Street Legal

Island Notes 67

I had just entered the store, TIS-The Island Supplier, when a skinny, uniformed man approached me.  He looked vaguely familiar, but also quite comical.  His outfit resembled an oversized, police suit from a bad Rodney Dangerfield/banana republic comedy-crooked epaulettes, an ostentatious badge with a goofy logo, and an oversized hat that superceded the importance of his position.   I am sure that most days of this man’s life, he just got no respect.

“Sir, didn’t you visit me at my office about getting a Bonaire driver’s license?”

“Why yes, I did.”

That response led to a series is mishaps, a trail of tears, an imbroglio of the highest proportions.  For that skinny, uniformed man, let’s call him Antoine, pursued me into believing a string of non-truths about how I needed to proceed in obtaining my Bonairan drivers license.

Granted, I was a bit tardy.  I should have applied for a license within the first months of coming to Bonaire nearly three years ago.  But upon arrival, I happily embraced the philosophy of poco poco, that wonderful island dalliance of not rushing into anything too fast.  It is more than “stop and smell the roses”.  Poco poco is more like “chill and dig on the frangipani”.  It is serious slow down.

In any event, the clock was now ticking and I was sans license, even if I remained on island time.  On 10/10/10, our beloved little rock would become an openbaar lichaam since the political entity of the Netherlands Antilles was dissolving.  Translation?  Bonaire would become a type of special municipality that moved it closer to Mother Holland and we here all know what that means—more regulation and higher costs.  Therefore, I was forced out of my comfort zones of boat, hammock and terrace to get street legal before the rules of the game changed.

Antoine, the oddly uniformed skinny man, told me that even though I had a US license, I would need to take a written test as well as a driving test.  He also urged me to take a driver refresher course beforehand because, according to him, the driver test inspectors frowned upon anyone not taking a drivers course first.  I would have one strike against me before rubber even met the road. Antoine quickly mentioned he could supply such services in his off hours at a very reasonable rate.

I pondered the long road to get a Bonaire license and decided to take this a step at a time. Antoine supplied me with study materials that would prepare me for the written exam.  Of course, the material was far different than what I was used to stateside.  The island uses the international road signs common in Europe—abstract, visual commands mostly in red and blue.  But the manual listed other ‘rules’ that I never learned in Driver’s Ed back in high school.  For instance…

It is nice watching a pelican dive into the marina, but watch where you are going or you and your vehicle will be next to be dived after!

Car races are allowed on the road only with the permission of the Lieutenant Governor.  You also need to get his permission if you want to pull a trailer.

It is not allowed to have people riding in the back of a truck unless they are there to secure the load and prohibit it from falling out.


You can drive a car with the door open, but only the driver’s door.

I didn’t see Antoine for some weeks after getting the study guide, and although I had a number of questions, I decided to go back to the Rijbewijs Kantoor, Bonaire’s version of the DMV.  A helpful, young woman greeted me.

“I would like to get a Bonaire driver’s license, and I already have one from the States,” I informed her.

“Well, sir, all you have to do is take a driver’s test.  No written exam is necessary.  Fill out these forms and I can schedule you in six weeks,” instructed the competent clerk.

This was good and bad news.  Gone was the stress of studying and taking a written exam.  (Where was that Antoine anyway?)  But the list of documents needed rivaled that of a master’s thesis…
-Two color passport photos

-a bill of good health signed by a local doctor

-three stamps purchased from the tax office

-proof of my official residency

-a copy of our car registration

-a receipt showing that the auto insurance was recently paid

After assembling the pile of paperwork, I waited the six weeks until the exam. Antoine, who I frequently ran into when he was pitching his personal drivers training course, mysteriously disappeared during this time.  Finally, the day of the drivers test arrived.  When I went to the office, the clerk looked at me surprised, “Oh, there are no inspectors here today to give the driving test.  Today is Thursday.”

“I know it is Thursday.  That is when your office scheduled my appointment.”

“Come back tomorrow at the same time.  The inspectors will be here then.”

I returned the next day to take the exam and got double love.  Two inspectors rode with me.

“How long have you been driving?” asked one.

“Since 1964.”

“That was one year before I was even born.”

Yeah, baby. Street cred.  I had more driving years than this guy had been living on the planet.  He was impressed.  I was told to make a U-turn in the middle of a deserted side street, but not to drive off the pavement.  This involved backing up and moving forward several times to make the turn. I was instructed to drive to the soccer stadium parking lot and back into a white-lined parking spot first from the left, and then from the right.  Later, I was urged to take a left turn into a one-way street.  Can’t fool the old driving ninja with a lame trick like that.  I passed the one-way street and made the next left-hand turn.

The rest of the ride went smoothly.  Both inspectors turned their attention to the local girls walking the street rather than observing my driving.  Fifteen minutes later we were back at the ‘DMV’.  The duo disappeared into their air-conditioned office and returned five minutes later.

“Congratulations, sir, you passed the exam.”

Several Bonairans who were waiting on the bench with me enthusiastically shook my hand and offered congratulations.

“Bring this paper back next week,” continued the inspector. “Then you can pick up your permanent license.”

I did just that.  One of the color photos I had previously submitted was glued and then stapled twice to the oversized, flamingo pink license.  And one of the tax stamps I had purchased was also applied with an official ink stamp and signature on top.  What had commenced back in June, was finally complete in October. Poco poco. It was time to cruise downtown Kralendijk on Kaya Grande, to glide by Lac Bay and watch the windsurfers, to speed down the road to Rincón and check out the newly-placed, gigantic tropical mockingbird–another roadside attraction.  I am, after all, street legal once again.

