Bonaire Mar 29-Apr 6 2008

This being my third trip to Bonaire in just over a year, a lot has stayed the same so I won’t repeat myself. Things that did change on this trip: 1. the viz was worse than previous trips (but still much better than here); 2. the water temps were a degree or two cooler than this time last year (still warmer than here, but I’m glad I had a 3mm vest for layering); 3. on a good note, the marine life seems to have bounced back somewhat (I saw several large groupers, compared to one small one in 2 previous trips; 4 octopuses, compared to none on both previous trips; and some new species I hadn’t seen before).

Highlights of this trip included the 4 octopuses, the baby and adult squid squadrons, the tiny, well-camouflaged frogfish, the banded puffer, the flame box crab, the 1/4 inch long sun anemone shrimp and the pair of yellowhead jawfish on my last dive of the week. We dove all of my favourite sites (Oil Slick, Karpata, 1000 Steps, Bari Reef), as well as Buddy’s Reef, Witches Hut, Hilma Hooker, Alice in Wonderland, Invisibles, Jeannie’s Glory, and Tori’s Reef (actually not the reef, but the shallows to the left of the entrance – thanks to a tip from SB). The shallows at Tori’s Reef is where I found an octopus den with two sleeping octopuses in it, a very cool find.

Besides the diving, the other thing I look forward to on Bonaire is the dining. Being a Dutch island, there are Indonesian influences as well as South American influences because of its proximity to the mainland. I don’t normally eat lunch on these trips, so after an early buffet breakfast and maybe a mid-afternoon granola bar, I’m starving by the time we go out to dinner.

On our first night, we ate at Warung Louise, an Indonesian restaurant, which was very good with some nicely spicy flavours. The fish I had was perfectly cooked and very well presented. The service was very good but that could be because we showed up late and ended up being the only customers remaining!

La Plazita Limena is always a favourite and did not disappoint. It’s a Peruvian restaurant that has both traditional and continental food, including seafood, chicken, beef and lamb. On weekdays, they serve complementary freshly-baked mini-baguettes that come with a side of very garlicky butter which is really good, especially after a long day of diving. On the weekend, they serve complentary tiny dishes of halved boiled potato with a slice of hard-boiled egg, covered with a cream cheese sauce made with aji yellow chile pepper and a sprinkle of cilantro; a traditional Peruvian starter which was also very good. I had to have my usual ceviche appetizer (cubed raw fish marinated in lime juice, with cilantro, onion, corn and a small amount of some type of fresh chile pepper). During another visit I tried the tiradito de pescado appetizer, as the menu said it was ‘spicy’. It is almost the same as ceviche, though the fish is in strips, not cubes, there are no onions, and there is a lot of some kind of very hot pepper in it. It was very similar to habanero (it had a very similar heat level and fruitiness). Whatever it was, it was very good and really hit the spot for me (I need my spicy food fix, as well as my fresh seafood fix). The fresh fish and shrimp dishes were always good and perfectly cooked; I tried several different dishes, some spicy, some not. Grilled or fried, it was always good. This restaurant is so good I’ll return to it again next trip at least once. Here, you can rest assured that if the menu says spicy, it really is! Note that service can be a little slow since they appear to lack enough wait staff. But heck, I’m on vacation; no worries.

Another favourite is El Fogon Latino, a Columbian restaurant about a 5 minute drive from the big church in Kralendijk. This time I started with the fish soup. It was very, very good. Lots of fish chunks, potatoes, corn and lots of cilantro with a bit of a bite, in a clear broth. It was so good I’ve been searching for recipes online so I can duplicate it back home (as well as all of the Peruvian recipes; but I digress). The seafood here was also perfectly prepared. The nice thing about El Fogon Latino is that the prices are around half of what you pay for the same thing in town. The menu is small, but they have everything you’d want, all fresh and good. If you need more spice in your food (the food here is not really spicy), they provide a few freshly prepared condiments, one of which is a very spicy onion, vinegar and hot chile pepper mix. Both this restaurant and the Peruvian restaurant have my favourite ‘local’ beer available, Polar (it’s from Venezuela; similar to Corona, but better).

