Windsurfing and Relaxing
January – February, 2019
It was winter in the Atlanta area, and that means it was cold, so it was time for our annual trip to Bonaire for some warm sun, great friends, good windsurfing, wonderful food, and probably a little too much wine. It was cold and cloudy and threatening a cold rain when we left Atlanta and we figured we were getting out just in time.
We had made our reservations long ago and had been looking forward to this trip for quite a while. This will be a fairly short trip report of our three weeks in Bonaire and I’ll throw in a few extra windsurfing photos and videos at the end.
Getting there and Back
On the flight to Bonaire we passed fairly close to the Kennedy Space Center and I got to try out the telephoto lens on my new camera. I got some surprising shots.
You can see two large launch complexes and the Vehicle Assembly Building.
Delta is very proud of the ATLanta to BONaire flights, thus the roundtrip economy fare usually runs right around $1000. Because of this cost, in the past couple of years, we used Delta Frequent Flyer miles to “pay for” the flights. Delta’s “Comfort+” seats were only a couple of miles more than the normal economy seats, so I sprang for the extra room and it turns out to have been a very good thing.
A couple of days before our departure, I got an email from Delta that we had gotten free Medallion upgrades to First Class. I’m pretty sure that the combination of having reserved the Comfort+ seats plus being “Gold Medallion” status probably put us at the top of the upgrade list.
On approach to Bonaire, with salt pans in the distance.
On the return, we again got the free upgrades to First Class and the flights were relatively comfortable with good service. I did notice on the return flight that the plane was probably only about half full, with a lot of empty seats, which is rather unusual these days. Since we were using miles for the flights, we had first class seats both directions for practically nothing. Thanks Delta!
Bonaire’s Flamingo Airport terminal. There was talk of a new terminal to be built.
We had a Hertz car reserved (through rentalcars.com ) and the rental and return processes were reasonably quick and with no surprises. I had elected to spend a little more $$ and get a small SUV, a Suzuki Jimmy, to have a little more room and comfort. Wrong! It had two doors, 4 seats, and very little cargo room unless you folded down the back seats. It rode as though it had no springs or shocks, and was about the least comfortable vehicle I’ve had in a while. Next time we’ll go back to a normal car.
Where we stayed
As usual for us, we stayed at the Sonrisa, a ten unit “Boutique” hotel a couple of blocks away from the waterfront, but within easy walking distance to town and many restaurants. Since we were there for three weeks, we choose one of the one bedroom “apartments” rather than the smaller hotel rooms.
The landscaping around Sonrisa has grown rather lush.
Besides the great location, the main reason we stay at the Sonrisa is the people: both the people running the hotel and the other people staying there. Viktor, the manager, and Miranda,, his assistant, are delightful and helpful people. They prepare the included breakfasts in the morning and both make excellent omelets, Dutch style pancakes, and, when bananas are available, banana pancakes. Other items like coffee, cereal, yogurt, juice, and fruit are also available. Sitting under the large palapa where breakfast is served, talking to Viktor, Miranda, and other guests is always delightful.
Besides the numerous people who, like us, come back to the Sonrisa year after year, we also always meet new people and make new friends. This year, one of them was even a cat! We had met Ariane (from Montreal) at the Sonrisa last year and she had already been on Bonaire several weeks when we arrived. This year she brought her young (8 months old) cat with her. Miya was cute, friendly, and intelligent and quickly became the hotel mascot or ambassador. By the time we arrived, Myia had already made good friends with Penny. Penny and her windsurfing husband Yvon Roy are friendly Canadians who were staying at the Sonrisa for three weeks, including two of the weeks we were there, so we had the pleasure of getting to know them.
Everyone liked Miya, even people who didn’t like cats.
The main downside to the Sonrisa is the noise from the nearby streets and the adjacent business. Some of the noise is from some very loud motorcycles which are especially bothersome at 4 AM. Another source of street noise was large dump trucks carrying loads of sand from a bulk carrier ship to some area south of town; the loaded trucks passed about 200 feet from the Sonrisa at all hours of day and night. We closed our shutters and turned on the air conditioning at night, mainly to be able to shut out some noise, but the wood shutters do not close very tightly so, in addition to leaking air, they also let in quite a bit of the noise.
