Bonaire, an island in the Dutch Caribbean with a gift in that it has the flexibility and freedom for each diver to shore dive when and wherever around the island they choose by means of hiring a 4x4.
For the 12 years I’ve been diving; my wife, Lisa, has had great difficulty in accepting the sport, she gained her Open Water a year after me and ever since then she was never confident enough to pursue it. Last year I qualified as a divemaster and all the underwater photography Lisa has seen of mine, her confidence and interest has been growing steadily back. Rather than being selfish and just choosing my next trip for my scuba snaps, I was looking for a trip that would suit her to get her into gear.
An old friend, Niels who has been an instructor in Bonaire for 5 years, recently asked me when we were going to visit him, soon enough, the idea came to me, this would be ideal for Lisa, she has never been fond of proving her abilities to dive centres every time we visit somewhere new. Here, we could just do what we want, when we want, and with the added bonus of our friend Niels.
I suggested to Lisa it may be a good idea to take her advanced course over there with Niels, to add even more confidence. I was happy to hear that she would give it her best, so a lot of reading was done in advance and her confidence was soon coming back. She did a scuba refresher and we did 4 sessions in the pool beforehand to make sure she was happy with everything.
Everything went well and we were soon jetting ourselves there. Niels was waiting for us at the airport with another one of our friends, Dax, who decided to join the trip travelling to join us from Holland.
The day after we arrived we got to it. Most of the diving is on the sheltered west side, and we chose to start our diving at Buddy Dive resort, an easy entry for Lisa off the pier. Lisa chose to buddy up with Niels, safe from the interfering husband’s help! Dax and I decided to go deeper, out of harms way! Some things that make the dive planning easier here; there’s rarely any current at Bonaire, if there is, its very slight so as PADI suggests always choose to swim into the current to start the dive, then the return is not as demanding. The majority are wall dives, the sea bed is mostly at around 30m, and its not far to snorkel to the drop off. A lot of reasons here to make you think that this island was born to be for divers!
The next day we dived at Salt Lake pier, only advised when the pier is not used for conveying salt from the ocean, here they produce salt for one of Bonaire’s probably only exported products. Pyramid shaped piles of salt, storeys high, can be seen here with a backdrop of a pink salt lake, the pink pigment comes from the bacteria in the algae that is seen when the salt is evaporating, something that can also be seen in the local wild flamingos. Its funny that the first time I saw flamingos was outside a large hotel in Cairo overlooking the pyramids there, how coincidental. Back to the dive! You can find barracuda dangling between the pier legs, and some Tarpon and shoals a bit deeper. This was my first time underwater near Lisa in a few years, immediately I noticed how much better she was in the water, and her face shone a lot more with interest, especially when she seemed to overreact when something appeared that I just took as something normal, really pleasing J Her trim still needs some attention, but as soon as I signalled to her, she corrected without any problems.
A lot of the dives involved traipsing through the rolling surf which proved a bit too much for Lisa. Because of this, it knocked her interest down a bit and we kept at least one dive a day to an easy entry. One of them was from a small unnamed pier with a slow drift to Buddy reef, this passed a small neighbouring wreck. Once we ended the dive we saw people pointing into the shallows, it was a small Manta ray, about a metre in span. Apparently they have only been around here now for a year or so, great news for everyone, I’m sure. Later on during our stay someone showed us their video from their day, of a large Manta ray following them for the whole of the dive, awesome!
Twice on our stay here we dived the Hilmer Hooker shipwreck, this was an 80m cargo ship abandoned with marijuana still onboard, the authorities eventually sunk it in 1984 to boost the growing diving interest the island was attracting. Her 2 masts are still intact, resting onto the 30m white sand bed, holding her steadily on her starboard side 15m proud. Niels took us on a tour past the masts, in a hold, and through the superstructure, and the first time I’ve encountered breathing in an air pocket, a strange experience! All in all, it’s a very nice intact wreck, with plenty of features to attract the divers’ eye.
As well trying some of the 63 marked dive sites (marked on the free tourist map and highlighted on the road entrances by a yellow rock with the dive site name on it) we were keen to try some of the unmarked ones, the first one of these was called Tailor Made. This is on the far north west coast where you have to go off road for a couple of miles. The site is marked roughly by a wooden stick and a couple of tyres. Coral was obviously a lot more untouched here.
