Bonaire - December 2011
The following four dives were insider tips thanks to a friend in Bonaire. None of these are on the map and are quite spectacular!
1. Invisibles - Here you can find a frog fish. Swim straight out and find the sand channel under the buoy at approximately 45 FSW. Take a left and swim for 10-15 minutes to a large purple tube sponge. According to the locals this little guy has been living there for quite some time now.
2. Radar Tower - Drift dive, enter at channel and drift dive to Red Slave or Willemstoren (Lighthouse) depending on current. Walk back to truck when done.
3. Sabadeco Pier - Bait ball, at Andrea I and Andrea II's entrance turn right towards Andrea II. Keep driving till you find a house with a stone wall. You'll enter what appears to be a gated drive way. Follow the driveway to the right then take the first left before you actually enter a private residences driveway. You'll see the unfinished pier.
4. Karpata - Drift dive, drive north on the one-way road. Keep going till you see the yin-yang symbol on the road. Drop off the gear and take the truck to Karpata. Enter water at the clift (giant stride) and drift dive north to Karpata. Look for a huge anchor in 35 FSW approximately 45 minutes into the dive. Karpata is abeam the anchor.
Bonaire Dive Map
Bonaire, it's claim to fameâ€¦ the mecca of shore diving. While I agree for the most part there are a few short comings that I did not anticipate. First I must say that my recent trip to Bonaire was nothing but a blast. I had an amazing vacation, got to hang out with good company, and got to experience many great dives that will be permanently stowed away in the memory banks.
Packing for the trip was an interesting challenge. I ended up over packing and I'd rather be over prepared then under prepared. I knew immediately that I wanted to dive with my regular kit used in the Puget Sound for cold water diving. To do this I needed my back plate and wing, first and second stage regulators for a single tank setup, a 5 mil full body wet suit, boots, fins, masks, 2 dive lights (did not bring a can light), compass, depth gauge / bottom timer, and surface marker buoy and reel. I also knew that I wasn't willing to take a chance stowing all this gear in checked luggage so I made the decision to pack it all in my carry on luggage forgoing the other necessities like a change of clothes, etc.
Fitting all of this gear in a carry on sized piece of luggage wasn't easy. Add the fact that I also wanted to bring my under water photography equipment and things got a little trickier. For the most part the basic SCUBA equipment is pretty robust and can take a good beating. The camera housing, strobes, tray and arms on the other hand were a different story. I had to take creative measures to safely pack all of the camera equipment using as little padding as possible due to limited space while ensuring that it was protected against shock and other abuse commonly applied to luggage.
Besides the equipment mentioned above I also wanted to take my laptop, pen tablet, DSLR, and all of the cables and chargers to power the electronics. I managed to fit most of the items in the outer pockets of my carry on and took a small camera bag for the DSLR, lenses and filters. I also packed a tripod in my checked luggage hoping to take landscape photo's on my last day on the Island but it didn't work out as planned.
Arriving at Sea-Tac was fairly straight forward. I checked in at the Delta counter, checked one bag then headed towards security. TSA had a field day with my carry on. After initially going through the scanner an agent took my bag pulled me aside and stated that I will need additional screening due to the contents of my luggage. I anticipated this reaction so I made sure to arrive well before my flights departure. The TSA agent guided me to a table where he proceeded to open and unpack the contents of the bag. With the help of an additional TSA agent they placed the backplate / wing, regulators, camera equipment, etc. in separate bins and re-ran them through the x-ray machine for a second time. After the additional screening met their satisfaction they returned all of the gear to the table and told me to have a great day. I had to re-pack all of that gear for a second time. =)
I came face to face with the next hurdle on the jet ramp. Due to a glitch at check in the agents at the counter had to look over my documents for a second time to make sure my passport and documentation was valid. This caused me to be one of the last to board and go figure, all of the overhead bin space was full. The gate agent requested that I check my carry on. There was no way in hell I was handing that bag over to be checked. I politely but sternly told the agent that the contents of this bag contained life support equipment. I was traveling internationally and could not afford to take any chance of either damaging or losing the bag and that we must find a way to make it fit inside the cabin. The agent hesitantly allowed me to take the carry on saying that if I can make space then I would be able to keep it in my possession. If I couldn't then it would have to be checked. You better believe I made it fit! =)
The flight consisted of two legs, SEA to ATL then from ATL to BON. The flights were long, 6 and 4.5 hours respectively. Upon arriving at Bonaire I got to experience something new. The airport doesn't have a jetway so they had to use the truck powered stair case. I never got to de-board a 757 via stairs and it was kind of fun except for the fact that I was carrying a 100+ pound carry on. =) The last thing I needed to do was fall down the stairs and put a halt to my diving vacation. We were met with heavy tropical showers. I welcomed the heavy rains because Bonaire was hot and humid. Anything to help cool me down was a plus.
Going through customs was pretty easy. "What's the purpose of your trip", says the customs agent. "Ummmm, SCUBA diving!" with a big shit eating grin on my face. =D A friend was supposed to arrive at Bonaire a few hours before us and secure the truck but due to a flight cancellation he ended up arriving a few hours after us. Because of this we ended up waiting at the airport and having to take a TAXI to the house. Not a great start considering our ride had the keys to both the house and the truck. To make things even better we didn't have a way of contacting the person with those items. Taking a leap of faith we proceeded to the house hoping that the key's or person were waiting for us.
