Thursday, February 19, 2015

Bonaire Day 2. Let's Go Diving!

Bonaire Day Two…….Let’s go diving

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Bonaire Dive and Adventure is located in the Den Laman building with the dive pier and boat launch area all within a few feet of each other.
As with all operations in Bonaire before you dive you must attend a dive briefing and purchase your reef tag which gives you the Ok to dive anywhere in the marine park.  BDA also requires you to do your first dive from the pier so you can check weighting for proper buoyancy. Their boats are small and the staff will remind you many times that they don’t carry extra weight on the boat.
We got signed in at the shop with all the necessary forms and got our reef tags. Andre the owner took photo copies of my NAVED card since he had never seen one and wanted to show the staff in case they saw cards like it in the future….He was very interested in what we were doing and despite being very busy we talked a bit about vintage equipment diving. I did let him know that NAVED was a social club and not a certification agency.
Dive briefing began at 9:30….Don’t put on your wetsuit before the briefing and bring a cup of coffee or water as you are going to be there for a while……..He thoroughly covers the history of Bonaire, the dive sites, the rule etc etc. Also included is a talk by Jerry Ligon on the guided tours he offers to show you the fish and birds of the island.  
Next comes the walkthrough of the diving facility and where and how to get what you need. There is one area where you get your air or NITROX cylinders for diving around the island where you can back your truck right up.  Codes to get the keys after hours and which locker to put the cylinders in. Also how to use the O2 analyzer for the NITROX cylinders and how to log cylinders in and out. Sounds complicated but by day 2 it makes perfect sense.  
Next you walk through where you pick up weights and the large indoor area where you can rinse and hang your gear up to dry overnight. The room is very well laid out with sturdy racks and lots of hangers.  The main door to the room is locked at night but you can access it by using a community key kept in a lock box similar to one used by a realtor for a house.
At the dock entrance which is locked at night but once again if you are diving with them you will have access to a key that lets you on the dock 24/7 so you can dive anytime you want to.  There are another set of lockers with both air and NITROX cylinders right at the dock and they can fill right there as well.  No need to store cylinders in your room for night dives as you can get them on the dock anytime. I never saw a shortage of cylinders on the dock no matter what time we went diving.  It’s a very slick setup and minimizes carrying cylinders around all over the place.
There are long wood benches on the dock with upright boxes to secure your cylinder bottom and plenty of room to put your gear together. Take a giant stride off the end or go down the wide ladder and you are in the water. BDA staff was around helping divers with their gear and providing extra weights or assistance while divers were trying out their gear in the shallow water around the dock.
While Rob and I were assembling our gear we talked with Andre for a while about the Argonaut Kraken and how it all came about and how and why we use them.  He asked lots of questions and had absolutely no reservations about us diving with them.
NOTE….I have read on SB in many threads that Andre was not nice to deal with and various other complaints about him. During the entire time we were there he was the perfect host. He was always available and very involved in the daily operation and made us feel welcome and appreciated.  I talked with him about this and he says the complaints come from people using his dock and pier who are not registered guest of the resort or BDA.  I completely understand his point and would feel the same way…..
NOTE….. Just to the right of our room at Den Leman is a HUGE open lot with free parking and full access to Bari Reef. So there is no need use BDA facilities without paying unless you are trying to grab cylinders for free or are up to something else.

Diving Bari reef is about as easy as it gets. We dove in various spots from BDA south to Divi Flamingo Beach and Casino and all was about the same. From the shore to about 20’ is sand and spots of coral and from there the norm is a gradual slope down to about 100’ where it turns back into sand again.  Some places look more like a wall than a gentle slope but all are easily manageable. Most days there was some very slight alongshore current but nothing of any concern. Always easier to go against the current and coast home than vice versa.
The reef was in good shape and very active with all the tropical fish you could want to look at. Since the current is minimal it’s easy to stop and explore all the cracks and crevices where the little ones hide. A few eels and lobsters but mostly reef fish. Nothing pelagic at all save a small barracuda or two and the largest fish we ever saw here were Tarpon who were by Florida standards about bait size. Most fish hung out between 30 and 60’ in this area and as you went deeper there were fewer fish.
One of my favorite things about diving this stretch of reef is all the rubble and junk that was left over from hurricanes. There are plenty of things to explore and even a couple of small boats along this stretch. An upside down tugboat around 100’ was neat to visit but the Jewfish that supposedly lived there must have gone further south for the winter as we never saw him.  Off of Divi Flamingo there is a big aluminum fishing boat and a HUGE anchor with monument to someone who’s name escapes me.

