Hidden Treasure in Bonaire
Flying through the darkness from Miami to Bonaire, I had visions of lush green palm forests whispering in a soft Caribbean breeze. Soon, I would wiggle my toes in powdery sand.
Bonaire turned out to be nothing like I imagined. The island is as flat and plain as Kansas, and the Bonairean breeze is a relentless wind that bends all the trees over permanently. The sun is ruthless, too, and it turned me bright pink. So, I matched most of the island's residents, who are flamingos. Bonaire has 20,000 of the blushing birds, and only 14,000 humans. Still, even though I drove across all 24 miles of island, I saw a total of four flamingos. They were stunning, with their snaky necks and black-tipped wings.
Parts of Bonaire look just plain strange. There are these pyramids of salt, about ten stories high, next to Olympic-size pools of bright pink seawater. These are the salt pans, part of Bonaire's salt mining industry. They're man-made, and I was told the water is rose-colored because it's so rich in salt and other minerals. With these strange pools and peaks, and beaches buried under bleached pieces of coral, Bonaire looks like a distant planet from a "Lost in Space" episode. The island also feels a bit desolate because there are only a handful of restaurants, casinos and shops, and just one waterfront bar. But while I was sitting on the patio there, sipping a drink, I looked over the railing and caught a glimpse of the Oz right next to Bonaire's Kansas. I could see bright purple and green parrotfish, zipping through the water, just a few feet below.
That's it, I thought. I'm going in. Maybe 50 yards down the shore I found a spot where I could slide into the shallow waves, dip my mask below the surface, and see the better half of the island. It's a world teeming with angelfish, blue tang, sea turtles and butterfly fish, all swimming languidly around dark green brain coral the size of beanbag chairs. Now this was my kind of Caribbean. I'd rather commune with the sea life there than shop for tchotchkes on a more touristy island any day. I hope you can go see it for yourself, Rudy.
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