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.

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