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Posted on February 26, 2019 | 4 comments

Aruba: Island Civilization

Aruba: Island Civilization

“OH SHIT!” Allen exclaimed just as I was just starting to doze off beside him at the helm. I immediately snapped up and dittoed “OH SHIT!” The entire spinnaker sail had disconnected from the top of the mast and was rapidly settling into the sea. Amazingly, the two of us were able to grab hold of the sail’s remaining tether and wrestle the 1000-square foot drenched heap onto the swim step. Slipping and sliding over the slick parachute-like fabric, we stuffed the sail outside underneath the cockpit table to avoid any more temptations from the wind to carry it away. Later, we would discover no damage at all to the sail, the shackle securing the sail, or the props underneath where the sail was settling in the water. A mystery, but all in all, lucky. We motored the final 2 hours of our 6-hour passage to Aruba without further incident, playing the event over and over in our heads. Customs and Immigration pined for the day’s calamity, requiring 3 hours to clear through all the bureaucracy at a hot industrial cruise ship dock with gummy creosote pilings and rusty nails.

Photo: airlines.net

It was quite a sight jockeying 40 sailboats into a single anchorage off the coast of Aruba’s capital city of Oranjestad. Pity the poor boat who just hours earlier had the entire anchorage to himself:( Our first clue that we were in a very civilized and westernized island was the constant air traffic overhead. We could nearly see the faces of arriving passengers flying over our Airport Anchorage  situated just at the end of Aruba’s Queen Beatrix airport. Can’t beat ’em? Join ’em. We put on our fancy clothes, i.e., shoes, and collected about 20 people from our rally for a fantastic dinner in one of the eight restaurants at the nearby Renaissance Hotel. On this Thanksgiving Day I was thankful we averted a catastrophe earlier during our sail. Mostly, however, I was thankful for the shrimp bar and the best Caipirinha cocktail ever.

We spent Black Friday drying out the spinnaker—my least favorite project dragging this enormous sail all over the boat, flailing my body over the sail like a game of Whak-a-Mole each time the wind caught a corner and threatened to pull the entire mass overboard again.

A lovely end to the day, however, dragging the Captain to the local movie theater where our rally bought every seat in the house. Typically thriving on the respite of deserted islands, I thoroughly enjoyed this little bit of civilization—Bohemian Rhapsody on the big screen…with popcorn and Caipirinhas! The captain thoroughly enjoyed his little bit of civilization the next morning when we discovered a Starbucks right near the anchorage.

Civilization continued the following day as we joined several rally friends on an ATV self-guided tour of the island. Yes Dad, I did wear a helmet:) Once off the main roads, it was great fun and a fabulous way to see Aruba since so many of the sights are accessible only by dirt road.

Two days were sufficient to feed our need for civilization so we pulled up anchor and headed to the northern end of the island for a little peace. We passed hotel after hotel with busy beaches and jet skis, parasails, and kite surfers crowding the water front. Yikes-where are the quiet little bays?! Not in Aruba. We settled off Arashi Beach in an anchorage with a few other rally boats, staving off the occasional tour boat by swimming nude off the stern. Sorry, no photo available:)

Snorkeling highlights included enormous parrotfish and two shipwrecks. I don’t know what was more interesting—looking at the wrecks or watching the passengers investigate the wreck through the portholes of a submarine-like tour boat. Overlooking our anchorage was the scenic California Light House so we hiked up the road with rally friends, anxious for a history lesson and a cold drink.

We learned that the lighthouse was named for the 1891 steamship California and we learned the restaurant was closed for the week:( Now parched, we short-cutted our return trip through prickly acaçia trees and cactus to reach icy cold beers at a beach palapa.

As we made our way back to the world of civilization the next day, Allen stopped for a kiteboarding lesson, while I played photographer. We refueled and came to rest at a slip in the Renaissance Marina where we made good use of air conditioning and fresh water and scrubbed Gémeaux until she was sparkly and we earned another Caipirinha at the Renaissance! We skipped the Scorpion at Lucy’s restaurant next door but ate their very yummy ceviche.