Besides the warmth, friendly people, and good food, the main reason we come to Bonaire is to windsurf and, as in previous years, we sailed out of Bonaire Windsurf Place where most of our friends also sail.
Most of the people you see in this photo of Bonaire Windsurf Place were from a cruise ship.
We had some good sailing days and some not so good. Early in our stay we had some very good wind (20 - 24 mph) but the tide was very high and, combined with the wind, made for very choppy conditions on Lac Bay. Later in our stay, the tide dropped, as did the chop, but so did the wind, dropping to only 14 – 16 mph and forcing the use of very large sails. Early in our stay I had dropped down as small as a 5.5 M sail (sails are measured by the sail area in square meters) but the last couple of days, when we did try to sail, I had to go to 8.5 or 8.8 M sails which just take more effort to handle.
Werner resorted to using a big 8.5 M sail (huge for someone his size) on a light wind day.
As usual, a big part of our “windsurfing” activity is visiting with all the other people who come to Bonaire and much of that visiting is done on the deck of the Windsurf Place.
You might call this “apres-windsurf” on the deck of the Windsurf Place.
When we arrived, Walter and Janette had already been there a while and they are always fun to talk with and compare windsurfing notes. Also already there was “Florida Janet”, so called to separate her from the “Walter and Janette” Janet. “Florida Janet” is from (surprise!) Florida so we have always identified with her. She has a condo on Bonaire and is able to spend 6 or 7 weeks each year, windsurfing and diving. Joyce and Al have a nice villa on Bonaire and were there when we arrived as were Caprice and Christoph who also have a nice villa on the island. Caprice and Christoph are both very good sailors but have rather different sailing “styles”: Christoph just seems to overpower the wind and any waves while I think of Caprice as having a rather “elegant” style, as evidenced in this video of her jibe.
Walter and Janet wear “almost matching” outfits, so it is easy to spot them in the water.
Tim and Peter arrived from Canada the same day we did and sailed practically every day, good wind or not. It is always fun to watch Peter windsurfing as he always has a big grin whenever he is on or even close to a board. David and Kath arrived for our third week and Kath was taking the ABK windsurfing clinic. Unfortunately, she was in the clinic the week that the wind was low, so it may not have been as productive as hoped. Our friends, Sue and Ian, from the island of Guernsey had arrived before us but had not been sailing any before we got there. We saw them out on the water several times, as well as on land, but did not get a chance to visit very much.
German brothers Heinz and Werner and their friend Wolfgang also arrived while we were there and they always make for interesting conversation. They seem to enjoy having their photos taken and make it a point to sail close to me when I am out taking photos, as seen in this video of Heinz. Of course, after that, Werner and Wolfgang had to get in the act, resulting in this video of Werner, then Wolfgang. They were staying at the new (and still expanding) Delfins resort which is very nice and were nice enough to invite us out one evening so we could get a look at the rather impressive facilities. Very Nice, guys!
Gabrysia and Piotr (whom we called Gabriella and Peter), from Poland, were back for their third year and once again displayed their excellent windsurfing abilities. Gabriella was having back problems so she limited her windsurfing but, when she did get out on the water, she was as impressive as ever.
Gabriellia waves hello as she flies past me.
Of course, Piotr is also quite a good sailor, which you can see him demonstrate in this video.
Of course, the list would not be complete without the “Northeast Crew”, including Ellen and Jack, Cheryl, and Heidi. This year Cheryl’s husband Tom and Heidi’s friend Armand joined them for a week. Since last year Cheryl and Tom had moved to Florida, but we still consider them part of the “Northeast Crew”.
Ellen and Cheryl in front of the Windsurf Place: Heidi was probably still out sailing.
Most days that we sailed we would go out for 1.5 – 2 hours in the morning and again for maybe 45 minutes in the afternoon. When the wind was blowing hard and the tide was high, sailing was more tiring so we didn’t stay out as long and might not go out in the afternoon.
When the wind was low and we had to use large sails, we sometimes skipped the afternoon session in favor or heading back to the Sonrisa for our daily wine and cheese snack. On the low wind days, when there was not much activity, some of the Windsurf Place guys would go out and practice and demonstrate some “low-wind free style” moves. Actually, I think that Ro was just playing when I caught part of his routine on camera.