We also ate at The Lion’s Den. The food there was OK, but the fish was over-cooked. Their advertised ‘best key lime pie on the island’ was so-so. Too much crust and not enough flavour. The good thing about this place is that they appear to serve dinner until at least 10:30pm, which is nice if you like to do your night dive before dinner and everything else is closed.

The other restaurant we ate at, Cactus Blue, was similar in experience to my first Bonaire visit: the drinks were good and strong (I had a great margarita), and their key lime pie is awesome! However, just as last time, their main courses were pretty bland. Even their ceviche appetizer, which I had tried and really enjoyed last year, has changed. It used to have a bite to it, but this time it tasted oddly sweet and the seafood was very sparse. I thought maybe my previous visit’s experience was a fluke, but this latest visit reiterated my opinion about this place: go for drinks and key lime pie, but skip the rest.

This trip we stayed at Buddy Dive. It’s similar to Captain Don’s Habitat in that the dive shop staff is very good, but the hotel staff is mediocre at best. This appears to be the case at most dive resorts where I’ve stayed. I chose Buddy’s this time because I was tired of having to wait at the airport to pick up and drop off the rental truck. Buddy’s package includes pickup and drop-off, which was convenient, plus they have their own fleet of rental trucks. We ended up paying for an extra night upon arrival at 5:30am, since our room would not be ready until the afternoon, but because of that we got a nice apartment on the top (2nd) floor in a building on the southern edge of the resort. It had a great view of the water and a nice wide balcony with pegs and hangers for gear. The slight downside was that only the bedroom was air conditioned, and there was a huge space under the door which seemed to be an invitation for all the mosquitos to come visit me during the night. I was completely bitten up the first couple of nights until I bought a can of insect fogger the third day and got rid of most the little buggers! The one thing that struck me as odd about the unit was that there were no ceiling fans (and the ceilings were high and vaulted); most tropical places have ceiling fans and I tend to use them. The included breakfast buffet was pretty similar to what you would get at any dive resort: made-to-order omelettes, pancakes or french toast, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, toast, cereal, yogurt, cheese, cold cuts, fruit, sweet rolls, coffee, tea, juices. Nothing special, but good enough to provide sustenance for a day’s diving.

The rental truck and unlimited shore diving was included in the weekly rate at Buddy’s. Our truck was nearly brand new, which was a nice change from the rust bucket from my first trip. The drive-through tank pickup/dropoff was convenient; you could easily get your air or nitrox (free nitrox upgrade at Buddy’s for nitrox certified divers). The camera rinse tanks were always full and clean so it was convenient to use between the two morning and two afternoon dives and before the night dive. They were out of Nitrox tanks one time but we only had to wait 10 minutes. The fills weren’t always the best; they varied between 2600 and 3000. The nitrox analyzer is hooked up to a pressure guage so you can check your mix and your pressure at the same time, but hot tanks often = low fill once you hit the water. The mix varied between 31and 33%.

On this trip I carried my housed DSLR with 2 strobes on all but the first day’s shore dives. I must admit that by the middle of the week, it felt like I was carrying an anchor with me on entries and exits. Because of the extra load, we didn’t attempt any of the far southern sites, since the wind was very strong and there was more surf. I got a bit bruised up on a couple of exits, but wearing my fullsuit prevented any scrapes or gashes. I got stung by a stray jellyfish tentacle on the second day; it wrapped itself around my regulator mouthpiece so I had lovely raised red welts around my mouth and chin for the rest of the week. Of course, I had forgotten to bring vinegar in the truck with me. I got stung on the face a few more times that week, but nothing as bad. There were noticeably fewer eels on this trip, however I saw a greater variety of species. The brown chromis were prolific, both juvenile and adult. Spotted drums on every dive. The usual suspects everywhere: parrotfish, trumpetfish, trunkfish, wrasse, blennies, angelfish, snappers, grunts, puffers, damselfish.

While I like taking the red-eye from Newark (cheap, direct to Bonaire and decent luggage allowance), on the last 2 trips I didn’t get any sleep, which really sucked. The bonus is you get to dive on the morning you arrive, so you get 6 full dive days plus an early morning dive on the 7th day. Can’t beat that.

underwater photos:  http://scubagirl.smugmug.com/gallery…79179657_d65gF

topside photos: http://scubagirl.smugmug.com/gallery…79704416_escmU

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