Better get to the airport at least two hours early, they say in Willemstad, because they don't exactly move very fast here in Curaçao. So I arrive at 0640 for Tiara Air Aruba's 0820 15-minute flight to Bonaire. There's no check-in counter sign, no nothing. A look at the departure board shows the flight's due to leave at 1020. Tiara's rescheduled without bothering to e-mail the change.
At about 0830 three women appear and flash on the Tiara sign. One of them starts checking in a group of four, while the other two chat, both to each other and to their cell phones. Fifteen minutes later, one of the chatterers decides to put in a full minute's work for the day and calls me over. She's as poker faced as a witch with an icicle dildo.
But the ice melts and I elicit a smile when I congratulate her on her nails - some plain pink, others with green stripes and sparkling stars.
Another waterfront view
Everybody else is booked to Aruba and I'm the lone passenger on the plane to Bonaire - an old box coffin-like machine called a Shorts SD3-60, built over 30 years ago by the British Short Brothers company. It can carry 36 passengers and is bisexual - well, it lands on land or water.
More to my immediate consternation is another box reposing by the plane's steps - a real-life tin coffin. But it's not for me after all. It's already occupied by a Dona something - her name is hidden by a profusion of yellow and white wreaths and has just arrived from Aruba. I wonder what customs are gonna think when they ask 'anything to declare?'
So here I am in seat 5A in splendid isolation with the hostess giving me personal safety instructions while the pilot comes bowling in - he's so fat he can barely get through the little cabin door and squeeze into his seat. Fortunately the co-pilot is super-thin so we don't spin into a nose dive due to lack of passenger ballast to counter gravity.
Bonaire is flatter than Curaçao and smaller, at 114 square miles. Its highest point is 784 feet, it has only 18,000 inhabitants and it's a municipality of Holland, unlike Curaçao with 150,000 people, which is a country. It's hot and humid, again not lush jungle, but dry tropical vegetation.
Kralendijk, the little seaside capital has only a few streets and pretty painted houses in purple, blue, green, orange and yellow. It's quiet and very pleasant, with several cafes along the water front where masted yachts bob on the azure Caribbean.
The main draws are scuba diving, wind surfing and kite surfing. Well, I don't do the first after two previous catastrophic attempts, tried the second with the kids way back in Jamaica with pretty dismal results, and as for the third - I'll give that one a miss, already seeing myself dragged half way to Africa.
And who says un-neutered male dogs are aggressive? Max, the massive chocolate labrador at the inn where I am ensconced, has a huge pair of knackers swinging behind him and he couldn't be friendlier - at least to guests. Intruders might find him otherwise.
Another countryside view
As for Tiara Air Aruba, they couldn't be less friendly. Forewarned by this morning's experience, I check in at the office for my flight out to Aruba at 0910 on Saturday - only to be told it's been cancelled and I won't be able to leave until 2125, arriving in Aruba at 2255. Not an e-mail advisory in sight! So I switch to InselAir leaving at 1555 and getting in at 1750.
To avoid careening into a forest of prickly cacti thanks to my excellent driving skills, I've decided against self-driving rental and secure a 4X4 plus driver-cum-guide for a round-island tour at $75 - a bloody good bargain seeing that a car rental with full insurance coverage would cost over $50. I could get it more cheaply but that would entail a $550 deductible, a looming disaster given my predilection for driving into gulches, rocks, cliffs - and cacti.
If anything, Bonaire's interior is more arid than Curaçao's, though there's still plenty of low dry green trees and bushes, and a vast amount of cacti sticking up like rampant pricks all over the stoney wilderness.
At the north end Washington-Slagbaai national park provides the wildest scenery with a ridge of craggy outcroppings rising to nearly 800 feet, thick groves of cacti, a vast bed of stoney coral pushed up by volcanic activity millions of years ago, and lakes full of rosey pink flamingos.
On a little rocky hillock by the shore a squat white lighthouse proffers a glorious panorama of it all - and far-off a wind farm with 12 turbines churns away.
In the centre of the island, a little tunnel of low trees leads to a small pool where birds flit about. Two antique bird watchers flit about in their wake, too, huge camera lenses at the ready. Now they perch on low branches just like their quarry. Yours Truly perches likewise and starts up a conversation with the antique lady of the pair.
Bird and iguana grove
Talk about dialogue of the deaf. I'm jabbering away about this and that and all I get is smiles and grimaces. Finally she says: 'I'm deaf.'
A troupe, herd, pride, or whatever you call the collective of iguanas comes waddling along and looks at us curiously. This must be a favourite basking haunt for them.
Want a kiss?
We stop off at a little stoney outcrop that the original Arawak inhabitants considered the burial site of the island's umbilical cord, then at a spikey rocky overhang where rock paintings and inscriptions mark the Simacan cave, or cave of the star watcher.
Here 2,000 years ago indigenous star watchers gauged the passage of the stars and planets against the horizon and the cave's own spikes to determine dates, the best time to plant, and fish etc. Needless to say, some idiot tourist has clambered up the rocks to scratch his own name. No wonder they've put a protective wire cage round the inscriptions to save them from current-day barbarians.
Protected rock paintings
South of Kralendijk lie the salt pans, where water flowing or pumped in from the sea turns rusty red as it evaporates, leaving behind salt piled high in hillocks as white as snow. In days of yore, the nasty Dutch colonialists used slaves to work the pans, and the small low concrete huts in which they were forced to live remain as a memorial.
Today nasty conglomerate Cargill controls the pans, shipping out the salt through a metal mecano-like contraption that pours it into the hold of waiting ships.
Some scuba nuts are plunging off shore and a couple of kite surfer nuts are whizzing about on the surface like zig-zagging marionettes. We move on to Lac Bay on the island's south-east, the kite and wind surfing locale par excellence because of the continuously strong winds. It's a vast expanse of turquoise water backed by lush green mangrove swamps, through which you can kayak.
But there's not a kite, nor a kayak, nor a surfer in sight - just an antique old crone on the beach. Aaaagh! She's TOPLESS. The horror! The horror! Talk about the hanging gardens of Babylon, the decline and fall of the Roman Empire! This is an ecological disaster - sagging folds of sere skin succumbing to gravity.
Back in town on Friday night, it's all happening at Karel's outdoor Beach Bar on the little pier on Kralendijk's water front. A five-man combo is belting out lilting Latin American melodies mixed with American pop. A few couples are dancing frenetically, none more so than a couple of large, rotund semi-antique Dutch women, one hyper-tall wearing what looks like a couple of flapping bed sheets.
They're jerking their arms side to side like a demented pendulum and stomping their feet with all the elegance of pregnant elephants at a hoedown. But a five-year-old boy really steals the show as he elegantly stomps away with the best of them, dancing with his dad.
Sea inlet in volcanic rock
The night air is cool and pleasant after a searing humid day, the pin-point lights on the top of the yachts' masts twinkle away as they bob on the wavelets, and a crescent moon casts a deep beam across the Caribbean.
And the two Dutch women are now back at their table waving their arms high with flashing torches. Ah, the delights and whirl of social high-life on Bonaire!
By the same author: Bussing The Amazon: On The Road With The Accidental Journalist, available with free excerpts on Kindle and in print version on Amazon.
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