Dusty roads and not so rusty trucks

Before we left on the trip, Tim and I were firing emails back and forth discussing logistics, doing web-recon on potential dive sites, and getting each other excited about the upcoming trip.  I think Tim summed it up best…

Dirt road to Karpata

You know, I’ve been having fantasies about this trip.  I can just see us cavalierly tossing our gear in the back of this rusty old Datsun.  It’s hot and the sun is beating down as we kick up dust while bumping along a limestone road gaily singing an upbeat song about armagedeon (I know I’m missing a letter there, but which one?). Our hair is blowing in the wind like a car commercial with surfers (never mind that our hair is short, fantasy, fantasy) and I’m not sure the windows even work since it looks like someone broke off the right crank after banging their knee too many times going through the kidney jarring holes in the “road.” At our destination, we duck through a hole in some scrubby trees leading down to a rocky coral beach. We lug our heavy equipment over the tidepools smelling thickly of salt and sealife (I would say rotting sealife but that is not very romantic). Getting in the water is instant relief as our feet are cooled and our heavy tanks float a bit.

Imagine our disappointment when we were shown to our late model, low mileage, quad cab Mitsubishi.  The rental agent tried to make us feel a little better as we walked the perimeter of the truck, recording dents and scratches on the vehicle check-out paperwork.  “There’s one!” he would exclaim, pointing to a slight blemish that could probably be removed by a modest application of windex.  Still, there was a little rust around the tailgate, and even though the mechanisms all worked, the windows were in fact manual.  And most important, it was key to our freedom.

Tim is checking the oxygen levels in our nitrox tanks before we slide them over the rusty tailgate into the back of our Mitsubishi

Tim gearing up for the dive - despite the many pictures of Tim working, I actually did help do stuff too!

With four tanks of gas and a sense of adventure we hopped in the truck, manually rolled down the windows, and headed out towards our destiny.   Or tried to.  The car stalled – apparently it’s been a while since Tim drove a stick.  Undaunted by this minor hiccup, he brought the truck back to life and we took to the road.

One nice thing about Bonaire is that the island is really really small.  It takes almost no time to get around – well, that’s not entirely true as we found out in the North where the severely rutted and potholed dirt road ended up being so steep and treacherous that we had to turn around (at which point we figured out that we took the wrong fork… the correct road was still pretty bouncy but passable).

Fully geared up, Tim begins the walk down at the 1000 steps dive site.

Getting around the island was easy.  The dive sites were all marked with yellow stones with the name of the site.  Parking – no problem.  We’ve done enough dives the past couple of years that putting the gear together and suiting up has become second nature.

The real problem was getting in the water.

Tim contemplates the best path for entry. Despite the "helpful" entry and exit stones, entering the water was not always a simple task.

The furthest north site we went to was a site called Nukove.  It was in an isolated part of the island down a long dirt road.  Our arrival surprised a couple of middle aged german women who had taken advantage of the remoteness of the area to do a little topless sunbathing.  They quickly covered up when they heard our truck and headed down to the beach to do some snorkeling  while we surveyed the area.  A small climb down from the parking spot brought us to a rocky beach.  We geared up and considered the best way to enter.

Some of the critters waiting for us below (from Oil Slick Leap dive site)

So here we are, our pockets filled with weights, straps and lights and regs dangling from our bcds, our balance is off because of the heavy air tanks strapped to our back and we can’t even see the uneven rocky bottom we’re trying to walk across because of the waves that are crashing into us.

This is just not easy!

Tim thought we might be better to just lay down and let the surf carry us out over the rocks through the shallow water.  So that’s what we did.  First Tim went, then myself.  Unfortunately the surf wasn’t quite enough, the water was too shallow, and I ended up having to do a bit of a belly crawl which was unnerving because you’re really just not sure what you might be touching.  Tim had his whole lycra body suit on but I just had a thrash guard top and swim trunks.

I made it through, half floating-half crawling over the rocks to a slightly deeper area where we could stand.  But it wasn’t over… we had another shallow rocky shelf we had to float over.  This is when Tim asked me, “You know what fire coral is right?”

Fire coral is found in some of the shallows where it is hard to see when you're walking into the water.

What?!?  Wonderful!  I was now uncomfortably aware of the presence of this painful stinging coral which dotted our course out.

But whether it was the fire coral of Nukove, the leap of faith from Oil Slick Leap (it looks deep enough for a giant stride from a 15 foot cliff, right?!?), or the angst of wondering how to find the exit from Bachelor’s Beach in complete darkness, each of these challenges just added to the sense of adventure and of course we were always rewarded with a wonderful dive.

Dive! Dive! Dive!

This was it!  We sat had sat through the orientation.  We had received our gear.  We knew where the secret key was.

We had our choice between diving the resort reef, going out on one of the dive boats, or hoping in our pickup truck and heading off down the dusty roads to one of the many shore diving spots that encompassed the west side of the island.

By the time the week was up we had done 19 dives – most of which were around an hour long.  At the end of the week, I almost always felt like I was floating- even when I was firmly planted on dry land, I had managed to kill my dive camera (saltwater and electronics don’t mix well), we’d seen seahorses and eagle rays and a slipper lobster, and were confident and relaxed and enjoying the hell out of life!

Eat, Sleep, Dive

On just the second day, after stepping off the boat into the water, I took a look at my dive camera and noticed a rising line of water inside the case.  Ugh!  I guess I didn’t seal it correctly and I watched as the display flashed a couple of times, became staticy, and then just went completely dead.  (After the trip was over I contacted the manufacturer, Sealife, and to my amazement they replaced the camera at no charge.)

Here are pictures from our first few dives.

 

Lights in the water

Holding very still so the picture isn't blurry

The day had started at 3:30am with a quick shower, cab ride to the airport, flight to Atlanta and then on to Bonaire, check-in, car rental, unpacking, and a little bit of hacking. Now finally, it was time to relax. We kicked back at a seaside table in the hotel restaurant.

Dive lights flashing about as divers wonder, "what was that big silvery thing I saw out of the corner of my eye!"

The sun fell rapidly below the horizon as we sat there looking out over the sea.  As darkness took over, we watched as spots of light appeared out by the dive boats, darting about quickly and randomly as night divers made their way over the sandy bottom to the reef just beyond the boats.

 

We had an orientation scheduled the next morning before we would be able to take our first dive.  After a long day of traveling, we went to bed that night with dreams of laying our eyes on Abudefduf, Balistes, and Chromis then Xestospongia, Yoga,and Zoanthus!.

 

 

The pirates of Bonaire

Avast ye maties, don’t tell us we can’t use your internet.  Prepare to be boarded!

Yes, less than one day after our arrival, and being told the internet was “unavailable”, we bumped into a fellow who had managed to get online.  He was surrounded by a group of worshippers carrying laptops and ipads and seeking divine guidance from their idol on how they too can connect to the information superhighway (well – out here it’s more of a potholed dirt road).

Tim bellowed his best “argggg”, slipped on his eye patch (loss of stereoscopic vision caused him to stumble into the bed and he immediately removed the patch), and put his years of “legitimate” network training to work on a far more worthy task than what he finds in his normal routine.

Here is what he had to say (use the pirate accent while reading):

“The resort is having problems with their internet and their router. But the WiFi portion of the connection is still up. No one else but some overweight dorky looking guy with a fake French accent in the pool bar could get out.   Using our amazing hacking skills and innate knowlege of things geeky and electronic, we configured our laptops to break into the network and access the internet.”

Please have bail money ready…