It started out as just another Sunday road trip. About once a month, we drive the southern part of the island. It is a pleasant ring road where one can view shocking pink water at the salt works, kite boarders going aerial at Atlantis and the crashing waves on the Wild Side, Bonaire’s churning, windward coast. By the time the loop is completed at Lac Bay, we usually stop at the Beach Hut and quaff a cold, draft Heineken beer.
But this is not just another Sunday. While driving, I look ahead and see two bicyclists coming toward our car. One of the cyclists holds his handlebar with one hand. In the other, he cradles a baby flamingo. All three, the two bikers and the bird, stare determinedly straight ahead as we pass. I could not believe my eyes. “Did you see what I just saw?” I say to Hettie. She had not. “That guy had a baby flamingo in his arms!” “Turn around,” replies Hettie. “I gotta see this.”
I do just that. I quickly turn the car around and catch up to the bikers. We know one of them, Corine van der Hout. “We found this bird on the road and was afraid it might get hit by a car or attacked by the dogs nearby,” Corine explains. “We’re trying to take it to a safe place.”
We offer to drive the bird to the Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary on the south end of the island. Both Corine and her friend, Marco, are visibly relieved. It is a real feat to go bicycling with a flamingo. Hettie carefully holds a shopping bag while Marco places the young bird into the sack. It is still grayish-white, not having had the chance to eat the carotene-rich algae that gives the adult birds their distinctive orange/pink coloration. The three of us—Hettie, the flamingo and I—are soon off.
Once we drive away, the bird struggles to get out of the bag. Hettie finally deduces that it is just rearranging its long, gangly legs. Once comfortably positioned, the flamingo is quiet for the rest of the ride. Fifteen minutes later, I stop the car at the Pekelmeer. This place is a flat expanse of stick-to-your-flip-flops sand, saline water, scrubby bush and scattered rocks. It is a harsh environment for us humans, but one in which flamingos thrive. We walk a few hundred yards with the bird in bag to water’s edge. Hettie places the sack on its side and urges our new-feathered friend to exit. It reluctantly stumbles out. Once released, the bird squawks heartily, struts to the shallows and takes a sip of water. Then it flutters its wings and slowly walks away from us. The bird is back to being a flamingo again. And us humans? We press on with a promise of a cold draft at the Beach Hut. It is time to salute a successful relocation.