Every ocean is different. The waves that fold onto the beaches of California are different from the waves that crawl over your feet on the coasts of Central America. But on this island, the ocean was particularly different. Peering out the window of the airplane you descend upon a place that appears to have more cacti than you would ever imagine this Caribbean island would have, especially being born and raised in Arizona. (Usually you expect paradise to be unlike your home.) Upon arrival to the island you must descend the many steps leading you away from the small aircraft that brought you from the island next door, down to the tarmac. On the island the airport is mostly outdoors, and what buildings are present may lack air conditioning. The moment you step out of the plane the water in the air clings onto your skin and forces your hair to revert to its natural frizziness. Your nose is confused at first, because the low tech airport equipment emits thick, black fumes as a product of the diesel fuel that combines with the salty scent of the ocean. When the journey to this destination reaches its final step in transportation, you’ll find yourself in the yards of rental cars. All the manual transmission vehicles remind you once again that you are only on a mere twenty-four mile long island, three thousand miles away from home.
Not a moment passes in this place that you don't feel the breeze grasp your hair, as the sun peeks in and out of the blue cloudy sky. Every once in a while raindrops will litter the island. Palm trees sway relaxingly in the wind, while the boats rock back and forth and slam into the docks as the wind changes. Pelicans soar high above in the wind as you hear the familiar vocals of the seabird and see large iguanas basking in the sun with their wrinkled skin. The small birds on the shoreline run away from the waves as they sweep over their feet on the white sand of the beach. The sense of relaxation overtakes your mind as you breathe in the sea air.
Driving down the two way road along the coast of the entire west side of the island, large rocks painted yellow and blue mark all the scuba dive sites. Every few hundred yards you can simply park your rental truck, load up on gear and walk straight out into the ocean to descend upon the reef. The west side of the island has mostly calm waters except at high tide, while the east side of the island is recommended for highly advanced divers (and of course where more turtles and pods of dolphins can be spotted). Everywhere you look on the reef there is color popping out at you, but the creatures of the sea don't always pop out in the same way. You must meticulously observe the coral heads and then you may discover the abundance of life and all the fascinating creatures of marine ecosystem. Further North on the island lays an invisible barrier set by the law. Upon arrival to the island you must pay a fee to keep the marine and wildlife park clean and safe for all of its inhabitants. Relating to this same matter, along the entire coast of the island an observer can spot a yellow buoy marking all the dive sites so that ships may tie a rope to the buoy rather than throw an anchor into the precious, slowly reproductive coral heads. Reef protection is important. Captain Don, the man responsible for saving the reef here on the island, is a legend with his own restaurant on the boardwalk with delicious food and fitting island music. At night you walk off the dock and down the steps of a slimy, barnacle covered ladder, into the ocean with your dive buddy. Your heart beats out of your chest and seeing nothing but what the beam of your flashlight shines upon is a thrilling feeling. Massive tarpon whiz by your side and you jump a little every time. Using your light to hunt, they swallow small fish whole that never stood a chance. Sea urchins scour the ocean floor and odd worm looking creatures puff out in defense when you shine your flashlight on them. Every once in a while you come across familiar beams of light making you feel less vulnerable in the open sea. Knowing that other divers are enjoying the same experience you are, you gesture hello underwater and move along your way. To get back to Captain Don’s dock you turn around when you air is halfway, find the sunken barge you began your dive at, and follow the thick maritime rope that's lying in the sand back up to the dock.
Like Captain Dons restaurant, you'll find that many of the restaurants on the island are quite expensive so eventually you'll come across a grocery store with a large sign that reads "Van den Tweel Supermarket". It's the most modern grocery store on the Dutch-inhabited island where you can buy meatballs with the microwave directions written in somewhat decipherable Dutch. You come to the conclusion that “90 seconden” must mean to cook them for ninety seconds in the microwave. Most people speak English with funny accents and are really cool people. They'll tell you all the best places to visit, like the Donkey sanctuary for example. So you take their advice and on your last day you cut it close to almost missing your flight to go feed carrots to the orphan donkeys and long story short you laughed at how goofy they were and cringed at what dirty animals they turned out to be.
This island is not the typical paradise stereotype. There are no 5 star hotels with hot rock massages or tourist oriented things in English. It's simply a scuba divers paradise where your appreciation for the ocean must outweigh luxury. One must note that although it is thrilling to experience the North and South ends of the island everything you need can be found within one mile of the rental home. The airport, the dive dock, the donkey sanctuary, and Van den Tweel. The island’s roaming wild goats and donkeys, street signs with speed limits that read in kilometers, and not a single stoplight on the entire island adds to its foreign element. Bonaire is a place special to any diver's heart. It’s a place where anyone who wants to experience the world can find a uniquely combined dutch-carribean culture to indulge in.