Round & Round

Round & Round

09BONSept 50Island Notes 42

Things are ever changing even on a small island like Bonaire.  The Bevolking, the civil registry, just released new census numbers last week.  We now have 15,414 people living on island, up 2% since December.  One hundred and six different nations are represented in that population.  Over two-thirds are Dutch Antillean, most born on Bonaire or neighboring Curacao.  As you might expect, the largest immigrant group are European Dutch at 10%.  But 5% come from the Dominican Republic, 4% from Columbia, and 3% each from Venezuela and Peru.  Americans have decreased here from 3% to 2% in that time.

And for the rest, we have quite an eclectic smattering of folks from around the globe—Ireland, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cameroon, Israel, Saudi Arabia–just to name a few.  For some reason the Bevolking lists people from the Hawaiian Islands separate from other Americans.  Perhaps it’s time to update their categories.  Hawaii became a state a half century ago.

09BONSept 48What does all this mean?  More traffic for one thing, and drivers with many different driving styles.  It’s an international smorgasbord of motoring methods on Bonaire roads, and it can get crazy out there.  In response to the increased flow, the government just completed a rotary, a roundabout, a good, old traffic circle.  Since the first of the year, the overwhelmed intersection at Kaya Industria and Kaya International has been closed for construction. This has lead to convoluted alternate routes to get around island. But no matter, we were promised that the new rotonde would be completed sometime before Christmas.

So it was with much surprise when I noticed the other day that Kaya International was open as we headed to the store.  I suggested to Hettie that we drive down to check out the new traffic circle.  What happened next must be prefaced by an explanation.  Changes here come quite slow.  When they do happen, and especially way ahead of schedule, there is a sense of elation, a kind of runner’s high, a bit of tropical madness.

As we approached the circle, everything screamed, “I AM NEW!” 09BONSept 51in the blazing afternoon sun.  Bold, white lines commanded where to stop.  New asphalt was deep black from just being poured the day before.  Letters painted on the yellow, circular centerpiece greeted those just released from the Flamingo Airport down the way. “Bon Bini Na Bonaire”-welcome to Bonaire.  It was all too overwhelming.  I was euphoric.  I sped about the circle once-twice-three times, laughing madly all the way.  Hettie was duly impressed with the new circular, even giggling at times.  So I continued around again and again and again.  On the sixth orbit, I was abruptly urged to begin re-entry.

09BONSept 53“I am getting dizzy,” protested my spouse.

“Oh.  OK,” I mumbled and dutifully steered back to the real world again.  “That was GREAT, huh?”

“Yeah, that was just fantastic!”

It is times like these that I realized we have changed as people since moving here.  Our repeated circumnavigation of the new traffic circle was the highlight of the week.  What’s more, I am not embarrassed to admit it.  It was a wonderful celebration.  I mean… simple things are why we moved here in the first place.

09BONSeptBonaire has no traffic lights and continues that fine tradition. Well,there is actually one traffic light on island, but it is installed in front of the Pasa Bon Pizza place.  Apparently, the owner who is from New Jersey thought the light might attract more customers.  Another roadside attraction.

What will the next big event be? Well, they are already starting construction of another traffic circle at the opposite end of Kaya Industria.  That will be complete the circular bookends to this very busy thoroughfare.  Who knows when it will be complete, but one thing is for sure.  When it is done I will be back for another multi orbit voyage around the new rotonde.

09BONSept 47

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Looking Inward

Looking Inward

09BONSept 18Island Notes 41

When I worked in the Hawaiian Islands years ago, I quickly learned that locals gave directions with two key phrases.  Makai described ‘to the sea’ while mauka indicated ‘to the mountains’ or inland.  That orientation guides the lives of many here on Bonaire although I haven’t found a linguistic equivalent to date.  After moving down island, I soon discovered that I definitely belonged to the makai group.

Our life here revolves around the sea.  We sail its waters, swim its shores, and snorkel its reefs. Often, we do all three in a day. Our Playa Lechi home faces the sea.  Its most frequented room is the terrace offering a grand view of the bay, the offshore islet of Klein Bonaire, and the coastal hills of the national park to the north.  It is a place to watch pelicans fly, track incoming freighters to harbor, and contemplate a golden sunset with anticipation of seeing the elusive Green Flash. The vast majority of our time spent at home is geared to makai. This aquatic directionality speaks to my Pisces soul.

