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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sea Things #20: Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles

Sea Things is a regular feature on my blog where I profile a different sea creature. Look for it weekly, or something close to weekly.

When I'm talking about Sea Things, you don't normally think of an island, I suppose. But, still, let's talk a little bit about one of the islands that I visit and that is my love. Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles.

We've traveled to Bonaire three times. Well, Todd went once before I did, but that trip is rather unimportant. Each time, we discover new things and see new things.

Bonaire is located just north of Venezuela. It's 113 square miles, and its largest city is Kralendijk. The "other" city is Rincon. It is part of the Netherlands Antilles, and part of the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao). The closest Caribbean island is Curacao.

Bonaire was first inhabited by Caiquetios Indians (who were part of the Arawak Tribe), and then in 1499 was discovered by Alonso de Ojeda (along with Amerigo Vespucci). The island was claimed for Spain, but had no gold or silver or other metals, and didn't get enough rain to grow any crops. What it did have were Indians, so guess what? The Spanish shipped all of them over to Hispaniola and had them work there as slaves. Awesome (sarcasm - rolling eyes). Less than 20 years later, there were very few people living on Bonaire at all.

So then, in 1526, Juan de Ampues was appointed governor of the ABC Islands. He decided that Bonaire could be used to raise animals, and imported some donkeys, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, etc. He also brought some of the original Caiequetios Indians back, but instead of letting them live freely, kept them as slaves. For good measure, be picked up some slaves in Venezuela and had them come work on Bonaire, as well. The animals roamed freely on the island, and even now there are lots and lots of goats and donkeys wandering around the island free.

During the next couple hundred years, Bonaire's population grew some, since the Dutch would stop by periodically and drop off a ship of convicts. The convicts were then forced to work on the island as slaves. In 1633, the dutch attacked and won the ABC Islands and created Fort Oranje, which would become Kralendijk. The dutch saw value in Bonaire for making salt, and started working the slaves in the south on the salt pans. They built some slave quarters there, which are pictured above. They're small, not large enough to stand up in.

Bonaire remained under control of the Dutch for quite a while, although the British would take possession of it periodically. Slavery was abolished in 1862, but the salt business continued to grow. In 1837, obelisks were built in different colors (blue, red, orange and white) to guide ships to the correct salt pans.

After slavery was abolished, though, the salt wasn't quite as profitable. Many former slaves left the island to find work. It wasn't until oil was discovered in Venezuela that Bonaire began to grow again. A refinery was built in Bonaire and one on Curacao, and Bonaire had the money at last to do some public works projects, like build roads. From 1940 to 1947, Bonaire was an internment camp for captured German and Dutch Nazis. The wooden shacks and buildings where the Nazis were held were then turned into hotels and cottages after the war.

In 1962, Captain Don Stewart came to Bonaire. He had learned to scuba dive while in the navy, and in 1976 he opened Captain Don's Habitat, for scuba divers to come and enjoy Bonaire. Captain Don is credited for turning Bonaire into the dive destination that it is today, and he is quite the character. The rest is history.

Bonaire Today
Bonaire is, essentially, a desert. When you see what is on land, you hardly think that there is anything else to look for there. However, there are incredible things under water. In the north, is the town of Rincon and the Washington-Slagbaai National Park, and in the center is the town of Kralendijk. Between them are one lane and sometimes dirt roads, donkeys, cactus and brush. South of Kralendijk, there is an area of desert/brush, and then Lac Cai, which is an area known as some of the world's best windsurfing.

The language spoken on the island is frequently Papiamentu, although English, Spanish and Dutch are spoken quite a bit. Bonaire is known the most for its scuba diving. As you drive along a road on the coast, you will see yellow rocks with the name of each dive site written on them. It is an incredible experience to stop your truck, get out and put your gear on and then walk right into the water to dive. Each part of the island - north, south and middle - is a different geography underwater. The north is mostly hard corals, the south is mostly soft corals and the middle is a mixture of both.

In the center of Bonaire, there is also the smaller island, Klein Bonaire. It is 1500 acres and uninhabited. The dive sites around Klein Bonaire are incredible wall dives with lots of hard and soft corals. Some of our very best dives have been at Klein Bonaire.

Look for more photos of underwater adventures in Bonaire in both past and future Sea Things.

Is there a creature that you would like to see featured in Sea Things? If so, shoot me an email and if I can, I'll write about it. Photos on this post are courtesy of Todd Krebs.

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