Several days I cut my morning session short so I could grab my little waterproof camera and wade out far enough to get some photos and videos of our friends on the water, which I then give to our friends. During one of these sessions Caprice and Heinz had stopped to talk a little and Caprice mentioned that one of the local Pros, Bjorn Dunkerbeck, was out sailing that day. About that time, we spotted him and he apparently saw us and decided to demonstrate proper sailing technique while giving us a friendly wave in this video.
Susan and I would sometimes walk down the beach toward the docks where some fishing boats are tied up and where some local windsurfers frequently come to sail. One day I got a video of a local practicing some free style moves: watch his feet. Also in this area, Taty Franz, a local and well-known windsurfer, had started a “foiling” school and rental facility. We watched as he gave another guy a little lesson in “fast foiling”.
On days when the wind was not blowing or we just needed a break and rest, we usually just took a long walk or toured the island. One day we drove around the south end of the island to see what might have changed since our last visit. We did notice quite a bit of new construction in the whole area south of the airport and continuing almost to the salt pans. Perhaps some of the sand being hauled in the large trucks was ending up in the concrete for these construction projects. We made the normal loop, stopping for an occasional photo or video of the salt ponds, kiteboarders, and the lighthouse. A couple of videos may show some of this better, such as the salt pans and mountain.
Looking across some of the salt pans to the mountain of salt awaiting shipment.
The kiteboarding area on the southern shoreline seemed busy.
Susan was inspecting the lighthouse.
As usual, we made a stop at the Windsurf Place to see who was sailing that day and check on the conditions. We also kept an eye out for the Iguanas who hang out around the Hang Out Bar and restaurant.
This iguana just knew he was the boss around here.
Rather than head right back to town, we rode out toward Lac Chi, the other side of Lac Bay from Sorobon. The last couple of years we had seen quite a few Flamingos relatively close to the road in this area and we were not disappointed this time. You can see the Flamingos alongside the road in the video. Listen carefully and you can hear them honking above the sound of the wind.
These flamingos did not seem bothered by the cars on the nearby road.
On other days we would take long walks through some of the resorts and then along the harbor waterfront where there always seemed to be something going on. One day we saw a colorful Morey eel trying to swallow a large piece of fish skin that had been discarded.
We watched while this Morey swallowed almost half of the fish skin
Another day we happened along the waterfront as some fishermen were unloading their catch onto the area between the sidewalk and the water.
These fishermen had been pretty successful this day.
Almost every day, no matter what activity we did during the day, by 3 or 3:30 PM we would go out by the pool of the Sonrisa with some wine and snacks (cheese, sausage, crackers, carrots, apples, etc.) and relax. Most days we managed to attract some other guests who would join us.
The dining on Bonaire is almost as good as the windsurfing so I’ll cover the restaurants we visited while we were there
Capriccio has long been our favorite restaurant on Bonaire and I make reservations there for our first night on the island at least a week in advance. Some people complain of the cost of meals there, but it is no more expensive than several other restaurants and can be very reasonable if two people share an appetizer and a pizza. Of course, one thing that tends to increase the cost is the wine list. Capriccio has one of the best wine lists and cellar in the Caribbean so one is tempted to make use of it. We visited twice on this trip: the first time the food (fresh pasta for us) was as usual, very good. We got good wine, and the service was reasonably good. On the second visit we took a friend with us and the food and wine were fine, but the service really fell down: it was the worst service we have experienced at Capriccio. It was so bad that we did not feel the need to visit again on this trip. Perhaps tables of two or three are no longer important as we were basically ignored by Lola (owner, hostess, wine expert) and the other senior staff. We’ll try Capriccio again on our next trip, but for now, the luster is definitely off.
Mezze is a “middle eastern” (I would say primarily Turkish) restaurant that does not go overboard with the general theme. The food is definitely Mediterranean in the types of food, but the flavors and seasonings are not so strong as to discourage anyone from trying and liking it. We talked to a number of people who are not what I would consider “adventurous” eaters who really liked Mezze. Service was good and there is an interesting view of the harbor and southern dock area. While not a budget restaurant, prices were in keeping with the other good restaurants on Bonaire.
