That moment you slip beneath the surface, when the choppiness of the surface disappears, you take your first regulated breath, and you get your first glimpse of the underwater universe: this is my moment of Zen. Lost in your own thoughts, your own breathing, and no distractions except the wonders of the reef and sea life all around you. I learned to scuba dive in 2002 when I had the opportunity to visit friends living on St. Croix. Until recent years, almost all of my dive experience was from boats, following a dive master underwater, which was a great way to learn. I’d always heard of this little island called Bonaire as a mecca for shore diving, but it wasn’t until last year that my husband and I finally decided to try it. Venturing underwater on our own seemed a little intimidating after always relying on a dive master, but after visiting last year we couldn’t wait to come back.
The island is littered with more than 60 dive/snorkel sites along primarily the western shore, away from the strong winds of the east. Customary process is to rent a pick-up truck and scuba tanks to load into the rack in the truck bed, drive to the spot of your choice, and gear up. The reefs are generally sloping and run north to south, so it’s much easier to navigate underwater than it might seem. Conditions for entering the water are variable, most often done carefully while stepping over the coral and rocks at the shoreline, but once in the water currents are minimal which makes the dive plan a lot simpler. The reefs are close to shore, so almost as soon as you’re under, you’re exploring. The beauty of this, compared to a boat dive, is the pace. No set times for departure, no rush to get your gear on, no long boat ride home. A lot less likely to forget something or make a mistake. And once underwater, it’s just you and your dive buddy, rather than a whole gang of divers. Peaceful. The reefs are stunningly beautiful and teeming with fish, plus turtle, eel, octopus, squid, and shrimp. The pilings of the Salt Pier dive site make an interesting and photo worthy coral and sea life habitat, and the wreck of the Hilma Hooker just offshore gives one some variety from the daily reef dive.
Bonaire is part of the Netherlands, originally part of the Dutch Antilles islands including Aruba and Curacao, off the coast of Venezuela. Though we are occasionally addressed in Dutch, English is spoken everywhere. The island is almost entirely flat, with the exception of a few small peaks in Slagbaai National Park on the north end of the island (the highest point of Brandaris is 784 ft).
In addition to being an underwater paradise, it’s also a bird watching haven. Some 10,000 bright pink flamingos live on the island in saltwater lagoons, fun to watch with their long legs and elegant necks, a far cry from their plasticized lawn ornament cousins. In the morning, hummingbirds sucked nectar from the flame tree near our deck, though they had to compete with the striped-tail green iguanas who climbed the tree to eat flowers. The tiny little bananaquit, smaller than a sparrow with a bright yellow breast, was also easy to spot. And every evening saw wild parakeets flying by and stopping to eat berries from a nearby tree. Their bright green hue was a perfect camouflage in the trees, but their squawking gave them away every time.
If you aren’t entertained enough by the sea life or birds, there are also donkeys that roam freely throughout the island! I’m certain Bonaire visits are going to end up on a regular rotation.