Visit Bonaire!

How would it feel right this minute to be lying by the Caribbean sea with a refreshing breeze gliding over your body, while you develop a subtle bronze tan and finish your next tropical cocktail? The wife is off to the duty free stores indulging her shopping whims. The kids have split up and are photo shooting at the national park, and the rest of the brood is learning to windsurf around the point. Where am I? That's right - BONAIRE!

Most people have heard of the ABC islands - Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao. Located just 86 miles east of Aruba and about 70 miles north of Venezuela, and far outside the hurricane zone, Bonaire's average temperature is 82°F, with a water temperature of around 80°F. Bonaire is reached easily by air - American Airlines recently opened its new American Eagle route from San Juan, Puerto Rico. What used to be a couple of hours in transfers is now only one or two stops away. The reason is obvious: travelers learned about this beautiful little island community just above the equator at the southern end of the Caribbean.

Bonaire's history is long and colorful. Amerigo Vespucci first arrived in 1499. Slavers used the island in the late 1600s as a stop over to replenish their salt before the long sail across the Atlantic. Salt production on the island's south end is still a major local industry. As the Europeans settled in the southern Caribbean, the Dutch stepped forward and claimed several small islands under provincial authority. Today, Bonaire remains steadfast in it's allegiance to the Netherlands commonwealth.

Bonaire's local language is just as colorful as the history. Can you say Papiamento? If you can't, don't fret, it took me a couple of tries to get it right myself. Nevertheless, this rich vernacular is a combination of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and English, with an occasional French, African, or Arawak word thrown in. You can get by easily, speaking English, Spanish or Dutch - the official languages.

I thought I'd become the best shopping haggler in the Western Hemisphere; then I ran into Papiamento, but most of the islanders speak English. I didn't have to use my repertoire of charades to establish my bargaining strategy. No matter which language you communicate in, you will want to take advantage of the liberal duty free shopping available throughout the island.

Bonaire is an island poised for greatness. When you arrive, you are going to stay in or around Kralendijk (pronounced Kral-in-dike), the island hub. From your west-central coast base, you can walk, drive, or cab within minutes into town and visit the duty free shops. There are three malls all within a short walk of each other: Harborside, Les Galleries, and Lourdes. You will find an amazing variety of quality Caribbean, European, South, Central, and even North American goods. I was especially interested in the Blue Delft collectibles from Holland. Delft is glazed earthenware, specific to the city of Delft, in Holland, and typically blue and white. The overall selections are endless and the quality is highly rated.. Plan a full day in the shopping district.

Tropical Gear From Around The EquatorThe island of Bonaire has been luring world travelers to its sun-baked shores for years. There is a variety of accommodation price ranges to choose from, including beautiful coastal bed and breakfasts, to apartment and condominium retreats. Vacationers can also reserve quality, traditional inns, hotels and beach resorts. The collective rooms available on Bonaire is currently a little over 1,000 and growing. You can easily find a place that's rustic, romantic, luxurious, and full of local flavor and style.

During my stay, I found myself lodging at the Divi Flamingo Beach Resort, an easy five minute walk from town. The Divi is a wonderful hotel, a brand known throughout the Caribbean. Clean, modestly furnished and priced rooms allow you to listen to the waves lapping the breakwall past the patio slider. Of course, you could lie in bed and enjoy the quiet, or you could slip into your shorts and sandals and stroll over to the cooked-to-order morning buffet, lasting until around 10:00 a.m.

The Divi recently renovated the outdoor lap swimming pool, the casino, the salon's spa, and the delightful open air entertainment lounges and restaurants. There's nothing better than sitting in a sun chair, sipping a premium brew imported from the Netherlands.

As in almost all resorts on Bonaire, the Divi has a complete five-star PADI scuba dive center on site. I have been a professional diver for over 30 years. with a variety of certifications and dive experiences, and I can safely say if you like to get wet, dive Bonaire; the reason I was here? - the Bonaire Dive Festival.

