Bonaire, Part Seven: Going Home

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 12:55 pm

Sunday morning, we dragged ourselves out of bed at 8am to allow plenty of time for packing up scuba gear, loading our bags, stuffing ourselves with Esther’s crepes, and saying goodbye to everyone. I had a mini-adventure carrying our hoods across the parking lot. I left them drying on the patio, and something large and cockroach-shaped had apparently gotten into them. I din’t know if it actually was a cockroach, because as soon as I felt/saw something crawl up my hand I sent it flying!

(That was my only large-insect experience at Deep Blue View, for which I am very grateful.)

Saying goodbye was a long process involving lots of pictures, getting licked by dogs, and hugging everyone at least once. Esther also keeps these really nifty guestbooks, so Kathy and I wrote a note in it for her to add our picture to.

The rest of the day was about what we expected: a long wait in Curacao, a stressful race through customs in Miami, and an exhausted collapse into bed at midnight Pacific coast time (4am Bonaire time).

Despite all the ups and downs of the week, Jeff and I agreed we genuinely loved diving on Bonaire, and we’re also mad about Menno and Esther. We would definitely go back, though probably not during mosquito season, and hopefully with better camera karma! Being able to shore dive whenever and wherever we wanted was a blast, and after we got used to the laid-back, island-time attitude of Bonaire, we really enjoyed it. I can see why Menno and Esther decided to pack up shop and move there 4 years ago – and I hope they stick around so we can visit them again!


Bonaire, Part Six: Winding Down

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 7:44 pm

In need of a good long surface interval, we took a little time to regroup after the memory card incident. After a leisurely lunch, some hammock time, and a few minutes to browse all the pretty pictures we did have to get our spirits up, we headed down to the tourist street to do a bit of shopping.

This is an area where the four of us are quite alike: we are NOT shoppers! An hour was exactly enough for all of us to do a little knick-knack hunting for friends, grab some ice cream, and then be sick of the tourist street.

We headed back up to DBV to pick up our dive gear. Interestingly, the inconvenience of driving up and down the hill between dives wasn’t really bothering me anymore. For our afternoon dive, we wanted to go pay the ReefCam a visit. There are four webcams stationed at Eden Beach Resort, which we’ve all looked in on frequently since we planned this Bonaire trip. The cams have their own message board, and people are always very quick to post a capture when divers appear on the ReefCam. We wanted our very own Reefcam pics!

At the entry, it looked like a phenomenally boring dive. There was nothing but bleached coral rubble as far as I could see – and the current was ripping! Determined, we found a cable leading away from the dock and followed it to the webcam.

After posing in front of the reefcam for a few minutes, we went to check out the small wreck that it faces. As soon as I passed over to the far side of the wreck, I got the shock of the week: the hugest green moray I could have imagined! This puppy was easily 8-10 feet long, and more than a foot in diameter. Yowza!

Still fighting the current, we headed back up into the shallower, rubbly area. Much to my delight, the “boring” coral rubble turned out to be home to all kinds of fun little fish – including some jawfish hovering vertically over their burrows!

At this point, Kathy’s ears were really killing her, so she called it a day. My ears were also killing me, but I decided to go for another dive with Jeff anyway. We headed back up to Oil Slick Leap for a dusk dive, and I gave Jeff explicit instructions to get me some goby pics. He complied.

Unfortunately, the ear-pain issue started to become serious enough that I called the dive after a measly 45 minutes. (Note sarcasm: our usual California dives are 30-35 minutes.)

For our second-to-last night in Bonaire, we split up to each do our own “Date Night.” Ben and Kathy went back to City Cafe, while Jeff and I hit an Italian place Esther had recommended. I wasn’t blown away by the food, but what I DID love was the little peeping frogs that serenaded us – and then started hopping across the ground! They were so tiny, they just looked like pebbles until they hopped.

We chose the one restaurant in Bonaire that serves dinner in less than 2 hours, so we had a little time to kill waiting for the Brantleys. We walked along the shore a bit, occasionally ducking in out of the rain, which had decided to start up again. Once reunited with Ben and Kathy, we decided we’d all do one last dive together in the morning on Menno’s boat.

Menno managed to snag us the mooring at Carl’s Hill Saturday morning, and we had a blast there (despite some relatively crummy visibility, probably due to the return of rain). Menno took us down to the area where the seahorse hangs out, and directed us to spread out and search for it. I’m much prouder than I should be to say that I found it first!

Menno and I make a pretty good tag-team. Later in the dive, he indicated he’d spotted a filefish in a gorgonian. I didn’t find the one he was looking at, but once I started poking around in the vicinity, I found my very own juvenile filefish – this one hanging out on the edge of the gorgonian, so Jeff could actually photograph it! And then Jeff found a grown filefish to photograph. (Whoah there, buddy – no stealing my spotter job!)

As if on cue, it started raining again on our way back to the marina. Amazingly, the bad weather that we took as a jinx during our first dive in Bonaire had proved to be anything but, staying completely out of our way for all our dives! But now that we were done diving, the rain had some catching up to do. It put a bit of a damper on Ben and Kathy’s afternoon photography plans, though I think they still managed to get some good shots.

Jeff and I, in a reversal of roles, finally decided to put in some hammock-vegging time all afternoon instead.


Bonaire, Part Five: Of Ears and Hookers

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 3:09 pm

The Brantleys were game for a couple of early-morning, deep dives on Thursday morning. First, we drove down south to dive the wreck, “Hilma Hooker.” This 200-foot (or so) boat is sunk on its side in 100 feet of water, lying on the sand between the two reefs that comprise the double-reef system to the south of Kralendijk. The “top” of the boat is in about 60 feet of water. We entered directly in front of the middle buoy (there are two more buoys, at the stern and bow of the boat), where Menno had said the easiest entry was. It was still a smidge tricky, due to slimy rocks with urchins hiding in holes and a few large-ish steps down. Luckily, it was a little-to-no surf day (and frankly, “little” surf in Bonaire would count as “no” surf anywhere else), so we were able to take our time getting through the surf zone and easily watch where we stepped.