Last minute chores before getting underway to Colombia—Allen hosting an electronics therapy session for rally friends, marina checkout, fill sodastream bottles, and provision…after Starbucks of course. An absolute delight meeting Marcus from fellow rally boat, Island Kea, who enjoys perusing the aisles of a foreign grocery store as much as I do. We shared an expensive $15 cab ride to the nearby market and happily provisioned with all the Dutch delicacies, including every variety of Gouda cheese. Santa Claus Jim Moore arrived at 11pm with 4 loaves of Dave’s bread, turkey jerky, enough gluten-free pretzels to feed a flotilla, and boat bits and pieces to delight the captain. We were ready for Colombia!

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Posted on December 10, 2018 | 1 comment

Celebrities in Curaçao

Celebrities in Curaçao

We dress in our formal Gémeaux white shirts since nobody onboard has the requisite roman numerals in their name to don a blue blazer. We are parade celebrity newbies and feel a bit inadequate as we depart amidst fellow sailboats decorated in hundreds of colorful flags fluttering from their masts. We make up for it, however, and sail rather than motor to the parade start with our massive orange and white spinnaker sail that screams, “Here we come!

Willemstad is a UNESCO World Heritage City. This capital of Curaçao is situated in Punda on the St. Anna Bay with rows of pastel-colored shops, offices, and restaurants emulating the colonial architecture of their Dutch motherland. Locals and visitors sip coffee at the waterfront cafés as the Queen Emma floating pontoon bridge opens and our parade of boats enters in formation.

Few people are aware of our celebrity status and motive; most stare in curiosity and good-naturedly return our waves and enthusiasm. Through our VHF radios, we undertake a series of increasingly complex synchronized maneuvers up and back in the little harbor. We manage to avoid any embarrassing collisions with one another and finally declare our first Parade of Sail a success. The parade motive? Celebrating the inauguration of a new local tv station.

Our celebrity status does not grant us any exceptions from the mandatory step of clearing Customs and Immigration so our next stop is the 1-mile sweaty walk to officially announce our arrival to Curaçao. This bureaucratic protocol in the sailing world could fill a book with stories. Each time we arrive at (and also depart from) any one of the many Caribbean islands, we are at the mercy of a different system—some demand only the captain appear, others want all crew members and pets to come; some use carbon duplicates, others have computers; some require no money, others charge a fee for everything. You must always bring your own pen and never, ever come between the hours of 10 and 2 or you’ll sit outside until lunch is over. Offices typically are small and buried in mountains of paperwork, with a few small fans struggling to keep the sweat from dripping onto your official paperwork. Today, our entire party of six is required to appear. We enter a room painted in cool midnight blue with a temperature to match. Nestled in the corner of this walk-in refrigerator is a treasure that delights us all, brings smiles to our faces, and decidedly makes Curaçao the best Customs office on the planet. A drinking fountain. Pretty please…can we stay at Customs all afternoon?

Our celebrity status does grant us free docking in this capital city so we side tie Gémeaux to cleats mounted on the edge of the main street, amidst parked cars and gawking passersby who are as unaccustomed to seeing a catamaran in the city center as we are to being in this urban anchorage. The town is clean and quaint with many pedestrian-only alleys winding their way through attractions that serve both locals and tourists alike. I like the mix. There’s a Sketcher store next to a local pharmacy, fruit and vegetable stands along the water that sell souvenir spices but also crates of gigantic squash, roots, and tamarind. We discover Dagaz Gelato and enjoy the tastes of passion fruit and stracciatella inside another air-conditioned respite before the frozen treats liquify in the humidity.