But others on Bonaire come from the mauka perspective.  They choose to turn toward land for their lifestyle.  They work in banks, shops, and stores.  Their homes are often away from the shore, many without even a view of the blue.  While Kralendijk, Bonaire’s main town, casually spreads itself thin along the waterfront, Rincón, the island’s only other town, sits landlocked in a valley.  Legend has it that this first town of the island was positioned out of sight from the sea in order to discourage visits by marauding pirates.  In those days, the island appeared uninhabited from the water.  So a sense of mauka has been on Bonaire for centuries. I was surprised to learn this moving here.  I just assumed that all islanders would be sea oriented like myself.  Of course, most do dabble along the coast for a swim, a picnic or a drink.  But it would be inaccurate to believe that all Bonaireans live like I do with a healthy daily dose of the sea.

Breaking my hand changed my makai way of life in a heart beat.  I was sailing alone to my mooring one August afternoon, and in the process of hooking up, I got my right hand in between a rope and a hard place.  I immediately knew I had screwed up badly.  I swam to shore and got to a doctor the next day.  I had a splint for ten days until the swelling went down.  A cast kept me out of the water for a month.  Now, I’m busy with rehab to get motion back in my hand.  Sailing is just a concept until that painful process is complete.  This water-deprived, abrupt break from the sea has made me introspective.  I have become mauka.  I now look inward toward the island while I tick off my rehabilitation days.

Perhaps it was the 6.5 earthquake from neighboring Venezuela that jolted me into thinking about terra firma instead of water.  The quake was strong enough to vibrate the rattan chair I was sitting in while reading the sailing adventure book, North By East.  Soon after that big rattle, I decided to explore the land of Bonaire.  I had done some of this before.  I spent an afternoon exploring a couple island caves, but that ended with a subterranean snorkel.  I scaled Mount Brandaris, our highest peak, but the actual goal of the trek was to look at the sea from its summit.  Again, makai had dominated these experiences.  No, this time the goal was to turn my back to the sea, to discover the mondi, Bonaire’s wild interior.

09BONSept 27

Fortunately for me, my friend, Marlene showed me what she has christened ‘the ridge trail’.  It is a simple, rocky, limestone path that meanders through the hills above Sabadeco, about mid-island.  I find it fascinating.

forestThere is a sense of forest here.  I can smell nature’s compost of matted leaves.  Loras, our local parrots, roost in great numbers along the path at sunset.  Trees are numerous and diverse. Marlene, with her local botanical knowledge, showed me the wonders of these woods.  There are bonsai-shaped trees that could easily grace any respectable Japanese tea garden.

09BONSept 37

Others have white snail shells clinging to their limbs or long, flowing veils of a satin green plant resembling Spanish moss. Some have twisted trunks of grey, gnarled forms that would easily spook me on a full moon night.moss

Those of you from the continent may not be impressed.  Few trees tower more than twenty feet.  To look down the trail, the uninitiated might describe the scene as scrub or the bush.  But for me, the diversity of this island microenvironment is impressive.  I haven’t seen anything quite like it until now.  The ridge trail seems to have been spared much of the overgrazing from goat and donkey since the Spanish arrived 400 years ago.  It is not virgin forest.  But it is certainly a healthy mondi, and I smile when I am there.sea

You would think that a ‘ridge trail’ would have panorama, but there are few spots to look out to the sea.  And this is good.  My focus now is on learning the land. On a recent morning walk with my dog, Sparky, dogwe come upon one of the few vista points along the path.  A fierce rainstorm the night before cleansed the skies and the visibility is stellar.  I look out across the sea to the southwest.  Several peaks of the neighboring island of Curacao 30 miles away appear on the horizon.  I spot the buff-colored butte of Tafelberg, a hill that overlooks the protective bay of Spanish Water where I have sailed into several times.  Even further away are two more peaks—Serú Garcia and Sint Christoffelberg—both in Curacao’s national park. I have been on the top of Sint Christoffelberg, the island’s highest peak at 1230 feet.  The height of that short mountain also may not impress many from the continent, but it supports a micro niche blanketed with scarlet-colored bromeliads and wild orchids.  It is stunning.

I comment to Sparky about the terrific view, but she is unimpressed. At dog level, she is denied the grandeur.  Rather, she merely looks at me with sad eyes, points her wet nose in the direction of the car, and urges me to hurry up.   I take one last look.  The sea is indigo blue and sparkling in the morning light.  It calls to me from the hills and I am reminded that time to swim and sail will come soon enough.  For now, though, I am happy to be mauka, looking toward the mountains.  Looking inward.gnarled

…for more photos of the ridge trail, click on the “new pix” tab above.