Archive for October, 2011

Bonaire, Post Nine: The Reef

October 04th, 2011 | Category: Bonaire,scuba,Travel

Here are images that show what it’s like to explore the reef system.  It is another planet than the one surface dwellers have experienced.  Life forms as strange as fiction are the norm; plant and animal shapes are sometimes reversed; seemingly dull colors erupt into flaming glory when you get closer or shine a light on them, and tiny fairyland animals inhabit innumerable crevices.  Every surface writhes with life, and countless eyes watch you move about, assessing you as a threat and a source of protein.  Some animals don’t need to see you; they can feel your heart beat directly through electric fields.  From Seussian landscapes, they consider their options, and your future.

A typically small school of yellow goatfish float placidly in shallow water; an initial phase stoplight parrotfish (red and white) feeds; soft coral sways in the current, and clouds of small fish conduct business as usual.

A sinister-looking stonefish sits on the bottom; they are almost invisible.  Although poisonous, they are gentle (to divers) creatures who only wish to be left alone, like most sea life.

A school of blue tang flow over the reef and around me.

My dive buddy floats placidly above the reef at 80 feet.  Every diver is a dirigible of sorts.

A squid hunts within 20 feet of the surface.  It’s transparent body made it almost invisible, so I used a flash to highlight it against the underside of the sea’s surface.  After I took this picture, it changed color from transparent to brownish-red, and then to violet, before jetting off faster than I could swim.

A small “green” sea turtle.  The shell is reddish, but seen up close in better light, the skin has a greenish color.

Scrunched up into its daytime hiding place, an octopus eyes me suspisciously.  It has the ability to take on almost any color, and even some textures.

Bluestriped grunts peer curiously into my mask.

A trumpetfish hunts amongst the soft corals, hanging vertically as they are wont to do, hoping to be taken for a frond of coral.

Tiny little fishies – larvae – inhabit an ear of coral.

Adult and juvenile spotted drum.

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Bonaire, Post Eight: Caves

October 03rd, 2011 | Category: Bonaire,scuba,Travel

It’s often said of Bonaire that there’s nothing to do there besides dive. I understand this sentiment, but I think it shows a lack of imagination. First of all, it’s a foreign country with its own ways and styles; it’s not a cruise ship island, and it’s not “disneyfied.” So there is a culture to be explored. Because so much of the island is undeveloped, there is a lot of forest to walk through; if you’re interested in birding, and in zoology generally, there is a lot going on here. Iguanas and skinks rustle through the grass; interesting insects buzz around (including lots of mosquitos), and birds not usually found in North America flitter about.

Bonaire has some serious relief – I think it’s highest point is about 800 feet; you can go rock climbing. Plus, there are caves everywhere. That’s right, caves. On a geological time scale, the island is dissolving like alka-seltzer. Bonaire has risen and fallen many times, as has the sea, leaving terraces that used to be shallow off-shore sandy bottom or reef.

The caves are a well-kept secret. Everyone knows about them, but they are not widely publicized. I think that this is because of the danger to tourists, and also because the delicate caves would be destroyed by too much unfettered exploration. There are a handful of people on the island that are cave specialists and can take tourists into the caves for a fee; ask at your hotel or look on the net.

I didn’t have much time to visit the caves, so I chose to explore what was within sight of daylight; I didn’t even have a flashlight. Sometimes, you just have to leave something juicy for the next trip! My buddy Jeff and I collected as much information as we could, and putting together scraps of info from here and there, managed to get ourselves in the region where the most accessible cave is located.

Go to the Carribbean club and park in the dirt lot across the street, which also services the offices of a unit of the Bonaire ecological services agency (I can’t recall if it’s the marine park or something else; it’s not visible from the street, although you will see signs). This is just inland (and uphill) of the oil slick leap dive site. If you walk into the bush at the back of this dirt lot, you will find a cement marker, the kind used around the island to denote something significant:

The marker is telling you about a cave revealed by a sinkhole – the collapsed roof of a large chamber in a cavern.

Steps lead down into the opening, which is about half an acre in size.  There are a lot of crevices to explore; some of them must lead deep into the island’s network of tunnels.  This one’s a good candidate:

But even without going deep into the earth, you can spend a good amount of time here.  A lot of what used to be deep within the earth is now lit by the sun; I’ve never seen anything quite like it.  Jeff is in this picture, and a few others as well.

Here you can see the trees and sun with stalactites framing the view!

This is not an area to be taken lightly; there are innumerable opportunities for spine-damaging injuries.  Flip-flops are probably not a good idea.  If you’re really going to explore, long pants and gloves, and of course multiple light sources and a nice long reel, would be important, as would be notifying someone where you’re going and when you intend to be back.  The only thing worse than lying injured and helpless in a cave would be knowing that nobody knew where you were.

One odd thing about this cave: it was hot down there.  Most caves are cooler than surface ambient temperatures; this one was definitely hot and stuffy.  So in addition to the other things, a lot of water is necessary if you go inside.  But as you can see, you dont need to go in to see neat cave sights – I didn’t have a flashlight and never went further than sunlight could penetrate.


Bonaire is riddles with caves, but most are inaccessible and of course some are under water.  Wandering around in the woods north-west of the Caribbean club, we found this one, which would be easy to miss.  Buried deep in the brush and accessed only by an unremarkable dirt road no different than dozens of others, you come across this:

What’s that?  You don’t see it?  Well, it’s that dark shadow in the bushes on the right side of the picture.  Hidden in the brush, surrounded by the sound of furiously escaping lizards, is a yawning hole – another collapsed chamber, perhaps 40 feet deep.

This one’s pretty hard to get in to; you’d need to take unsafe chances climbing down the trees that are growing at the bottom, and your best bet would be to rappel down.  Due to the thorny, dense underbrush, access is non-trivial.  I’m not sure what you’d anchor to, because the trees have shallow root systems and mostly are just bushes.  I think you’d need to hammer a piton into the coral limestone., which is brittle and perhaps unreliable.  Chafing gear and perhaps surface support would be necessary.

A final note for the prospective spelunker: The caves are uncharted, deserted, dangerous, hot, filled with sharp coral and there is no doubt that it is dangerous to explore them.  Take precautions, hire a guide, or consider exploring just the entrances, which is plenty exciting.

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