Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles
Trip Start Dec 27, 2008
4Trip End Jan 10, 2009
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Where I stayed
We love the place. It's best known for diving and snorkeling. The conditions are awesome, and the coral reef is in very good condition. The surrounding waters have been a protected marine reserve since 1979
Bonaire lies south of the hurricane belt, so the weather is pretty ideal and they experience few destructive storms. 99% of the time, the steady trade winds blow from east to west across the island. The east, windward coast is extremely rugged and constantly pounded by surf. The west coast is always calm, with no waves and little current - ideal for swimming, snorkeling, and diving. Unfortunately, last year Hurricane Omar, while it didn't hit the island, caused a huge storm surge for several days as big waves pounded the normally calm west coast. It damaged some buildings that sat close to shore (the water came up as high as the deck on the second floor of our hotel restaurant), and damaged some of the coral near shore.
Bonaire is part of the Netherlands Antilles; they recently voted to strengthen their ties to the Netherlands and are basically regular Netherlands citizens (as I understand it - their status has changed recently)
The island's physical environment is pretty unfriendly to human habitation and development. It doesn't support much agriculture or industry. There used to be a couple of larger "plantations," growing aloe, divi divi trees (the seed pods were used to tan animal hides), and goats. There are no good fresh water sources on the island; they primarily use desalination to produce drinking water. The biggest export over the years has been salt. There are large, shallow saltpans that flood and then evaporate, leaving behind salt. Originally they used slaves to work the saltpans and load the salt onto ships. They still "mine" salt, and you can see huge mountains of it. They also have a large complex of oil tanks. Oil companies from Venezuela and Mexico store oil there, and then buyers load the oil directly from the storage tanks into their tankers. Apparently it's cheaper and easier for the purchasers to reach these islands (others do the same thing) than travel to the different mainland ports.
We had a wonderful time. We were there 13 days and stayed in one place the entire time. I was asked whether we would get bored (compare this to our 2-month trip where we moved to a new spot every couple of days). It worked perfectly for us. We were there long enough that we didn't feel pressured to dive, dive, dive multiple times each day. We could take it easy, enjoy a leisurely pace, do some exploring, some hanging out, and still get in a lot of our favorite activities. We had some great food, too! There were a number of very good international restaurants.