We have been going to Patagonia for many years, through three different locations. We go here when we feel like having some beef and want to generate some good meaty leftovers to use in lunch sandwiches the next couple of days. We like the sirloin and, while it can be a little chewy, I like the flavor of the cut. The wine list includes several Malbecs that pair nicely with the beef. We showed up without a reservation, they found a good table for us, and the service was very good. Reasonable prices, good food, good wine, and good service; it is hard to beat that combination.
Sebastian’s is a very nice restaurant with a beautiful harbor view, and usually with a price to match. But, on Sunday evenings, Sebastian’s has their “Italian night pizza and pasta” special: any of several pizza or pasta dishes for $16 and a good price on their house wine. If you really want something special, you can reserve the table on the dock, just make sure you time it so you are there for the sunset.
The table on the dock at sunset…. Not bad!
We made the Sunday special twice and everything we had was good. The octopus carpaccio we had the first visit was so good we had it again the second time. Sundays get very busy so service can be somewhat “relaxed”, but with such a great view, it really is not a problem.
Susan, Ariane, and the sun setting over Klein Bonaire
One night, Ariane joined us for dinner at Ingredients. (There was supposed to be a fourth person, but his excursion to Klein Bonaire ended up running rather late.) This was our first visit to Ingredients and we were impressed. The food was good, the wine excellent, and the service both friendly and excellent. It is not inexpensive, but, like Sebastian’s, included a great waterfront setting.
La Cantina is one of the “upscale” restaurants on Bonaire and continues to live up to its reputation. We visited once and had a very good meal. They serve everyone a couple of little “amuse-bouches” served on a wooden reproduction of the island of Bonaire, complete with an accompanying little “Klein Bonaire” island. We did miss one of our favorite waiters, Jay, who the manager said had moved to La Terrazza to be with a friend of his. More about Jay later. La Cantina specializes in fresh fish and the menu offers you a choice of how much fish you want you and even go to their “fish market” where you can choose the exact piece of fish you want. We were a bit surprised to find a grape vine growing across a wire above the dining area. Our server said it was growing rapidly, although no one seemed to know just what kind of grape it is.
We consider Cuba Compagnie as a good restaurant to go to if something happened to our first choice, or we just want a fairly light meal, like a salad or sandwich. We had eaten rather large meals for several days and just wanted something simple and light, so headed to Cuba Compagnie and it worked out well. No reservations… no problem; we were seated quickly and ordered a couple of salads and glasses of white wine. The salads were good, service was good and it was just what we were looking for. Since we had eaten light, we didn’t feel bad about walking down the street and having some coffee at Gio’s ice cream.
La Terrazza is a bit different in several ways and we ended up visiting twice, but this requires a bit of a long story. We first met Jay, the waiter mentioned above, at the “At Sea” restaurant 4 or 5 years ago. When he first saw me, he said I looked like Ted Turner and, of course, we had to mention that, like Turner, we are from the Atlanta area. Since then, every time he sees me, he calls me “Ted Turner”: it has become a bit of a joke between us. He moved from “At Sea” to “La Cantina” and continued to recognize me and call me Ted Turner for a couple of years. This visit, we were walking down the main street of town, trying to decide where to eat and had mentioned La Terrazza but had about decided against it by the time we walked by the restaurant. As we passed, we looked up (the restaurant is somewhat elevated above street level) and there was Jay. He looked at us and immediately called out “Hello Ted Turner”. Well, after that, we had to stop and eat there.
La Terrazza operates differently: there is no menu or wine list. You tell the wait staff of any allergies or things you do not like and then the chef prepares a sequence of courses. You don’t know what is coming next until it arrives at your table. For an additional fee you can have wine paired with each course. The courses follow a normal sequence (appetizer, soup, salad, entrée, etc.) and you can say “stop” whenever you have had enough. It seems that most people make it through about 4 courses, but Jay said that some people have gone as far as 8. Each course we had was good with appropriate wine pairings and we enjoyed the meal.
Once a month La Terrazza has a wine tasting featuring 8 wines and four food courses. The tasting leader got a little “deep” for most people, challenging us to identify the wine’s scents, tastes and guess the varietal, but the wines were good, as was the food. It did last a bit long, at about three and a half hours, but was generally enjoyable, especially when you are there with friends.
