In 2001 I went to Midwinters, the biggest US windsurf regatta held in Florida to scout the Bonaire Sailing Team. I had seen them on a Dasher video and wanted to invite them to my windsurf event, King of the Cape on Cape Cod. The team came in June of 2001 and took the event over dominating all divisions. That is another story. My next encounter was to meet up with the older members in the Gorge while they trained for the famous Subaru Gorge Games. It was a fun filled summer meeting new friends and witnessing incredible sailing. I watched in awe as young and older sailors ripped in the waves. I saw flat-water loops and freestyle like I have never seen. The other wonderful part of this was my new friends. These sailors were so warm and friendly. Each encounter was filled with laughs and wonderful moments. One thought kept creeping into my head during this summer and that was what is so special about this island that such athletes emerge? And also, are all Bonaireans so cool and wonderful?
I had a few weeks left to my summer holiday (I am a school counselor in a middle school) and really wanted to get away. My other career is in the travel industry. I own a home based travel agency. My specialty is windsurfing vacations. I decided to see where I could go that would be fun and windy. Hey, what about Bonaire. Air Jamaica had great deals so I bought a ticket. I posted an inquiry to BONHATA, the Bonaire’s Hotel and Travel Assoc. regarding a travel industry rate, several hotels and one car Rental Company offered to sponsor my trip. The plan was in motion and on Aug. 25th I would see this special place first hand.
The flights out of Boston on Air Jamaica were smooth and comfortable this airline has connections all over the US and Canada to swiftly get you to the windiest island near the Equator. KLM also has non-stop service from Amsterdam. The best part of the flight was drinking Ting, a grapefruit soda I used to drink when I lived in Antigua in the West Indies. I landed at Flamingo Airport and when I walked off the plane I felt WIND! After departing the customs area I heard someone calling my name. A lovely couple who turned out to be the editors of The Bonaire Reporter Newspaper, George and Laura were there to meet me. Soon my old friend, Byron Tromp, the chaperone for the Bonaire Sailing Team arrived to complete this very warm welcome. It was a happy meeting and reunion. After picking up my Hertz rental Laura directed me to the Divi Flaming my first hotel stay. The room was oceanfront with two double beds, really pretty Caribbean style fabrics, a large full bath and most of all, a balcony hanging over the sea wall. I could see all kinds of lovely tropical fish beneath my feet. But I didn't have time to take in this view. I felt wind and had to find the secret spot that my Bonairean friends train and hang, Lac Bay.
As I drove the distance to Sorobon with Latin and Dutch music ringing in my ears, I was fascinated with the landscape. It reminded me of Aruba yet much calmer and serene. A few donkeys greeted me along the way. At last I came to Lac Bay. The flags were blowing and several local sailors were relaxing at Jibe City. Ernst Van Vliet owns Jibe City, a transplanted Dutch man who has set up the coolest shop on Lac Bay. He offers rentals for ADH, Bic, and Fanatic Boards and Gaastra Sails. Gear is plentiful and the mood is very relaxed. I quickly found my friend Ro Mayer who immediately set me up with a 6.3 sail and a 265 board. When finally saw the warm waters of Lac Bay, tears formed in my eyes. It was too beautiful to describe. For one who is accustom to such beauty it may appear to be a typical scene but for my eyes and my spirit, it was a sight to behold. The reef in the distance with waves breaking, the huge expanse of really blue sparkling water and contrast with the sky was incredible. I sailed until dusk.
The rest of the week involved windsurf sessions from 9 AM until late in the day. It was unusually windy during my visit. I was very grateful. The windy season is typically Jan. - July but I lucked out. One windy day on a 4.7 and 90-liter board I followed the more experienced sailors out towards Kai but got nervous when the wind died and I wasn't able to plane. I head back stopping short of the reef to watch Jaison, Tonky and Taty throw forwards, push loops and table tops in the waves. I wish I could have filmed this scene. I have seen windsurf videos of such sailing and it is done by Pros in Maui. Here on Bonaire I was seeing it all for real. The rest of the week I sailed mostly 5.0 sails and 100 liter Fanatic Cross board. I didn't need booties as the bottom is sandy. The water is about 77 degrees Fahrenheit and is waist deep forever. This is nirvana. On windy days it was jump and bump. The freestyle kids were throwing the coolest Goiters and Diablos. I even saw a 3 year old, Jurgen Sargoza do a duck jibe on this tiny little Hot Sail Maui rig. Windsurfing is the sport of choice here and everyone is super!