We followed the slope of the first reef until we spotted a horizontal line rising out in front of us at the edge of our visibility – which turned out to be the edge of the boat’s hull. The Hilma Hooker’s hull faces the beach, so you have to swim over it and then drop down on the other side to see the real structure of the boat. What a great dive! I immediately wished we’d done it earlier in the week, so we could have more opportunities to dive it again, and I was pretty sure Jeff was thinking the same thing.

We stuck around near the bow on this dive, photographing the school of tarpon that hung out in the shade. A southern sting ray gave us a quick swim-by, but didn’t really hang out for pictures. The Brantleys set off towards the stern, and we hooked up with them again on the top of the boat on our way back up to the reef to putter around in the shallows. Lots of fish were nibbling on the algae-ridden hull; it made kind of a funny effect to see the upside-down ship with lots of fish head-down chewing at it.

Our next dive site was “The Lake,” just one site away. Since there was no driving time entailed, we whiled away our surface interval checking out the entry and playing in the ocean. When we started to worry about sunburn, we put our gear back on and headed back in.Our goal on this dive was twofold: check out the double-reef system (at this particular site, the two reefs are separated by a pretty narrow strip of sand), and look for garden eels, which Ben and Kathy hadn’t seen before.The garden eels weren’t obvious when we first hit the sand at 80 feet, but after a few minutes of looking off in the distance we were able to make them out. (Well, three of us were; later, Ben asked us if anyone had spotted the garden thingies we were looking for.)

Garden Eels:

After watching garden eels wave around, we headed over to check out reef number two. From the sand, it rises to about 65 feet and then drops down on the ocean side in a shallow slope. It wasn’t significantly different from the shore-side reef, although it seemed a bit more thick with life.Kathy got my attention when we were just about to head back up to shallower water: Ben’s tank was coming out of his BC. This was the second time on the trip; we started to wonder if he was bothering to tighten them before each dive (he reads this blog, so I’m sure I’ll be hearing all about it soon). The wetter the straps get, the looser they get, so you have to give them a pretty serious tightening after the first dive of the day. There wasn’t really a good sandy spot for him to kneel and fix it himself, so the rest of us pushed and prodded his tank back down into place while trying to steady Ben somewhat. Not the most graceful equipment fix, but hey, whatever works!We took our time cruising back up the shore-side reef, doing our customary shallow-water puttering (and filefish/blenny-hunting).

Back at the Deep Blue View, we met two new arrivals: Ernie and Sally. Sally and I got to talking, and it turns out we both graduated from Pomona! Sally was a Botany major from the class of ’57, and then stuck around Claremont teaching for 30 years before moving to Olympia, Washington. Her daughter actually lives quite close to Jeff and me in Glendale.

Ernie, as it turned out, was Ernie Brooks – of the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara (a photography and art school founded by his father, where he was president for a while). He’s been a professional underwater photographer, working with all sorts of luminaries along the way. Now he and Sally travel the world, taking pictures and writing articles and poetry. We loved them! The 6 of us had a great time chatting about photography, dive and travel, and Ernie showed us the coffee-table book of his latest exhibition, The Silver Seas. Can you say, WOW?!

We decided to just do a single afternoon dive, since we’d been pushing the nitrogen limits all morning. My pick for the site was Oil Slick Leap, a spot where you giant stride off the cliff edge into water and exit via a ladder. It was a great dive site, full of eels and blennies. Unfortunately, Kathy’s ears started to really bother her. She’d developed a bit of an outer ear infection, which kept her up the night before and hurt more and more on Thursday. I was also experiencing a little ear pain, but didn’t expect it to get too bad.

Boy, was I wrong. Thursday night, I was in exactly the same boat as Kathy had been the night before. I’d forgotten just how bad an outer ear infection can HURT (think back to being a kid, and getting “swimmer’s ear” from too much time in the pool). Nothing for it but alcohol drops to dry out our ears whenever possible, and Advil to kill the pain.

Friday, we were scheduled to dive Salt Pier with Menno at 9am – but Jeff and I really wanted to dive the Hilma Hooker again to take more pictures. We couldn’t do it before 9, both because we probably wouldn’t be able to wake up and because we needed Tim to switch out the camera batteries. So we decided to pull a frowned-upon “reverse profile” and do a shallow dive (Salt Pier) at 9, followed by a deep dive to the Hooker. Hey; the jury is still technically out on the idea!

Salt Pier was fabulous! As I believe I’ve mentioned more than once, I’m a sucker for fish and fish behavior, which really made this a great dive for me. There wasn’t too much in the way of coral, but there were a whole lotta fish. We saw a juvenile french angel in the shallows, and ran into plenty of our old favorites down around the pilings. On the way out, Jeff and I found ourselves in the middle of a huge school of snack-sized fish being herded by some barracuda. We didn’t hang around there too long, just in case!

Kathy opted to skip the Hilma Hooker in favor of some suntan time, so Ben, Jeff and I made it a threesome. To save as much bottom time for the boat as possible, we swam out to the stern buoy on the surface and then dropped straight down onto the boat. We found a part in the middle of the (possibly the wheelhouse?) where it was trivial to swim inside a little bit and then turn around to pose for pictures. At the top of the room was a mirrored surface where many divers’ air bubbles had collected; that’s always a cool effect.

We were really stoked about some of the pics Jeff had nabbed at Salt Pier and the Hilma Hooker, so we dropped by Tim’s on the way to DBV for lunch. Unfortunately – the memory card was unreadable. Jinxed, I say! After a “DiskCheck,” Tim was able to copy the actual files over to disk, but they appear to be garbled beyond repair.



Bonaire, Part Four: Moving On

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 6:54 pm

Despite the loss of our precious camera, Larry’s Wildside still offered up some great diving! On our way to shore for a surface interval, Larry suddenly slowed the boat down and pointed off to the side, yelling, “Manta ray!” Sure enough, a manta was frolicking just below the surface, waving its fins in the air as it swooped up snacks. Common in Hawaii, they’re a bit more unusual in Bonaire – I guess it just happened to be the time of year when a migrating manta turns up every now and then.

