Jogging with the Donkeys; Floating with the Fish: Bonaire

At first, I see one wild donkey, then a couple more, and finally a herd at the top of a cactus-covered hill. Early morning in Bonaire, and the sky is a brilliant pink which highlights the distant aquamarine of its surrounding sea, and the donkeys are jogging with me. Or rather trotting along in the road next to me. I can’t think of a better way to start the day.

Bonaire is one of those islands you don’t really hear about, because it’s a jaunt, without easy direct flights. But this is what makes it special. Part of the Caribbean Netherlands, it’s also conservation and community focused, and with scuba and snorkeling adventures abounding in a usually sunny “cooling trade wind” kind of way, you’ve got reasons to visit.

After my “donkey jog” and a quick shower at the Grand Windsock Bonaire, I head to The Beach Cafe across the street, for Dutch pancakes, and lots of coffee. Because this island has snorkeling and scuba diving nooks and crannies everywhere, I keep my fins and mask ready for an after-breakfast underwater adventure. Rainbow parrotfish, queen angelfish, and green razorfish glide with me over protected coral reefs that ring the entire island. A stingray flaps along the sand ledge, and I’m in Jacques Cousteau-World.

Later that morning, I take a tour into Washington Slagbaai National Park. It’s ethereal– “liquid sunshine” sending multiple rainbows over a lake filled with flamingos at Goto Meer. After walking down to “1000 Steps” beach, our tour stops at various snorkeling sites like the pink sand beaches of Wayaka and some cliff-jumping at Boca Slagbaai. The views from Boka Kokolishi and Playa Chikitu are mesmerizing with cobalt surf on coral ledges. At the end of the tour, we stop at the cultural center near Rincon, and find out that a musical/community event will be happening the next afternoon at Mangazina di Rei Park. That night, over grilled grouper and fried plantain dinners at Sebastian’s Restaurant, I make plans with the same tour group for another day of fun.

After a morning check-in at Harbor Village Beach Club, a resort centrally located on the harbor AND on the beach, I meet the tour for a breakfast of fresh fruit, croissants, and coffee at La Balandra. Soon after, we head out for some cave exploring and snorkeling with Dirk before the afternoon festival in Rincon. Dirk of Cave Tours Bonaire takes us down into a dry cave on a series of ladders and then rewards us with a spelunking splash party in a wet cave. We swim through a series of caverns and even under some coral walls for an inner cave adventure, and it’s an experience of glimmering walls and turquoise waters.

Nos Zjilea is a monthly event at Mangazina di Rei Park and it’s the place to be for timpicos music–amazing percussion and acoustic guitars with songs sung in lyrical Papiamentu. I nosh on tutus, black-eyed peas, coconut milk, nutmeg, cornmeal, spices along with some fried cornmeal funchi and then head over for pastechi with cheese. After all these snacks, the only thing to do is dance to some merengue tipico.

After the festival, our tour group spies sailboats careening around a dirt track, so, of course, we stop to try this sport. Strapped into tiny carts, and holding the sails taunt, we careen in circles to the constant trade winds on Bonaire. Then because we’ve heard there’s various of other wind sports, we check out Kite Boarding Beach and Jibe City, where the “cool kids” of windsurfing hang out by the beachside bars. On the way back to Kralendijk, we drive past the pink ponds and white salt pyramids and read up on the past and present history and business of salt crystallization.

Dinner that night is at Rum Runners, a place directly on the ledges. Waves occasionally splash us as we dine on kingfish with pineapple salsa, and it feels like a party. Afterward, we stop dockside at Karel’s Beach Bar and then head over to Cubanito Night downtown and I watch enchufla-stepping couples dance under a moonlit sky.

I decide to spend the next day floating and snorkeling with the fish at Harbour Village’s beaches. Directly offshore, I am in schools of tangs, goatfish, chromis, and damselfish and I get encircled by hundreds of rotating grunts in the currents of the reef. When I finally come out of the sea, I keep my mask close for more dips between naps on a hammock and sleeping on my towel in the sand. That evening, I head over the wharf and hop on a Melisa sunset sailing/dinner cruise. Four hours, six courses, leaning back on brightly colored cushions and sipping Mai Tais? Sure. Add reggae dancing, a sky full of stars, and Caribbean breezes, and you’ve got a perfect evening.

For the final day, I meet with the tour group one last time and we head to various beaches for snorkeling: Bachelors, Honeymoon, Donkey, Te Amo, Chachacha, and Sorobon. All shades of blue and green water, and every swim warm and full of parrotfish, angelfish, triggerfish and butterfly fish. For sustenance afterward, we nosh on some meatballs, and pasta at Capriccio downtown, and after taking apres-snorkeling naps, we head over to Ingridients and dine on Sea Salt Crusted Dorade, Blue Marlin carpaccio, and Mojito cheesecake.

I leave the windows open that night at Harbor Village, falling asleep to the sound of waves and waking to the singing of troupials and yellow warblers.