Easter weekend on Bonaire is a time where the government allow anyone to camp on the beach. We did another dive by a small pier close to the airport, here I saw a local family getting acquainted with their temporary home, quite a surprise to see the father lifting a full porcelain loo onto the beach, I dread to think where that was plumbed in to!? On this dive Niels decided to do a spot of spearfishing, this is a “hard to grasp” legal sport in Bonaire for locals, the main target advised is Lionfish, as you may have heard, the Caribbean is being somewhat invaded by Lionfish as they are at the top of their food cycle. He was lucky to get a large target that day and we enjoyed it that evening fried in a little oil, very tasty it was too. While I buddied with Lisa I realised her confidence would not let her get too close to the coral, a shame for my photography, but all in good time. Later I spoke to her about her plans, she was happy just doing one dive a day for this holiday so has decided to leave it there. Despite her not doing her AOW, I am extremely happy with her doing 7 dives, I thought maybe her confidence would have been improved if she did her advanced, but she said she would prefer to get more dives under her belt at a steady pace first. Her plans are to continue in the UK with me, for her main goal, diving with seals this August. Good luck there Lisa.
The east coast of Bonaire is a very quiet windy side, mainly frequented by windsurfers, there are only 2 recognised sites here, and we dived 3 of them! The first one is called Baby Beach, we were lucky as we had a few days of calm easterlies, entry here is usually though quite a bit of surf, harder than the west side but wasn’t too bad. Eventually we went down onto a white sandy bed and found 2 large sting rays, which is what we came looking for. Another east dive was White Hole, the real tester! Here we had to walk about 200m over uneven shallow water, very hard with 2 tanks on my back and an SLR hanging on my chest. It was a long snorkel out here to the drop off, that was nothing compared to the walk out! The attraction to this dive was guaranteed turtles and a white sandy bed full of hunting tarpons, sure enough we got all of that, earlier on that day a school of eagle rays was seen too. It was a shame the viz was down a bit, but at least the surf was down on entry.. Our last east coast dive was La Cai. Entry here was very easy, dropping into a small channel of 3m viz; almost immediately, we followed the channel along to find a rare site on Bonaire, a field of anemones. Once we passed this we dropped into the Tarpon pit, similar to the White Hole but a lot smaller and the Tarpon were a lot closer together, just hovering, waiting for their night’s hunting, there must have been about 50 of them, viz was still down unfortunately but still a good surprise to see them so close. Soon the viz cleared up as we hit the reef wall, coral was so much more prolific here, another highlight to this dive was that it was one of the few places you get an 80% chance of Eagle rays, sure enough I saw a nice one about a metre wide. This dive had so many good things about it I recommended it to Lisa, easy entry, and bad viz to start (a nice warmer for UK diving!) Sure enough we did it again and saw an eagle ray again. Navigation for this dive is a little trickier so if you decide to choose this one, I would recommend hiring a guide, actually for any of the east dives.
We had 2 non dive days, one of them we went to the national park where there are some fabulous beaches, iguanas, goats, flamingos, cacti, all in one day trip, 4x4 recommended for extra off road fun! There are a 2 or 3 dive sites on the park’s west side, we took a look but they all seemed as if the entry was far too difficult looking like you needed to abseil in!? How you got out, that one I’ll leave up to you to figure out. Entry to the park is free with your diving marine park ticket and some ID.
On our last non dive day Niels took us to a cave for some snorkelling. This involved hauling ourselves on a rope down a 6 metre rock face, through the tiniest of holes, Lisa was unsure a few times to continue, but once we got to the water, it was such a relief to feel the coolness on our skin. It wasn’t a long trip into the main cave room, here we could snorkel into corners and squeeze ourselves in making sure we didn’t raise our head too much onto the spearing stalactites. On a couple of occasions Niels invited me to free dive into other rooms, this was fantastic! I was under for about 20 seconds, once I came up I shouted for the others, when I got back they couldn’t hear me at all, proof we were in a completely separate room with rock and water just between us. Niels and his colleague have tried diving this before through deeper holes beneath, not a very advisable thing to do he says!
Marine life spotted:
Trumpetfish, Squirrelfish, Christmas tree worms, Turtles, Boxer shrimps, Arrow crabs, Porcupinefish, Trunkfish, Drumfish, Tarpon, Barracuda, Surgeonfish, Needlefish, Manta rays, Sting rays, Eagle rays, Lionfish, French angelfish, Queen angelfish,