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republic comedy-crooked epaulettes, an ostentatious badge with a goofy logo, and an oversized hat that superceded the importance of his position.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.


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