We finally arrived to find that the keys were left in an envelope welcoming us to Bonaire. What a great relief! It was late in the afternoon so we decided to unpack, get settled in and head out to town to scope out the place and get something to eat. Saying that Bonaire is a quiet little Island would be an understatement! The place felt dead. I expected ton's of divers hanging out at the local watering holes. Instead we were part of a very small crowd. If night life is one of your goals visiting Bonaire then you better bring your own. We needed supplies and a stop at the grocery store was in order.
This is where things got interesting. Bonaire is borderline between a third world and first world country. It's not the nicest place to visit if deluxe accommodations and scenery are your thing. The first grocery store was very shady. It was filthy, the produce wasn't fresh, a lot of the produce was beginning to mold, and the butcher's counter had cuts of meat I've never seen before. I made a best effort to pick out things that were safe to eat and would limit my risk to food born illnesses. Other then that the price was reasonable and similar to that of home. Turns out we went to the worst grocery store in Bonaire!
A few things to note, shopping carts, and bags at the grocery store cost money! Expect to pay 25 cents to use a shopping cart and 10 cents per bag you wish to make use of them. By no means is it a significant cost but it's an interesting twist on things compared to home. Next you'll quickly realize that the sun is hot and the bugs are fierce. Make sure you get plenty of sun block, bug repellant, and water to keep you hydrated. I'll repeat again, the bug repellant is mandatory unless you enjoy being eaten alive.
The next morning we headed out to town to compare the local dive shops. We ended up selecting Dive Friends and let me tell you. These folks were absolutely amazing! First of all they had 4 locations on the Island which made switching out tanks of 32% convenient and quick. They also had an assortment of yoke and DIN style tanks. A pleasant surprise considering I was expecting to use a DIN to yoke converter. Unlimited tanks for the week was $160.00 including tax. This allowed you to check out three aluminum 80's at a single time to help minimize trips back to the shops to get more gas. They also had smaller size tanks and air for those that wanted them. There's an additional cost that I wasn't aware of. In order to dive Bonaire you need to purchase a tax token which costs $25.00. This allows you to dive all of Bonaire's dive sites as well as gain access to the Northern park for free. This brings the total cost to dive if you bring your own equipment to $185.00.
Bonaire has ton's of dive sites. You could easily go the whole week never diving the same site twice. There's a catch and one of the pitfalls of Bonaire. When you have seen one dive site then you have seen them all. If there's one dive that you must do it would have to be the Hilma Hooker. It's a large ship wreck in 100 FSW. Otherwise most of the dives consist of the same looking coral reef formations with the same fish dive after dive. There are minor variations between dive sites but nothing that made me think wow! Don't get me wrong, diving in Bonaire is awesome and everything about my trip was amazing. So good that I will be going back soon! I just wish there was a bit more variety. Next trip I plan on diving the same spots more frequently in hopes to learn them in and out and find the goodies that are not so obvious.
The trip home was interesting also. First of all getting to the airport isn't easy unless you take a Taxi or are willing to pay for parking. We wanted to drop off bags and people but couldn't figure out how to do so. Next was waiting in line to check your bag. It took forever and the line was extremely slow. Delta had 2 agents working the desk, well actually one, the other was supervising. Then you had to deal with security. It was slower then checking in! Talk about security theatre. They ran my bag through the X-ray machine and I'd be surprised if the thing was even on. They didn't even blink twice as to the contents of my bag. There's a nice little bar inside the terminal so unless you want food I'd recommend heading in as soon as possible to avoid the line. They also have duty free and a gift shop for your last minute shopping needs.
Traveling back into the United States was an absolute nightmare. I was horrified as to how airport staff treated foreigners visiting our country. Let me paint you a realistic pictureâ€¦ arriving in Bonaire was a dream. Everyone had giant smiles on their faces. Customs agents were chatty and friendly, they actually seemed like they meant it when they said welcome to our country. The people in Bonaire are at ease with arms wide open welcoming everyone. I'm sure in the back of their minds what they really meant was please spend all your money here, but they genuinely made you feel welcome! I was happy to be there!
Atlanta, GA was a different story. People were herded like cattle towards custom's. No one welcomed them to the United States. I'm guessing the Atlanta Airport hires contractors to staff the hallways and custom's line with mindless zombies. All of them yelling at the travelers to get off their cell phone and turn it off for security purposes. When you get to the customs agent (United States Border Patrol) they interrogate you, what's your purpose for being here? If you're a U.S. Citizen who caresâ€¦ fuck off. If you're a foreigner then you get it 10 times as worse. If you look like an Arab then all hell breaks lose. The poor lady in front of me was a U.S. citizen with a U.S. passport. She had that look though and boy did they ever give it to her. I could only imagine getting off the plane excited to see America for the first time. Only to be treated like a terrorist and be yelled at the entire time. I'm sure that excitement and happiness quickly turns to fear and a realization that maybe this wasn't the best ideaâ€¦ to visit America. I'd say I'm well traveled internationally and I can safely say ever since 9/11 this has been the case and America is the only country in the world that treats visitors this way.
Once you make it through customs you have to go to baggage claim to grab all your belongings then go through security once again. This time they made sure to go through all my belongings and double check the contents of my carry on. After that you re-check your baggage then you are on your way. It's an unpleasant bump on the road after such a great vacation. It's almost bad enough for me to give up international travel all together. Who know's, maybe that's the purpose! =) Over all I had a much needed, amazing vacation. If you enjoy diving then you can't go wrong visiting Bonaire!