Each day after sailing I would my give my friends rides back to town. It was always a fun filled ride stopping to see the pink Flamingos, the surf at Baby Beach or the slave huts, reminders of Bonaire's past. . I was amazed to see the snow like mountains of salt. The sunsets were spectacular. My senses were on overload and I was feeling something really nice, I was very calm. I realized I was taking long breaths and that I was sleeping really well. The magic of Bonaire was taking over. I was hooked.
A friend took me to Sera Largu one night. This is one of the highest points in Bonaire. The lights twinkled like a Christmas tree and all was still. If I could capture a moment it would be that night. When all is chaotic and life is overwhelming what a special place to sit and reflect. Another day a few of us drove to Washington National Park to surf at Playa Chicitu. Since swimming is not recommended due to the rip currents I remained in the break with my borrowed boogey board. The waves were awesome for ride right up to the shore. After about an hour I sat under a rock ledge and watched Taty and Ruben, two freestyle wonders ride the waves. The sand was so white and the sky so blue it almost seemed to be a painting. I thought how lucky my friends are to live in such a place with perfect sailing and surfing conditions. The beauty in this arid landscape was wild and primitive. It was also intoxicating.
Later I stayed at Habitat, well known for it's diving program. My Oceanview suite was huge. I had two king beds, a large outdoor balcony with seats for 6. It was a lovely room. On site is a great dive shop, fantastic bar and restaurant, Rum Runners where I had the best pizza in the islands.
The official language is Dutch but most speak the local dialect, Papiamento. This language is a blend of Spanish, English, Dutch and Portuguese. Euros, Dutch Florins and the US Dollar are accepted as is the good old credit cards. Even though this island has only 15,000 people, modern conveniences such as ATM, s, cell phone service and Internet cafes' exist. Dining options are staggering. There are too many to report on but my favorites include Richards, for romantic Oceanside dining with an elegant flair, Beefeaters, an Argentinean grill with super meat and chicken served in an outdoor dining area, Croccatino's for super Italian food fare, and Maikey Snack for local fish and fungi (like polenta). Another spot worth visiting close to the windsurf launch is Kon Tiki. The resort and restaurant are super. There are many places to find food to self cater. My favorites are Consales and Warehouse on Kaya Industria. Both offer great assortments of food and decent island prices.
My last day I sailed in the morning. I also spent time with my 11-year-old friend Kiri Thode. This kid will be seen on the PWA tour in a few years. Kiri and I became friends at King of the Cape. His infectious smile and his lovely personality are so warm and welcoming. We talked about sailing, the sea, fishing and life. I treasure his innocence and unspoiled view on life. I could have sat all day listening to his mirth and joy. It was hard not to weep, as it was time to return to my world. I quietly left without saying goodbye to my Bonaire friends.
As I flew into the sky I looked down and saw my special place. Lac Bay was below, a crescent in my vision. When I looked carefully I could see a sailor flying in the wind. I quietly reflected and knew I would be back. And I would be sending other windsurfers to this quiet gem nestled in that blue intoxicating Caribbean Sea.
Since this trip in Aug. I returned for Bonaire's 34th Annual Sailing Regatta. The island shuts down for races, parties and more. It is held in October and should NOT be missed. Christmas I took a group down from Cape Cod and we were treated to refreshing Christmas trades and a lovely holiday. In February I visited and again, my average sail size was a 5.0. When the wind doesn't blow (which is rarely) people take to kayaks and explore the mangroves to snorkel. After windsurfing Diving and Snorkeling are the favorite island pastimes.
Jibe City also shares the beach with another wonderful shop The Place. Run by former Olympic windsurfers Elvis Martinus and Patoun Sargoza, you can sail using Pro Tech and Mistral boards and Naish Sails. The shop has super instructors and a little restaurant overlooking the bay. Choosing a shop really comes down to gear choice. Both you cannot go wrong.
Annie Phelan (Caribbean Wind&Sun Vacations)
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