BONAIRE: A WindSeeker’s Guide

For years, Bonaire has been a gem of a secret for many windsurfers who enjoy a quiet, windy island with uncrowded sailing.

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Bonaire is a 112 square mile island that is part of the ABC island chain in the Netherlands Antilles. Bonaire shares the same eastern tradewind that has made Aruba famous. For years, Bonaire has been a gem of a secret for many windsurfers who enjoy a quiet, windy island with uncrowded sailing.

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WHO TO CALL:

There are three windsurfing establishments on Lac Bay, all will gladly arrange complete vacation packages. The Bonaire Windsurf Place, run by Elvis Martinus and Roger Jurriens is located in a brand new Norwegian wood structure and features Pro-Tech, Mistral, and Naish equipment. (Roger’s Windsurf Place 800-225-0102) The Castle, run by Burr Hazen, is operated in an converted  structure from the sixties that never became the hotel that it was supposed to be. The Castle boasts the highest and best view of Lac Bay, with a second story bar and is stocked with Fanatic boards and ART sails. (Lac Bay Windsurfing 800-253-6573) The other windsurfing establishment on the Bay is aptly named Jibe City and run by Ernst  Van VlietIt is a friendly bunch of buildings, strategically set up for maximum shade, sandwiched in between The Place and The Sorobon Beach Resort. Ernst supplies his customers with Bic and Tiga boards and UP and Aerotech sails. (Sailboard Vacations 800-252-1070 or Great Southern Adventures 800-748-8733) If you don’t want to be limited by one spot, Mike and Carol Solbach and their two sons, Josh (16) and Sky (14) will take you on Advanced Windsurfing Adventures for a week on a Bonaire windsurfari. They will take you wave and slalom sailing at different places around the island and Klein Bonaire. (Advanced Windsurfing Adventures, direct from US, 011-599-7-6862)

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WHERE TO STAY:

Since most of the land surrounding Lac Bay, is protected, there is limited lodging on the east side of the island. Then again, “limited” may not be the best word in this case since the Sorobon Beach Resort (011-5997-8080) right on Lac Bay does offer lodging, although the guests are not limited by clothing. Lac Bay Resort (book through the Castle 800-253-0673) also has villas and apartments a short jump from the windsurfing concessions. Nevertheless, the majority of windsurfers visiting Bonaire end up staying on the western side, near the island capital of Kralendjik. Sunset Resorts (800-344-4439) offers everything from an affordable full service hotel on Playa Lechi to quaint but luxurious private oceanside apartments and villas. The recently completed Plaza Resort and Hotel (800-766-6016) offers first class accommodation that is a paradise within a paradise.  The Sand Dollar Condominiums and Beach Club (800-288-4773) offers private condos with beautiful oceanfront views and balconies. Captain Don’s Habitat (800-327-6709) has long been a favorite with divers and offers ocean front villas, rooms, junior suites, and cottages. Or call TBC, the Bonaire Tourist Office (599-7-8322/8649) or Bonaire Hotel & Tourism Association BONHATA (599-7-5143) for more options.

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Ernst Van Vliet of Jibe City

Considering how far most windsurfers will drive for a good session, the ten mile trip across the island to Lac Bay from Kralendjik isn’t a big deal, but it does require a rental car. All major car rental companies are represented.  We had a Suzuki Carry mini van from Budget (800-344-4439) that was a marvel in itself. It was very compact but had a lot of room for putting things such as people and diving equipment, but for the life of us we couldn’t figure out where the engine was until I dropped the key  and went to look for it under the seat- there was the engine!

Although the island lacks any high-rise hotels, it is not lacking in a variety of top notch restaurants. Among the narrow streets lined with pastel painted colonial buildings, you can find small shaded restaurants tucked into the most unsuspecting places. Practically every type of cuisine is represented somewhere on the island, however the fresh seafood caught daily is varied and flavorful.

WHAT ELSE TO DO:

Bonaire has huge parks, such as the Washington Slaagbai that you can drive around, spectacular coral reefs, that you can snorkel or dive, and great variety of wildlife, that you might even have to avoid while negotiating the curvy coastal roads, including thousands of pink flamingos.

