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