Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bonaire: a dream that came true!

Many years ago, I began working with a good student of SCUBA, Jim Kent.  He ultimately became a PADI Master Scuba Diver.   Along the way we found we had one dream in common, which was to some day travel to and dive in Bonaire.   In 2002, the dream started to become a reality when he and his non-diving wife invited me to go as their guest. 

We orginally planned to go during the winter months of 2003.  However, as is often the case in life 'shit happens', and the trip was postponed.  Same thing again for the next several years.  Until last fall when I received an email from Jim, wherein he reiterated his invitation and wondered whether I could and would still go.  The answer was a resounding yes!    

So Jim made the arrangments and we spent the week of February 6th through the 13th diving in Bonaire.  It was worth the wait and in a word:  'breathtaking'! 

The following pictures and my notes hopefully will do this trip of a life time justice.  Also, I hope that my blogging about Bonaire will be of use to any reader planning a trip to Bonaire.  Which I highly recommend!  Here goes: 

The above photo depicts the 'fun' spirit which was the undercurrent of the trip.  Jim invited a family of three, Jeff, wife Trish and 9 year old daughter Maddie (Madison).   Many pre-trip emails were sent back and forth and I mentioned in one that all I needed to pack was tee-shirts, and swim trunks and shorts and flipflops for clothes.  Trish thought I should also have underwear, so the gang, bought me a pair and this is what I found on my bed on my first evening when I arrived!   Okay, stage is set for a fun, filled with practical jokes week!
We stayed at Buddy Dive, and they are in their 30th year of business and we even got a free tee-shirt as part of their celebration.  Buddy Dive is an excellent choice.  The service from everybody working there was great and had two common aspects:  all staff smiled and any request was answered with 'no problem'.  

Like most resorts it is located on the water and in front of a glorious coral reef, which are referred to as 'house reefs'.  They are only a few fin kicks from shore and at the resorts, entries and exits, could not be easier when it comes to shore diving.  Something we later learned to appreciate.   All tanks, including Nitrox and our gear were kept and stored at the dock at the dive center , so, diving could not be any more convenient or less of an effort.
The snapshot above shows 'my guy' Jim, the 'chick magnet', with Susie, who along with her husband John own and operate the digital photo center at Buddy Dive.  They have 40 years of experience and were helpfull to me in finding subjects, like Octopus and helpfull to other guests with photo questions and in giving advice.  Susie in this photo epitomizes the friendly nature of all the staff at Buddy Dive.

 This picture is of the largest Orange Elephant Ear sponge that I have ever seen. It is also typical of the live corals and densely packed corals found in Bonaire. The dives start in about 15 feet of water and in most cases the corals are found on gently sloping walls ending at around 100 feet.   Our visibility always approached 100 feet.  The skies were cloudy early in the mornings but by mid morning filled with sunshine.  Air temperatures were in the low 80s and the water temperature at all dives sites was 78 degrees. 

This photo shows the ease of entry when shore diving at Buddy Dive and its house reef.   The reef begins where the water turns a deeper blue in color.   I don't think diving gets any easier than this!  

Photo of Jim, Trish, Jeff and Maddie.  A great group.  It was Jeff's first ocean and coral reef diving experience though he has dove for many years and done the deeper wrecks in Michigan.  Trish and Maddie discovered the corals and decorative reef fish and critters on snorkel.  One evening after dark, while snorkelling Trish witnessed a Tarpon preying on a Blue Tang!  Evidentally the tarpon buddy up with the divers and use the dive lights to help them spot prey.

Trish and Maddie snorkel at an off property site named the Windsock and one of our favorite sites, due to its ease of entry and exits.  Ease of entry and exits are crucial to shore diving and including in Bonaire.  While the dive sites are on the leeward side of Bonaire, there is still some surge and surf to deal with on most days, even though both are comparatively mild.  