Get Your Outdoor Gear HereYou can bring, rent, buy or ask for anything you need to make your scuba diving experience more enjoyable. Novice or pro divers all enjoy the Bonaire Marine Park, the only one of it's kind in the world. Everything from the high water mark to a depth of 200 feet around the island is a natural, protected reef and marine park. There is virtually no current on the leeward side of the island and the reef diving is exceptional. Glide through schools of colorful fish, view eels cruising daily through the reef, go eye-to-eye with a barracuda, or just float along studying a migrating turtle. Bonaire offers ample entertainment under the surface. For more information on diving Bonaire and the Bonaire Dive Festival read "Tanks A Lot!"

If scuba diving and snorkeling aren't your forte, don't give it a second thought. There are numerous activities to keep the whole family occupied. Get directions to Lac Bay, and along the way stop at the Kon Tiki Beach Club for a meal and libation - an epicurean trove at this artistically, cabana-style, restaurant. Miriam and Martin, the young Dutch Kon Tiki owners are winners of the Food and Beverage Excellence Award 2000. That's quite an accomplishment with all of the fine restaurants around the island. The Kon Tiki is a must stop and its web address is at www.bonairenet.com/kontiki/kontiki.htm. Convince them to share their delicious Carib recipes, if you're lucky.

KAYAKS, WINDSURFING, RELAXING

Upon arriving at Lac Bay, you will find a few different forms of entertainment. Nudity is illegal on Bonaire, but (no pun intended) there just so happens to be a small, modest, nudist club on Lac Bay. This may be what appeals to some, but my real reason for sending you out to the bay is so you can meet Elvis.

That's right, another Elvis sighting, only he really is here in Bonaire. Elvis is a gregarious local legend operating "The Windsurfing Place," commonly know as "The Place at Lac Bay." Why am I compelled to mention this? What's the most difficult aspect in learning to water ski, snow ski, surf, or windsurf? It's getting back up after falling down. At Lac Bay you don't have that problem. The world's best windsurfers ply their trade in the tradewinds, teaching new students a new sport. Throw in a steady breeze, the warm waters of the Caribbean at a maximum depth of three feet, a sandy bottom that stretches for a mile off shore in any direction, and you've found Elvis. (From the U.S. & Canada dial 011-599-717-2288, and for Europe and other countries, 00-599-717-2288.)

Lac Bay is the seasonal home to Olympic-class windsurfers from around the globe. These Bohemian athletes of all abilities spend weeks on end practicing on one of the Caribbean's finest natural bays. By following the wind, I accidentally stumble through the nudist club. Unfortunately, it took me so long to come about that I started thinking about losing my trunks and joining the beach party. I managed to turn my stick around (that's a windsurfer board to you, homeboy), while standing on the ocean bottom, repositioning myself, slipping back to the non-nude beach with my dignity and shorts intact. Now, I ask you, how would it have looked to be caught in that situation with a lounge full of worldwide press photographers snapping and laughing it up at my expense?

If windsurfing isn't your cup of tea, try the kayak tour for a paddle into the mangrove swamps. I once wrote a feature on the Everglades of South Florida, so I thought I knew mangroves. I met my guide at the Sand Dollar Dive & Photo. (From the U.S. & Canada, dial: 011-599-717-5433, and for Europe and other countries: 00-599-717-5433.) The Hollander guide led our sea kayaking yakking crew around those swamps like a trained university biologist and oceanographic expert, pointing out and describing flora and fauna through the silent slack waters. Kayaking takes a moderate understanding of boating skills, and is listed as a non-strenuous tour. We stop often to ask questions or self-guided through a canopy of woven branches and into a hidden lagoon. Bring a camera for those unique moments - a great heron swooping in for a fish snack, or a squadron of pelicans skimming edgewaters off your bow. You may be fortunate to see an osprey fishing nearby or a migrating turtle nosing for air. Whether it's a flock of flamingos or just one of the varieties of parrots that frequent the foliage, it's great catching nature up front and personal.