After we did our checkout / orientation dive most of the morning was gone and Rob and I headed out in the truck to 1000 Steps.
I would agree with others that this is a must do dive while on Bonaire. There really are not 1000 steps only about 70 I think and going down them is no problem. Coming back up after a long dive with wet gear feels like 100000000 steps.  I had to stop ½ way up for a rest.
The shore entry is a little challenging as you go from rocky beach to a berm of broken up coral to water and then another berm that is covered in mini sea urchins…..Walk up or down a bit and look for a sand channel going out which is much easier. Surf was not an issue but getting out was a bit harder than going in due to surge.
This area of the reef was even more active than Bari reef for fish and more varied species.  In the shallows we saw turtles several times and they were not in a big hurry to get away.  This is also a place to see some amazing stretches of staghorn coral. We spent a lot of time hovering over the coral checking out all the things swimming in and out of it.  
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After an exhausting climb back up Mt.Everest, a.ka. 1000 steps we met up with some divers in the truck next to us from the NE who were amazed by the Argonauts.  We shared all we could while we caught our breath and drove on back to Den Laman.  THOSE RED HOSES DRAW A CROWD!

For our evening jaunt we went downtown by the cruise ship dock and it was later in the evening so we counted on the ship being ready to disembark so all the folks would be back on board.  The streets were pretty quiet and we walked up on The Divers Diner  and figured this was definitely the place for us!20150208_184356.jpg
There were only three tables occupied when the 4 of us seated ourselves. Perhaps I missed a sign on the way in that might have read….For Service Please Set Off An Explosive Device because that’s about what it took for someone to come over and ask us what we wanted.  We were able to get 3 waters and a Coke Light.  Refills would be difficult to obtain no matter what we did.  We were starving as we had skipped lunch and ordered some fries with cheese and jalapenos to share while we looked over the menu for entrees.  After an exceedingly long time we were able to place our order but from the start things were missing…..Like Thank You or can I get you a refill…..Would you like silverware….How would you like that cooked….Instead we got staring off into space waiting for us to ask and answer our own questions…...My wife, Rob and I have spent decades in the service industry and know what good and bad service are….We are also exceedingly patient because it’s a tough job for anyone to do….I am also an extremely generous tipper…..
We finally got the entrees and disappointed would be a nice word to describe them…...I won’t bore you with hundreds of food network adjectives or other boring stuff.  Service after we were served did not exist and at one point I considered going to the bar to ask for more napkins….We ate very little and decided that the fries we had at first were the best part of the meal.  Surprisingly while we were sitting around talking the person who cleared the table was very polite, smiling and nice.  This was a first for us at The Divers Diner.
I would put the cuisine below bar food and slightly above after midnight convenience store roticerry hot dogs and frozen burritos.  Our bill of course was closer to Mortons Steak House than McDonalds where it should have been.  If you enjoy being hungry after a meal and feeling like you are not wanted then this is the place for you.

We continued walking around for a while and started encountering a lot of signs on buildings in various languages….The ones in English told of some serious political issues the locals seem to be having with the Dutch government and the overall feel of that area led me to believe that we should do an about face and go back from where we came from.  I don’t discuss religion or politics on VDH so I won’t start here but after researching it a bit I was not surprised by the grievances especially given the attitudes we felt towards us by most of the local population.

We ended the day back at Den Laman on our awesome patio for some mosquito bites and some great Dutch chocolate before retiring for the evening.  

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