The bayside balcony at Le Gouverneur restaurant with a bird’s eye view of our floating home, delivers exquisite service and deliciously-grilled meats on their Green Egg barbecues. Back onboard Gémeaux, we fire up the generator that disturbs not a soul on this festive Saturday night, and greet the perfect end to a perfect day…sleeping in our air-conditioned cabins.

The next several days in Curaçao are divided between chores, prepping for our upcoming sailing itinerary, and each day learning a new name—78 of them in our new circle of friends. Ruth and Allen have departed but David and Barbara are still on board, helping with projects and happy to read a book while we attend obligatory rally events. Having company on board prods us to race through chores, or abandon them completely, and get out to play.

Sources tell us that Playa Piscado is a must-see for snorkelers. Naturally, we make that a priority destination and sail north for about 20 miles to explore a different side of the island. Uncertain about the anchoring permissions in this little bay, our captain graciously agrees to send us off with snorkeling equipment while he circles around on Gémeaux. Secretly, Allen enjoys the peace and quiet. And funny enough, we enjoy everything but peace and quiet.

Once in the water, we wind our way through a maze of local fishing boats anchored around a small pier. The little wooden platform is overflowing with tourists, screeching in delight, clearly captivated by something in the water. We are as curious as they are and absolutely dumbfounded when we make the same discovery. Turtles. Not the solitary turtle you spot out of the corner of your eye who is gracefully swimming by. And not the giant Leatherback turtles we witnessed in the turtle sanctuary of the Tobago Cays, who alternate between lazily resting on the sea bottom and gracefully surfacing for air. The turtles of Santa Cruz are here for a sole purpose—to eat the heads and tails and unwanted pieces of the fishermen’s daily catch. We watch in astonishment as we witness the Jekyll side of about 20 of these sweet creatures aggressively chomping down on fish parts and gulping them down. A turtle feeding frenzy. Who knew?

Some describe Curaçao as a crowded, dirty island. And true, it’s a much more urban environment compared to its sister island, Bonaire. To us, however, Curaçao was a delight. We spent nearly two weeks on this island and as the official origin of our sailing rally, it became much like home. We loved our proximity to the Sunken TugBoat—just a short dinghy ride and walk to a shipwreck, making it an easy, daily event for some pretty spectacular snorkeling. Provisioning was a joy among a variety of grocery stores stocked with Dutch treats, fresh produce, and LaCroix Pamplemousse! Of course we tried Blue Curaçao—that liqueur we all know makes our drinks blue but didn’t realize until now that it’s made from the dried bitter orange peels of the Laraha tree native to Curaçao.

But like many of islands we visit, it’s the people who leave a lasting impression. Our very first night in Curaçao, we met a local couple who casually strayed from their own agenda and told us all about their island, the best restaurants, and sights not to miss. Celebrities or not—add this island to your list of places to visit.

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Posted on December 3, 2018 | 2 comments

Who Paints the Lighthouse?

Who Paints the Lighthouse?

Always anxious to explore a remote corner of our natural world before entering civilization, our first stop from Bonaire to Curaçao is Klein Curaçao—a tiny, flat desert island with a white sand beach, five huts, and a lighthouse.

The lighthouse seems an irony.

While its very purpose is to emit light for navigational guidance, the light that shines onto the lighthouse warrants nearly as much attention. Throughout the night, this 66-foot colorless monolith stands silhouetted against a black sky, dutifully fulfilling its job with its rotating beam of light. Hours later, dawn arrives and the sky quietly transforms this working vessel into a photographer’s dream.

It is the sky that declares this shift change, permitting its subject to finally rest while the artist decides which palette of colors to choose from. This morning, the selection is a combination of reds and pinks and oranges to compliment the lighthouse patina of white concrete blocks and peeling coral paint. Rays of emerging light shine through rock-lined windows as the sun rises from behind the Eastern horizon.

In an instant, the rays are gone.