Jeff and I were a) blind above water, b) bummed about the camera, and c) not TOO excited by a single manta after our recent trip to Hawaii where we got to swim with about 20, so we stayed on the boat while everyone else jumped over the side to snorkel with it. I think this, on top of the turtles, put Kathy in a pretty great mood! It was fun to watch (though blurry) as everyone paddled around the friendly manta. Finally Larry called everyone back on board, and beached the boat at the entrance to Lac Cai.

Where we pulled up, there were three enormous piles of empty conch shells on the beach. Apparently, the locals gather conch as a staple of their diet, and chuck the leftover shells on the beach instead of tossing them in the water (so they don’t mistakenly start picking up empty shells while out hunting). It makes for a rather sobering view, especially knowing that conch aren’t as common as they used to be in the wild!

While we hung out on shore, Larry put in a call to his buddy Tim at Fish Eye Photo to ask what digital systems he had available for rent. Although he didn’t have anything as nice as our Rebel, he did have a 3Mpx Sea&Sea with external strobe, so Larry told him to expect us to drop by later that afternoon.

Our second dive was more eventful in terms of marine life. The boat moored in about 30 feet of water, and we all followed Martin off over a field of fan coral waving in the surge until we dropped down the side of White Hole. This is a pretty good-sized depression in the sea floor, sandy-bottomed and surrounded by coral-covered walls. We saw, in no particular order:

  • Huge schools of tarpon hanging out in shady areas
  • A big moray hanging out behind a rock, palling around with lots of coral shrimp
  • A turtle sleeping in a cavern (Jeff got some video for Kathy)
  • The resident balloonfish, who is huge – a good 4 feet long, and pretty darned thick around. Pretty doofy-looking, especially since he’s getting kind of ratty after years of fending off other fish. He had a little balloonfish friend keeping him company.
  • Conch crawling around in the sand. They stick out funny-looking antennae and a “tongue,” and slowly hump their way across the ground. Too bad we didn’t have a camera to catch these nifty little critters!

Since the “wild” part of east side diving was missing that day, Larry made up for it by slamming the throttle and giving us a bit of a bouncy ride back to harbor. It didn’t take very long, between the short distance and the super-fast boat!

After another dutch-meat lunch, Jeff and I left Ben and Kathy to check out their video while we paid a visit to Tim at Fish Eye Photo. Jeff didn’t seem too enamored of the camera he offered, but it was a lot better than nothing, and pretty affordable for rent. The only real bummer was that we weren’t allowed to open the housing; we had to return to Tim every time we filled up the card to download photos and replace the batteries. So after every two dives or so, we had to visit him – and he worked roughly 8:30-4:30, but “call me first to make sure I’m in.” Ack.

For our first trip with the Sea & Sea, we returned to Andrea II, determined to find the channel on the way in this time. I took our crappy Reefmaster camera along as backup. Alas, the easy entry was not to be. We walked in right in between the two sticks we thought marked the edges of the channel, and wound up in the same situation as last time. Coming out, we realized that the channel runs up to the edge of ONE of the sticks; we have no idea what the other stick is for. In between, we had a nice dive, spotting a Pederson cleaner shrimp (funny little translucent-purple dude) and some territorial damselfish that “attacked” our strobes.

We still had time for another daylight dive, so the four of us headed further north to Karpata again. Ben and Kathy took off in one direction (video cameras like to cover ground) while Jeff and I stayed pretty much directly under the mooring line playing with our cameras. I had fun shooting a yellowtail snapper who hung out with us the whole time, and spotted some more of my blennies on the way out.

Wednesday was a full day of diving with Menno. He took us out for a two-tank boat dive in the morning, and we were signed up to do Town Pier with him in the evening.

We originally hoped to do Carl’s Hill again so we could show Kathy the seahorse, but since we headed out a bit later than planned (because we had to wait until Tim was available to change out the camera), the mooring was taken by one of the resort boats. So instead, we puttered over to nearby “Forest,” named so because of the pine-tree-like black coral found at depth. A big french angel came over to greet me as I dropped down in the shallows under the boat, and kept doing swim-bys as long as we were in the area.

After a long surface interval while we slowly motored over to the other side of Klein, Menno dropped us all off at Jerry’s Place for a drift dive. The current wasn’t too strong (ie, you could swim against it easily enough), but it made for a pleasant and relaxed ride past beautiful sponges, more black coral, lots of angelfish, barracuda, and a turtle.

After a few hours relaxing back at the hotel (and looking over our pictures with the new camera, which in no way compare to the D-Rebel), we met up with Menno at Town Pier for our night dive. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed, but only because this dive had been built up so much in my mind after seeing it show up in all kinds of Top Ten lists all year long. It’s definitely a cool dive: all the pilings are completely covered in sponges and soft corals, so that you seem to be swimming through many layers of graffiti. There were several grumpy-looking eels, beautiful cup coral, a parrotfish sleeping in a cocoon, and some octopi. There were also a few other groups of divers, which got a bit confusing!

When we walked up the boat ramp at the end of our dive, I noticed lots of big black things scuttling around on the ground. Remember, out of the water after a dive, I’m blind with no contacts in and no curved-water lens outside my mask.

“Jeff, please tell me those are crabs. They’re crabs, right?”

They were enormous cockroaches. You’ve never seen someone in full scuba gear jump up on a wall so quickly! I made Jeff fetch (and shake out) my clothes and gear bag, and eagerly awaited my glasses while we went to fetch the truck. In the meantime, Ben enjoyed himself by pointing out blotches that were “Just spots on the ground – see?” and then poking them with his foot to make them run. Yuck.

After rinsing our gear and showering, we piled back into the truck to go get dinner. There was a small adventure in the car when I discovered a small cockroach on the front seat. Ben took a swipe at it, and was 80% sure he knocked it out of the car, but I made Kathy ride up front just in case.

It was Wednesday night, which we’d been waiting for – because Pasa Bon Pizza was open again for dinner. Mmmm, pizza: nice, safe food. It was as delicious as promised, and we washed it down with some chocolate lava cake. And only a few mosquito bites.