Not far from Lac Bay is Washington-Slagbaai National Park, home of Mt. Brandaris, standing a whopping 784 feet above sea level - great for mountain biking on over 200 miles of dirt pathway corridors within and adjacent to the National Park, and also the home to Bonaire's famous flamingo flocks, What a thrill to come over the verge and see thousands of flamingos carpeting an estuary in pink, feeding in the shallows of a dark blue sea, surrounded by a backdrop of emerald green jungle. Colors are sharp, yet contrasting. Bonaire is home to one of the largest natural flamingo sanctuaries in the Western Hemisphere. Over 10,000 of these birds periodically enjoy this haven.

The Bonaire color spectrum is so unbelievable above and below the surface of the sea, erupting the senses alive. After an acquired taste for the exceptional is when you spot one of Bonaire's chameleon-like lizards. These little fellows were one of my favorites critters, but I had trouble describing an 18-inch lizard with a turquoise tail, a pink back with black spots, a sharp red and yellow head and shoulders, and possibly a few brown stripes along the side. But none look alike! Now convince your friends what you saw and swear you weren't drinking. There's more to enjoy - catch a glimpse of parrots and parakeets inhabiting the forests in the National Park. Search the island for days with your camera with an assortment of lenses for those once in a lifetime shots.

You can adventure daily from land to sea and back again. If deep-sea fishing is your game, Bonaire has it. Perhaps you're a sailor. Bonaire has wonderful marinas and boats of all sizes to rent for day trips or longer. Depending on your skills as an ordinary seaman, you can sail yourself or have a crew at your command. From motor launches to jet skis, almost anything aquatic is awaiting you at the waters edge in Bonaire.

At the end of the day, most visitors select one of the many fine restaurant options in either Kralendijk, or at the many resorts dotting the coast. You can spend a month in Bonaire and never dine at the same place twice. Most locations are well marked and easy to find. The Bonaire Restaurant Association prints a delightful and informative guide, with recipes, menu highlights, and full color photos to make your dining choice easier. A few of my favorite food hangouts were: Le Wok, featuring a wonderful French-Indian-Thai cuisine. The restaurant is housed in a charming 200-year-old residence. Holland is so typified in Bonaire that Le Wok even has Delft tiles.

Another of my favorite dining experiences was the Rendez-Vous Restaurant & Espresso Bar. The Rendez-Vous is family-owned, famous for deliciousl home-style meals. Their cooking tradition is a European and Caribbean specialty, winning numerous cuisine awards over the years. The ambiance is very comfortable and the Rondez-Vous garners not only loyal but distinguished patrons from around the globe.

Last on my trio of dining delights list is Capriccio's. (Call from the U.S. & Canada: 011-599-717-7230, or Europe & other countries: 00-599-717-7230.) A meal at Capriccios begins with a complimentary Mimosa - a blend of chilled champagne and fresh squeezed orange juice. If you have a passion for fine food and wine and are missing those great Italian dishes you know back home, Capriccio's is your place. Their kitchen prepares fresh baked pizza and breads daily, along with pasta and magnificent ices and dessert selections. Capriccio's is great for family dining, or casual romantic seclusion dinners. Order a five course gourmet meal. Sip wines from the climate-controlled wine cellar.

The Bonairians love their little island paradise, above and below the sea. One of the most overlooked but pleasant surprises is meeting the friendly and charming, and colorful personalities of Bonaire. Small geographically, with a population of only 15,000, the people micromanage all of the attractions and share their enjoyment with you. I can't share all of the details, I need more time. After all, I only had six days, and I spent half of those under water.

In Papiamentu, Bon means good. I can heartily sagree that Bonaire is Bon Bon - very good, very good indeed.

You can gather more information about Bonaire by connecting to: www.Bonaireinfo.com

Bonaire Entry Requirements: U.S. and Canadian citizens must present proof of citizenship, such as a valid passport or an original birth certificate, plus a return or ongoing ticket, and a photo I.D. All others need a passport. The departure tax is US$10. - by Craig Wright, Nevada Correspondent.

Editors Note: Bonaire and Curacao are now linked by a new high speed ferry service., running twice daily. The two hour service is $34 O/W, $54 R/T. For a schedule, contact (011) 599-717-7001.

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