The canvas is ripped from its easel and the striking bright colors spill together into a diluted, ordinary brown. The hot, bright sun takes over the brush, promising another cloudless day because that’s what the people want. With no job to perform, the lighthouse seems lifeless during the day. Even the sun seems to have taken an extended lunch break, leaving the tower rather colorless in its hazy light. The house looks hot and lonely, but it is not alone. The people have come to visit.

They clutter the canvas peering through windows and doors, waving and shouting, and photographing their new sunburnt colors against older fading colors of red. Up close, the lighthouse is cool to the touch and even cooler inside.The narrow stone staircase spirals upward to the rock windows, showing off a panoramic view that the lighthouse finds simply ordinary.

Puddles of stagnant water have collected beneath the broken floorboards, creating a breeding ground for mosquitos and sadly, a repository for plastic cups and cigarettes that the people have left behind. Shadows now assume the artist’s role and cast clear geometric lines of light across doorways and window sills. Flecks of paint are captured in the light uncovering colors during the brief 180 years when the people competed for the role of artist.

It’s not until evening, when the tour boats whisk away the people, that the sun grows weary of its job and begins to fade. Color returns to the sky. Clouds that have been waiting patiently on the horizon until the sun is finished, finally get their turn above the lighthouse. They race in, anxious to show off before the sky turns dark with nighttime. Large, overstuffed pockets fill heavy with rain. The sky is conflicted. Should it choose the long, stiff brush dipped in sparkling silver and draw zig zag lines across the roof of the lighthouse? Or should it angrily slam close the easel, smashing the billowing clouds into blurry droplets that nearly erase the house entirely?

The sky decides instead to allow the clouds and the sun to be the artist. With clouds still building in deep gray color and texture just above the tower, the sun casts a final glow onto the lighthouse, placing its subject in a spotlight of pale yellow. The contrast is extraordinary and the sky is pleased.

The easel is put away and the lighthouse resumes its nighttime duty. The beam of light begins again, warning the people not to come until the sky awakens.

In my mesmerized state, I realize I have forgotten my camera. Today I have been only a witness.

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Posted on November 25, 2018 | 6 comments

Rally Time!

Rally Time!

[ral-ee] noun, a drawing or coming together of persons, as for common action, a get-together of like-minded enthusiasts. verb, renew strength, revive spirits, inspire anew.

5:45am presents a beautiful orange daybreak in Curaçao. It is our last. Excitement builds. There is no quiet cup of tea and lazy scan of digital news. Today we are energizer bunnies flush with adrenaline—clean, stow, return rental car, laundry, repair… Today is the day we have been waiting for. November 21, 2018—the official start of our rally.

The rally unofficially began several weeks ago when the first of 40 sailboats began descending upon this Dutch Antilles Caribbean island of Curaçao. Planning for the rally began several months and maybe years ago when Suzanne and David Chappell aboard Suzie Too, their lovely Beneteau 57, collaborated with port authorities, government officials, and many, many locals to lay the groundwork for a 6-month sailing itinerary that would take us from Curaçao to Belize.

Take our anchorage, for example. Just months ago, this little inlet of water in Curaçao’s Spanish Bay sat mostly uninhabited. Through the efforts and cooperation of many, Anchorage C became home to 25 sailboats, complete with an underwater rope line to safely attach our boats, a dinghy dock, well-lit parking for rental cars, dumpsters, and the nicest 24-hour security officers.

Beach yoga, afternoon barbecues, musical jamborees, Beer and Bobs (aka happy hour in the water), wine tastings, and group taxis to the supermarkets became regular events on our calendars. Each day started with a 7:45am morning net where we synchronized our radios to hear weather reports, emergency announcements, and new activities. We welcomed new members and often, old friends, as they arrived into the harbor. We traded and bartered and helped each with repairs. We learned the names of each other, their boats, their children, their dogs. Friendships formed as we swapped stories of our passages and shared common woes in this life far away from our land homes in the UK, Canada, the US, Sweden. And there it was, the common thread—like-minded enthusiasts renewing strength, reviving spirits, inspiring anew becoming not just a rally, but a community. Not just a community, but a family.

