Rotary Bonaire

Rotary Bonaire's Article in The Rotarian

Bonaire…….Just a Drop in the Ocean

Text by Susan Davis
Photography by Dos and Bertie Winkel

Bonaire—just a drop in the ocean, but what a glittering diamond it is.  Long known to those who SCUBA dive and windsurf because of the excellent conditions it offers for both sports, in many instances, the casual traveler has never heard of this tiny island located in the southern Dutch Caribbean.

Part of the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao), Bonaire is located about fifty miles north of Venezuela and has a population of about 15,000.  One of its claims to fame is the lack of even one traffic light!  Kralendijk is the commercial center located at the middle of the western, leeward coast and many small towns and villages radiate outward from Kralendijk.  Much of the island’s land is, as yet, undeveloped, and so the island offers a unique view of how the Caribbean might have been decades ago before huge developments and commercialism overtook the region.

The majority of visitors to Bonaire flock to the island for its world-class SCUBA diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, and kiteboarding.  Bonaire's pristine reefs and diverse marine life are unique to the Caribbean. Because the waters around Bonaire have been protected by an actively managed marine park for the past thirty years, today Bonaire ranks amongst the top diving destinations in the world.  Its climate is arid with little rain fall, consequently, the waters are exceptionally clear, calm, and can be dived year round. It is an ideal destination for underwater photographers. Water temperatures average a warm 78-84°F (25.6-28.9°C), with visibility averaging 100 feet (30m).

Windsurfers could not ask for a better spot than Lac Bay on the east coast of Bonaire. What has made the area so popular is the 90% chance of favorable winds and the 100% assurance of a sheltered, shallow bay to challenge the experts to sail and entice the novice into learning this fast-paced sport. While not all windsurfing activity takes place at Lac, that is where the surf shops are located and is where most people tend to congregate.

But the island offers more sedate activities, too.  There are two main sightseeing areas, the northern half, which is hilly and more vegetated, and the southern half of the island, which is very flat and offers sweeping views of the salinas (salt pans), the coastline, and the Caribbean Sea.

When traveling north, the best idea is to take what is called “the tourist road,” which begins shortly after the neighborhoods end at the top of “hotel row.”  The road is curving and travels up and down, and even becomes one way at the site 1000 Steps.  It’s not uncommon to see the island’s parrots and parakeets active in this area, and, if lucky, one can even spot a warawara (a type of hawk) or even an eagle-like osprey on the wing.

Within a few minutes, those sightseeing have a choice—to continue northward, or to turn inland towards the oldest settlement on Bonaire, called Rincon.  On the road to Rincon, be sure to stop at the scenic pass overlooking Gotomeer, a landlocked salt lake, where you are bound to run into a few of Bonaire's famous pink flamingos.

Shortly before arriving in Rincon, it’s best to pause at the top of the hill for snapping images of this idyllic, peaceful village.  Rincon’s inhabitants are proud of their heritage and willingly share their music and dancing culture each year on Dia di Rincon (Rincon Day) on April 30th.  While in Rincon, be sure to stop at Rose Inn, or any of the other local eateries, for some kabrito stoba (goat stew), a local favorite.

Just a short drive on the other side of Rincon, the entrance to Washington Slagbaai National Park greets you.  A drive through this area is a must for all visitors, as it illustrates the way of life for many Bonaireans in times past.  There are two routes—the long route, marked by yellow signs, follows the eastern, windward side of the island, offering such popular sites as Playa Chikitu (Little Beach), Boca Kokolishi (Bay of Shells), and Boca Bartol, which sits at the very northern tip of the island.  The short route, with green markers, cuts directly northward with towering cacti and then joins the long route to continue on the western, leeward shoreline of the park, which encompasses fully one-third of Bonaire’s land mass.  A stop at Boca Slagbaai (Slaughter Bay) is essential to see the renovated plantation buildings from when this area was used to export goat meat to the neighboring island of Curacao.  And, should one be lucky, many times a large flock of flamingos can be found just on the other side of the plantation house.

A half-day drive to the south will provide totally different perspectives.  As one passes under the causeway which Cargill uses to transport salt onto ships, the southern coastline opens up for you, as the mountains of snow-white salt glisten in the tropical sun.  Stops for snorkeling at sites such as Tori’s Reef yield many fish in the shallows, and a bit further south, Pink Beach offers a quiet and peaceful stop for sunning and a picnic.  Look for the billowing sails of the kiteboarders as you pass Atlantis on your expedition south, along with the two sets of huts where slaves spent their nights when working the salt pans.  Shortly after viewing these notable areas, visitors will encounter the southern-most tip of the island, marked by historic Willemstoren Lighthouse, which is still in use today.