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Burr Hazen of The Castle

All of the water surrounding Bonaire and it’s smaller uninhabited neighbor, Klein Bonaire, to a depth of 200 ft. is protected as the Bonaire Marine Park. Although scuba diving is still allowed, and is in fact a booming business on Bonaire, park officials closely monitor and try to minimize the impact of the divers. One example of this is the mooring system they have put in place. Instead of each diving boat dropping anchor and killing coral in the process, each boat is required to use one of the 70 permanent moorings spaced around the two islands.

Even if you are not a scuba diver, it is a crime to miss the breathtaking undersea world of coral reefs that skirt Bonaire. There are a few outfits on Bonaire that specialize in snorkeling rather than scuba and you can always just go off the beach. We wanted to visit the reef around Klein Bonaire and found the “Baca di Laman”, literally the “Sea Cow” to be an entertaining and easy way to go. Gerry, the proprietor, guide, and bartender for the “Baca” will take you out on his Holstein-spotted boat, provide you with snorkeling gear, show you around a couple of reefs to help you find some of the rarer marine life, and then serve you a refreshing drink after your dive all for a reasonable fee. It is impossible to imagine the amount of life living just below the surface of the water until you put on a mask and take a look.

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Elvis Martinus of The Bonaire Windsurf Place

WATER, MONEY and PEOPLE:

Of major importance to an easy vacation is the availability of fresh water and understandable currency. Bonaire has both- you can drink the water straight from the tap with no worries and the American Dollar is widely accepted. Another unique aspect of Bonaire is the cleanliness and low unemployment rate, not usually associated with Caribbean Islands. An autonomous part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Bonaire subscribes to the same system of high taxes in return for benefits as the Dutch do. As a result, if a Bonairian is seeking employment, they can usually find it. Many of the island’s people are employed by the tourism business, however the salt harvesting industry and the oil storage facility also keep many Boniarians busy. All in all, Bonaire seems to have struck a healthy balance between industry and protection of the environment. The local citizens of Bonaire are very friendly and gracious and will go out of their way to make sure that you are happy, and that is probably because they are all quite happy.

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There is also a large population of immigrants who came to Bonaire seeking a quieter lifestyle. We were surprised to find out that Gerry had previously been a cop in Amsterdam before moving to Bonaire. In his own words, working constantly with “miserable, unhappy people” had taken it’s toll on him. He took a vacation to Bonaire and found it so refreshing and friendly that he never left. Throughout the rest of our week, we found that the irresistible draw of the island had lured more than just Gerry to leave their jobs and homes behind to start a new life in Bonaire. Bonnie, an artist from New York City, who used to “cultivate a pallor” in the Big Apple, is now as tan as a chestnut, running the Bonaire Art Gallery in Kralendijk that sells the work of local artists, and windsurfing Lac Bay in her spare time. The Solbach family, Mike, Carol, and their two sons Josh and Sky decided to leave California and spend a year on Bonaire for the great windsurfing it offered. That was five years ago, and they are still there, running their outfit, Advanced Windsurfing Adventures. These stories are a warning: Once you visit Bonaire, you will find it difficult to leave.

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Slalom and Waves at Cai: A heat in the 2nd Annual Flamingo TV Wave Challenge.

WHERE TO STAY:

Since most of the land surrounding Lac Bay, is protected, there is limited lodging on the east side of the island. Then again, “limited” may not be the best word in this case since the Sorobon Beach Resort (011-5997-8080) right on Lac Bay does offer lodging, although the guests are not limited by clothing. Lac Bay Resort (book through the Castle 800-253-0673) also has villas and apartments a short jump from the windsurfing concessions. Nevertheless, the majority of windsurfers visiting Bonaire end up staying on the western side, near the island capital of Kralendjik. Sunset Resorts (800-344-4439) offers everything from an affordable full service hotel on Playa Lechi to quaint but luxurious private oceanside apartments and villas. The recently completed Plaza Resort and Hotel (800-766-6016) offers first class accommodation that is a paradise within a paradise.  The Sand Dollar Condominiums and Beach Club (800-288-4773) offers private condos with beautiful oceanfront views and balconies. Captain Don’s Habitat (800-327-6709) has long been a favorite with divers and offers ocean front villas, rooms, junior suites, and cottages. Or call TBC, the Bonaire Tourist Office (599-7-8322/8649) or Bonaire Hotel & Tourism Association BONHATA (599-7-5143) for more options.