Join us over the next six months as we explore more of our planet with the Suzie Too Rally, er…family.

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Posted on November 17, 2018 | 2 comments

Meet Allen

Meet Allen

So Allen wants his own blog. This is a man who just last week accepted my daughter’s Facebook friend request from 8 years ago, who teases me about having three Instagram accounts, and snubs how Facebook cat videos are constant entertainment for me. He has never played Words with Friends or posted a selfie. He uses three phones and has an electronic portfolio that would be the envy of any super yacht. He has dozens and dozens of phone apps–mostly providing a different view of weather and the New York Times to keep him connected to civilization.  But, he remains steadfast in his belief that social media is not for him. Until now.

In the quest to share his innovative solution to leaking escape hatches (see Destination to Antigua)Allen has created an impressive network of what I like to call Hatchlings. These are people across the planet who, through Allen’s outreach and brilliant problem-solving abilities, understand why certain emergency escape hatches on catamarans fail and want to prevent this life-threatening situation from happening on their own boats. They have requested information, shared stories, asked questions, and received Allen’s kit–2 custom-made aluminum bars, 4 bolts, 1 tube of specific adhesive, and a partridge in a pear tree. They have created Allen’s entrée into social media and without question, justified his request to continue sharing through his own blog.

So if you’re one of our readers who wants to understand this whole hatch problem, dissect the benefits of ac versus dc power, or curious about what a fo’c’sle is, welcome! You’ll find Allen’s posts under his very own Allen’s Fo’c’sle. Enjoy!

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Posted on November 14, 2018 | 2 comments

Underwater Paradise: Bonaire

Underwater Paradise: Bonaire

I was born in Yellowstone National Park. As a park ranger’s daughter, my entire childhood was spent in America’s iconic parks like Yosemite and Grand Canyon. I can tell you more about how to tranquilize a bear than how to navigate a shopping mall. I love nature and the outdoors and all the critters on the planet. Except ticks. Yuck.

There are many many highlights that make up this journey but far and away are the opportunities to explore so much of our natural world. This week, the 5-mile island of Bonaire, north of Venezuela and outside the hurricane belt, moved to the top of that list. Essentially a coral reef pushed up from the sea, the entire island today is surrounded by a reef that starts just a few feet from shore and since 1962 has been protected by the Bonaire National Marine Park. Anchoring is not permitted anywhere on the island—you must dock at a marina or use a mooring ball to avoid damaging the coral. It is a diving and snorkeling mecca to see octopuses, turtles, stag horn coral, and more than 350 species of fish. On land, Washington Slagbaai National Park and a flamingo nesting sanctuary are credited as being the first nature preserves in the Caribbean.

After a long 3-day passage from Grenada, we arrived in Bonaire only to find there was no room at the inn—the highly-coveted mooring balls outside the capital city of Kralendijk were all taken. A slip in the Harbor Village Marina would have to be home for the next several days. We begin exploring—first on land to clear customs and to enjoy a celebratory piña colada, and then by sea to get our first glimpse of the underworld.

This island municipality of the Netherlands is easy to navigate—their currency is the US dollar and, in addition to Dutch and their local Creole language of Papimientu, nearly everyone speaks English. An easy ¼-mile morning walk from the marina lands us at Between Two Buns where we enjoy croissants and cappuccinos and mango cheesecake for breakfast—it’s going to be a great day:)

 

Gone Snorkeling

After any passage, there is always a long list of chores and projects. Today’s list features laundry (such a luxury to have a washing machine onboard) and fixing the clogged toilet in our berth. Superhuman handymen Allen and David spend a full day extracting and scrubbing the entire toilet tank, eventually discovering a buildup of urine calcifications—a chemical reaction between urine and the salt water used to flush our toilets. And you thought our days were just filled with pretty sunsets? Tired of dripping in sweat, Barbara and I finish laundry and abscond with the dinghy for the first of many snorkeling excursions.

