My wife and I made our first trip to a Caribbean Island a trip to Bonaire for the ABK Windsurf Clinic January 25-30, 2003. Usually we snow ski this time of the year, but the lure of Lac Bay was too great. I once read that Bonaire was the best place on the globe to learn to windsurf or to improve windsurfing skills...the warm and crystal clear thigh deep water, sandy bottom, steady wind, no waves due to the reef shore break across the bay. "The worst thing that can happen to you is to wash up on the nude beach next door, at Sorobon Beach Resort."
Bonaire lived up to every expectation, plus some. We flew Air Jamaica from Atlanta through Montego Bay, leaving about 9am and landing at Flamingo airport about 3:30pm. Flights were comfortable and rather uneventful, always a plus. On landing in Jamaica, we discovered the clothes we left in, with snow on the ground, were much too warm. When we got to our room at Eden Beach, we started shucking the long pants and long sleeves- not to be seen again until we were nearing Atlanta on the return flight.
The island is an understated delight. The arrid landscape contrasts with the image of a lush Caribbean setting usually envisioned. The gray rocky ground, scrub undergrowth and cactus take a little getting used to. But the charm quickly emerges. The first donkeys seen grazing by the road, or strolling down the center of the road, welcome new visitors. Then dodging lizards in the road becomes a new venture, sort of like a video game in a surreal setting. With only one day to sight see before the windsurf clinic began, we set out to drive the island to begin our vacation. We rambled out to Lac Bay and saw the kite and windsurfers going at it like there would be no tomorrow. Then we drove the South end of the island, by the lighthouse, slave huts, salt flats, and such. Then on up to Rincon, on to Gotomeyer where we got our first good look at the flamingos, and then to Washington park. We were disappointed that we were too late to enter the park but then took the dirt road to the windward shore to watch the blowhole waves crash. We stumbled on the indian inscriptions and Cactus Fence Country Club on our return.
The next five days were filled with the most incredible windsurfing I could imagine. Andy Brandt and Derek and Peter of the ABK group helped each windsurfer advance at an amazing pace. Their teaching experience, combined with the setting at Lac Bay and the equipment available and at the ready at Jibe City, allowed each of us to move to new skill levels that would have taken months (or more) in another place. I experienced my first water start, first front strap and back strap sailing, and "scaryfast" sailing to beat the band...what a rush. My wife, who hadn't windsurfed successfully before, learned to sail! She was even working on beachstarts before the week ended.
After the clinic ended on Friday, it was time for some real vacation. Saturday morning was the first time I had any energy left to take my early morning jog. A local greeted me as I left the room about 6:30am with the observation that the best time of any day on Bonaire is between 6 and 8 am. I can hardly argue, as I recount this jog:
I leave Eden Beach on a leisurely pace, noting the sky brightening in multiple shades of blue...rivaling the colors of the tropical water. I hear the call of the "sugar thief" yellow birds as I round the corner to the paved road. As I pass the Harbor Resort, I see lights on several of the boats tied there and a small fishing boat is being launched. I continue down the road and watch as the sun breaks the horizon. I hear a spoon stirring a pot...someone is beating eggs for a breakfast. I turn to go over a block to run down the waterway. As I round the corner, looming over the city is a cruise ship out beside Klein Bonaire, motoring toward the city dock. I jog along the brick harbor walk, enjoying the smell of cinnamon wafting from the bakery in town. The windmills on the anchored sailboats spin effortlessly as the breeze continues to blow. The cruise ship is now about half way in to port and I hear a call "Margaret"..."Mar-garet"...finally I realize I am listening to a parrot or parakeet calling. At the next block, a short haired labrador retriever runs up to me. I instinctively face him with a touch of fear passing over me. I keep an eye on him as I keep running. He runs along side. For the next four or five blocks, he accompanies me, alternately jogging ahead, sniffing a spot, and then catching back up. As we near the outdoor market, I hear the firing off of a diesel engine. A small black tug eases from its dock to go meet the cruise ship, exchanging places with a small red boat alongside- the harbor pilot has done his job. As I reach the outdoor market, my jogging partner has left me for a spot demanding serious sniffing. Wheelbarrows are pushed by me toward the market, loaded with citrus fruit, watermelons, and potatos. As I reach Fort l'Oranje, I turn back to head back to the hotel. As I pass the shops of town, the sleepy village is slowly awaking. Reaching the main road, I hear roosters crowing in the next block. As I reach that block, half a dozen chickens and several dogs peacefully move among each other, loose in the front yard of a home beside the road. Passing back by Harbor Village, more activity is stirring on the boats moored in the harbor. Rounding my final turn onto the Eden Beach drive, I slow to a walk. Listening to the Sugar Thief birds and the doves calling, I hear a more gutteral sound. Peering over the hedge, I spot four bright green and yellow parakeets enjoying a breakfast of berries just yards away. When they eventually move to other trees, I proceed on back to the waterfront to cool down and stretch. A prayer of thanksgiving is in order! Thus starts another day in paradise! (to be continued)