A gorgeous piece of Gouda in the middle of the Caribbean. It is known for 3 things. Salt, scuba and flamingoes.
I was greeted with this view on my connecting flight from Curaçao to its sister Island of Bonaire. Welcome to paradise! I think I’ll like it here.
Bonaire is a Dutch municipality. A piece of gorgeous Gouda in the middle of the Caribbean. It is known for 3 things. Salt, scuba & flamingoes! Being a flat island surrounded by sea, it makes sense that salt pans would be a commodity the old Dutch settlers could exploit. Flamingoes live on salt pans so no explanation needed. Little did they know that surrounding the 80km coastline is the best shore-entry diving in the world. Wall to wall coral reefs and marine diversity. Bring it on.
But before I can SCUBA, I need a ride. The lovely folks at Scooters Bonaire have a vast array of scooters for hire. From piddly 50cc kymcos (I don’t recommend this for 2 people), to the brand new, very impressive Sym Jet 14. My kinda ride.
Bonaire is not cheap. This 170cc scooter rental averages out to $50 a day. Economics 101. A captive market with absence of competition. And the fact that most of the visitors are from the US or Europe factors into the equation. For this budget conscious South African it hurts.
My first impression of the Sym Jet 14 is that it is really well made. Sturdy and robust. It has the tactile feel of a R80 000 bike.
South Africa: The Sym Jet 14 retails for a sensible R23 000 (2019). A bargain. http://sym.co.za/product-details/jet-14-200/
The Sym Jet 14 is labelled as a 200 cc. It is really only 168,9 cc. This doesn’t matter. It is by far the nippiest scooter I have ever ridden. It delivers a punch. When I open up the throttle it responds with a catapult-like pull. It perfectly bridges the divide between a large scooter (ugly!) and an aesthetically pleasing everyday café scooter (cool!)
Now that I have my wheels I want to sample the underwater world. There is no shortage of scuba shops and dive resorts. Along the 10km seafront on Kralendijk (the main town), there is well over 50 to choose from. I have chosen to stay at Buddy Dive Resort.
Bonaire is the shore-entry capital of the world. Over 90 dive sites pepper the coastline, and all you need is scuba gear, and AIR!
Bonaire is built for scuba divers. They have invented ‘Drive-thru’ SCUBA. When you are done with your cylinder, you drive through an air-refill station for a top up, and continue to your next dive site. Throughout the island are these drive-thru’s. Genius.
What I like about Buddy’s is they offer both shore diving and boat diving packages. A one stop shop for accommodation, scuba and fun! As a solo diver I need to have both access to a buddy (no pun intended!), as well as convenient boat diving.
Before you dive…GET CHECKED OUT.
Before you can set fin in the water, it is compulsory to do a check-out dive with their resident dive master. As a marine protected reserve they take the preservation of their reef seriously. I know this may seem annoying to experienced divers, but as an eco-warrior I get the logic. Everyone is experienced these days!!!! It blows my mind how many so called qualified divers have no buoyancy control. Imagine if they had free reign over the reefs? It would be destroyed in weeks. Having a check-out dive allows for the dive masters to vet divers, assist newer divers in establishing neutral buoyancy, and to give everyone an environmental lesson. On the plus side my check-out dive was basically an hour long tour of Buddy’s house reef. AMAZING! Much like Curaçao, the dive profile is along a steep slope. You swim out about 10 meters from shore where the shelf drops down to 70 meters. A myriad of sponges and coral feasts the eyes. The Caribbean is a macro paradise. The apex predators are few and far between. The beauty is in the small detail. That being said the resident tarpons are well over 2-meters long and look fearsome.
WRECK DIVING…THE HILMA HOOKER (EXPRESS)
One of the highlights of diving in Bonaire is a wreck called the Hilma Hooker (fake name!) It has a rock ‘n roll story. In 1984 a merry band of marijuana smugglers set sail from South America loaded with 11 tons of pot! Engine problems resulted in them docking in Kralendijk. Obviously their paper work was forged, and the authorities smelled a rat! Crew and captain hot-footed it away, and the locals were left with a hunk of unclaimed metal, and pile of mary-jane. The ship was sunk and has since become a highlight dive destination.
The Hilma rests on its starboard side* with the bow in 30m of water. The stern is at 24m of water with the original name “Hilma Express” etched into its port side. I spent a good 5 minutes tracing the outline of the name. Viz was good albeit mildly turbid. On a good day you can see the full wreck from stern to bow. The cargo doors are fully exposed and I was able to stick my head in to take a peak. My log book clearly indicates that ,”No drugs were found!”. That may just be me narc’ing! The Daily Outdoorsman has a great photo gallery of the Hilma
* Bow = Front, Stern = Back, Starboard = Right, Port =Left
Back to the scooter: The Sym Jet 14. . .
Getting around Bonaire on a scooter is the way to go. The island is small enough that you can circumnavigate it in half a day. From the salt mines of the west coast, to the wind swept east coast that is a windsurfing paradise, cruising around on the Sym Jet is a pleasure. I barely feel the howling headwind thanks to the 170cc engine below. My only gripe would be the pillion position. Elevated slightly above the driver, my wife mentioned she did feel unusually vulnerable and wind-swept.
For the price tag you get a lot of extras. Dual disc brakes, great suspension, loads of storage, phone charger (yes!) and even bigger wheels which make for a more comfortable ride than the usual scooter. The Jet 14 has a top speed if 110km/h and cruises effortlessly at 90km/h. A perfect blend for big city living & weekend, county-side cruising. I think I may have to buy one this year.