After returning from a great snorkel excursion on Bonaire, we had time to change into dry things, put our wet stuff out on the balcony of our cabin on Celebrity Constellation, and head back out to see something of the island. The stand advertising taxi tours that had been at the cruise port in Kralendijk earlier was gone, but there were still a few vans and cars parked waiting to give tours. The price there was quite reasonable, just $25 per person for a 2 hour tour of which you can choose the north or south part of the island. If you start the tour early enough you could do both, but we only had time for one or the other in order to make it back before all aboard. We took the south tour. We had a great driver named Martha who told us about all sorts of things on the island. We’ve done a lot of impromptu van tours in various places, and this was one of the best. Quality of these tours often depends on the driver even if they all do go to the same places.
The capital city of Bonaire is Kralendijk. which is where cruise ships dock. Bonaire is the B of the ABC islands – Aruba and Curacao are the other two. All three sit outside of the Caribbean’s hurricane alley. Bonaire is a special municipality of the Netherlands, and a part of that country. The island’s original Arawak inhabitants were deported by Spaniards in the early 1500’s to work as slaves in copper mines on Hispaniola. Bonaire was colonized by the Spanish in the 1500’s and conquered by the Dutch in the 1600’s. Like our driver Martha, most of the current population are a mixture of Dutch and African descent. The climate is generally warm and dry, but also humid and windy.
Our island tour started with a drive alongside the ocean, passing a lot of beaches. Some of them had people near the shore either returning from a dive or getting ready to go out for one. Bonaire is very popular for diving and snorkeling. Soon we came upon salt flats. Martha said Columbus came to the island looking for gold and found salt. There are 2 natural canals and 2 manmade ones that go into the area of the salt mines. The water comes in green due to the good bacteria that live in it. As water evaporates it turns to pink. The first areas we passed were pink, later there were green ones.
Like so many places around the Caribbean, slaves were brought to the island from Africa. While most islands used them in sugarcane plantations, on Bonaire it was to harvest the salt. Now it is all done by machines. Something similar to a combine. Once the salt flats are dried the salt gets mounded up into hills and then loaded on ships.
There were some giant salt hills far behind a gate, and a box of salt out in front of it that people could help themselves to. Martha had a giant crystal, far bigger than the chunks in the box, which are more like rocks than what people expect to see as salt. Those chunks can be ground up and used though, completely organic sea salt.
There’s pipelines and a bridge now, a whole mechanized system for loading the salt on boats for export. No more slave labor, but there are still 4 obelisks in different colors marking where ships of old could wait to be loaded with salt.
Martha said that divers like to go under the salt bridge because they find seahorses living there. She did not say if they were any close enough to the surface for snorkelers to see them.
The slaves originally lived in a village called Rincon far across the island and had a 7-hour walk to and from the salt mines every day until tiny little coral huts were built for them to stay in during the work week, where they then walked back to the far away village on weekends. There is a set of slave huts beside the sea, and just down the road some replicas.
Other than the color the replicas and originals look much the same. They’re about as spacious as a tent intended for 2-4 people, but slept 8-10, which would have meant packing them in like sardines. It’s hard to understand how anyone could treat another person that way, but that’s far from the worst slaves had to endure. The huts have no doors or windows, just open spaces where doors and windows should be. The hut roofs are not high enough for anyone taller than a small child to stand up inside.
Not far past the slave huts we stopped briefly at a lone lighthouse on the beach.
A bit farther down the road we saw a small flock of flamingos in a shallow pond. There was a much larger flock in the distance, too far away to look like anything but a sea of pink. We saw a few more flamingos here and there along the way, but not a large flock. There are over 10,000 of them living in the Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary, but tourists are not allowed there.
Besides snorkeling and diving, other popular sports on Bonaire include kiteboarding and windsurfing. Along one stretch of the beach the sky was sprinkled with brightly colored kites. So many it looked like it must be hard to keep them from tangling up in one another, but the people out there know what they are doing. Martha said they were really farther apart than they appeared. Sometimes one would come in close to shore. Some of them jumped up out of the water quite high, which was fun to watch.
In a different area there were some little resorts and a crowded parking lot where people go to learn, practice, or just have fun windsurfing. That area was full of sails from the windsurfers, who apparently start learning as young as 4 on miniature boards. Lessons can also be found on the island for kitesurfing.
Besides flamingos the island also has many wild donkeys, left over from the days when they were used to haul salt to the waiting ships. There’s over 700 of them at a donkey sanctuary, and others that roam free around the island. People can go into the donkey sanctuary for a fee when it is open. We came across one standing by the roadside. Though she was a wild donkey, she was not afraid of people. Quite the opposite, she stood quietly for photos, let us pet her, and was quite disappointed that we didn’t have any treats for her. Martha said people often bring them carrots or apples.
Fences made from many live cacti growing in a row are quite popular on the island to keep the wild donkeys out.
Some goats behind a fence in somebody’s yard ran away when we got out of the van to take their picture so the domestic goats were much shyer than a wild donkey.
After our tour we got back to the ship with plenty of time to spare before all-aboard time. When cruising you always want to be back on time because unless you are on a cruise ship excursion when it is time to go the ship is not going to wait for stragglers to come back.