Considering how far most windsurfers will drive for a good session, the ten mile trip across the island to Lac Bay from Kralendjik isn’t a big deal, but it does require a rental car. All major car rental companies are represented.  We had a Suzuki Carry mini van from Budget (800-344-4439) that was a marvel in itself. It was very compact but had a lot of room for putting things such as people and diving equipment, but for the life of us we couldn’t figure out where the engine was until I dropped the key  and went to look for it under the seat- there was the engine!

Although the island lacks any high-rise hotels, it is not lacking in a variety of top notch restaurants. Among the narrow streets lined with pastel painted colonial buildings, you can find small shaded restaurants tucked into the most unsuspecting places. Practically every type of cuisine is represented somewhere on the island, however the fresh seafood caught daily is varied and flavorful.

WHAT ELSE TO DO:

Bonaire has huge parks, such as the Washington Slaagbai that you can drive around, spectacular coral reefs, that you can snorkel or dive, and great variety of wildlife, that you might even have to avoid while negotiating the curvy coastal roads, including thousands of pink flamingos.

All of the water surrounding Bonaire and it’s smaller uninhabited neighbor, Klein Bonaire, to a depth of 200 ft. is protected as the Bonaire Marine Park. Although scuba diving is still allowed, and is in fact a booming business on Bonaire, park officials closely monitor and try to minimize the impact of the divers. One example of this is the mooring system they have put in place. Instead of each diving boat dropping anchor and killing coral in the process, each boat is required to use one of the 70 permanent moorings spaced around the two islands.

Even if you are not a scuba diver, it is a crime to miss the breathtaking undersea world of coral reefs that skirt Bonaire. There are a few outfits on Bonaire that specialize in snorkeling rather than scuba and you can always just go off the beach. We wanted to visit the reef around Klein Bonaire and found the “Baca di Laman”, literally the “Sea Cow” to be an entertaining and easy way to go. Gerry, the proprietor, guide, and bartender for the “Baca” will take you out on his Holstein-spotted boat, provide you with snorkeling gear, show you around a couple of reefs to help you find some of the rarer marine life, and then serve you a refreshing drink after your dive all for a reasonable fee. It is impossible to imagine the amount of life living just below the surface of the water until you put on a mask and take a look.

WATER, MONEY AND PEOPLE:

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Of major importance to an easy vacation is the availability of fresh water and understandable currency. Bonaire has both- you can drink the water straight from the tap with no worries and the American Dollar is widely accepted. Another unique aspect of Bonaire is the cleanliness and low unemployment rate, not usually associated with Caribbean Islands. An autonomous part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Bonaire subscribes to the same system of high taxes in return for benefits as the Dutch do. As a result, if a Bonairian is seeking employment, they can usually find it. Many of the island’s people are employed by the tourism business, however the salt harvesting industry and the oil storage facility also keep many Boniarians busy. All in all, Bonaire seems to have struck a healthy balance between industry and protection of the environment. The local citizens of Bonaire are very friendly and gracious and will go out of their way to make sure that you are happy, and that is probably because they are all quite happy.

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Elvis Martinus leading a fleet of his talented Bonaire kids.

There is also a large population of immigrants who came to Bonaire seeking a quieter lifestyle. We were surprised to find out that Gerry had previously been a cop in Amsterdam before moving to Bonaire. In his own words, working constantly with “miserable, unhappy people” had taken it’s toll on him. He took a vacation to Bonaire and found it so refreshing and friendly that he never left. Throughout the rest of our week, we found that the irresistible draw of the island had lured more than just Gerry to leave their jobs and homes behind to start a new life in Bonaire. Bonnie, an artist from New York City, who used to “cultivate a pallor” in the Big Apple, is now as tan as a chestnut, running the Bonaire Art Gallery in Kralendijk that sells the work of local artists, and windsurfing Lac Bay in her spare time. The Solbach family, Mike, Carol, and their two sons Josh and Sky decided to leave California and spend a year on Bonaire for the great windsurfing it offered. That was five years ago, and they are still there, running their outfit, Advanced Windsurfing Adventures. These stories are a warning: Once you visit Bonaire, you will find it difficult to leave.

 

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