Standing While Snorkeling

Another Island Note…

My spouse and I are on a lovely sunset cruise with our stalwart boat, Kontentu.  As we glide by Donkey Beach she suddenly yells out while half laughing, “Look!  There’s a guy standing in the water, trying to snorkel.”  Sure enough.  The red-backed tourist who failed to apply SPF 50 sunscreen is bent over, looking downward into the gin clear water while standing up, happy as a clam. He sort of looks like this kid, but without the shirt on. 

I appreciate the guy’s novel approach to ‘snorkeling’, but I must take off points for his lack of style.  It is so much better just to float your boat and dig the underwater world.  We islanders, contrary to some outsider opinions of being just laid backed bozos, do have our standards.  Especially when it comes to anything in, above or under the water.

And there are other things happening on the island that are crosswise with our tropical tango.  Take for instance the just-opened Jungle Concept Store. They boast having Island Essentials – Tropical Vibes – Affordable & Timeless Products. Huh?  How have I survived here for over a decade without these essential things? We live on an arid island.  The best it can offer in terms of dense jungle vegetation are the mangroves around Lac Bay or our semi-dry hilly forests. Camo gear for our outback perhaps?  You got to be kidding.  You will stand out like a proud pink flamingo.

But this rant is not just about some misbranded retailer.  How about the island’s new policies regarding cruise ships?  None have docked here since March 2020 due to the worldwide pandemic.  During the moratorium, the powers that be wisely decided to reconsider cruise ship tourism.  When two monster ships arrive here, Bonaire’s population increases by 30% in a Havana heartbeat.  The island ceases to function normally.  Roads are jammed, half naked passengers invade our streets with little respect for the local culture, and trash and pollution follow these day trippers as they trapes around the island.  This may be fine for the 200 or so that profit from the cruise ship trade, but for the rest of us?  Not so much. 

Photo-Julie Morgan

During this reprieve the government proposed new environmental restrictions for visiting ships.  There is also talk of increasing a tourist tax for those arriving by water from a paltry $3 to $10.  And no more than one ship can dock per day.  So, what am I bitching about?  Well, these new policies are not yet cast in stone and it is not clear why. Plus, there are existing contracts with cruise ship corporations that need to be honored, which were signed before Covid appeared.  Thus, we will have multi-cruise ships days for the next two years beginning September.  Rumor has it that there will even be a couple of days when THREE ships will be docking.  You will find me hiding up in the hills overlooking the sea, sequestered like a crab under a rock. Bet your money on it.

Kontentu now cruises toward the marina as the sun dips into the horizon with a sizzle.  We pass by Donkey Beach once again.  Oh my, he who stands while snorkeling is still there!  Unbelievable.  His back is now glowing like a Three Mile Island nuclear reactor in the fading light.  I pity the poor boy, but hey, on the bright side he can fly home tomorrow and avoid the indignation of both the Jungle Concept Store and upcoming cruise ship invasion.  It is not always easy being a worldkid living on the rock.  

Photo-Val Bezic

Udderly Ridiculous

Another Island Note from the Land of Bon Bini…

Years ago, I would take my super dog, Sparky, for her end-of-day stroll at Sunset Beach.  This place was super chilled.  The foundation ruins of the old Hotel Bonaire were hidden behind in the tall, wild grass. There was a row of funky coconut palms bending with the wind. Osprey and parrots glided among the towering trees behind the strand.   The beach itself was a mix of sand and rock that most tourists avoided, so we locals had pretty much had the run of the place.  

Unfortunately, it was not to last.  Word came that developers wanted to build a set of boutique hotels at Sunset and market packaged tours to Bonaire-bound Europeans.  If that happened, access to Sunset would most likely be restricted to guests.  Locals would lose yet another beach hang out.  A number of us, Bonaireans and ex-pats, formed a citizens group and created an alternate plan before it was too late.  We envisioned a beach that would encourage small entrepreneurs to set up food trucks, kayak and beach chair rentals, craft stands, and perhaps a small tiki bar  — all to spur on local economic development.  Keep the money on island.  STINAPA, Bonaire’s national land and sea park organization, could have a place for educational outreach about the island’s natural world. Volleyball and beach tennis courts would be set up.  Accessible parking would be free so residents could easily get to the beach.  Let the developers have the land toward the back of the property.  We drew a line in the sand.  Sunset would remain local.  Tourists could come if they chose, but the place would maintain its laid-back community vibe.

We lobbied the government powers for a year.  My job was to spin media stories to get islanders informed on the matter.  Our efforts fell on deaf ears by the powers in charge.  It was obvious that money spoke louder than words and ideas. Efforts to keep Sunset Beach local had failed.  

Fast forward to 2021.  The Chogogo Development Company from Curacao is telling us that “It’s Time To Smile”.  That is their promotional slogan for a 196-unit resort called Chogogo Dive & Beach Resort currently under construction.  The eight buildings that make up the complex are stark, white, boxy structures that look like they have been transported from Spain’s Costa Brava. Other than its name, Chogogo, which means flamingo in our local language, there are no aesthetic concessions to the local culture.  In fact, the entire complex will be surrounded by a moat. Beware you island heathens!  We don’t want you here.

