Tuesday, March 15, 2011
As of October 10, 2010, Bonaire has a new status: a municipality of the Netherlands, when the Netherland Antilles was dissolved. It is a very tiny boomerang-shaped island, but is trying to make a big impact on preserving the environment. There are only about 14,000 people living in Bonaire, with 123 nationalities. The average temperature is 86° and the water temperature is 84° . There are no hurricanes, but it is very arid and gets about 10” - 12” of rain annually.
Today was a free day for Road Scholars: no lectures, no excursions. Discovery offered a few excursions and I signed up for Discover Bonaire in the afternoon. We were docked right in the middle of town, so it was very easy to get off the ship and explore before the tour departure time. A market place was set up with handcraft articles and the general array of souvenirs. Beyond that was a business district with shops, restaurants and some commercial buildings. I think I was back on ship in a little more than an hour. The sea is dazzling blue and crystal clear. I could see beautiful fish as I walked back to the ship.
We were in small vans that were ideal for traveling the narrow, and sometimes dirt roads that we would be traveling. Deidre was our guide that I found out was originally from Elm Grove, WI. She came to Bonaire a number of years ago for its snorkeling that is rated as one of the best in the world, and now is a permanent resident.. She gave a lighthearted view of the island, but she was very serious about the environment. Bonaire is committed to do its share in preserving the water, land and everything living in them. People come to Bonaire to experience nature; you won’t find high rises, big restaurants, or artificial entertainment. There is a casino, open only when cruise ships are in, and it’s very small, I understand.
Our excursion was mostly through the windows of the bus, but it felt somewhat like a safari. The first encounter was a donkey, brought here by the Spanish many years ago.
They roam quite freely and are protected. But even humans need protection from too many donkeys; they were reproducing too rapidly and were the cause of many accidents by being on roads. There was a $10.00 bounty on each one that was caught. Catching them was easy; people just let their gates open and they wandered in. They got put into a truck and put in a sanctuary where they were sterilized and then released.
You can’t take anything from the ground or the water. If you go snorkeling, you can’t wear gloves; you wouldn’t want to touch the sharp coral and touching coral with gloves will injure or kill it. There is no jet skiing allowed. There are no water sports. If you are caught spear fishing you will be deported or heavily fined. It’s understandable why there is such passion about protecting this beautiful water with 413 species of fish identified.
We drove past ponds where flamingos congregate.
It would be exciting to get out of the van to get some photos, but Deidre said getting too near would disturb them; we were allowed to photograph only from the bus through open windows.
People eat fish and goats. There is a strange way of raising goats. Farmers who want to raise goats, get a piece of land, usually from the government and build a shelter to contain supplies for the goats, but the farmer does not live on the property. He waters the goats in the morning and lets them free range to feed, then he comes back in the evening to bring them back to the farm. Deidre said their diet was mostly the bougainvillea growing so freely and all the other vegetation they can find. She dreads being invited to a goat barbecue, because the meat tastes and is as tough as old sandals.
We saw a wild pig,
a number of iguanas and were lucky to photograph some parakeets.
Limestone embankments heaved out of the landscape, some forming caves that are homes to bats. Only one cave is open for exploring, with an escort, to protect the bats, critical for pollinating nocturnal blooming plants.
The island relies on wind power to supply its energy. Because of high cost of electricity, people do not use air conditioners, but rely on the cross breezes to cool their homes.
We stopped at Washington Slagbaai National Park, 14,000 acres to protect nature and prevent development. It is the first national park in the Caribbean and Atlantic basin. A cactus fence
and barrel cactus were about all we saw, also a whale skeleton.
Was that whale lost? It seems that a Holland America ship had an encounter with a whale some distance away, and brought the carcass to Bonaire to be removed. It apparently was a very difficult task, but it makes a good study specimen and exhibit. Making a cactus fence requires quite a bit of skill and special tools, but once its made it doesn’t need any painting of repair. Young people are learning the practice to make sure it isn’t lost.
An uninhabited island lies just off the coast of Bonaire called Klein Bonaire (Little Bonaire). A developer bought the island with intentions of making it a resort, much to the protest of the citizens. With the intervention of the Queen and the World Wildlife Fund, Bonaire bought the island and the Queen added her own funds to set the island aside as a nature refuge, home to the loggerhead turtles, other animals and birds.
Slaves were used for salt mining and we passed a community where slaves once lived. For a while the project was abandoned, but it again making a resurgence with Cargill working the flats.
Deidre thought there was something funny about the airport named Flamingo International Airport and painted a flamingo pink. Inside is a huge paper maché green iguana.
Our last stop was a structure erected by the National Council of Churches as a spiritual inspiration. Its bright yellow was a sharp contrast to the beautiful blue skies with a few puffy clouds.