After a busy first week of learning to identify 82 fish, mumbling through our first Papiamentu lesson, and completing the Open Water diver certification, we were ready for the weekend. Kicking off our first weekend we had Dia di Boneiru, Bonaire’s national Flag Day, a holiday filled with high-spirited displays of patriotism – something I would liken to Fourth of July in the States. During the day, we walked a few blocks and strolled around the local booths selling handmade jewelry, artwork, and various other knick-knacks.
When we went back a few hours later, the scene had changed dramatically as the sheer number of people milling around the plaza in downtown Kralendijk had increased 100-fold. Local musicians were jamming out on stage, everyone was on their feet dancing the night away, and the smell of booze and street food filled the air. After realizing that we couldn’t read much of anything on the menus, which were entirely in Papiamentu, my friends and I approached a vendor and attempted to decipher the menu. With some help from other locals who spoke some English, we quickly realized that “Everything on the menu is $10” was not something that could be ordered and were goaded into ordering sopi yuana and karko stoba. We were handed a small cup of iguana soup and a plate of conch stew served over rice, plantains, and pumpkin pancakes. It was positively delicious! Now I can check “Eat iguana” off my bucket list!
The following day we set out to cross another item off my bucket list – cliff jumping! While on a tour of the island last week, one of our professors mentioned a dive site a few miles north of the residence hall where one can jump into the water off a cliff and return via a ladder. So that afternoon, six of us took out our bikes and began the 4-mile trek to Oil Slick. In what seemed like no time, we were there. We all took turns jumping off the cliff, which admittedly was only about 15 feet above sea level. Nevertheless, it was quite thrilling to jump into the crashing waves of the ocean below!
And the habitat! We were only a few miles up shore from our normal dock; however, the habitat differed greatly. It was a blast to get the chance to get out of the house and explore a new section of the reef!
Speaking of exploring the reef, the diving has been nonstop intense since my first four certification dives. Since then we have been working on becoming trained as Advanced and Rescue Divers. For a new diver, jumping straight into this is intimidating to say the least. Most nerve-racking of all – the night dive (only my sixth dive ever). We waded into the water just as the sun disappeared below the horizon. With our dive lights illuminated, we descended into the darkness. Everything aside from the beams emitting from our torches was covered in stale blackness. However, what our lights did unveil was an entirely different biotic reef community. Parrotfish were sleeping on the sandy bottom, eels fluttered across the corals, and two gigantic tarpin hovered nearby hunting for food. Oh, and moon jellies descended from the heavens. Imagine the Finding Nemo jellyfish scene, but at night. One “Cool! Look at that!” jelly turned into a crowded middle school dance with everyone bumping into the jellies. We were quick to find out that these jellies are nonlethal and quite harmless, aside from the minor panic attacks they cause. Needless to say, it was another successful and amazing dive!
As for the above water portion of Bonaire, we haven’t really gotten much time to do a lot of exploring. With our only transportation being bikes and the weather being as hot as it is here, it can be tough getting to places outside of the capital city of Kralendijk. However, we have weekly field trips to various parts of the island with our Cultural and Environmental History of Bonaire class. This week we took a tour of the Cargill Salt Works production plant. Salt production on the island goes back hundreds of years. Initially dubbed “the useless islands” by the Spanish for their lack of gold, Bonaire and the rest of the ABC islands were soon taken over by the Dutch and transformed into a hub for slave trade. At this time, Bonaire was discovered to have natural salt, which was necessary for keeping and curing meats. Without going into too much detail, the process is actually quite intriguing. The process here uses the energy from the sun and wind to drive salt production. Water is taken in from the sea and collected in pools. As it sits there, the water evaporates, thereby increasing the salinity. Eventually, (over-simplifying the whole process) salt is left. The process itself is actually quite beautiful!
Eating iguana, jumping off cliffs, swimming with jellyfish, and visiting a salt production plant. Here’s to having new experiences! And having many more!