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  • 2001-04 9½ WEEKS ON BONAIRE
    by Bonnie J. Cardone

    On the south side of the entrance to Bonaire’s Harbor Village Marina is a dive site not known for its topside beauty, but for the incredible abundance and variety of marine life that school just offshore. In the shallows, I stalked squid with my 15mm lens and spotted a giant Cubera Snapper with an entourage of baitfish. During a dusk dive, we revisited a place where two orange frogfish had been lounging. This time, though, there was only one, which sat motionless while I took its portrait. A steady, seemingly unending parade of Creole Wrasse streamed past us, a prowling Sharptail Eel hot on their tracks. Spotted Morays peeked out from rocky lairs to witness the brief commotion and then slipped away silently, oblivious to my flashing strobe.

    This isn’t how I expected to spend my summer. I planned to sit at my computer day after day, writing mystery novels. Instead, I spent nine and a half weeks on Bonaire: diving, reading, housesitting, taking care of two dogs, four cats and a jungle of plants...and then, diving some more. My benefactor, Linda, a dive instructor and boat captain at a small resort, and the owner of the house, was hiking in Peru. Mysteries would just have to wait. Paradise had called.

    Week 1–3: Everyday, at 6:30 am, the animals gathered outside my bedroom door. The dogs, Puppy (15) and Tudy (4), wanted to go outside. The cats, Toffee, Monet, Rembrandt and Dante, wanted breakfast—immediately. A typical day would bring about reading, checking e-mails, writing articles and preparing my underwater cameras—all before lunch. Several times a week, I’d cruise down to the Kralendijk supermarket in Linda’s little Suzuki, suffer a bit of sticker shock—Bonaire is a desert island, 50 miles off the Venezuela coast, and everything is imported—and load up on kitty litter (I was fearful of running out because it’s not always available). And after lunch, I would head for Bruce Bowker’s Carib Inn for an afternoon dive. (Hey, I wasn’t in a rut. Sometimes I would vary the routine by making a morning dive and/or a night dive.)

    The boat was moored at Joanne’s Sunchi (Kiss), off Klein Bonaire. Gearing up, I noticed that the water was full of translucent creatures with little black dots in them—pelagic tunicates. They were just below the surface, floating past on a slight current. There were hundreds of the 2- to 6-inch animals, reminding me of Palau’s Jellyfish Lake. I shot nearly an entire roll of film before descending to 20 feet.
    After my afternoon dive, I watered Linda’s plants, then took the dogs for a walk along the shore. This was the highlight of their day and one I also enjoyed. Tudy sat in the front seat of the Suzuki like a human passenger.

    In the evening, I just sat back and enjoyed a good book. Within the first seven weeks on Bonaire, I had read a dozen novels. I became so relaxed, I was nearly comatose.In the middle of my second week, my friends Mike and Vici visited. We went on a diving and dining extravaganza—up and down the island during the day and out on the town every night. What a pleasure to talk to creatures who didn’t answer by wagging their tails.

    Week 4: Linda was back, so I moved to a room at the Carib Inn. I had no responsibilities, no vehicle or a computer. Island time had permeated my being. Every morning I woke up, smiled a giddy grin and thought, I’m in Bonaire. Living the island life. And, no, this is not a dream. To celebrate that thought I grabbed my wetsuit and gear, and practically leaped to the sea.

    I dived with Linda, who specialized in frogfish and seahorse location. Once a week, she took guests to see the two frogfish she found at Sampler dive site. One was yellow, the other was an unusual coral color. Unfortunately, they were impossible to photograph because they sat in the middle of a gorgonian. So I admired the stumpy and
    bulbous frogfish but ended up training my viewfinder on myriad juvenile Spotted Drums, a Slipper Lobster, a baby Goldentail Moray and a scorpionfish.

    Week 5–6: Bruce Bowker was on hiatus in the States, leaving his energetic 2-year-old dalmatian, Tinker, with me. Tinker and I hit the beach every afternoon to swim and—one of her favorite games—husk coconuts. We quickly bonded and soon she followed me everywhere, even to the pier as donned my gear and got on the dive boat.
    Calabas Reef was right in front of the Carib Inn/Divi Flamingo Beach, and I made many dives there. Huge, silvery tarpon patrolled the depths and a barracuda guarded the shallows. Spotted Morays foraged for food while a Sharptail Eel slithered through the cracks and crevices of the reef. Schools of baitfish, curious squid and a huge Cubera Snapper that looked like the one at Something Special accompanied me through the dive. I even encountered a little turtle finding its way through the wide world of the sea.

    Week 7: My daughter, Pamela, joined me. She was certified a dozen years ago but had never dived in warm water. She couldn’t wait to get wet. Karpata was the last morning dive in June. The vis was great. I was photographing a French Angelfish swimming back and forth in front of an orange sponge. Above them was a brilliant sunball. The photos looked so wonderful in the viewfinder. I thought it couldn’t get any better—until a Manta Ray glided through the scene! In nine trips to Bonaire I’d never seen one here before. Truly, a magical dive.
    I returned to L.A. and for three smoggy months. I counted the days until I would return to Bonaire, again housesitting for Linda, who was off to Vancouver for a wedding. Dante and Rembrandt were mischievous kittens during my first visit, but had grown up and had become much less active and destructive. Tudy remembered me and our tail-wagging conversations began anew.

    The tanks were waiting in the dive shop, freshly filled. I wasted no time and took the first opportunity I could to visit my old friends on the reef.
    I hooked up with Kitty (Carib Inn’s manager), whose friend studied coral spawning. We were told that the corals would spawn that night, so we were in the water by 9:45 pm. The little round packets that contained sperm and eggs were clearly visible in the mouths of the star coral polyps. As planned, the polyps began releasing their packets one by one and soon the water was filled with them. They floated to the surface where the casings dissolved, allowing sperm and eggs to mingle and produce a new generation. Not all of the cases made it to the surface. Brittlestars were snagging all they could eat. The spawning was over in 15 minutes, but we stayed in the water for more than an hour, finding crabs, lobsters and other critters. As soon as I’d shot my last frame I found an octopus. It was probably fitting I didn’t get any photos of it—now I’ll have to go back.


    Anybody out there need a good housesitter?