Shannon had taken a great gamble and left the rat race behind, to follow their dream of stargazing, free diving and art, on this beautiful island. They were the perfect hosts. I have and will continue to recommend their place to all my friends in Toronto.

The diving on Bonaire has got to be some of the easiest land-based diving to be done anywhere in the Caribbean. All you have to do is rent a mini-van and some tanks and weights, and then you¹re off to tour the island while stopping for various yellow painted stones that have been placed along the roadside to mark the dive sites.

There are more than 86 dive sites around Bonaire. Two of my favorites are the Hilma Hooker and the Salt Pier. The "Hooker" as the locals call it sank in 80 feet of water off Bonaire¹s southern shores. It was an unclaimed cargo ship confiscated by the police in 1986 for carrying 25,000 pounds of Marijuana. Three buoys about a 100 meters from shore indicate the position of the ship. On the dive I saw, three or four large Tarpons at the entrance to the shipwreck, a school of Blue-Spotted Damelfish passed by observing me, not being the least bit worried about being in the water with a carnivore.

The Salt Pier, adjacent to the Cargill salt works on the south side of the island is a place to see schools of Masbangu, Barracuda, Needlefish and Yellow Tailed Sergeant Majors. Beneath the surface the pilings are planted at 20 to 50 feet depth along the edge of the drop off and are carpeted with sponges and soft corals. These pilings serve as an excellent backdrop while photographing the abundant schools of Yellowfin, Grouper, Goatfish, the odd Turtle and Squid that continually browse among them.

The diving in Bonaire was reminiscent of my trip to the Grand Cayman Islands, this laid back style of diving is for me. With little or no current, it is excellent for all levels of divers, including aging baby boomers, like me. It is perhaps the easiest diving I have ever done. You don¹t need a dive boat and most reefs start 100 meters from shore. This latter fact makes diving in Bonaire the most inexpensive in the Caribbean. Tanks and weights rent for ten dollars.

A tidal surge in late November of 1999, did bring Coral debris to the shore. This covered some of the sandy beaches in the southern part of the island. If you have a good pair of booties you don¹t notice the change. The Bonaire government is in the process of restoring the beach by removing this rubble. Once you enter the water the reefs are remarkably healthy, with a wide range of Sponges, Soft Corals, Sea Fans and Brain Coral all in excellent condition. The tidal surge in south did break off some fans and soft coral but the damage is minimal. The marine life did not seem affected by the tidal surge. The regulars, Groupers, Turtles, Dolphins, Spotted and Green Morays were present in most dives. The occasional visitors; the Manta Ray, and Whale shark, were spotted during my trip by other divers.

My favorite fish was the Midnight Blue Parrotfish which was so large it must have been thirty pounds. In twenty years of diving I have only seen this fish in Bonaire. It is a creature of such rich color that it adds an aquarium aspect to the dive. You often hear it biting on the coral before you see it. The spotted Drum fish is another favorite because of its odd shape, a very long front dorsal and tail fin. It can be seen on every dive. It is a bottom dweller that likes to hide in the coral.

Green Submarine located near downtown Kralendijk was the dive operator that looked after my diving needs. Eric Groenhart ran a professional dive operation. All his gear was new. He had a professional staff to assist you. The "Green" in Green Submarine emphasized his commitment to the marine environment. The "No" glove rule was strictly adhered too.

Highway Car Rental ran a twenty-four hour business. Eric Abdul was always there to assist you if the need arose. He meets you at the airport when you arrive and on your departure you simply drive the car to the airport parking lot and leave the keys at the bar.

Tennis at the Peter Burwash Tennis Center at the Harbour Village Beach Resort, was the means for me meet and to get to know some of the local residents. Every Tuesday night Mark Brinson ran a round robin for all the players at the club. After the two hour game, we sat around and had a few drinks. The tennis facilities here were the best courts I have played on in the Caribbean.

At one of these after game socials, the talk was about the future proposed development of a golf course on the island. I could not but feel a little concerned about its impact on the marine environment due to the constant fertilization and maintenance that a golf course entails.

This reminded me about the warning Sylvia Earle wrote about in the International Herald Tribune. She stated that in the past twenty years about 10 percent of the coral reefs worldwide have become dysfunctional. Another 30 percent are significantly stressed. They are the rainforest of the sea, your natural sheltering habitat for fish, crabs, lobsters and thousands of other marine animals. We must remember that they also shelter humans who live near the oceanfront. Some years ago a construction company in Sri Lanka dredged up coral as building material for an oceanfront resort. Each year since then, the oceanfront is being eroded by storms. The way things are going, the hotel made of coral will become part of the sea again.

The island of Bonaire today has one of the healthiest marine environments. It has no high rise hotels or traffic lights. The streets are quiet, clean, neat and safe. You can drink the water right out of the tap in Bonaire. I would recommend a holiday in Bonaire to anyone. The non-diver has the best snorkeling in the Caribbean.

If you are a birder the Green and Yellow parrots, the Black and Orange Trupial, the Pink Flamingo make up some of the 190 species of birds to see on this island. Perhaps the greatest treasure Bonaire has to offer is the people. They are kind, helpful and friendly. The Dutch flavor of this island gives it an exotic feel, with the Mustard Yellow, blue and orange buildings and houses; Bonaire today is what Aruba was 20 years ago, let us hope it stays that way.








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