Bonaire, Part Three: Getting the Hang of It

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 2:39 pm

With Ben and Kathy snoozing away (like any smart person would do after the exhausting trip we’d had), Jeff and I piled our things into the truck and struck out for Andrea II, a dive site just a little bit north of town. We wanted to stay close so we could return for a boat dive with Menno and the gang, and also wanted something with an easy entry, which the guide book assured us Andrea II had.

Now, we’re used to California beach diving, which looks something like this. It usually entails some combination of surf, sand, slimy rocks, and a lot of falling over. Despite hearing that Bonaire had “easy” shore diving, I was still a bit trepidatious. Imagine our delight when we parked the truck but a few steps away from something like this. Okay, it’s a coral-rubble beach with some rocks in the way – but check out that non-surf! I think the biggest wave we saw all week was maybe a foot high.

The guide book actually says that Andrea II is an easy entry if you enter at the channel. Many of the sites on Bonaire have channels carved out of the coral and rock near the entry, so that divers can just walk in instead of stepping on coral heads as they work their way through the surf. After Hurricane Lenny in 1999, the face of the beaches up north was slightly altered, so now those channels are usually entirely submerged and not obvious from the beach. Enough careful hunting around pre-dive usually exposes them to view. This being our first real beach dive on Bonaire (Buddy Dive didn’t count: they have a nice little pier with steps down), Jeff and I didn’t really know what we were looking for. I saw a nice, rock-free looking area on the sand, and assumed that was the mysterious “channel.” Unfortunately, as soon as we actually hit the water, we were ankle-deep in rocks and coral for quite a ways. We ended up sort of body-surfing our way over it to deeper waters, but it was uncomfortable to say the least (and not too nice for the remaining live bits of coral there)!

The dive itself was lovely – a gorgonian-covered slope full of fish life. We saw spotted drums, juvenile filefish, angelfish, and coral shrimp. I had a lot of fun hunting filefish in gorgonians while Jeff took pictures. He ventured a little bit too close to one of his subjects, and got a nice little fire coral sting on one hand. It’s always the photographer who gets injured!

Heading back towards shore, it was much more obvious where the “channel” actually was. We noticed it ended right at a big stick erected on the beach, presumably to show where the channel was. We saw another stick off to the right, and so (incorrectly, as it turned out) assumed that the two sticks marked the edges of the channel. We filed that away for future reference and rejoined the Brantleys at DBV.

Menno was just finishing up a dive briefing for two other couples who’d arrived the day before, and the eight of us headed down to his boat for our next dive. Eight people plus gear made it a tad more crowded than the day before, and I’m happy to say this was the only time we all dived together! Luckily, everyone was experienced enough to keep things moving pretty smoothly, and before long we’d all made our backroll entries (this time I wised up and put my fins on in the water, instead of dealing with them on the boat) and were checking out a Klein Bonaire site called “Sampler.”

The site has its name because every type of hard coral found on Bonaire can be spotted in this one place. Indeed, there was an impressive display of coral. But my favorite sight was a cleaning station: we spotted a big grouper hanging out under a coral head, with a fairy basslet giving him a good scrubbing. A blue tang tried to get in on the action, stealing away the basslet for a few moments. I’m a sucker for fish behavior!

“Lunch” was cereal at DBV, and then we headed south on Menno’s recommendation for a beach dive at Margate Bay. WOW. The slope here was completely covered with coral and gorgonians; you hardly ever saw any sand. On the way in, I found a secretary blenny hanging out in a hole in some brain coral – the first of many!

We also saw several eels, including one white-spotted eel (looks very snake-like) that was out hunting, sticking its head into coral heads and chasing smaller fish out. Slightly larger fish would hang out nearby, waiting to catch the fish that the eel wasn’t interested in. There were also quite a few barracuda out and about.On the way back to DBV, Ben suddenly said:”Oops – I think I just lost my sunglasses.”

“What do you mean, ‘just lost’?” I replied.

“Well, I put them on the ground behind the wheel of the truck so they’d be safe. I didn’t want them to be stolen.”

That’s right: we’d run over Ben’s $120 sunglasses. Oops, indeed.

At this point, we realized something. The day before, Jeff had neglected to check the O-rings, resulting in a housing flood. Today, Ben had crushed his sunglasses. That’s right – we were taking Stupidity Turns (or Jinxed Turns, depending on how you look at it). This meant Kathy or I would be next!

Back at DBV, Menno was having the “rum punch sunset cruise” on the patio instead of on the boat, due to the likelihood of rain. Sure enough, shortly after he started up the barbeque (for the post-punch dinner), it started to pour. Luckily, it quit again in time for food. Menno and Esther plied us with multiple salads, and barbequed fish, steak and chicken. Mmmmm. Most impressive was Menno’s technique of heating up the grill: he’d open up a tank valve and blow some air on it, sending up a fiery display of sparks that trilled and amazed us all. I tried to go easy on the “rum” part of the rum punch to avoid a repeat of my Cozumel pirate-cruise display.

Monday morning was a bit of a repeat of Sunday. Kathy and Ben originally wanted to join us for our early dive, but Kathy’s tummy finally rebelled at all the Bonaire food and she decided to sleep it off. Jeff and I decided to go do a deep dive in search of garden eels, so we headed back south to Alice in Wonderland.

Once in the water, I couldn’t seem to focus through my mask. For a while, I thought I’d left too much defog gunk in it – but by the time we headed down the slope, I realized the awful truth: I had neglected to take my contacts out before putting on my prescription mask. I could still focus, but it took a lot of concentration and made my head hurt after a while. I guess this was MY Stupidity Turn – that means Kathy’s next!

I was worried that the eels would be a no-show, but as soon as we hit the sand at 100 feet, there they were! They’re pretty creepy little critters; from a distance, it just looks like bits of seaweed sticking up out of the sand, waving around. If you can manage to get close to one (easier said than done: they disappear down into their burrows when they see you), you might be able to get a look at their enormous, head-sized mouths. We spent a few minutes chasing eels, then headed back up the slope, while I quit trying to focus on anything and just enjoyed a blurry dive. We didn’t stay under too long, as I was eager to make it back to town in time to visit the post office before meeting up with Ben and Kathy.