Another aesthetic affront are the ten, cone-shaped shade covers that soar 30 feet into the air at the center of the complex.  There are also two additional sets of these tensile structures at the gated security entrance and down on what used to be called Sunset Beach. For some unknown reason, it was renamed Coco Beach a couple of years ago.  Sure, let’s erase the past so we can move forward.  Volleyball and beach tennis courts were established by local efforts.  A huge beach bar was also constructed, but with prices favoring vacationers rather than residents.  The Chogogo resort has decided to eliminate both.  The resort is now building its own beach bar.

While driving by the other day, my astute spouse gazed at the ten-masted tension hood with its plastic shade cones capped with polycarbonate covers reaching to the heavens.  “These look like cow udders imported from Holland,” she said.  “I think in Papiamentu these would be called titi vaca. This is udderly ridiculous!”  She had a point. The bovine analogy was appropriate.  It is in clashing contrast to the resort’s flowery propaganda claiming that these “tension hoods are architectural eye-catchers for Bonaire”.  So there.

My spouse continues to rant.  “Did you notice how brown those udders are getting?  It’s time for chocolate milk. They never thought about how the island winds carry dust and salt.  The brown is just sticking to that white plastic.  They will have to get a crane to clean those sky-high udders.”

There is not much access now for locals to reach what used to be Sunset Beach.  A narrow strip of land to the south has been taken over by another hotel development company that began clearing the land even before getting its building permits. What gall. A small, denuded strip of shore to the north is that all remains.  

Chogogo maintains that locals are welcome to access the sea at this dusty site.  It’s like throwing an old fish bone to a dog.  Sparky, who is now in hound heaven, would certainly be miffed.

Dock of the Bay

Another note from dah island, mon.

I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay today whistlin’ Otis Redding songs in the sunny mid-afternoon.  There goes the Doña Luisa with a load bound for Curacao.  She will be there in about three hours.  A fleet of Sunfish sailboats swoon by heading off to Klein Bonaire in a tight race.  Yeah, it’s a mighty fine day to be shoreside watching the world glide by.

But I also think about times past.  That’s what the rhythmic sounds of the sea around the dock pilings will do for your head.  Hell, I’m on my 14th year of ramblin’ since I stopped working back in the US of A.  Most of that has been down island. Some people call this retirement.  I always thought that term smacked of finality, put out to the pasture, done deal, game over.  Accomplishments in these sunset years are often not expected or recognized.  So, what have I done?

I guess my biggest escapade to date was when I got hired to help crew a super yacht catamaran from Curacao to Panama a few years ago.  Actually, I joined the captain and the first mate months before on a voyage from Bonaire to Grenada so the boat could get hauled out in preparation for a world circumnavigation.  And before that I babysat the vessel dockside in Bonaire while the permanent crew flew back to the UK for passport renewals.  But the passage to Panama was the big one.  We never spoke of compensation for any of this.  I just went along with the flow.

I remember showing up with my well-worn sailing gloves in hand only to realize that most lines on this yacht were powered by hydraulic winches. Press a button and the work was done. Docking was completed by a remote joystick device that the captain used on deck since the edge of the ship could not be seen from the bridge 25 feet above.  Ah yes, welcome to the super yacht world.

I was allowed to bring my lovely spouse with me, but it was pointed out that she would not be compensated.  A free ride none the less.  We were put up in a luxurious cabin with an en-suite head (bathroom) where flushing the toilet was, again, a matter of a delicate push of a button.  For you landlocked readers, most marine toilets require twisting open valves and vigorously pumping a handle repeatedly to expel the waste.  Not on this dandy ride.  We were also provided food and beverage although no alcohol was consumed during passage, which is a wise decision.  In port?  That was another matter.

It was a five-day voyage with a two-day stop in Santa Marta, Colombia. It was delightful.  When we arrived on the Caribbean coast of Panama, my job was done.  The owner, his family and friends along with the professional crew planned to take the catamaran through the Canal and start an extended voyage through the Pacific.  As we packed up, the captain came and thanked me for all of my help.  Then he pulled out a roll of one-hundred dollar bills and began peeling them off into my hands.  I lost count when I thought I received just compensation but they just kept coming. “Again, thanks for your help,” said the captain.  “I’ll arrange transport for you to get to Panama City so you can catch your flight home.”  That was also paid for.  

But wait.  We didn’t just flee the country.  Hell no, we booked a room at the posh Waldorf Astoria in downtown Panama City.  We ate at luxurious restaurants and drank 18-year old aged rum.  We saw the sites, traveled by taxi and laughed late into the night.   It was four days of revelry.  We paid for everything in cash, peeling off those big bills just like the captain did. I was continuing the tradition of sailors who had done this for centuries when they finally reached port.  It felt grand.

Back on the dock I just smile at the memories of those times.  The sun flecks down to my well-worn hands, stiff with the beginnings of arthritis.  I don’t walk so well after a bad fall a few years ago.  And now and then another old friend passes on from this world to wherever we go next, if we even go anywhere at all.  Ah, the golden years. I couldn’t work easily on that super yacht now, but hey, carpe diem.  Seize the day and I’m glad I did.  I’ll let my friend, Mr. Redding finish this tale…

So I’m just gonna sit on the dock of the bay

Watchin’ the tide roll away.

Ooo, I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time.