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  • A Paradise of Land Sea and Sun
    by Walt Stearns
    Like its neighbors, Curacao and Aruba, Bonaire lies close to the equator in the protected region south of the Caribbean's Hurricane Belt. Fanned by the steady trade winds from the east/northeast, Bonaire, the second largest island in the Netherlands Antilles, enjoys a summer climate. Year-round the air temperature is in the low to mid 80s (F); casual, light clothing is the rule. Bonaire's summer-like days are nice, but the real attraction is what's below the waves.

    Sheltered in the west facing lee, this boomerang shaped island has a little more than 26 miles of reef fronting coastline, (together with Klein Bonaire, a small, uninhabited island three miles offshore). Bonaire's reefs customarily begin at waters edge, with a short, shallow coral terrace, 5 to 30 feet deep. Beyond this plateau it falls steeply to depths sometimes greater than 300 feet. Along their near vertical profiles are large, dense growths of Giant Split-pore Searods and Devils Seawhips, which look like long, slender serpents rising from the corals. There is also an abundance of Orange Elephant Ear Sponges, tall sprays of Purple Tube Sponges four to five feet tall and giant bouquets of Yellow Tube Sponges. With an abundance of schooling Creole Wrasse and Bogas, sponges and Orange Cup Corals, the colors purple, orange and yellow are beautiful to behold.

    When it comes to easily accessible, premier shore diving, Bonaire is king. Follow the coastal roadway and there will be a terrific dive site a short distance out just about anywhere you stop. Graced by some of the clearest waters in the Caribbean (90 to 150 foot plus), light currents and warm temperatures, Bonaire offers diving as colorful and leisurely as it gets, making it a divers paradise.

    A Class Act resort

    Selecting Sand Dollar Condominium Resort for your stay on Bonaire is a wise choice. Overlooking the ocean from a shoreline fronted by a 15 foot high bluff, with a clear view of Klein Bonaire, Sand Dollars 73 unit condominium resort offers a range of accommodations to suit virtually any guest's needs. The selection varies from charming, air-conditioned studios with cable TV, modern, full sized kitchens and private balconies or terraces to more extensive one, two and three bedroom condos. In addition to a large freshwater pool and tennis courts, the property includes a small grocery store, ice cream shop, bank and rental car facility. Most important, guests are provided with a wide variety of great diving services via Sand Dollar Dive and Photo.

    This photo center is unlike any I have seen, anywhere. The facility is right on the water. Smartly laid out, this hub of activity includes a complete dive shop with dedicated equipment rental center, photo center (with E-6 processing), classrooms, gear storage room for guests, dock and restaurant.

    A great vantage point for watching sunsets, the Green Parrot Restaurant, adjacent to the dive center is one of Bonaire's preferred eateries, offering breakfast, lunch and dinner.

    Right off the dock, Bari Reef is a great warm up/orientation dive for reviewing buoyancy skills (a prerequisite for diving Klein Bonaire) and a wonderful site for conducting unlimited day and night dives. In the shallows there are schools of Bonefish, Crevalle Jack, Snook and even a few Tarpon and Permit. A short, two minute swim out the sandy floor with small, scattered heads of corals and sponges drops off to 150 feet. The wall offers more vibrant displays of reef growth. Hiding among the sponges and corals are oddities such as frogfish, Spotted Drums and seahorses. Finding the Spotted Drums and small morays is easy, the frogfish and seahorses take a little more skill. Ask any of Sand Dollars' dive staff, and they will help you find the more elusive creatures.

    Every Tuesday and Sunday, Sand Dollars' two naturalists, Jerry Ligon and Dot Fundock, lead free, on-site fish identification snorkel tours. Sand Dollar features one of the most progressive snorkeling programs in the world. In addition to snorkeling, Jerry heads a special department for nature lovers, with both topside and underwater naturalist classes combined with island excursions. This runs hand in hand with Sand Dollars' unique Adventure Package, which combines diving, snorkeling, ocean kayaking, nature hikes and mountain biking.

    In sharp contrast to Bonaire's spectacular underwater world the island's landscape is arid; annual rainfall is measured in inches. In several places, particularly in Washington-Slagbaai National Park, the landscape is similar to that of New Mexico and Arizona, complete with a wide variety of cactus and scrub brush, which supports myriad birds, parrots, lizards, iguanas and wild donkeys.

    Andre Nahr has spent more than 10 years of his life developing Sand Dollar Dive and Photos infrastructure into one of the most reliable and reputable in the diving industry. The facility is well-known for satisfying a variety of diver demands. Sand Dollars' highly knowledgeable staff of instructors and guides, all with PADI, NAUI and SSI backgrounds, constitutes one of the largest certification and fun educational programs in the Caribbean. In all, the facility covers more than 20 subjects, from one day learn to dive lessons to divemaster with specialties, to a slew of exclusive Underwater Naturalist, Fish Identification and Behavior courses for both divers and snorkelers.

    Overseeing the photo center, which also serves as the host site for Nikonos Shootouts, are longtime pros Jim Brandon and Julie Morgan. In addition to their selection of introductory to advanced level courses and private photography and videography instruction, the center carries a wide inventory of Nikonos V and RS systems for rent. Jim and Julie also present slide shows two to three nights a week and host Sand Dollars' own series of photo contests. Each November Sand Dollar holds a Photo and Video Month. Classes of competition include housed cameras, Nikonos/Sea & Sea cameras and video.

    Adding to Sand Dollars' family oriented atmosphere are two great programs for kids. Sand Penny Club features supervised activities for younger children (ages three to six) all morning, while Ocean's Classroom provides older kids (ages 6 through 15) with guided snorkeling excursions and junior scuba certification courses.

    With all this and access to unlimited shore diving and a staggered selection of numerous boat departures (8:45 and 10:30 am and 1:30 and 3:30 pm) divers can customize their vacation to suit their needs. Who says you cant have your cake and eat it, too?

    For more information or bookings, call Sand Dollars reservations office in Longwood, Florida, at (800) 288-4773, (407) 774- 9292 or fax (407) 774-9322. On the island call (011) 599-7-8738 or fax (011) 599-7-8760.