That’s right, the post office. For some reason, Jeff and I thought it would be an extra cool touch if our scuba-art christmas cards had Bonaire postmarks. I addressed them all in advance, putting “USA” under the addresses, and said things like “Hello from Bonaire” inside each one. Of course, once we actually arrived on Bonaire, we learned that: the post office is only open a few hours each day; it’s very expensive to send mail to the US; and it can take several weeks to get there.

Oh well – it was too late to tear them all open and adjust things, so we decided to go for it.

I could see why the post office doesn’t bother staying open very long. I went in at about 11am, and there was no one there except a very bored-looking employee. She asked if I wanted stamps or a label (“tropical-looking stamps, please”), and then charged me $57 to mail the batch.

Gulp. That’s about $2.50 a pop.

(It’s now 2 days before Christmas, and I doubt anyone has actually recieved one of these cards. But when they finally do, I’m hopeful they’ll have a very cool Bonaire stamp and postmark on them.)

Kathy was still feeling icky, but Ben joined us at the marina for another trip out to Klein. We discovered our favorite Klein site on this trip: Carl’s Hill. We followed Menno down to check out the resident seahorse, and then headed around the corner to the “Hill,” a vertical wall that’s swarming with juvenile fish and fairy basslets. On the way back, Menno pointed out two tiny baby trunkfish, which look like little balls of spotted fuzz, in a gorgonian. I also found my first queen angel (one of my faves) in some coral. The three of us puttered around for quite a while in the shallows under the boat, finding juvenile and grown yellow-tailed damsels, rock beauties, several butterflyfish, barracuda, a big peacock flounder, and lots of other tiny fish for me to chase.

Before heading back to DBV to meet up with Kathy, we hit the local grocery store (Cultimara) to stock up on lunch fixings for the week. I stayed in the truck with the equipment, and so missed out on what was apparently a bit of an adventure. The boys came back with lots of dutch-looking cookies and crackers, bread, cheese, and some mystery meats with names like “turkey ham.”

After our turkey ham lunch, we followed up on the recommendation of the other two couples staying at DBV and drove way up north to Karpata. It’s a bit of a drive, and requires taking an extra-long way back since the road is one way, so we took eight tanks along and planned to make two dives each.

Remember how I said it was about to be Kathy’s Stupidity Turn? When we reached Karpata, she realized she’d left her regulator in the dive locker. Whoops. The resulting conversation went a little like this (I am, of course, paraphrasing, since I sadly did not have a tape recorder handy to catch all the verbal somersaults).

Me, with obviously little enthusiasm: “Well, we could drive back around and get it. We’d still have time for one dive.”

Kathy: “No, I don’t want to mess up your diving. You guys should definitely go.”

Me: “But you haven’t even been diving once today, and this looks like a great place. We can figure something out. Why don’t you borrow one of our regulators after Jeff and I dive – we can take turns with it?”

Kathy: “Won’t that screw up your computers, though? I don’t want to pile extra nitrogen on.”

Jeff: “The computers pop right out – so we can just take out the computer, and leave you with the pressure gauge. You’d have to rely on Ben for depth and time, though.”

Ben: “She’ll have to use Jeff’s regulator – Anna doesn’t have the right inflator hose connector.” (Jeff, Ben and Kathy all have these combo octopus-inflators called Air 2.)

Kathy, to Jeff: “Can I try your mouthpiece?”

(Mouthpiece is ENORMOUS – no way Kathy can use Jeff’s reg)

Me: “Well, we have tools. We can take my regulator and Jeff’s inflator hose and put them together.”

(Turns out my regulator hose does not FIT on Jeff’s first stage. Argh.)

Me: “Ok – how about you just take my entire setup, BC and regulator. We both have small-sized BCs, right?” (Note: it turns out later that Kathy’s is actually an extra-small. Additional Note: The only reason I have ANYTHING in my arsenal that is a size “small” is that it corresponds soley to height, not width.)

Kathy: “Yeah, I guess that would work. How much weight do you have in there?”

Me: “14 pounds. But you can put your own weight pockets in.”

Kathy: “No, I have a different style of pocket. That won’t work.”

(Finally figure out we can just remove a few chunks of lead from my weight pockets, and it will be the right amount of weight for Kathy.)

This is a greatly shortened version of what was a roughly 20-minutes conversation. That was a lot more figuring-out than should have been necessary! You’d think 4 pretty-smart people would have been able to get their act together a bit quicker. Oh well; at last we’d figured out I’d just dump my whole get-up (minus some lead) on Kathy, and Jeff and I hit the water for dive #1.

Another WOW. Karpata is a nearly vertical drop-off, so it’s basically a wall dive. The visibility was the best we’d seen so far; while I didn’t see any particularly amazing fish life, I just kicked back and enjoyed the floating/flying sensation of diving next to a wall.

The Brantleys helped us out of the water (there’s a bit of slimy-rock hopping involved in this entry), and then took their turn under while Jeff and I hung out at the top of the steps to keep simultaneous eyes on the exit point (to help the Brantleys in return) and the truck (to keep things from being stolen). We killed the time by having a water-spitting fight, which almost resulted in my falling backwards down the stairs and killing myself.

Dive #2 at Karpata was full of tiny fish: I found multiple secretary blennies in their brain coral holes, popping out to grab food from the water, and also saw some larger red-lipped blennies zipping around in the shallows. On this dive, we started having yet another camera problem: the spring-loaded shutter button stopped being spring-loaded. And the zoom ring was still bouncing around loose. Rrr.

By the time we got out, the mosquitos were out and hungry! We de-geared as quickly as possible, piled in the truck, and headed out in the dusk to find our way back to DBV.

Getting around the island can be tricky. It looks simple. I mean, there aren’t that many roads, and judging by the map, they mostly go to the same place anyway. And yet, you can often wind up going in a direction that’s totally counterintuitive. It didn’t help that there was a detour near the end of our return to Kralendijk, and a serious dearth of signage. We followed the cruise ship lights until we were somewhere recognizable, as Ben and I took turns being annoying back-seat drivers (my husband is a saint to have tolerated us).