The above photo is of Jim's leg which was abraded during a fall when exiting an off property dive site.  His fall was not uncommon, as I too fell, and I witnessed many other divers falling, either during entry or exits.  I had not heard of difficulty in shore diving in Bonaire, so after these events, I asked the local divers (working pro divers) what was up with that?   The answer was that in 2007, Hurricane Omar passed close to Bonaire and its swells washed the shore diving beaches clean of sand.  The result of this was exposure of rough substrate with small ankle turning crevices and foot trapping 'potholes', scattered among a lose rock, dead corals, and a cobblestone like limestone bottom.   These were impossible to see as the waves filled the water with sand which prevented in many cases the ability to see where you were walking.  

We were lucky in walking away (pun intended) with only abrasions and nicks and scratches.  One pro diver there had a full leg cast and a touring diver broke his leg which shortened his vacation.   

Midmorning of our second day, we resolved to do a bit more 'dive planning' which is depicted in the above photograph.  We took more time in scouting out off property sites for ease of entry/exits.  Ultimately, we spent most of our dive time diving the house reef.  It is also where we saw most of the cool stuff, like an Eagle Ray, and a school of Tarpon, neither of which are depicted in this blog.   When going to Bonaire, take some form of full body suit.  A dive skin or darlex or trilaminate suit, or a 3mm one piece wetsuit will be of comfort if you fall and also help keep you warmer (3mm wetsuit).  Also, while I use full foot fins when boat diving, when shore diving I'd reco using adjustable foot fins as they require the use of booties which are a necessity when walking in and out of the water and shore diving.


After our successfull regroup and more thoughtfull dive planning we thought the above was 'thee' way to go (and come)!   Nothing could be easier and we are all about easy diving with minimal effort and maximum safety.   I ran into fellow named Scott from Nebraska who had been coming to Bonaire for 20 years and he told me that he only dives the house reefs.  Pre or post Omar.   My new experience tells me Scott is right and other diving could be done from the resorts' boats.  A one tank dive is only $30.  A bargain compared to the time and effort consuming logistics of packing the rental vehicle and managing off property shore diving.  

Each day our day started with an all you can eat breakfast buffet.  This included scrambled eggs, omelettes and eggs made to order, bacon and sausage links, white and dark bread toast and butter, mini crusty baggettes, fruits of cantelope, pineapple, honeydo, watermelon, papaya and others, waffles, pancakes and french toast, good coffee, juices, milk, cereals and water.  They make their own water in Bonaire and it is potable from the faucets.  We stayed in a large on property apartment/condo with full kitchen facilities so were able to take and make many meals 'in'.   


After breakfast the focus was diving!  All visitors participate in a mandated one time 'orientation' and these are held each morning at 9AM.  Bonaire has protected its resource since 1978 and Bonaire is a dive Mecca because it has done so.   An early advocate of buoyancy control, they want to make sure the divers have it together before turning them loose on their reefs.   The above shot is of a buoyancy control 'obstacle' located on Buddy Dive's house reef and in about 40 feet of water.  Gloves are banned in Bonaire for diving. 

As a photographer, I found it easy to find photographic subjects, but, hard to photograph them.  This is because the coral is all alive and very densely packed and it was difficult and at times impossible to find any open areas of sand to settle into and or even to find a piece of bleeched or dead coral to use my finger-tips to stablilize myself.  Fortuntely there was little or no surge at depth nor any currents of any measureable degree.  Lack of current and surge is typical in Bonaire at least along the leeward side of the island. 

Bonaire is more of a Macro place than a wide angle place.  I used a Canon and Watershot housed digital SLR camera system and a mid range zoom lens and a 60mm Macro lens both behind a flat port.  Only on a couple of occasions did I want for my dome port and a wider angle of view lens.  My housing, a Watershot, was small enough and agile enough with good ergonomics, for me to be able to 'one hand' it, so I could, if I could find a place, use my free hand to help stablelize myself to make the photograph.  

