Since our time in Bonaire has come to a close, we discussed what the content of this article should be and decided that providing you with a sense of our experience in Bonaire would be the best way to capture the essence of this most unusual little island in the Caribbean Sea, one we thoroughly enjoyed in every which way. From the magnificent sunsets, where you felt like you were in the middle of a kaleidoscope, to the feeling that we lived (floated) on top of a massive fish tank for nearly 3 months. Where the fish were there to greet us as soon as we popped our faces under the water, whether to snorkel or dive, to the wonderful, welcoming, kind people we met. In particular, the owner of Café de Paris and Zazu Bar, who offered us his bicycle and car to get around the island as well as access to his wifi to make phone calls home to family and friends. Who set up a TV especially for us to watch the 2014 Soccer World Cup and who always welcomed us as family (3 kisses vs. 2 on the cheek). Also, his staff, Julian, Diani and Claudia who always had a welcoming smile and ensured we never went thirsty or hungry during the many Happy Hours and Rum and Burger nights spent with them.
Then there were the various sailors we met, either on the weekly grocery bus rides or who came over to Paw Paw on their dingy to introduce themselves and welcome us to the island or who invited us to join them for a meal or over to their yacht. Notably,
· Cardea (Marilyn and Kent) who invited us over to dinner on more than one occasion, with whom we celebrated the 10th birthday of their yacht and with whom we snorkelled Klein Bonaire
· Talulah Ruby III (Paul and Andy) with whom we spent a number of very enjoyable evenings at Zazu Bar after the weekly Tuesday evening shopping trips
· Macushla (Sue and Mark) who inspired Elaine, in particular, to stick with the diving after a very rocky Discovery Dive and to complete our PADI Open Water Certification, as well as joined us on one of the boat dives during the certification and who were our first guests to join us on Paw Paw for coffee
· Georgia (Paul and Chris) who often popped by to say hello and see how we were getting on with the outfitting work
· Acapella (Martin and Ellen) who organised the swim to Klein Bonaire, followed by a beach party / potluck lunch
· Blue’s (Martin and Bertie) who, although did not speak English very well, made the effort to speak to us at the various Burger and Rum nights
· Bonobo (Marc and Nadine) who were a wealth of information during all our shopping trips and Happy Hours
· and, last, but by no means least, Cattiva (Maria and Maurice) who helped us with our mooring lines when we left the marina to spend the remainder of our stay in the anchorage, who were our first guests to join us for sundowners on Paw Paw and with whom we enjoyed our first potluck dinner while they taught us how to play Mexican Train dominoes during Keenan’s visit to Bonaire, not to mention a number of very enjoyable dinner outings to the various local restaurants and the gift of roses and watermelon, for no particular reason, other than wanting to share.
Other experiences, some major achievements for us, but most simply worthy of a mention included:
· Our first passage of consecutive days and nights sailing to Bonaire
· Outfitting a yacht for offshore use, specifically the installation of the navigation station equipment with the VHF and SSB/HF radios, repeater instruments, a clock, a barometer and a satellite phone with an external antenna, installing wifi, installing an inverter / battery charger, a battery monitor, solar controllers and panels to supply and manage our energy needs, installing fridge and freezer smart controllers to ensure our food stays fresh or frozen as needed, installing and plumbing a water maker as well as sanitizing our water tanks so we could use and consume the water we make, sanitizing the holding tanks and servicing the heads (a.k.a. toilets) to alleviate potential problems, installing a chain counter to take the guess work out of anchoring, installing a bilge alarm buzzer to alert us to any flooding issues should they arise and installing LED navigation lights to reduce our energy consumption, all projects we had never undertaken before
· Having that first sip of our own water we’d made – helped us identified with Tom Hanks in Castaway when he made fire for the first time
· The abundance of unusual wild life – Flamingos, wild parrots, iguanas, donkeys and a solitary egret chick – Poor thing must have got lost during a migration, but, although these birds normally eat insects, it was surviving on fish and growing daily – It certainly has a will to survive
· The variety of sea life that could be seen by simply snorkelling under Paw Paw or along one of the many reefs just a short swim away
· Our first solo dive off the shore at Carib Inn to ensure all our new diving equipment was functioning correctly