Tuesday morning, we were booked for a trip with Larry’s Wildside Diving on the east coast of Bonaire. As we loaded up the car and headed towards Sorobon, we joked that we’d worked our way around the circle of Stupidity Turns, and it was now Jeff’s turn again.

Captain Larry and dive guide Martin run a pretty slick operation! Larry has a custom-built RIB for dealing with the often-rough waters of the east side. You put your gear together on the dock and hand it off to Martin, who assigns everyone to a spot on a bench. On the way out of the harbor, everyone gears up (Martin does all the heavy lifting; you just slide into your BC while sitting on the bench). Once out at the dive site, everyone turns around and sits on the edge of the boat, and does their backroll when Larry instructs. The first dive is normally a drift dive, so it’s important everyone stays together. Luckily, we managed to hit a day when there was no wind and virtually zero swell: extremely unusual, according to Larry, but we weren’t complaining!

We all did our backrolls at the first site and gathered around Martin – and realized a diver was missing. Jeff was still on the boat, fiddling with the camera. Larry yelled out that we should go ahead and descend; he’d follow Martin’s safety sausage and drop Jeff in to join us.

We descended onto a gentle slope covered with fan coral and fish life. I kept an eye out above me for Jeff, and after a few minutes he joined us, sailing down to 80 feet. He was there for all of 2 seconds before he waved a water-filled dome port in my face and bailed for the surface again.

I elected to stay with the group (anyway, Jeff was Ben’s buddy on this dive; I was Kathy’s), and after a few more minutes Jeff once again joined us, minus the camera. I gave him a question sign, and he gave me a “camera dead” sign.

Aaaargh! Not even halfway through the trip, and our housing has flooded and killed my beloved Canon!

We continued the dive, though Jeff was obviously miserable. (I think Ben has some cute video footage of the two of us diving holding hands for a while, as I tried to convey to Jeff that we could still have a good time without the camera, and wasn’t it fun just to be diving together?)

Towards the end of the dive, we spotted several turtles off in the distance, which totally made Kathy’s day. She had a slightly leaky inflator hose (which I should have noticed, but was distracted by all the camera drama), and so ran out of air a little faster than usual; the two of us surfaced a bit before the rest of the crowd. That was actually fine with me, as it meant there was plenty of room at the ladder to get back on the boat.

Turtle screen-grab from the Brantleys’ video:

Larry filled me in on what I’d missed with the camera: before Jeff entered the water, the dome port had suddenly fallen off and rolled down the boat. Now, the dome port is hard to get on, but once it’s on, it’s on – Jeff always gives it a good hard shake to make sure. So that was weird. But I guess Jeff just figured he’d bumped it loose, so once he and Larry had it back on, he elected to continue the dive.We still don’t know what actually went wrong – odds are, the O-ring got bunched up somehow, or there was a little hair in there; who knows? We have yet to test the housing at home to recreate the problem.

What we do know is: saltwater and Canon Digital Rebels do not get along.

It’s pretty spectacular, actually. The focus rings rusted within a day, and the inside of the lens got all covered with salt crystals. The camera even smells funny, and the battery somehow melded itself to the contact springs. At least we’d been offloading the pictures every day to Jeff’s laptop, so it wasn’t a total loss!

Once all of us were back on the boat, we realized that it had, indeed, been Jeff’s turn to have something go wrong. Suddenly, the Stupidity Turns weren’t so funny (nor were they entirely applicable; I’m going to chalk this one up to 95% equipment, and only 5% human error).

It was a slightly subdued group of us who continued on to the second Larry dive…


Bonaire, Part Two: Off to a Good Start

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 12:58 pm

We arose around the crack of 9am on Saturday morning to sunny skies and breakfast by Esther. Menno gathered us around a table on the patio for our Bonaire dive briefing, going over the basic layout of the island and the rules of the Marine Park. With that out of the way, the boys headed off to obtain our rental truck, while Kathy and I relaxed in the poolside hammocks.

About 10 minutes after they took off, the sunny skies were replaced with a rainy-season style downpour. I started to feel bad for Jeff, who about this time was trying to follow Menno’s twists and turns uphill in the pouring rain, in a rental stickshift. Kathy and I made a few mad dashes to save logbooks and liability forms that had been left in the rain’s path, and then curled up on the patio to enjoy the downpour.

Trying to save papers from the rain:

After our menfolk returned with the truck, we all loaded it up for our first boat dive with Menno (the rain having abated to an occasional drizzle). It was now about noon, and my tummy was beginning to crave lunch. Oh well – diving is better than food!

Menno somehow managed to snag a prime spot at the marina; his boat is the closest one to the loading area! It’s a simple little boat with an outboard motor and a sunshade; it can fit up to 8 divers at a time, though 4 or 6 is more comfortable. We loaded up and headed out to Klein Bonaire, the small island to the west. By the time we moored the boat at “Bonaventura,” the sun was peeking out from behind clouds and the rain had completely stopped.

Our first adventure of the day was learning the backroll entry. Having done all our dives in California, Jeff and I are only familiar with the “giant stride,” used for walking off boats that are several feet (or more) off the water. When you’re in a small boat that’s close to the water, and doesn’t have any place to walk off it, you have to maneuver yourself into a sitting position on the edge and then roll off backwards.

Slightly easier said than done in this particular boat.

The suggested way to prepare for a backroll from Menno’s boat is to:

1. Get completely geared up while sitting on the bench (your back against the outside edge of the boat)
2. Put on your fins
3. Stand up
4. Reach above you and grasp one of the sunshade struts to help keep your balance
5. Step up onto the bench (which is behind you), using the struts to help pull you up
6. Sit down on the edge; leaning forward so your tank doesn’t overbalance you
7. When you’re ready, roll off backwards
8. As soon as you hit the water, inflate your BC to bob to the surface

Now, I had one gigantic problem with this method. I’m about an inch too short to easily handle Step 4. I could touch the struts, but in no way could I grasp them. Menno wound up steadying me with a hand on my tank valve, while I awkwardly twisted and turned my way until I was standing on the bench (turning is made extra tricky when one is wearing fins that bump into things and catch on edges; stepping up onto a bench is made tricky when one is weighed down by a tank and 12 pounds of lead). At last, I was sitting on the edge; falling over backwards turned out to be the easy part.

