Our next port was Kralendijk, Bonaire on Thanksgiving Day. Bonaire was part of the Netherlands Antilles until the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved in 2010. The island then became a special overseas municipality within the country of the Netherlands. Confusing, I know. Kralendijk is the capital of tiny Bonaire.
Bonaire lies fifty miles off the coast of Venezuela and is outside the Caribbean hurricane belt. It has a warm, dry climate with ocean breezes and temperatures between 78 and 86. In other words, perfect.
Bonaire’s main economy is tourism. It is best known for snorkeling and scuba diving because of multiple diving sites and easy access to coral reefs. In fact it is recognized as one of the world’s best diving destinations. There is little agriculture and most of the island is covered in shrubs and cacti. The island is about 24 miles long north to south and 3 to 5 miles wide east to west.
The population is approximately 20,000. January 2019 saw approximately 71,000 tourists, a record, visit this island by ship and air.
Knowing that Bonaire doesn’t have a great bus system like Aruba, and is best explored by car, we booked an excursion. Walking from the dock to the bus it started to rain hard, not a good sign.
On the way to our first stop, we passed through the small town and into the countryside. At one point we had to stop and wait for some goats to get out of the road. They were not fazed by the bus and not in a hurry.
We could see more of the cacti fencing around the homes, similar to Aruba.
When we got to our first stop it was pouring rain. But we all know if you wait awhile, the weather will change. Sure enough the rain slowed to a light drizzle and we could get off the bus. Unfortunately even though this was known to be a very scenic spot on the island, it was not the best weather to take pictures.
The Millennium Cross Monument is located here at the Seru Largu lookout, one of the highest hills in Bonaire. The cross was built between 1999 and 2000 by the Catholic Church. On the monument are the words “Kristu Ayera Awe Semper” which means Christ, today, yesterday and forever.
Next up was the salt flats. As you can see, the weather improved quickly.
The low lying geography and Dutch dike design made much of the southern half of Bonaire into a giant system of ponds and pools which evaporate seawater to produce salt. The salt flats of Bonaire have been used for the extraction and exportation of salt for centuries. These natural ponds were first worked by African slaves who were brought to Bonaire to work the salt pans and plantations. Today, Bonaire’s salt works produce between 300,000 and 500,000 metric tons of industrial grade salt per year. After collection, the salt is washed and stored in pyramid shaped piles.
The ponds are a natural habitat for numerous species of brine shrimp which feed flocks of hundreds of pink flamingos and other migratory birds. This is the location of a flamingo sanctuary. We could see flamingos in the distance as we traveled down the road.
Along the shoreline are four obelisks, one red, one white and one blue for the colors of their flag and a pink one representing the royal family.
The West Indies Company forced the island’s original inhabitants, the native Americans, to work in the salt flats before they eventually managed to escape to nearby Venezuela. We saw the slave huts, constructed in 1850 and which served as camping facilities for slaves working in the salt ponds.
The huts were used as sleeping quarters and a place to put personal belongings. Many black slaves from Africa worked in the salt ponds and on plantations. The slaves lived in the middle of Bonaire, a seven hour walk to the salt ponds. The West Indies Company built the huts so the slaves would not have to walk home each night. About 500 slaves worked here. Each small hut, meant for two, sometimes had as many as six slaves sleeping in one house.
In 1863 slavery was abolished in the Antilles.. The West Indies Company also used Bonaire as a penal colony for soldiers who misbehaved, forcing them to work in the salt flats.
Our next stop was at the Willemstoren Lighthouse located on the southern tip of the island. Bonaire has five lighthouses and this is Bonaire’s first lighthouse, built in 1837. It is now automated.
Bill quickly found a geocache just a short walk from the lighthouse.
Our final stop was at Sebastian’s Beach restaurant, a little beach shack where we could get a snack and something cold to drink.
We really liked Bonaire, finding it smaller, less congested and with more of a quaint charm than Aruba.
Dinner in the dining room was a grand Thanksgiving dinner. The servings were much too large, truly fitting the term of a Thanksgiving feast. I ate and ate and still had a lot of turkey left on my plate. Dessert was pumpkin or pecan pie, or both.
They had a beautiful Thanksgiving display on the Garden Café deck, including an ice sculpture. It was obvious the staff had put a lot of work into the display, making Thanksgiving Day for the Americans onboard something truly special.
Next up: Getting dirty in the Dominican Republic