· Our first dive off the back of Paw Paw – Pre-empted by a visit from a huge turtle floating on the surface “asking” us to “come and play”. Then a beautiful butterfly that was flying around the steps to greet us when we surfaced – Just a wonderful experience all round
· Elaine seeing her first seahorse, turtle, squid, barracuda and queen angelfish while diving and both of us enjoying the abundance of miniature sea creatures living in a single coral head no bigger than 10 to 12 inches in diameter (tiny fish, an eel, worms, plants, unrecognisable organisms) – Magical indeed
· The public “swimming pool” which was simply a number of swim lanes set up in the anchorage just in front of Paw Paw where we watched the children have their swimming lessons or folks swimming laps as part of their daily exercise
· The chuckles we would have every morning as one of our “next door neighbours” swam past the back of Paw Paw completely naked and our other “neighbour” who walked around on his yacht butt naked – I guess there are ways to start ones day, but this took some time to adjust to
· Watching the beautiful sunsets either from Paw Paw to the sound of someone playing the saxophone or from the dock in front of the Millionaire’s Bar – no millionaires anywhere to be found from a monetary perspective, but we were all millionaires in many more ways
· Watching a red – yes I said red - new moon set only a few short hours after watching a beautiful red coloured sun set – Weird indeed
· Taking the grocery bus to do weekly shopping along with other sailors and enjoying the wealth of information that was always exchanged
· The soccer world cup parades along the seafront by the Netherlands, Columbian and Brazilian supporters
· Enjoying “burger and rum” nights with the “league of nations” dining together at Zazu Bar. Besides the variety of locals, comprising Dutch, Columbian, Honduran, Venezuelan and Brazilian, the various nationalities of the sailors dining together at one very large table included American, Canadian, Swiss, Dutch, German, English, Australian, South African, New Zealanders, Flemish, Venezuelan and Norwegian. Needless to say, there were definitely no awkward silences
· Our regular treats at Gio’s Gelato after a sunset stroll along the seafront or during a hot afternoon to cool us down as well as the many diverse restaurants we frequented like the Cuban restaurant, the Rib Factory, Bobbejan’s BBQ, It Rains Fishes, the Peruvian restaurant, Dan Pablo’s Pizza where you can get lionfish on your pizza and the Taste of Bonaire evenings where local food and dancing were on offer to savour
· Elaine enjoying her exercises on the foredeck surrounded by turquoise waters and to the sounds of waves gentle lapping against the seafront pier, wild parrots in the trees and terns flying overhead – paradise indeed
· And finally, the surprise visit from Keenan who just walked in to one of the seafront cafes where we were sitting enjoying a late night cappuccino – Needless to say, I burst out crying – Roy and Keenan thought they’d surprise me and that they did.
There were some down sides, if you could even call them that. We missed a large school of dolphins that were right next to our dingy en route to town one afternoon to watch a soccer world cup match, but we were facing the wrong way and didn’t see them – We wondered why folks were taking photos from the dock as we arrived. Then there was the really strange weather - It was so windy that the clouds were blown over the island at a rate of knots, not allowing a drop of rain to fall, but carried tons of Sahara sand, which settled everywhere. Finally, there was Karel’s Beach Bar, where the staff were rude and completely ignored us while we waited for service on numerous occasions. The corker was that they blatantly lied to us about the advertised free wifi not working, but then provided the code to Dutch speaking holidaymakers or sailors right in front of us. Needless to say, we never frequented that establishment again. That said though, the kindness shown to us by everyone else was just astonishing and we got to take all these wonderful memories with us and left nothing but bubbles.
With that, we arrived in Spanish Waters, Curacao, on Saturday, 2nd August 2014, after a lumpy and slow sail over, but all things considered, it was a good sail. The anchorage, however, leaves much to be desired in terms of their demarcation system, which caused us to move a number of times before finding a safe, more suitable spot. The bay itself and the entrance is lovely though and we did get the opportunity to reconnect with fellow sailors we had met in Bonaire, as well as find a lovely beach, restaurants, bars, shops etc, along with various facilities for cruisers like the grocery bus and laundry, gas, fuel, ice, etc services. At this writing, our first impressions are mixed, but I think it would be fair to say that we were spoilt in Bonaire and will need to keep an open mind about Curacao. In any event, our plan was always to complete the remainder of the outfitting items here, since we have better access to the small amount of parts we still need.