Menno’s boat as seen from the water, tilting as someone climbs up the ladder

After the four Californians were all in the water (mmmm, 80-degree water! I was very glad that Nicki talked me down to a 1-mil suit instead of the 3-mil I originally contemplated), Menno showed off by doing a headfirst entry, basically diving over the edge of the boat fully geared. Nice.

We dropped down in 80 foot (or more) visibility, into a fish- and coral- filled slope. The first thing I spotted was a giant grouper at a cleaning station, opening his jaws for little fish to come in and pick out parasites.

The next thing I saw was a frantic-looking Jeff gesturing wildly towards the camera, and showing me a dome port that was slowly filling with water.

Jeff and I bailed for the surface, and Menno helped him get the camera into the boat. After determining that the camera didn’t actually get wet (whew! All the water stayed in the dome port), we headed back down to complete the dive camera-less.

Off to a good start, no?

The rest of the dive was fun, despite the fact that Jeff and I were stressing about the camera housing. Menno pointed out several juvenile filefish hiding in gorgonians, and trunkfish and fairy basslets abounded. After about an hour of bottom time, we headed back to the boat, just in time to see another rainstorm gathering to the east.

Menno floored it back towards town, hoping to beat the rain – but alas, we were caught in it. Despite the fact that we were already wet from diving, rain in a boat just isn’t fun, especially if you’re moving fast. So we slowed to a crawl through the downpour, and Jeff and I silently wondered if our trip was jinxed. At least we had a nice dive in between downpours!

Back at DBV, we took a little while to regroup. Jeff discovered the reason the housing flooded: an O-ring in the strobe sync cord assembly was poking out a bit. This particular O-ring was new, having been sent to us the week prior along with a new sync cord assembly to fix another problem we’d been having. When Jeff hooked it up, he noticed that the O-rings weren’t perfect fits, and had to kind of be mashed into place. Unfortunately, after the mashing, he didn’t notice that a little piece was sticking out. Doh. Something else to add to each pre-dive check. We chalked this one up to a combination of quick equipment fixes and user error, and prepped the camera for our next dive. Then we chucked all our dive gear and 8 tanks into the truck, and headed back down the hill.

But before we could dive again, it was time for our next adventure: Finding Lunch.

We decided we’d go check out a restaurant that Menno recommended in Kralendijk, City Cafe. We figured we could either park in sight of our table, or just get take-out, and avoid risking leaving our dive gear in the truck (there’s a bit of a theft problem on Bonaire, so you never want to leave anything of value behind).

We found a great parking spot right across from empty tables at City Cafe – empty because they were closed. It was now 2:30pm. No restaurants are open in town at this weird time of day. Oh right, we’re on island time.

Kathy and I hung out in the truck, and again sent our menfolk off, this time in search of food. We’d passed several other restaurants, and as an absolute last resort we’d been told there was a Subway (which could take forever) and also a KFC (which apparently had terrible food) that should be open.

Imagine our delight when the boys returned with KFC. Oh well. And then it started to rain again, so we piled into the truck for our lunch.

It actually wasn’t that bad. At least, the chicken was good. (And hot, which NEVER happens at KFC’s in the states.) The fries, however, were quite icky.

Once we’d loaded up on grease, we struck out for Buddy Dive Resort to do an afternoon and night dive off their pier. I don’t have anything particularly interesting to report from these dives, aside from the following:

  • Between dives, we attempted to find some sort of snack. The Buddy Resort restaurant didn’t serve dinner until 7:30, however, and didn’t serve appetizers on days when the OTHER bar was open. However, the OTHER bar didn’t open until 7pm. Again, thwarted on our hunt for food.
  • There are these great big silver fish called tarpon that like to hunt by the light of divers’ lights at night. It’s great fun to be poking around in the dark, and suddenly have a 3-4 foot long fish with teeth pop up over your shoulder.
  • It’s also great fun to be blinded when Jeff’s flash bounces off their silver scales. Yowch!
  • The zoom ring that connects the zoom control on the housing to the camera lens came loose on this dive, and proceeded to give us trouble for the next few days. What did I say: jinxed!

After a lovely couple of dives, a trip back up the hill, and a VERY lovely shower (in slightly lukewarm water; it’s solar-heated, so by a few hours after sunset it’s no longer super-hot), we set out for another adventure: Finding Dinner.

At this point, I will mention two important details about our eating habits:

  • I don’t eat fish
  • Kathy is a picky eater. Like, scary picky (I don’t think she’d consider it insulting for me to say this, since I’m pretty sure she’s aware just what a picky eater she is, and she knows I love her anyway!)

On this particular night, we ate at a yummy (though expensive) place called It Rains Fishes. Kathy ordered safe: tuna with no sauce on it. She was pleasantly surprised when the tuna arrived mostly raw. The waiter was surprised when she requested it be cooked, but did so anyway.

(They had enough chicken dishes to keep my fish-free palette satisfied.)

At least dessert would be easy. Kathy will eat anything chocolate, and Jeff and I will pretty much eat anything dessert. Except that their chocolate offerings were corrupt chocolate: chocolate cheesecake (not Kathy-friendly) and white chocolate fondue, which I have to agree with Kathy just sounds icky.

So began a week of fine Bonaire dining. I will step in here and say that the food was actually delicious most places, once we managed to find something to order!

There was a bit of discussion back at DBV about what the plan was tomorrow. Jeff and I wanted to get a semi-early start and try to get 4 dives in, while Ben and Kathy wanted to catch up on sleep. We said something about aiming to get up at 8am and figuring it out from there. At least, I thought we said something. Next morning when we banged on the Brantleys door at 8:30am, they seemed surprised. Ah, the importance of communication!

To be continued…


Bonaire, Part One: Getting There

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 1:36 pm

Traveling from Los Angeles to Bonaire is a bit of an adventure. We knew this when we booked the trip, from reading countless reports of lost luggage, nasty layovers, and the general wackiness involved when dealing with the small island airline “BonairExel” that makes the final hop. But we couldn’t have guessed just how much of an adventure it would actually be.

