On our Thursday at sea, I took a run on a treadmill in the fitness center. We had lunch with a lovely Canadian couple and dinner with our regular tablemates, Joe and Doris. It was a good day for some quality reading time, which we both enjoyed.
Friday morning seemed to arrive too early, even though the ship’s time is now one hour later than Eastern Standard. By 8 a.m. we were docked at Kralendijk (KRAH-len-dike), the capital and largest town on the island of Bonaire. The town is locally referred to as “Playa.”
As the ship docked, we saw a small business jet landing at Flamingo International Airport, adjacent to the cruise terminal.
The island is home to about 20,000 people, around 3,000 of whom live in Kralendijk. Until 2010, Bonaire was part of the Netherlands Antilles, along with Aruba and Curacao. Now, it is grouped with Sint Eustatius and Saba as a special municipality of the Netherlands. The original residents of the island were Arawak Indians, and some of their rock paintings and petroglyphs have been found and preserved in caves. The name “Kralendijk” is from the Dutch “coral dike,” and “Bonaire” derives from the Arawak word meaning “lowlands.”
Spanish, Dutch, and British have all had their turn in exploiting the area and its people. African slaves were used to work the salt pans, until their emancipation in 1862. Our tour guide, Jandy-Ann, said individual slaves didn’t last very long, suffering infections from skin wounds in the hyper-salty water and blindness from the brilliant sun’s reflection on the white salt.
Jandy-Ann said the language most used is Papiamento, a creole of Dutch, English, and Spanish. Dutch is the official language, and most residents can speak at least one other one, as well. The predominant religion is Roman Catholic, but our bus passed four gigantic antenna towers of Trans World Radio, an evangelical broadcasting operation that the guide said boasts 100 million listeners around the world (if I understood her correctly)!
As our bus cruised the narrow asphalt roads through the rural areas, we realized how arid the climate is. The island is known for its snorkeling and SCUBA diving, but the scenic beauty seemed to stop at the land’s edge. The land seemed mostly made up of coral and limestone. Average annual rainfall is 30 or so inches, but some years it doesn’t rain at all. Large cactus dominated the landscape. There were trees, but mostly scrubby, low-lying ones. The small, unpopulated island of Kleine (Little) Bonaire, just offshore, looked like it was the same.
Much of the water along the coast is designated as a national marine park, and the underwater photos we have seen are spectacular. Jandy-Ann pointed out former and current homes of some celebrities as we passed – Gloria Estafan, Harry Belafonte, Roger Moore.
She said the island’s fresh water is produced by reverse osmosis. Wind turbines provide 30 percent of the electricity; 30 percent comes from solar panels, and 40 percent from gasoline-powered generators.
Our 18-passenger bus descended into a shallow valley to the tiny Spanish village of Rincon (population 2,000), the oldest town in the Dutch Caribbean, where we had a few minutes to visit a “museum,” repurposed from a low-ceilinged adobe house. It contained some common artifacts, many of which we had seen in other places. Some of our braver fellow tourists sampled locally produced Cadushy liquor, made from cactus. The little souvenir stalls there also afforded me an opportunity to purchase a “Bonaire” cap.
We drove along the coast, with the spectacular colors of water beside us on the way to the salt flats. The Dutch created a system of dikes to channel seawater into shallow ponds, where it evaporated. The salt was raked up and exported, and the manual process was a brutal one for the African slaves who actually did the work. Today, it’s still done, but by machine. A docked ship was receiving salt into its hold via a conveyor belt that arched across the road.
The island has no property tax, but a 34 percent income tax, which pays for all health care. There’s one hospital on the island, but no educational facility beyond the one public high school and private (mostly church-related) schools. Jandy-Ann said the closest university is on neighboring Curacao, although the Bonaire students who can afford it often travel to the Netherlands for their higher education. Online courses are also available.
She pointed out lots of roadside plants: Brazil tree, acacia, cotton tree, aloe vera (also an export). She mentioned lots of trade with Japan and with Venezuela, saying that the recent political troubles in Venezuela have negatively affected the Bonaire economy.
Our tour complete, Jandy-Ann and driver Elvis returned us safely to the cruise terminal, where we boarded Koningsdam in time for a late lunch in the Lido. At 6 p.m. the ship eased away from the pier, made a 180-degree turn, and at a leisurely pace began the overnight voyage to Willemstad, on the island of Curacao, where we were scheduled to arrive at 7 a.m. on Saturday.
Some photos of our day on Bonaire:
One of the best views we saw on the whole island was this one, from the balcony of our room on the ship. The closest structures are part of the cruise terminal.
Our tour guide, 19-year-old Jandy-Ann.
We saw lots of these fences, made by encouraging cactus to grow together. I’m pretty sure it would keep ME out.
While driving, you must keep a lookout for “ezels”! We saw a few of them, roaming wild on the island.
The Museo Chich’i Tan, one of the stops on our tour.
A model structure inside the museum. The Bonaire flag is on the thatched roof.
A flock of pink flamingos lives around this brackish lake.
The colors in the water were astonishing. It’s no wonder this place is a favorite for snorkeling and SCUBA diving.
Beautiful subject AND background.
These structures were built in 1850 to provide a place for the slaves to sleep, so they wouldn’t waste much time traveling to and from their backbreaking work in the salt flats.
This hut was designated for a “White Slave” — not a white-skinned person, but one of a group of black slaves assigned to the “white” work area, one of three labelled by the red, white, and blue colors of the Dutch flag.
A mountain of salt ready to be loaded onto a waiting ship for export (probably to the U.S., for use in de-icing roads and softening water).