My friend, Tom, admiring a new cultural addition to the island-- a 10-foot chuchubi or tropical mockingbird.


island images of Saba & Statia

Back in September, I had the opportunity to travel on the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance-sponsored press trip to the islands of Saba and Sint Eustatius.  Willem Mouissie, a talented documentary filmmaker traveled with us and produced a cool video about our adventures.  Take a look at this You Tube link for a great look at these island gems of the Caribbean.

Bookends of an Island Day

Island Notes 66.

All photos by Laura De Salvo.

I am totally soaked from rain and stare at the gray wall in the men’s room at the City Café in downtown Kralendijk.  On the wall, elegantly painted script says, If size matters mucho, choose your place wisely.  Under that sentence, going left to right above the urinal, are letters progressively growing in size: S (small), M (medium), L (large), XL (extra large).  I find myself pissing at XL nearest to the door, not far from a local Dutch sailboat charter captain called Walter.  He is relieving himself at ‘M’.  I make a disparaging remark about his geographical location and why not?  I am full with beer and it is the beginning of the 43rd. Bonaire International Sailing Regatta. Arrrrgh. Party on.

Swimmers ready on Eden Beach.

But I digress.  The first bookend of this long day took place many hours ago in the early morning.  It is the Swim To Klein Bonaire, a two-kilometer water trek from sandy Eden Beach to the offshore islet of Klein Bonaire and back.  We joined 200 others for the event, the first of many during this weeklong regatta.  Besides dodging a few jellyfish, the swim was a long look into the deep blue, always a good way to start the day.

Later at 6:30pm, we drive to the stadium to gather for the Parade of Nations.  People from over 80 countries live on this tiny island.  The regatta parade gives them the chance to annually strut their stuff through the streets of Kralendijk.  Leading the charge is a flat bed truck with a local band that provides a non-stop, repeating mantra of joyful, rhythmic music in Papiamentu.  Taking up the rear is a group of twenty young Bonairans with assorted drums.  They will beat out a pulse to fuel the walkers.  In between, lined up in alphabetical order, are people of various nations bearing their country’s flag.

We, of course, join the Irish.  Beside myself, there are only two other Irish nationals on Bonaire.  The guy from County Mayo, the home of my family, is missing tonight.  But Dublin-bred Noel is present with his Dutch wife, Marjolein.  The couple ran an Irish pub in the south of the Netherlands for years, but moved with kids to Bonaire awhile back.  “Take a flag and join the clan,” greets Noel.  There is green-white-orange Irish flag, similar to the one I brought tonight, but it is quite faded.  The other is equally worn and has a gold harp on a green field.  “These flags hung in our old pub,” explains Marjolein. “Even the poles, the pool cue and the broomstick, came from the bar.”

Noel also has a Welsh flag, which he hands to our Wales-born friend, Rhian.  Our group is quite accepting.  We even let a few Brits join the group with their bloody Union Jack in hand.  Who ever said that the Irish weren’t tolerant?

Properly flagged, we motley marchers gather around the group’s centerpiece, a 20-year old baby stroller—a relic from Noel and Marjolein’s kids.  Mounted on top is the beer cooler, and Noel dispenses cold Amstel and Guinness with efficiency reflective of his pub owner days.  With fluids and flags in hand, we begin the Parade of Nations.

Directly ahead of us, past Ernst—the solo German in the parade, are the Ecuadorians.  There must be forty of them clad in bright yellow T-shirts and all coming in at the required Andean-induced height of five foot-five.  They surround the perimeter of an enormous flag of yellow, blue and red bands with an eagle-topped Coat of arms in the center.  The banner is at least twenty feet long and the group juggles it horizontally like a trembling trampoline surface.  Walking directly behind us is Haiti.  It appears to be a family of five, parents with three kids.  They, too, sport a flag, but the group’s manner is somber at best.  No smiles among them.  It looks like this may be required duty.

Ireland on Wheels

The parade is in full swing now with both bands blaring out music to enthusiastic, waving crowds.  Bonairans always seem curious to know who is living on their island.  Us foreigners are usually dispersed in a typical day, but the Parade of Nations brings to light that one-third of our island’s residents hail from other countries.  Nevertheless, the Bonairans are gracious and welcoming.  This party is enjoyed by all.

Rhian with the Welsh flag and Hettie enjoying the parade.

Our pulsating line of flags, music and people snakes through Kaya Grandi, bends left to the Regatta headquarters, and then makes its way on the seaside Kaya Playa Lechi.  We are heading back downtown when it begins to rain.  The forty Ecuadorians duck under their massive flag.  We drape ourselves under our various Irish banners.  Noel, captain of our precious baby stroller/beer cooler craft, simply marches on in the muck.

We arrive at Wilhelmina Park where a stage awaits to hold one representative from each country and where our fine lieutenant governor, Glenn Thodé will deliver his obligatory speech.  The rain has abated a bit and sitting on top of the back seat of a convertible is our newly crowned queen, Miss Bonaire.  The three runner-up competitors surround her.  All the young women are stunning.  Unlike stateside beauty queens with too much makeup, pasted on grins, and plastic injections, these girls are natural beauties with honest smiles and slim legs up to their shoulders.  The Ecuadorian guys abandon their flag and flock to the queen and her entourage. Each guy politely poses next to Miss Bonaire and the other queens while photos are snapped.  Everybody is having a good time.

Tutti Fruiti, the 70-something women from the village of Rincón, start to sing under the shelter of the stage.  But the wind and rain crank up again and we run for the dryness of the City Café.  Our soaked group assembles for the last round of beer.  We salute Ireland, the regatta and our good fortune.  It has been a day of momentous bookends, and a day well lived.