The first leg of the journey was a red-eye to Miami. No problem (other than a truly crappy movie). This was followed by a pleasant 5-hour layover in Miami, when most places weren’t open to serve anything resembling breakfast. We did find some cold sandwiches to take on the next flight though (since they would not be serving lunch).

The real fun began when we finally landed in Curacao around 2:30pm (N.A. time) on Friday. Our original reservations were for a 5pm flight to Bonaire with BonairExel. We collected our luggage, breezed through customs, and strolled boldy up to the check-in desk. (Actually, we waited in line for about 30 minutes as 2 or 3 customers were taken care of ahead of us – talk about island time!)When I showed my passport to the man behind the desk and said we were on the 5pm flight, he looked at me like I was nuts.

“Where’s your ticket?” he asked.

“I don’t have a paper ticket. We made reservations on the phone.”

“Yes, but you need to buy the ticket. The ticket counter is over there.” He waved towards a tiny BonairExel office in the corner of the airport.

The four of us hauled our substantial collection of luggage out of the line, and went to buy our paper tickets. The BonairExel office was staffed by 4 or 5 very nice-looking women with computers – but they didn’t actually use the computers. I think they were just decoration. Instead, they searched through a handwritten appointment book.

“Laity? What month did you make your reservation? Hmm… June… Laity, Laity, Laity… .” her finger scanned through the pages.

I finally dug up a confirmation number, which for some reason made it slightly easier to find our reservation (although it still involved scanning through handwritten pages).

Finally our reservations were located- but the flight was now for 8:30pm.

“8:30?” I asked. “When we made reservations, it was at 5.”

“Yes, but that was in June. Now we’re on our winter schedule.”

5.5 hour layover – oooookay. We asked if there was any place to grab dinner around here, and were instructed to head “up the hill” about 5 minutes to some hotel.

Back to the check-in counter, to try to offload our bags. After they’d been tagged and carted away, Ben decided to ask what should have been a simple question to the guy at the desk:

“So, what time should we be at the gate?”

This prompted a lot of behind-the-counter discussion, shuffling, and typing. It went on for a good 10 minutes, by which time we were wondering why this was a difficult question to answer. Finally he looked up from his fiddling and said:


“Midnight? I thought our flight was scheduled for 8?”

“Maybe 11:30.”

Ooookay (again). We finally dug out a bit more of the story: some sort of unspecified equipment problems were delaying the flight. 9 hour layover in Curacao – yay.

We stuffed most of our carry-ons into a locker and began the hike “up the hill” to find food. After about 15 minutes of walking, it began to rain just as we discovered the hotel with a restaurant. Unfortunately, the mosquitos also discovered us. It was also at this point that we learned Hawaiians have NOTHING on the Caribbean when it comes to the concept of island time. Dinner, despite the fact that we were the only customers present and ordered very simple meals, took nearly two hours. Good thing we had time to kill.

Back at the airport, we were muddy, sweaty, mosquito-bitten, and exhausted – and still had a five-hour wait to go. At least the gate area was air conditioned, and had a little snack bar where we could get Cokes.

Ben and I took turns walking over to the boarding area to try to find out what was going on. There was quite a bit of heated discussion happening in Dutch, with the sole BonairExel gate employee answering lots of questions. I finally got her attention and asked if she could describe what was going on in English.

“We only have one plane.”

That was a much shorter explanation than she’d been giving out in Dutch. Luckily, we managed to track down plenty of bilingual passengers (who, unlike the gate employee, had plenty of time on their hands to chat with tourists) who were able to explain the problem. Apparently, BonairExel operates 2 or 3 planes, which make trips from Curacao to Aruba, Bonaire, and St. Martin. Today, several of the planes had developed mechanical problems that weren’t easily fixed – indeed, they now only had one plane.

First they cancelled the St. Martin trip to use that plane to make the shorter Aruba/Bonaire hops; then the one overtaxed plane started shuttling people back and forth like a bus. We were starting to wonder if we’d be stuck in Curacao for a few days (at this point, I should also mention that the Curacao/Bonaire ferry had been broken for several months).

At about 10pm, they started making announcements about flights 2959 and 2963. Our boarding passes said 2961, which we could find no evidence of on the (seldom updated) computer screens. We finally pushed through to the employee again, and asked her what was happening to flight 2961.

“2961? Your boarding pass doesn’t actually say that; there isn’t a flight 2961.”

We assured her that our boarding passes , which we’d bought a few hours before, did in fact say flight 2961, and showed her evidence of same. She shuffled through some passenger lists and told us not to worry; we’d be taken care of in the same flight as 2959 and 2963.

(By my calculations, they were now stuffing the contents of 2 or 3 flights onto one plane. I began to worry again.)

Around 11pm, people noticed that the Bonaire plane appeared to be ready to board. No actual announcements were made, but everyone crowded up to the gate, no doubt worried by the same numbers I just mentioned. I think they managed to get everyone on board (either the St. Martin’s plane is bigger than the usual Bonaire plane, or the flights were only half-full). I’m not complaining: we touched down at Bonaire’s Flamingo Airport at 11:30pm.

Throughout all this, we’d tried to keep our Bonaire hosts, Menno and Esther (of Deep Blue View) alerted to our flight status, since the original plan was for Menno to meet us at the airport, walk us through the car rental, and then lead us to the B&B. Bless his heart, Menno was still awake and lively when we phoned him at 11:45pm to ask for a ride, and showed up 10 minutes later. Of course, the car rental office was long closed, so we piled our gazillion pounds of luggage into his pickup, crowded ourselves into the cab, and wondered how on earth we’d ever find Deep Blue View on our own as Menno made all kinds of strange forks and turns on his way up the hill to his home.

We got a brief tour of DBV, and were dead asleep by 12:30 – 24 hours of travel from door to door. Whew.


We’re Back!

Filed under: — Anastasia @ 1:37 pm

Back from Bonaire! I’ll try to post lots of details in the coming days, but for now, here’s our ReefCam picture:

« Previous Page