The above snapshot depicts the Macro nature of Bonaire.  In this case a photo of a Banded Coral Shrimp.  In most desitnations a rarely encountered critter, but, in Bonaire it seemed at times I would come across small villages of them! 


Green Sea(above) and Hawksbill Turtles are doing well in Bonaire and are frequently sited.  The photos that follow are of other marine life that are commonly seen and most were photographed right in front of Buddy Dive and on its house reef.   

The above photograph of a Scorpionfish among the colorfull and live corals

Peacock flounders were seen on virtually every dive and this guy was about one foot in size.


I thank photo pros, John and Susie, for this shot as they alerted me to the presence of the Octopus on BD's house reef.  took me parts of four days to find it, but, that is another story.... !
Just another snapshot of how alive the reef is.  And below a shot of the resort, with the dive and photo aspect of the operation depicted in the lower level. 


My words and these 20 odd photos do not do justice to my trip to Bonaire.  It was one of those trips of a lifetime and one of those dreams that do come true.  Bonaire is considered a dive 'mecca' and rightfully so.   Highly recommended to any and all levels of scuba divers.  Hard to begin to describe all the good things.  Beginning with a non-stop from Miami via Insel Air.  No travel glitches or hitches. 

The accomodations we had at the resort were excellent.  The grounds were garden and paradise like. The housekeeping was there every day and did a thorough job leaving plenty of new towels and changing bedclothes daily. 

The wait staff at the resautants and tiki bar at Buddy Dive's were very prompt and courteous.  When on vacation, both food and drink are of high import to me and I was not at all disappointed.

The dive staff were all smiles all the time and anything they could do to help, all one needed to do was ask.  It was done!  'No problem'.  A very professional group of divers.  Rinse tanks for scuba, regulators and camera equipment were everywhere and the water changed several times a day.

My photographs and words do not do this trip justice ( said again to make sure I am clear on this!). I have been on some great dives and on some great trips and to great places.  Bonaire ranks right up there with the best of the best!

The following are some links that may be useful to you should you begin to plan your trip to Bonaire:  We spoke with and emailed  Andy at Bonaire Pros.  Very helpful.  This is the link to Buddy Dive and Andy helped with our arrangments.  Link to Insel Air and they fly every Saturday to/from Bonaire non-stop from Miami.   Great site to learn almost everything about Bonaire.  Check out Bonaire Talk

I need to take a minute to again thank Jim Kent for being such a gracious host and thank Jeff, Trish and Maddie for being such good company and buddies!  Thank you Jim, Jeff, Trish and Maddie.  


PS:  The diving community is small and while in Bonaire that fact was again proven to me.  I unexpectedly ran into Ron Willis, fellow scuba instructor and a former UW photo student of mine and his group, who came from Pennsylvania.  To top that off, if possible, I met Ken Nedimyer from here in the Keys, who does reef restoration work. He was there with his family as working guests of BD and they may do some restoration in Bonaire ( does it need it??).  Finally, I met Bill Donovan, who owns Donovan's Scuba in Sioux Falls, SD.  He was there with his group of divers also from SD!  Over the years I have done referals with his students and it was good to met him and his wife and other South Dakotans and in all places, Bonaire!

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Bonaire Trip and notice

Hi Bloggers,

I am going to Bonare for a week beginning on February 6th and will return to Key Largo on the 13th.  Obviously I will not be blogging during that week.  But, that is not the reason for this post.

I am posting this notice here and on my website,  because my new customers find me either through my website or through this blog.  So, am making this post for their information and to let them know that should they contact me during this week, I may not be able to get back to them.

I will have limited email and internet access while there but no cell phone service.  I will reply as best I can and to those I was unable to reply to while in Bonaire will receive a reply from me beginning on the 14th.


If you want to leave a comment; 'mouse- curse- and- click' over the time stamp below and it will open this post in a new window enabling you to do so.