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It’s become tradition: We arrive at Bruce Bowker’s Carib Inn late, hot and tired after our flights from the West Coast. The first thing we do is unpack a swimsuit and cool off in the calm Caribbean a stone’s throw away. We fall asleep to the sound of waves on the shore and awake the next morning to the sound of tanks being loaded on the boats and the muffled startup of the compressor. These are very welcome sounds; they signal we’re on vacation, we’re on Bonaire and we’re going diving!
My group has been to Bonaire eight times. Why do we keep returning? For one thing, we love the intimate setting of Bruce’s place. It feels like home. Bruce can accommodate only 26 guests in nine air-conditioned rooms surrounding the pool and a three bedroom, two bath house next door.
Everything at the Carib Inn is just steps from everything else yet all the essentials (except food) are here. Seven of the nine guestrooms (and the house, of course) have fully equipped kitchenettes so you can eat some of your meals in (there’s a grocery story nearby as well as several in town) and stretch your budget a bit. Bruce continually updates and improves the inn, this year the rooms have new curtains and linens and the pool, the resort’s attractive centerpiece, has been refurbished. The deck has new concrete with old brick inlays and there are planters made from old Chicago brick.
The little dive shop across from the pool carries a surprisingly large inventory of dive gear, books and T-shirts; and the prices are excellent. That dive computer you’ve been considering probably costs less here than it did in the states. Just above the dive shop is a bright, air-conditioned classroom and audio/visual center, where the dive staff can teach you just about any PADI course or specialty or finish the certification class you began at home.
The Carib Inn’s personnel are one of its greatest assets. They’ve been with Bruce for years. The instructor/boat captain team includes ten year veteran Kitty, who is also the Carib Inn’s manager; Linda with seven years of service and JJ with six; Tessa, who’s been there four years; and Ed, who has been there two. Keeping tanks filled and resort operations running smoothly are Richie Anthony, with 11 years of service, and Edward Thomas, with eight.
The Carib Inn has two 25 foot boats (now powered by new 200 hp Yamaha outboards). Like most of the other operators on the island, Bruce runs a one tank trip in the morning and another in the afternoon. (Boat night dives are offered on request.) Unlike most other operators, however, his divemasters do not dictate your max depth and time for each dive; that’s your decision. (See why we like him?) Also, the Carib Inn’s boats leave one-half hour earlier than most the other boats so we almost always get the mooring we want (there’s only one mooring at each dive site and only one boat can tie up to it).
Of course, the Carib Inn could have everything already listed and more; but if the diving wasn’t special we wouldn’t return year after year. Since most of us are from California, the water temperature is always an allure; it’s 80°F year-round. Visibility averages 90 feet, we’ve never seen it less than 50. The air temperature averages 82°F year-round. Bonaire is a desert island, it gets only 22 inches of rain per year. The dry climate is another advantage: there’s no uncomfortable humidity and bugs are only rarely a problem (after a rain, for instance). Also, there is no runoff to degrade visibility.
The waters around Bonaire and Klein Bonaire, one-quarter mile off the bigger island’s western shore, have been a marine park for decades. All marine life from the mean high tide line down to 200 feet is protected. Thus, the waters teem with abundant fish and invertebrate life. And, since most of the animals have been seeing divers since birth, they are typically unafraid and thus easy to photograph.
While Bonaire’s topside and underwater life may not remember us among all the divers they see every year, we know them. An all day trip to Washington-Slagbaai Park by rental minivan is always a highlight of our week on Bonaire. We love two special dive sites there, Boca Bartol and Playa Funchi.
At Playa Funchi, we were pleased to find the school of Trunkfish we first saw in 1990 are still there. They greet divers in inches of waters, right at the shore. This is the only spot I know of anyplace where you can get five or six Smooth Trunkfish (and possibly a filefish or other interloper) in one picture. Near the drop-off here I found a school of squid. Other fish I recorded in my log include a Honeycomb Cowfish and a French Angel, which posed prettily in a coral encrusted crevice. When we open our lunch bags at Playa Funchi, the hills come alive with lizards. Comparing my photos from the various years, I realize we’ve known one, now quite large male iguana for several years. He now surveys the scene from the top of a cliff before coming down to beg for a handout.
Beach diving is certainly one of Bonaire’s allures. You supplement your boat dives with it, usually parking just off the main road, entering the water through six inch surf and swimming about 25 yards before descending. The site right in front of the Carib Inn is quite productive for photography. On a night dive here I photographed an octopus who had commandeered an empty beer can as part of its lair and a Scorpionfish whose large red eye looked deadly peering around a rock.
On my last trip Bruce took just six of us on a special night dive to White Hole, via inflatable. This large white sand bottomed sink hole is little visited because it’s in the Lac Bay area, on the windward side of the island. The night scene was very exciting: two species of slipper lobster, a Measled Cowry with its mantle covering its shell, a seahorse, a couple of very large lobsters and a large grouper far into the reef were our photographic prey.
Our group always has both experienced and new divers; Bonaire offers something for everyone. The reefs slope gently to about 50 or 60 feet before dropping more steeply. The shallows, 30 to 50 feet, harbor a plenitude of photo subjects: lots of fish, crabs, eels, anemones with shrimp and the occasional seahorse and frogfish. Azure Vase, Purple Stove Pipe and Orange Elephant Ear Sponges are common, as are healthy gorgonians.
Late afternoon is a special time. Freshly showered after our last dive, we gather at the Carib Inn’s caba–a on the waterfront for the cocktail hour. This is the perfect place to watch the sun set over calm waters while swapping dive stories and other lies. Bruce added a barbecue here a couple years ago but my admittedly lazy group prefers to eat supper out; and there are many very good restaurants from which to choose.
The caba–a is also the perfect setting for the free buoyancy control workshops Bruce teaches once a week.
Only 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela, Bonaire is easy to reach. ALM flies there from Miami (a three hour flight) and Atlanta; Air Aruba flies from Miami or Newark to Bonaire after a stop in Aruba. U.S. and Canadian citizens need only proof of citizenship and a photo I.D., as well as a continuing on ticket to enter the country. The airport departure tax is $10; every dive operator also collects a $10 annual fee from every diver, the money goes to maintain the marine park. English is widely spoken and American credit cards and dollars are accepted almost everywhere (you’ll get change in guilders).
There is a downside to the Carib Inn; space is booked well in advance. For more information:
Telephone: +599-717-8819 (Please check international access code)