Rounding the tip, you’ll now be on the eastern coast once more, where most times the surf pounds into shore, shooting a spray of froth up many feet into the air.  Traversing along this coastline, sightseers will end up at Lac Bay, a very special area of Bonaire, as it is here that Bonaire’s mangrove forest acts as the nursery to the reef.  Also, the bay, which is very shallow, provides world-class conditions for windsurfers, and it’s a pleasant way to end your southern tour with a cold drink and a salad or burger at one of the surf shops, watching the butterfly-like sails flit over the waves.

Through the years, this unique island has attracted unique people to its shores.  The melding of ex-patriots from diverse nations with the local Antillean population has created a special mix of people eager to improve themselves, their businesses, and the island.  Many of these people banded together over twenty-five years ago to form the initial Rotary Club of Bonaire, and the club continues just as strongly today with its main goal being the betterment of Bonaire.  Members of the Bonaire Rotary Club come from all aspects of the Bonairean business community, with membership presently numbering 29. The Club has inducted five Paul Harris Fellows.

Bonaire's Rotary Club was established in 1982, and it has since provided a wide range of support for local non-profit and social organizations.   In April, 2007, Rotary Club Bonaire celebrated its 25th Anniversary of supporting the island. The Club held many different activities and events over a two-week period, to commemorate this landmark, as well as raise funds for the club’s current projects.

The club sponsored the return of the Dutch Dixies musical group, for a series of free concerts around the island.   Also, a special (and authentic) Netherlands Antilles postage stamp was printed in conjunction with Nieuwe Post, N.A.  The series of stamps for local mail or postcards came with a certificate of authenticity.   Finally, an auction of extravagant and extraordinary items provided funding for the 2007-2008 Breakfast in Schools program.

The children of Bonaire were not forgotten during the anniversary festivities, as Rotary Club Bonaire reprinted the story of Wichi i e Kontrabandistanan, originally printed back in 1984, and distributed the book in the Papiamentu language to Bonaire's children to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the Police of the Netherlands Antilles.

Over the years, the club has assisted the Bonaire community in many truly varied manners.  For example, the club funded and built the creation of a greenhouse and rain storage system at the Pasa Dia project in Rincon, and Rotary also funded the day care of elderly at Ka’I Mimina.  Rotary Club Bonaire assisted the local high school with receiving a shipment of donated school supplies from Holland, donated furniture to one of the island’s elementary schools, supported a reaching project at the local library so children would not have to pay fees to read books, and even sponsored the Bonai Youth Group during their reconstruction work of a Bryde’s Whale skeleton exhibit for Bonaire’s Washington Slagbaai National Park.

But, surely it is Rotary’s Breakfast-in-Schools Program which is the crowning achievement.  This program, initiated in mid-2004, was created to assist the less fortunate children within Bonaire’s school system so that every needy child received a healthy, nutritious breakfast each day. The hope was that the children would be better prepared to focus and retain more during their school hours, when they began studies with a nutritious breakfast.  The program’s motto is, "Feed the body and the mind!"

The first year of implementation, the 2004-2005 school year, the program proved to be such a resounding success that the club decided to continue the program for the 2005-2006 school year, but augmented it by adding in another school.  At that time, over 150 school children from six elementary schools were receiving a free, healthy breakfast each school-day morning. Each and every year since, the Rotary Club of Bonaire has renewed its commitment to the school children of Bonaire by extending the project.  The close of the 2008-2009 school year in June, 2009 marked the completion of the fifth year of the Breakfast-in-Schools Project, and the program has provided over 500,000 breakfasts in those years.  With the start of its sixth year of operation, the 2009-2010 school year, Rotary Club is hopeful to expand the outreach to even more needy children on Bonaire.

The Rotary Club Bonaire hosts weekly luncheon meetings each Wednesday from 12:00 PM to 2:00 PM, and over the years, the club has welcomed some famous guests to their meetings.

In November, 2006, former astronaut General Charles Bolden shared his experiences in space, as well as during his life as a U.S. Marine, with the Rotary members.  In May, 2009, U.S. President Obama asked General Bolden to head up NASA; Bolden is only the second astronaut to run NASA in its 50-year history.

In August, 2009, Rotary’s guest speaker was Ms. Karol Meyer, from Brazil, one of the world’s most famous free-divers. Karol began free-diving in 1999 and has gone on to hold three world records, in addition to two Pan-American Records, 22 South American records, five national records and she has won several international competitions representing Brazil.

But the club also welcomes with open arms those who are not quite so famous, and visiting Rotarians experience a friendly hospitality whenever they visit Bonaire.  The Rotary Club of Bonaire extends an open invitation to all Rotarians world-wide to come and visit this shining diamond that they call home so they may see for themselves why this island has beckoned so many to its shores.


For additional information on Bonaire, located in the Dutch Caribbean, visit www.infobonaire.com.

Visit the web site of the photographers, Dos and Bertie Winkel, at www.dos-bertie-winkel.com.
All images copyright © Dos and Bertie Winkel.

 

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