Off to Bonaire: May 2-3 2008

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 11:10 pm

It almost went off without a hitch.

The last time we went to Bonaire, it involved a red-eye, multiple connections, and two painfully long layovers – one in the Curacao airport, which was truly awful. And we each paid about $1200 for the privilege.

This time, thanks to Continental’s new direct flights to Bonaire, we paid less than half that and only had to deal with one red-eye and and a layover in Houston – not such a horrible place to be stuck. We were there for a while, though; since the Houston-Bonaire flight only leaves once a week, we took an early LAX-Houston hop just in case anything went wrong.

Jeff and I met up with our friend Carol at LAX, where she said goodbye to her short-on-vacation-time boyfriend and introduced us to her non-boyfriend, Michael, who was our other dive buddy for the week. We’d met Michael once before on a dive boat, but I hadn’t been able to put the face to the name when she invited him to come along to Bonaire. When he showed up at our gate, I was relieved to discover he was someone I absolutely adored. Imagine a 50-something-year old LA professional photographer with a wicked sense of humor and about as irreverent and heathen-y as it gets, then make him a scuba diver – a perfect fit for us!

Our first flight left on time, so we wound up with six hours to spend in Houston. We were supposed to meet Ben and Kathy there, who were flying from Denver. Jeff got an email from Ben warning that they were having some sort of passport issues, but they’d be on a later flight and should still make it. I called Ben to get the full scoop: apparently, their passports had gone through the washing machine (literally) at some point. Ben had actually used his since then to travel to Paris on United, so he’d assumed everything was fine. But Continental had denied them boarding because their passports were not up to code.

Since he’s a loyal United customer, that airline tried to fix him up. The passports scanned just fine with United, so they took a United flight from Denver to Houston where they’d be transferred back to the Continental flight. Hopefully no problem, right?

Wrong. They arrived just as Continental was doing passport checks on every passenger. As soon as they reached the counter and presented their slightly-damaged (but not the important, front page) passports, the Continental representative started frowning. Apparently that whole “denied boarding” thing in Denver had made it into the system, and their whole itinerary with Continental had been deleted. After 30 minutes of intense discussion between Ben and a manager, the verdict was in: no Bonaire for the Brantleys. Even if Continental bent the rules and let them fly, Bonaire customs would almost certainly turn them away. And being late on a Friday night, when no passport offices were open, they were basically just out of luck.

Ben and Kathy handled it with remarkable grace – I would have absolutely lost it in their position. In fact, I did a pretty good job of losing it in my position. But we didn’t have much time to commiserate; we had a plane to catch, and the Brantleys had luggage to collect and a hotel to reach.

My only real complaint about Continental’s Bonaire service is the lousy timing – we landed at 5:30am after 3.5 hours of fitful dozing. Not the best mood to start a trip in! Carol and I kept watch on our pile-o-bags (below) while the boys picked up our rental trucks.


Because of Kathy’s fatigue issues, I’d requested a room that would be available first thing Saturday morning when we arrived. So we owed it to our missing friends that we were able to walk right into a lovely second story apartment at Sand Dollar and unload all our stuff at seven in the morning. We also owed them some extra space… with no Brantleys, Carol and Michael were able to each spread out into their own room.

We tried several times during the week to request a downgrade in the hopes of getting the Brantleys some cash back, but no luck – the place was packed. Much guilt was felt, but a little relief as well, to be honest – because the room we had was wonderful. Being on the second floor, with a screened in patio, meant we had a nice breeze and a relatively secure place to leave dive gear. We were also on a corner, so the patio was a huge wraparound one with several seating areas, an excellent “camera table”, pegs for gear, and a hammock.


I’ll have to make it up to the Brantleys somehow the next time we go on a dive trip!

After breakfast and an hour-long dive orientation, I was a complete zombie and in no shape to hop in the water. I lay down for a short nap, and apparently fell into such a deep sleep that Jeff had a really hard time waking me up after 45 minutes. We dragged our sleepy asses down to the Sand Dollar dock and hit the water around 1pm for our checkout dive.

I was instantly blown away by the visibility. Our first Bonaire trip was in December, and I remember the vis usually being around 60-70′. Here at Bari Reef, it was easily 100′ – and the water was perfectly calm and still. We dive so much in California that it feels downright shocking to be able to maintain your exact position in the water column without battling any current or surge. I left the camera behind for this dive and just enjoyed the feeling of doing an effortless dive in clear water!

Another surprise to me was spotting a turtle – on our last trip, we only saw turtles on the east side, but apparently Bari Reef is a popular hangout for them these days.

I also found myself getting really chilled in just my 2mil suit, which had kept me more than warm enough last time. On our surface interval, I swung by the dive shop to add a 2.5mil vest, which I wore the rest of the week and stayed perfectly comfortable in the 79-81 degree water.

Dive #2 was at Bari Reef again – with such a convenient house reef, and as tired as we were, none of us felt the urge to travel. We got in the water around 5, so we spotted some of the early dusk action: lots of spawning creole wrasses zooming all over the reef, peacock flounders sailing over the sand in search of mates, and a sharptail eel on his evening hunt, accompanied by a motley crew of fish sidekicks.

Below is my favorite clip from the day – Magic Carpet Flounder!

After Dive #2, we zombied our way through dinner at The Reef restaurant (attached to Sand Dollar and surprisingly delicious) and collapsed early for a long night’s sleep…

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