Still refreshing at nearly 84 degrees, the  Caribbean water washes away our sweat and prunes our fingers and toes as we simply cannot get enough of these beautiful reefs. Water is so clear we spot a camouflaged Peacock flounder quietly scooting across the sand 20 feet below. Stoplight parrotfish display all their life stages of color from juvenile orange to the mature brilliant emerald green as they bang their parrot-like beak on coral for nutrients. We learn favorite hiding spots and behaviors and discover the shy fish when we peek under coral shelves—large porcupine puffers, lobster, and the red squirrel fish named for their large black squirrel-like eyes. We wave each other over when we catch a rare glimpse of a golden tail eel poking out his head or see a grey shirttail eel swimming like a snake on the bottom of the sea.

An occasional barracuda catches me by surprise as I happen to glance up from my constant downward gaze, notice him swimming above me, and wonder which one of us is more curious about the other. We have nicknames for everything we see until we can confirm their names in the fish book—the black and white honeycomb trunkfish with the large boxy head is the Star Wars fish, and the tiny, intricate colorful clusters of sea urchins covering brain coral are flower gardens. The small neon speckled blue Damselfish will always be the Courtney fish as I recall my friend’s absolute joy when she spotted them during a recent visit.

Back at the marina, we exchange stories of the stunning underworld with the boys’ toilet treasures—brown plaster-like chunks that they’ve scraped off the plumbing. We win the prize. We quickly change and catch the complimentary taxi that shuttles yachties, as the locals call us, to what would become our favorite supermarket. Van den Tweels—land of Dutch cheese, arugula, herbs, fresh beef and chicken, and…La Croix!

Beach Cleanup

It seems only fitting that as visitors to this piece of paradise we should give something back. We join the locals in their weekly beach cleanup. While families, school children, and a few other yachties board a school bus, we snag a ride with Muriel, a Dutch school teacher who delights in telling us about the island country she and her husband have called home for two years. “You don’t need to wear your seatbelts,” she announces as we pile into her Chevy truck, “In Bonaire, we like to be free!” We choose safety over freedom, buckle our seatbelts as we bounce through pot holes, and listen intently to our personal tour guide. We learn there is no seatbelt law in Bonaire, nor is there a law against drunk driving. And yes, there are serious traffic accidents every week. Public transportation is available but there is no schedule—everyone has the bus driver’s phone number and calls when they need a ride. The island’s population of 18,000 is comprised of 40% locals and 60% Dutch American, with a growing community of Chinese.

The landscape is covered with tall Yatu cactus as we cross to the eastern side of the island and Muriel points out the savannah fence, a beautiful and well, very effective, fence built from this plentiful crop. Huge wind mills come into view as we approach the rocky beach—20% of the island’s power is generated by wind (FYI Corda Solar: 10% of their power comes from solar in case you want to expand your business!) There’s no natural source of fresh water; an enormous desalination plant provides all the island’s water.

Nearly 100 people are already underway with large garbage bags picking up trash. As I grab a trash bag, I walk aimlessly, wondering wonder where in the world I should start and what trash is worth picking up. This cigarette butt? That can over there? A couple plastic bottle tops? Here’s some shredded pieces of blue rope. Before I know it, I’m standing in the middle of thousands of plastic water bottles and flip-flops—the most abundant type of trash that has drifted thousands of miles from the African coast. 

I sit on a piece of driftwood and completely fill my bag from this one seated position. I’m disgusted with the trash and saddened at the impact it has had on this beautiful beach. I vow to always use my refillable water bottle. What more can I do? What more should we all do to eliminate trash from our planet? And what’s up with the flip flops? Can’t someone invent biodegradable soles? We spend nearly three hours filling dump trucks and there are still miles and miles of beach to clean. But we have made a difference and it’s encouraging to see all the people who have come together and the enthusiasm of the younger generations to take action.