Last year the Brewery had very recently opened and we had a pleasant visit, sampling a flight of their locally brewed beers and a couple of appetizers. This year we decided to return and try the same kind of meal, but it was not quite so successful this time. The beers were still good, although there was nothing approximating a dark beer this time, but the food was a total failure. We ordered some calamari and a dish of olives. The calamari was not too bad, but rather generic, and the accompanying sauce was almost tasteless. We expected the normal mixture of green and ripe olives of various kinds, but instead got what appeared to be about a quarter of a can of plain pitted ripe olives. Service was a bit slow and I had the impression that the servers really did not know the menu or beers very well.
You can see the Kite City truck in the background
The Kite City food truck normally sets up at the beach across from the airport ( Te Amo beach) for lunch and the afternoon. One of our first nights on Bonaire, some of our friends had arranged for Kite City to stay late, so the windsurfing group could have a beach picnic with food from the truck. This beach is one of the few with nice white sand and it made for a very nice evening, as we watched the sun set and visited with many of our friends. The food is cooked to order, so it does take a while when busy, but it is good and fresh when delivered.
Sunset during our little beach party.
Some other random thoughts……
People from the cruise ship were on the dock, waiting for various excursions. (Do you feel like part of a herd?)
There were at least as many large cruise ships as in prior years, probably more. People from some of the cruise ships continued to walk and stand in the middle of the channel where we windsurfers have to take our boards and sails in and out. Having these people in the middle of where we have to go in and out is not just a matter of inconvenience for us, but of safety to them: a gust of wind could easily rip a sail out of our hands and hit someone very hard.
It appeared that a new pastime for many cruisers was to rent a golf cart and drive around the island on all the roads. Considering the condition of many roads, the slow speed of the golf carts, the speed of many of the local taxi drivers, and the lack of local knowledge by the drivers of the golf carts, it is surprising that there are not a lot of serious accidents.
There was a LOT of new construction going on with construction cranes and major equipment all over. There was a major project just south of the airport and other construction sites about anywhere you looked. The large truck loads of sand being brought in must be for construction work and I would say it could make a lot of concrete. Bonaire is definitely a growing place, but I am concerned that there may be too much new construction to be absorbed into the economy.
Eclipse just starting: note slight darkening at lower right.
While we were on Bonaire, we were able to observe a complete eclipse of the moon. There were other attributes/names attached to it also, like “double wolf blood moon” because the moon was so close to the earth that it looked larger than usual. We watched the beginning of the eclipse then slept for an hour or two, and came back out to see the total eclipse.
Eclipse almost complete, just a little light left at upper left.
The last couple of years we had quite a bit of rain our first weeks on the island, complete with lots of mud, rain puddles, and the resulting mosquitoes. This year the rainy season had apparently ended a couple of weeks before we got there and we experienced only a couple of very light showers. The island vegetation was not as lush this year and things were drying up and starting to turn brown already, but at least there were fewer mosquitoes.
This year we helped one of the Sonrisa guests, Ariane, organize two fish dinner picnics under the big palapa. She had her local friend, Tino, catch some fish and we and other guests would contribute various other foods and just a little wine. Besides being a good fisherman, Tino is an excellent chef and he prepared some very tasty fish dishes.
I’ll end this report with a few more windsurfing photos.
And I’ll start the windsurfing photos with a slightly unusual one. As we were departing from Bonaire, I had a pretty good view of Lac Bay out the aircraft window.
Lac Bay on a busy windsurfing afternoon
Now, when I look at this photo, I point to the various sails crisscrossing the water and think: “There’s Ellen, there’s Peter, there’s Heinz, there’s Janet…….”.
Now for the normal photos…..
There is Heinz in the foreground and Susan beyond him.
Caprice always makes it look easy. (I wish it was!)
Remember what I said about Peter always smiling? Here’s proof!
Al, like Werner, prefers to use one of the oldest boards in the inventory. Works for him!
No matter the conditions, Christoph seems to overpower the wind and the sail.
Tim is showing the beginner how this windsurfing is done.
Wolfgang has the hard job of trying to keep brothers Heinz and Werner under control.
“Florida Janet” has the advantage of being able to Windsurf in the Cocoa Beach area much of the year.
Having recently moved from the NE to Florida, Cheryl can also now windsurf much of the year.
It’s not windsurfing, but this seemed to be an appropriate last photo.