Island Bubbly

Another note from the island…

This convoluted island note involves a three-step samba, so please, indulge me here.

Step One. Perhaps it is the predictability of our near perfect weather. What’s the temperature today?  I don’t know.  I never look.  Or maybe it is the old ‘stranded on a sandbar’ syndrome. Shit, I can’t go anywhere.  Maybe I should do something?! These sentiments are what drive some islanders to go places where few have gone before, to explore horizons unknown.

Step Two. The word ‘bon’ (sounds like ‘bone’) in our local language means ‘good’.  It is used in greetings like Bon Tardi (good afternoon), Bon Simán (have a good week) and Hopi Bon! (very good).  

Step Three. And then there is the Italian wine, Prosecco, which has a refreshing effervescence perfect for cutting the edge off a warm, balmy afternoon.  More than a few on Bonaire beat the heat with a chilled bottle of this golden elixir.  And maybe after imbibing on a couple or four glasses is when the problem samba begins. Dance away, my amigos, dance away.

I read recently on Facebook, which serves as our local coconut telegraph, that some residents were experimenting with their SodaStream machines, a device that injects CO2 into a liquid. 

They were taking cheap chardonnay, screw-top sauvignon blanc and low shelf viño blanco and embellishing them with bubbles.  The heat must have gone to their heads for they labeled the new libation, Bon Secco, a disillusioned attempt to recreate a fine Prosecco wine.  Misguided efforts such as these often occur during hurricane season.  I’ve seen sailors wildly bailing out their boats with nothing in the bucket.  I’ve witnessed tourists brazenly lay in the equatorial sun while their bodies glowed in late afternoon to a scarlet crisp. I’ve heard reports of Bonaire road crews actually filling potholes in defiance of time-honored traditions. While most of the big storms blow north of us, the dastardly weather systems take away our wind.  We sit in an overheated daze sans breeze. It’s like being in a William Faulkner novel, helpless victims in a steamy, southern summer that leads to madness.

But beyond the Category Fives churning to the north, let’s just face it.  These are challenging times for anyone.  We are told to celebrate the 2020 Olympics even though it’s 2021.  Multimillionaires/billionaires fly their rich, sorry asses into the fringe of outer space for ten minutes of blast off bliss. The assumption is that we are supposed to bow down to these quasi-cosmic hooligans.  And then there is the omnipresent threat of multiple cruise ships readying to re-invade our island beginning September.  I know, I know.  I already complained about this in my last blog.  But hey, perhaps the cumulative effect of all this gravitas is unknowingly pressuring some on Bonaire to infuse substandard grape with gastronomic gas.

Can I blame them for drinking cheap, adulterated wine served as cold as your ex’s heart?  No, the outside pressures are certainly too great.  Should they behave better?  Maybe, but who am I to judge when a good day for me is an extreme sail on my boat, a squawking parrot flying three feet overhead and a strong rum or two as the sun sinks once again into the sea.  Rather, I must give these pioneer mixologists the benefit of the doubt. 

As esteemed philosopher Umberto Eco once said, The only thing we know to be true is that Clark Kent is Superman. So go on, my fellow islanders, and enjoy your bubbly Bon Secco.  And deepest apologies to all my Italian friends for we know not what we do.

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.