Snorkeling in an Aquarium

Allen’s nephew, Allen (who we call Little Allen) and his girlfriend, Shiera (just kidding, her name is Ruth) arrive and our party of 6 sets sail to explore more snorkeling hotspots.

Klein Bonaire, or Little Bonaire, is a small, flat, uninhabited island about ½ mile from Bonaire. Also under protection by Bonaire’s Marine Park system, it boasts remarkably clear water to view fish and coral. Snorkeling here is like being in one of those floor to ceiling viewing tanks in aquariums. It’s difficult to convey the utter beauty of it all—kind of like the difference between seeing a photo of the Grand Canyon and actually standing on the rim looking into that natural wonder. And while snorkeling allows me to see so much, I’m tempted to update my diving skills—the nearby ledge that drops off hundreds of feet is enticing.

Our next snorkeling destination is 1000 Steps, named for the number of steep limestone steps it feels like when you’re carrying your gear from atop the cliffs down to the beach. Lucky for us, we tie up to a mooring ball and simply jump of the boat and swim. Shallow turquoise waters make it easy to spot turtles and large schools of fish. The intricately-designed black and yellow French angelfish becomes one of my favorites.

Guest Perspective

“Barbara expands our definition of breakfast. We start the day off with passionfruit cheesecake (author’s note: see a trend?) at the bakery just down the road from the marina and attempt to corner the local market on croissants. After this, we all pile into a rental van and we head over to Lac Bay for more snorkeling. We swim out through shallow, aquamarine water to the reef at the inlet to the bay. Amazing biodiversity. We suck in hard as we float over coral that is sometimes just inches below water surface. After beers and snacks (fried balls of liquid meat, anyone?), we head to a food truck run by kite surfers from the Netherlands. During a hellacious squall, we consume our meal of tuna tartare burgers in the rental van, condensation dripping down the windows. We dry out and resupply on groceries and alcohol in town. We bring home the “bargain” large bottle of Cadushy, the local cactus liqueur which glows the seagreen color of antifreeze. The crew eagerly awaits Unky Al’s ship log entries documenting his future Cadushy cocktail concoctions.”

-Allen and Ruth from the Gémeaux logbook

Shoes Required

Well since we have a rental car, let’s explore more of the island! I’m ambivalent because 1) I almost always prefer to be in the water, and 2) the day requires shoes…ouch. However, this Park Service brat would never pass up the chance to wander through a national park so I squeeze into my hiking shoes and climb into our van.

Along our way, we spot the island’s national bird, the Caribbean Flamingo. Who knew? Such a treat to see a flamingo in the wild. Turns out Bonaire’s protected salt ponds make the island one of the Caribbean’s few breeding grounds for the thousands of flamingos here. Not to be outdone by silly, long-necked birds with their beaks in the mud, the brown-throated parakeet and a yellow-headed caracara! grace us with their striking colors. I’m still trying to wrap my head around tropical parakeets flying among cactus:)

On the other side of an exuberant blow hole, we plunge into a small eddy of calm water, unusual to find on this windward side of the island, and enjoy unsanctioned skinny dipping before beginning our hike. Mt. Brandaris claims the highest point on the island at 790 feet above sea level. For those of you mocking the term hike, let me remind you that it’s 88 degrees with about the same amount of humidity. These are mandatory conditions in which eating cheesecake for breakfast is allowed.

Panoramic views at the summit give us a distant glimpse of Curaçao and even the Venezuelan mainland. The sun is blazing but we relish the breeze and the consequential evacuation of mosquitoes. As the terrain flattens at the end of our hike, we dodge blue whip-tail lizards scurrying across the trail and marvel at iguanas drinking from puddles.

It has been a spectacular day on land, driving in the luxury of an air-conditioned van, but we are children of the water and are happiest when we trade our sneakers for fins and plunge back into the quiet of Bonaire’s underwater paradise. I’ll return to this island some day to see that octopus I never could find.

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